on January 9, 2001
OK, first I have to admit I picked up the book at a local Border's where I had a copy on reserve. Having said that... I think I've tried every 'system' for organizing yourself out there. In the 80's it was Day-Timer and Day-Runner. Good calenders and address books, but not much else. 90's was Covey, and Franklin planning. Now we have 'roles and goals' which helps with long term planning but both systems were very inflexible when it came to planning your day to day stuff. I can remember Covey wanting me to plan out my entire week in advance. Nice in theory, but nowhere near reality for those of us whose jobs tend to be more 'crisis-oriented'. I've also tried Agenda, Ecco, Outlook, etc. but its hard to lug around your PC or laptop all the time. About two years ago I came across David Allen's tape seminar and I have to say its the best system I've ever found for organizing 'all' of your life. I can't say it's changed my life (I still have the same job, wife and kids and I still procrastinate too much <g>) but its certainly made all the difference in me being finally, actually organized on day-to-day basis. I'm now the only one in my office with a clean desk :)
The book covers just about the same material that I learned in the tape series. The tapes have more anecdotes and 'real-life' examples in them, but the book has a few new pearls and tricks that tells me David's been refining and polishing this system since the tape series.
Two last quick points: first, it requires no special binders or refills. You could use a cheap spiral notebook if you want. Personally, I use a palmpilot, which works well. Second, (IMHO) the Weekly Review is the cornerstone of making this system work, and its worked for me for two years. Remember that; it'll make sense once you read the book :) Now if I could only get David to come up with a system for procrastination....
on June 5, 2006
David Allen presents an awesome organizational system in this book. With just a little up-front effort, anyone really can become much more in control of his or her life. I wouldn't say that GDT has changed my life, but I'm definitely less stressed now that I follow the system.
The only problem is, Getting Things Done is terribly painful to read. The problem stems mainly from the fact that there are about fifty pages in the book that contain real information. The other two hundred pages are--no joke--almost word-for-word rehash of those fifty pages. If I had a dime for every time Allen wrote, "Your brain is like a computer. If you fill up its RAM with the things you have to do, you don't get anything done," I seriously would have recouped my investment in this book. I didn't appreciate that I had to search through the entire book to find just a few pages of original wisdom.
If you're interested in this system--and, again, the system really is great--I recommend you check the book out at your local library. If you later feel as though you need the book as a reference, you can always buy it. And if you do read this book, don't feel bad if you skip most of the introduction and all of the last section (which read almost like a fifty page ad for David Allen's consulting services) and if you skim most of the rest. I promise: You're not missing much.
This book is for all those who are overwhelmed with too many things to do, too little time to do them, and a general sense of unease that something important is being missed.
Everyone has experienced times when everything seemed effortless, and progress limitless. David Allen has captured ways for you to achieve that wonderful state of mind and consciousness more often.
His key concept is that every task, promise, or assignment has a place and a time. With everything in its proper place and time, you feel in control and replace the time spent on vague worrying with effective, timely action. As a result, the accomplishments grow while the pressure to accomplish decreases. As a result, the book contains many insights into "how to have more energy, be more relaxed, and get a lot more accomplished with much less effort."
The key psychological insight of this book is that rapid progress occurs when you take large, unformed tasks, and break them down and organize them into smaller, sequential steps for exactly what to do and when. The book provides lots of guidance and examples for how to do this.
The book is organized into three sections. The first gives you an overview of the whole process for how to get more done in a relaxed way. The second spells out the details of how to implement that process, in a way that a personal coach might use. The third provides subtle insights that help you appreciate the benefits that follow from using the process. Like all good coaches, Mr. Allen understands that appreciating a subject from several perspectives and getting lots of practice with it are critical steps in learning.
The process advocated by this book is described with lots of systems flow charts that will appeal to all of the engineers and left-brained people. The right-brained people will find lots of discussions about emotions, feelings, and stress. So both types of thinkers should do well with this material.
