Assess Decide Do

GTD is a wonderful methodology. I’ve been using it for more than 3 years and the benefits are unquestionable. I implemented it in several formats, from pen and paper to digital, and I can confess it really works. I’m productive and more efficient. But – you know, there is a but here – being productive and more efficient is not always enough.

GTD is a methodology for getting things done, period. But there’s so much more to life than just doing. For instance, how you get to know which are the things you want to do? How you know if it’s ok to do those things and not other stuff? How can you assess your overall progress, your internal growth? Certainly, GTD falls short here.

I assume that creating a life management framework wasn’t David Allen’s initial goal. All he wanted to do was to create a tool for making things happening and he succeeded wonderfully. Ironically, he opened a path which eventually made his tool obsolete, at least for me. I already wrote what I kept and what I left out from the GTD hype. And the reason why GTD is obsolete for me now is because I need something more:

A Life Management Framework

Doing stuff is ok. Constantly and effectively getting things done is even better. Is feeding you with self-respect and creates accountability. You have something to show, you did something. But after a while, I don’t care much about doing things. I already created this habit and I’m doing it easier. Sometimes without even thinking, which makes me believe I reached that “mind like water” inner state.

Then why I still feel frustrated? Why I still feel the need for something more? Why I’m not happy anymore just by doing things? Because I need a new paradigm. One that can accommodate my effectiveness with my doubts. My productivity with my laziness (which is not always laziness, maybe is contemplation or meditation). I need a framework to acceptably balance every aspect of my life, not just the doing part.

A life management framework should do that. A life management framework is not a methodology, is not a software, is not a sequence of steps you follow blindly to your presumable redemption. Is just a framework, a wire frame for your own implementation. A life management framework should be light enough to be remembered in one sentence, but powerful enough to sustain your day to day activity as well as your long term goals.

It’s been several months since I came up with my own life management framework. I briefly noted in one of my posts (when I got back from my trip to Thailand) that I will like to share something important for me. The reason I’m doing it only now is because I wanted to put it to test first. As a concept, as a mental projection sounded fine, but I needed to make an implementation for at least a couple of months.

Introducing “Assess Decide Do” Life Management Framework

As you may already guessed, ADD comes from Assess, Decide, Do. I will start with a brief explanation of the concepts and then I’ll talk about each specific  part .

At every given moment I can find myself in only one of these three stages: assessing, deciding or doing. I’m assessing my current options, I decide what I have to do, and then I do it. From the smallest context in which I may be, up to the long term goals, my overall activity will fall into one of these categories: assess decide do.

Every time I have a constant flow between assessing, deciding and doing, I’m managing my life correctly. Every time I have an imbalance in one of these stage, I have difficulties.

If I stay too long in an assessment stage I might lose opportunities or I might lose interest in the desired outcome. If I stay too short in the assessment stage I might lose some precious info, putting at risk my next steps: decision and doing.

If I stay too much in the decision part I may never actually doing what I already assessed and decided. If I stay too little, the outcome might be different from what I wanted.

And finally, if I’m not actually doing it – as in getting things done – the first initial phases were in vain.

A successful ADD life management framework implementation should take care of only two things:

  • identify each of your current stage correctly: assessing, deciding or doing
  • assure a smooth flow between the current and the next stage

It’s not a big philosophy, but it’s much harder to implement it then to write it. In programming, especially in OOP (Object Oriented Programming) tailoring this ADD framework to your needs would be called: “implementing the abstract class”. Those are just principles, abstract notions and it’s the task of the ADD life management framework to create an understandable, coherent wrapper on top of them.

As a wire-frame, this life management framework should be defined in only 3 words: Assess, Decide, Do.

Now let’s talk about each of those 3 fundamental stages or realms.


You don’t have to do everything on your agenda, unless you’re a robot with no free will. You have to assess everything around and take into account as many information as you can about any specific task. Assessing is one of the most ignored states of the contemporary, modern individual. When you run furiously in your own rat race trap, you really don’t have time to assess, you just run.

I find assessing vital for a successful outcome of any task, goal or activity I start. If I’m not assessing it enough, if I’m not integrating it into my own personal system of values, bad things are happening. I might get that thing done, but I won’t be pretty happy about it. To say the least. Doing something against your personal values is one of the worst things you can do to yourself.

Integrating a specific task in your personal system of values is of course only one of the things you may want to do in the assessment stage, you can have tons of other things to assess, like the short or long term benefits, the opportunity, the resources availability and so on. You do this on the Assessment realm.

