Once all incompletes are on the table, Allen says, most people discover that they have 30 to 100 projects requiring anywhere from 120 to 200 next actions. This is how GTD converts overwhelming stuff into something you can actually do. "Spend more time with spouse" is a vague project; "go biking together next Saturday morning" is an action step.

"The system turns the amorphous nature of work into something like crunching widgets," says Eric Hubbard, president of Ravenswood Bank in Chicago and a longtime GTD devotee. "There's a sense of completion. I define the work once a week or so, and through the week I crunch the widgets."

Much else is involved in the Allen system, as detailed in Getting Things Done and in a later book, Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Life and Work. This includes tickler systems, various suggestions for lists, calendar rules, 50,000-foot views, good ideas for filing. A useful workflow chart can be found at www.davidco.com. But one of the most critical elements, according to Allen and many of his followers, is the weekly­ review, a time set aside to get "clean, clear, current, and complete." You can do another (much shorter) RAM dump. Process notes you've taken. Review and revise task lists. Add things, drop things, or move them to a Someday/Maybe list. If commitments and action steps aren't reviewed periodically,­ Allen warns, the dogged mind will again start trying to remember and remind. Then you'll be back to mind like gravy, plagued by those three a.m. shoulda-dones.

"If you're not doing a weekly review, you're not doing GTD," says Orchant, who favors Friday afternoons for his reviews. "On the surface level, you're just tidying up, and it has value for that alone. But it's also training, trying to get to black belt level. You're constantly trying to refine your ability to make good agreements with yourself and others. This is an opportunity to see how well you did."

Of course, nothing works for everyone. And no doubt scores of people have jumped off the GTD train for one reason or another. But again and again, GTD devotees praise its power to drive personal and corporate changes. "When I'm on my game and everything is where it should be, I come up with the [craziest] out-of-the-box things that turn out to be really good for the business," says Hoxsey. At General Mills, Wilde sees productivity gains flowing from GTD. "I've heard that people feared or ducked certain projects in the past because they didn't break it down to that next simple action. They say, 'Now that I've defined the project and know what success looks like, I can take the first step.'?"

David Baillie says GTD has been great for him as a manager and a supervisor. "Communication is so crisp and clear and prompt," he notes. "People have started using some of the same thought patterns. Now, we don't have a meeting without defining the successful outcome and asking who's got the next action."

Publisher Michael Hyatt observes another change wrought by GTD: a dramatic drop in his tolerance for the hopelessly disorganized. "It drives me crazy," he confesses.­ "I had to terminate a few high-profile people who would commit to something in a meeting and then just wouldn't follow through, so it was a colossal waste of everyone's time."

Orchant, who calls GTD “a phenomenal piece of mental artistry,” credits GTD for his ability to handle a demanding full-time job, write four blogs, do a podcast show, and enjoy life with his wife and kids. He disdains talk of an Allen “cult,” preferring to refer to GTD as “a whole-life discipline.”

“I can’t imagine going back to that restless pursuit of ‘How do I get it together?’?” he says. “I have it together. And when I don’t, I know how to get it back together. And that’s about as good as it gets.”
1. Capture all the things that need to get done — whether it be now, later, someday, big, little, or in between — into a logical and trusted system outside of your head and off your mind.

2. Discipline yourself to make front-end decisions about all of the “inputs” you let into your life so you will always have a plan for “next actions” that you can implement or renegotiate at any moment.
From Getting Things Done by David Allen. To learn more, go to www.davidco.com.