In our last video, we took a look at the [[Collect]] phase of my Getting Stuff Done system. The [[Collect]] phase is where we go through and get everything into one central location.

In this video, we’re going to take the next step and look at the[[Think]] stage. This is all about processing through that central location. About coming up with a discrete set of actions that we need to take.

Thinking, to be honest, this phase is one of the most important ones that we’re going to do. It’s where we’re spending a short amount of time on each item that we’ve collected. Understanding what it’s about. Starting to break that down into a series of smaller steps that we can then achieve. This isn’t about planning what you’re going to do. It’s about spending the time to understand what you’ve been asked to do. I know this doesn’t sound like it’s much but you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes by thinking ahead.

You only need to do this phase once a day. When do you do it? That’s down to you. Some people do it in the morning, some people do it in the evening. I find it’s best to do it in the morning. I’m fresh. I can quickly work through this phase and then use the results and feed them into the planning for my day.

The idea of this phase is to go through all the items that we’ve collected. Not a few of them, all them. We want to process everything.

We do it quickly. It may only take a minute or two per item. It’s not something we’re going to dwell on. It’s about doing that quick assessment and starting to move the actions forward.

I’ve split this phase up into two different sections. The first I call Assess and that’s about understanding the action. The second one I call that Process and that’s where we think about how we’re going to do it.


This is all about understanding the action. You’d be surprised how many people don’t do this. They take something from their inbox, jump in and start to do it. After a few minutes, they don’t know where they’re going with it. Even worse they’ve spent hours on it and found out they’ve been doing the wrong thing.

An example, you’ve had a meeting with your boss. Ten minutes after the meeting you get an email from them and they say “can you write a report about that thing we discussed.”

What thing? You discussed lots of them. What type of report do they want? A brief summary report or do they want a detailed cost-benefit report? You don’t know. You may think well I know what they’re talking about I’m going to go ahead and do this. You spend a week and you come up with a detailed cost-benefit analysis. It’s superb work. You send it on to your boss, they come back and say I only wanted a two-paragraph summary. Why didn’t you ask them?

That’s what this phrase is about. Ut’s understanding. We understand by asking some standard questions, which we’ll look at here.

Do I need any further information?

This is where I said we asked our boss if we don’t understand.

We use this to clarify what it is we’re trying to achieve. If we don’t understand what we’re trying to achieve we are not going to be able to get the results that we want.

How long is this going to take?

It’s a quick estimate. We do this to help with planning. If you think the task is going to take you one hour and you’ve got a half-hour free block, you don’t want to start doing that task. This is because you’re going to get partway through then you’re going to have to stop. When you come back you’re going to repeat most of that work.

Take a few seconds to do a quick estimate.

What do you need?

You’ve been asked to write a report. You’re going to need your computer. You’re going to need a word processing system, a spreadsheet. You need to have access to sales data, to forecast data. You can’t start doing the task until you’ve got this information.

Asking what you’re going to need means you can come up with a list of items. You can send off the requests to the various teams, to the various people, to make sure you’ve got that information ready to start writing the report.

Once you get your information back. You sit down in front of your computer. Your word processor, your spreadsheet, they’re all open. You can get straight in and complete that action.

Who can help you?

We can’t do things in isolation. Everybody needs someone to give them a hand. It could be you need help from the sales manager to get sales information. They don’t have it readily on hand, you may need to go and sit with them to get that information. The same with forecasts, with estimates for other peoples efforts.

To get help from other people you need to understand who it is you need help from. You also need to know what it is you want. Don’t go with a general statement. If you go with something general you’ll end up with loads of useless information that you need to work through. Go to them with specific requests for specific pieces of information.

Once you’ve gone to them and asked for help that’s not the end. You need to make sure you follow up. Give them a day or two. Follow up on those requests. If you don’t get the information back, well, it’s of no use.

Can I say No?

This one is difficult for a lot of people. Can you say no? Do you have to do this? Can you push it back to your boss?

It’s very difficult to say no to people, especially when it’s your boss. But remember, part of being productive is not doing things that you don’t have to do.

If you’re an accountant and they come to you with a question about the legality of some contract terms? Not your skill, say “no say sorry I can’t do that you you need to speak to a legal advisor.”

If you’re already overloaded can you go back and say “my current workload is taking up 120% of my time. I can add this but it’ll go to the bottom of the queue.” You could reprioritize some other work. By pushing back your boss may either we’ll drop these certain items or say “right let’s get other people to help you.”