I realized that assessing has a cumulative structure. I put together pieces of information, emotions, memories, until I come up with a specific object. When I can’t add to it anymore, when it looks the same to me regardless of my standpoint, I know it’s time to make a decision. Then, and only then, I can move to the decision realm.


As opposed to assessing, decision is a one point structure. Once you can’t assess anything anymore, you decide what to do about it. You have only 2 options:

  • do it
  • don’t do it

If you decide to do it, you’ll move to the Doing realm. If you decide not to do it, you’ll discard the task completely. The nice thing about this dual attitude is that you won’t have to postpone it. You simply decide you ain’t gonna do it, period. You have the freedom to discard it completely or to move it back to the Assessment realm. If you can’t do it now, maybe the future will bring some more info and you’ll be in a better position to make a decision. But you made a decision about it, you can move on.

If I know I have to make a decision about a specific topic I usually do it within a very small time span. Several minutes up to maximum 24 hours. I’m talking about regular, normal tasks like blogging or business. There are some situations in which the decision part can last several months, like moving to a new country or relationship decisions. But if there’s something within my current time horizon, I don’t delay it more than 24 hours.

Being in the Assessment realm before has a very big advantage: I already have all the info I need to work with. Now, if I decided I’ll go further, all I have to do is to move into the Doing realm.


Here is the place for methodologies like GTD. Here is the place in which I make lists and schedule tasks and actually check them as done. If there’s something on my Do list, I know I already passed through 2 filters: Assess and Decide, so I don’t have anything left to do about that task. Except doing it, of course.

The Do realm can be repetitive and can last days or months. It’s not a cumulative structure, although it can produce visible results, and it’s not a one point structure. It’s more like a flow. It’s not unusual to be in the Doing stage for months, if I have a larger project, coding, for instance. Every Do activity or project can be planned and/or managed from within the Do realm, or at least I did it with good results.

Whenever I finish doing some task or project, I go back to the Assessment realm, closing the circle. At this point, I finished an ADD cycle. In this cycle I included a lot of activities, from assessment, to decision making and to actually doing the specific project. Usually, whenever I finish an ADD cycle I have a very deep and powerful sense of well being. Every cycle I finish add to my self-respect in a way I never experienced before. Every ADD cycle is far more than a checked task on a list, is more like reaching the next level on a spiral path.

ADD Imbalances

I couldn’t finish this introductory article about ADD Life Management Framework- yeap, there will be more – without a short section dedicated to ADD possible imbalances.

Assessing Stage Imbalances

One of the most common assessing imbalances is the “analysis paralysis” syndrome. You keep thinking and thinking and don’t do anything. You never move from that realm, you never get to decide what to do with all the information that you gathered so far. All you do is crunching information, in the hope that at some point that information will be useful to you.

Another common assessing imbalance is the “I didn’t know” excuse. You didn’t know that your business was entering a crowded market so you went bankrupt in the first 6 months. Or you didn’t know you’re approaching an aggressive or lazy partner and your relationship is a mess now. If only you took some time to assess…

Deciding Stage Imbalances

The most common deciding imbalance is the “one day I’ll have my own business” syndrome. In this case you took the decision but you aren’t really doing anything to move further. Your decision is strong, you trust yourself and your hopes are high. But you’re not doing anything, you just took a decision and never moved from there.

Another deciding imbalance is very close to shyness: I’m not going to do this, because it won’t matter or because I will feel terribly bad if everybody will look at me. Your assessment was complete, you moved to the point where you can actually start doing it, but you decide to quit.

Doing Stage Imbalances

The most common doing imbalance is the obsessed productivity freak. The guy that does stuff without thinking, just to be able to check some tasks done. This is the biggest productivity trap you can ever hit, and I saw quite often many promising careers falling down because of this. Just doing, without assessing and making the right decisions is a sure path to the underground world of the “still smiling but completely burned down inside” people.


That was the introductory article about my life management framework. There will be more, because I am just scratching the surface with this one. But until then, I would love to hear your opinions, comments and suggestions. Do you believe in a life management framework? Do you recognize those 3 fundamental states in your activity: assessing, deciding, doing? Do you experience imbalances in any of the stages?

35 thoughts on “Assess Decide Do”

  1. I recently bought the ebook and it really gave me some insights. The concept is really great and a nice alternative to the common productivity systems I know of.
    Especially the first two stages and their separation during the process are of great value.

