The Practice of Getting Stuff Done

Don't let the physical and digital distractions in life stop you from moving forward.

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Can You Get to a Ready State When Needed?

While everyone has experienced the feeling of being “on” at some point or other, GTD can offer the tools and behaviors needed to generate “on” as often as possible. If you are confident that you can always get back to a ready state, no matter what the circumstances, then you can enter into any and all situations without fear or worry, prepared to respond and make things happen.

Ready to Get Knocked Out of Ready?

Wouldn’t it be great to always be in the ready state? The truth is that new challenges and complexities will appear constantly, and each one holds both opportunities for success and the danger of pitfalls.

If you play things incredibly safe, avoiding situations and opportunities that might make you uncomfortable or result in failure, whether activities, relationships, tryouts, or classes, you won’t necessarily feel “on,” but you might be able to avoid that feeling of “off,” at least for a while.

Some young people go this route. They fully immerse themselves in the culture of distraction and do only the things they feel most comfortable doing. Some even numb themselves further with digital entertainment or even with drugs and alcohol. At first this withdrawn and numb state might be attractive. What could be easier than being left alone to play video games all day, eat junk food, and hang with friends? We all know deep down, though, that it wouldn’t be truly fulfilling.

The truth is, no matter how much you intentionally avoid—or how much control you think you have right now in your life—challenges and pitfalls will undoubtedly force you to occasionally feel “off,” become distracted, be overloaded, and feel overwhelmed.

Instead of helping you stay comfortable, we will instead encourage you to step out of comfortable, as often as possible. We urge you to fearlessly take risks, to engage with things that may stretch you or knock you out of your comfort zone, and force you “off.”

If you have the skills and tools to always get back to “on,” to return to your ready state, then you can confidently confront any situation with the knowledge that you can recover. You will always be ready—ready for whatever comes next. That’s the principle of this book and the power of GTD: Take risks, get knocked off, and return to “on” with confidence.


So far we’ve discussed connectivity, opportunities, and pitfalls and how these pitfalls can make you feel “off.” We’ve described the optimal ready state and the two parts of the brain that play the most significant role in achieving that state, Myggy (the amygdala) and Cortland (the prefrontal cortex). We’ve explained that the key to maintaining the ready state is engaging both of these areas of the brain in partnership.

Why, then, can’t you just decide to perfectly engage the different parts of your brain and feel ready all the time?

Meet stuff.

Stuff is always coming. Stuff is not good or bad. Stuff just is. In learning to recognize stuff, you can learn to manage it well.

Stuff is anything that shows up in our world—physically, digitally, mentally, emotionally—that still requires some decision or action and has yet to be determined and isn’t yet organized.

What Is All This Stuff?

Stuff takes many forms and can come from many different places. For example, it could take the form of a school assignment, dirty clothes on the floor, a tryout for a sport, an issue with your health, a broken skateboard, a conflict with a friend, a new club that is being offered at school, or a dreaded presentation you have to give. Stuff can be generated by outside sources or from within your own mind.

What types of stuff show up most often in your world? Where is it all coming from?

A Masterful Opponent

If stuff isn’t dealt with effectively, it can very quickly make an impact on you—physically, mentally, emotionally, even spiritually.

As your life gets more complex, the amount of stuff entering it increases and can be a source of constant distraction. It can keep you from feeling ready, force you to quickly lose focus and perspective, and knock you “off.” If you aren’t careful, stuff can run your life.

To more accurately define and understand “stuff,” we can look back at a discovery from almost one hundred years ago, made by a woman named Bluma Zeigarnik. She discovered some interesting things about the brain and what she called open loops.

Excerpt from Getting Things Done for Teens: Take Control of Your Life in a Distracting World by David Allen, Mike Williams and Mark Wallace, published on July 10, 2018 by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright by David Allen, Mike Williams and Mark Wallace 2018.

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