Is this something above your level? Someone asks you to do something that you don’t have the skills, the knowledge, or the access to do the action. Say no but tell them why. Don’t just say no I’m not doing it. It could be that they’ll say “I’ll help you to get this knowledge,” “I’ll get you this access level.” If you don’t say no, if you try to do it, you’re going to end up doing something substandard.

You’ll feel bad. You’ll end up looking bad. All because you never asked for help.

Can I delegate this?

We asked this in the [[Collect]] phase. In every phase you should be asking “can I delegate?”

If you can delegate something you get it off your plate. You’re still responsible for the action. If you delegate to someone else you need to make sure that you’re helping them. That you’re following up with them. That you’re getting the correct information.

How does this fit in with my goals or my themes

We’ve all got goals. Some people use the idea of a theme.

The point is we’ve got something we want to achieve. It’s specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. It’s how we’re driving forward in our life and our work.

A theme is a guide to what’s important to you in the foreseeable future. You’re working towards a long-term outcome. Rather than having a set of restrictive goals you’ve got this all-encompassing theme that helps move you along.

What you need to be asking is the action fits into your goals or theme. If your boss has asked you to do something you may not have any option other than to do it. Generally, they’ve got a reason.

If you’re self-employed. If you’ve got a lot more independence in what you do. You may ask “does this fit in with my life and my work?” “Does this fit in with where I want to go?”

If it does, well and good. If it doesn’t, again can you push it back? Can you get it to someone else?

If you’re self-employed and you get invited to a networking event. The chances are that it will fit with your business growth theme or your business growth goal. You go to it.

if you write a lot of technical articles and a lot of blog posts. Someone comes and asks you to write me a novella. Does that fit in with your idea of where you want to go? You want to work on the technical stuff, not on fiction. You say no because it doesn’t fit in.

Provide the reasons for saying no. You could then say “I know someone who might be able to help you with that” and pass them along.


This is where we get the action ready to be executed.


Have you got an automation? Have you got a checklist that covers something very very similar?

An example here, you might be onboarding a new employee. You’ve got an employee onboarding checklist. Kick that list off, get it going.

Define how you’re going to do the action

As we said in the Assess stage, you need some sales forecasts, you need some sales data, you need to know what the availability of various resources is.

This is where you make sure that you’re capturing and sending off the requests. Don’t sit on it. If you don’t ask for the information you’re not going to receive it.

We also look at what steps do we need to take. So in an example from[[Collect]] where we make a cup of tea. If we’re going to make a cup of tea, we write that down. We don’t need to break it down any further. But if we didn’t know the steps we would start to break it down.

Breaking something complex down into simpler steps makes it so much easier to achieve.

Can I Defer this

We’ve now got a list of steps that we need to take. For each of these steps, we look at them and think ”can I defer this?” “Do I need to do it now?”

You’ve sent t request to the sales manager. You then defer the next step until you get that information back. You add in another step saying “followup sales manager after two days.” Until you’ve got that sales data you can’t move forward, so defer it get it off your list of things to do.

Make sure your deferred actions are somewhere you don’t forget about them.

Capture into Action Management System

Capture the results of these steps into your [[Action Management System]].

This is a tool that you use to capture everything you need to do. It could be sticky notes. It could be a software package. It could be a series of folders on your desk.

It’s a system that you trust. You captured and record everything that you need to do. You can get access to the right information at the right time.


It sounds like there’s a lot of work involved. There isn’t. Most days you can complete this in 15 minutes. I book the first appointment in my calendar is for 30 minutes and that’s for me to do my thinking. This leads on a little bit into my [[Planning]].

You’re on top of what needs to be done. You’re going to be sorting through and identifying what needs to be done.

When we move into [[Planning]] we’ll be able to prioritise the actions and steps.

For the [[Think]] phase we’re going to do is we’re going to ask a series of very simple questions:

  • do I need any further information?
  • how long will it take?
  • what else do I need?
  • who can help me?
  • can I say no?
  • can I delegate this?
  • does this fit into my long term goals and themes.

These allow us to understand the action and then what we do is we look and ask:

  • can I use a routine, a checklist and automation to complete this,
  • break that item down, define the steps you’re going to need to use
  • defer things that you can’t do at the moment
  • capture the results into the [[Action Management System]].

Once we’ve got all this done it’s time to move on to the next phase which is. [[Planning]]. That’s where we plan what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it.