    I still got one question though: how do you handle @waiting for-tasks? You know, those where you have to wait till someone other has done something until you can work on the project again.

    • I usually keep those types of tasks in Decide. If I know what has to be done but I don’t know the time frame and resources, it means I can’t move it to Do. So the best place for those tasks is in Decide. You can go even further, if you want to have this GTD’ish type of approach and create a special context @waitingfor. Assign to all the tasks that are in this category the context @waitingfor and keep them in Decide until they get back to you.

      • Thank for the answer. My approach on the first try was to put a context @waiting for and put it into Do. But then I wasn´t sure if this was the right way. Your reply just confirmed that it belongs to Decide.

  2. Pingback: Waking Up Early
  3. Dragos, this is valuable and insightful as always. While caution is necessary and the degree to which an action can be rash must depend on the nature of the outcome if the action doesn’t work, sometimes action is necessary, plain and simple.
    My dad always used to say, “Don’t just stand there. Do something, even if it’s wrong.” Of course he didn’t mean that I should go out and rob a bank; he meant that I should take my best guess on what needed to be done, and then do it. Sometimes it would be the wrong decision, but he was also indicating that it’s okay when that happens.
    I worked for Data General for years and years; this is the company featured in Tracy Kidder’s book, Soul of a New Machine. Tom West, one of DG’s technical leaders for many years, had a saying, “Not everything worth doing is worth doing right.”
    Or, in other words, sometimes you just need to shoot from the hip and hope you hit the mark. 🙂

    .-= nutuba´s last blog ..Slow Down =-.

    • I wouldn’t say you get stuck in the Analysis Paralysis situation, not for the amount of quality posts you’re publishing :-). Maybe the decision part is the one which gives you the headache. Already published that part so go there and read more.

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    • “Do” is usually the most difficult because the initial stages, Assess and Decide, are ignored. In fact, “Do” should be the easiest part since you don’t have to assess or decide anything.

      Thanks for the nice words.

  5. when I was at Cap Gemini we used the idea of “Design, Build, Run” to describe how we handled infrastructure projects. People kept throwing in new pieces to the puzzle so it came out to be something horribly long; something like assess, design, sign off, build, implement, run, review, change – then start the process again. While the second is technically more accurate, design build run is the core that never changed.

    When I was hired by Microsoft to build infrastructure related to call centers and global networks I ended up becoming the PM teacher. Each time we hired a new IT PM (pretty much anywhere in the world) they were sent to me, or to a meeting that I was attending, so I could teach what I did. Assess, decide, do.

    Me, I love the don’t do option. That was one thing that was really hard to teach the new PM’s. Just because someone had an idea, even a good idea, you don’t have to do it. If it’s assigned, sure, ya gotta get it done. If you have reasons for not doing it, document your assess and decide phases and try to get the project canceled or pushed back to a more appropriate date.

    As Master Yoda once told me (through the big screen) “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

    Mac’s last blog post..Europe Job and Career Resources

    • Wow, you seem like a busy man 🙂 Had a lot of work to do and in very different environments. I can understand your attraction to the “Don’t do it” option. As a web entrepreneur I had the urge to do “everything” for years. Took me a lot of time and a lot of loss to understand that not everything is meant to be.

  6. Dragos, you are amazing at breaking things down into stages and explaining the progression from one to another. As you pointed out and will be addressing further, balance is the greatest challenge. We need to stay aware of the relationship between each step and how they fit into the big picture. Thanks for this.

    Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills’s last blog post..Personal Development – Is Your Ego Getting In the Way?

    • Thanks for the nice words. As we will see through this series, the main point is what I call flow, the ability to go through this stages in a balanced way.

  7. @Bunnygotblog: the sentence: “I want to jump into the money making projects” is telling me that you are doing a lot of stuff which is not making money. At least for now. Then why are you still doing it? 🙂

    Thanks for the comment, as always, greatly appreciated!

  8. @Steven Aitchison: I know how it is to be split in many parts, following different business ideas. At some point you have to make a decision, but only after an assessment interval. I found it quite easy to take care of multiple projects if all were part of a bigger strategy, and if all were initially assessed.

  9. @Stephen: being productive is great, but only if the other 2 realms, Assessing and Deciding, are covered. Otherwise you can become, like you say, an “obsessed freak” and believe me, I’ve been there too 🙂

  10. @Ian Peatey: glad I shed some light 🙂 I will detail the concepts in the following posts so be sure to check them up.

  11. @Doru I certainly won’t lose the habit of “procrastination” although I’m still beaten up from time to time by this “I have to do things in order to feel good about me” feeling. But it’s slowly fading away 🙂

  12. Really wonderful article Dragos. I’m with you on GTD. I went crazy on it for a while before I figured out I was more effective and doing to many things and not effective at any one thing. I was definitely the obsessed productivity freak for a while 🙂

    Stephen – Rat Race Trap’s last blog post..Live Now – Part III

  13. Really great article, Dragos. I especially like the polarisation of the DECIDE element into it’s simplest parts – Do it/Don’t Do it. I recognise that’s where I often get stuck, when in fact it really is that simple.

    I need to read this post again a couple of times to get a better understanding, but at first sight looks like it’s just what I need.

    Ian Peatey’s last blog post..Life: powerful and fragile

  14. This came to me watching Wall-e with me 10 year old last summer.

    We all have the drive to get things done just like a robot, but what makes us different is the frontal region of our cortex which is basically a simulator that is unique to humans. It is the engine of our intelligence that is virtually simulating a multitude of possible scenarios of what is going to happen next. The more intelligent a person is, the more accurate it can predict (foresee) the outcome of its decisions before doing anything, so it won’t waste any resources and energy trying.

    The Universe can be modeled as a deterministic mechanism, where past history (what we learned and experienced) and present decisions determines the future outcomes, so don’t loose the habit of procrastination and doubting the decisions that you make. Just become aware that they are there to give you “time” to choose a higher meaning and purpose of your actions.

  15. Hi Dragos

    This is a good framework to life your life by. The problem I have is that my head is buzzing with new ideas and I find it difficult to focus on one thing at a time as I am juggling so much stuff. Recently though I started focusing on 3 business ideas and ever since I have done this the business side of things seem to have taken care of themselves and I find it easier to do things.

    Deciding what to do and what to focus on was the hardest part, but, like you say, once you have decided to do something it is much easier to get to the doing realm.

    Great post and great life strategy.

    Steven Aitchison’s last blog post..The Devils dreams

  16. Hi Dragos-
    I think,
    each aspect of of your life has a point where you once achieve learning a task – it becomes humdrum. We lose interest and something we have enjoyed doing once we find stale.Delegation of work is great if you can do that.I find it better to do the more important tasks first before the tedious ones that aren’t as important at the end of the day. I schedule my day the week before and often find I can successfully follow it when I choose not to allow distractions.
    I think determining which tasks by the value and time taken away from your projects is helpful.
    With work my clients know I can be reached easiest in the afternoon.They are going to have too leave a message or email me.
    I check messages and email only twice a day.To decrease distractions.
    I try to finish the task list off but if I have other plans I start off the next day by breezing through the previous day’s remaining tasks.Which I dislike doing very much. I rather jump in to the money making projects.

    Very useful article and I cant wait to read more.

    Bunnygotblog’s last blog post..Under Pressure

  17. @d1d0: thank you so much for the feedback 🙂 To be hones, I was a little bit concerned about how my readers will receive this, but you gave me a pretty good start 🙂

    The assessment stage is extremely large, I think we’re most of the time in this stage, if we wouldn’t be so obsessed about a dry productivity race. In the assessment stage we gather not only information but we evaluate possibilities, opportunities, we create scenarios and we envision the best outcome we can imagine.

    You 3 stages or phases of the assessment are right on the spot, and I can especially relate to acceptance. One can never have a successful assessment process if he’s not accepting everything, the assessment will be false, negatively affecting both the decision and the do phase.

    Thanks again for the feedback, highly appreciated 🙂

  18. I think it’s a good model.

    The decision part could seem tiny respect to the others, but we must consider that decisions are effectively the junction points that start to draw the path between the now and our goals or intentions by directing our focus, and should never be taken in long time after the initial analysis. So despite of appearances, its atomicity seems ok.

    In the assessment stage in my opinion there is the higher chance to encounter setbacks. Because as I grasped it, it comprises three important phases:
    – grounding, i.e. taking accurate info from outside and looking at them from multiple perspectives to obtain a sort of objectivity
    – acceptance, i.e. avoid denial on reality to avoid wasting your time
    – freedom, i.e. self confidence and detachment from outcome, that is power you can keep within to move on to next stages, or can waste by dwelling in self doubt and other poisons

    I don’t know if this can serve from your perspective, but maybe it can help in your assessments 🙂

    d1d0’s last blog post..Reverting Order: Act on the Real Cause to Enjoy the Snowball


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