The essence of the process is that you write down a note about everything when you take on a new responsibility, make a new commitment, or have a useful thought. All of this ends up in some kind of "in" box. You then go through your "in" box and decide what needs to be done next for each item. For simple issues, this includes identifying the action you should take first and when to take it. For tougher issues, you schedule an appropriate time to work the problem in more detail. You organize the results of this thinking, and review your options for what you should be doing weekly. Then you take what you choose to do, and act. Think of this process as the following five steps: (1) collect (2) process (3) organize (4) decide (5) act.
For the tougher problems, you start with identifying your purpose and principles so you know why you care how it all turns out. Then you imagine the potential good outcomes that you would like. Following that, you brainstorm with others the best way to get those outcomes. Then you organize the best pathway. Finally, you identify the first actions you need to take. Then you act, as in step 5 above.
From this outline, I hope that you can see that this is not rocket science. It is simple common sense, but with discipline. The critical part is the discipline because that is what focuses your attention where it will do the most good. For example, rather than sitting on something you have no idea how to get started, you can decide right away to get ideas from others on what the purpose and principles are that should be used in selecting a solution. So, you are in motion, and you have saved much time and anxiety.
What I learned from this book is that many people allow a lot of time to pass without taking any useful steps because they cannot imagine what to do next. This process should usually overcome that problem by showing you what to work on, providing methods to accomplish that step in the process, and guiding you to places where you can get appropriate help. As a result, this book should help overcome the bureaucracy and communications stalls that bedevil most organizations.
This fits from my own experience in helping people solve problems. If you simplify the questions and make them into familiar ones, everyone soon finds powerful alternatives drawn from a lifetime of experiences and memories. Keep things broad, abstract, and vague, and peoples' eyes glaze over while they struggle for a place to begin.
After you have finished reading and applying this book, I suggest that you share your new learning with those you see around you who are the most stressed out. By helping them gain relaxed control of their activities, you will also be able to enjoy the benefits of their increased effectiveness in supporting your own efforts.
May you always get the tools you need, understand what to do next, and move swiftly through timely actions!
on January 9, 2002
I attended one of David's seminars in 1986. As a result, I was able to successfully manage 101 concurrent projects, finishing on time and under budget. Fast forward to 2001. I keep this book by my side at all times (David publish it in Ebook form so it's easier to carry!). The company I'm with now wonders how I get the "impossible" projects done. Using David's techniques in the book, it seems like I can complete a full work day in fewer hours because I know what all my "next actions" are, and do them promptly. Gives me a lot of worry free time.
This is a book you "DO" not just read. Be prepared to work when you start out, but when the initial work is done, that's when the fun begins.
I cleaned my inbox and email box of 300 items in less than 15 minutes, filtering out the junk, the things that needed immediate attention, and the "someday maybe" things (like buying my first Harley).
This works for my personal life too. No more missed anniversaries, birthdays, phone calls, errands, etc.
Do you ever think about work projects at home? Do you ever think about home projects when you're at the office? Ever worry about that phone call you need to make or that errand you need to run? Forget it! Get the book. It's awesome. Get the book - period. If you don't, you deserve your stress.
on June 7, 2005
"Getting Things Done" is an incredibly helpful book. It's been indispensable for my personal productivity. It teaches you to do a few things well and does so in a relatively clear manner.
However, it has two serious problems. First, it is presented as a complete organizational system, when it is not. Second, it encourages a seat-of-the-pants, ju-jitsu approach to daily life that can be very counterproductive and exhausting.
But, first the good. For me, the main gist of the book is this: if you try to keep your life organized in your head, you will not be maximally productive. You'll be using an inordinate amount of energy trying to mentally keep track of all your "to do" items. "Getting Things Done" shows you how to get all of these out of your head and into a system so you can concentrate on the present and attack each action item one at a time. This is good stuff.
But, now, the bad (or not so good):
The first problem is "Getting Things Done" provides no guidance on how to prioritize your projects or sub-projects. It does not help you decide what to do next. Instead, it helps you produce very organized, contextual lists of next actions to take. To decide WHICH next action to take, it just recommends that you use your instincts. For many people, one of the big problems (and often THE big problem) with their organization is DECIDING which projects to work on when; and GTD is of absolutely no help. This is not an insurmountable problem as there are books ("Time Power" by Charles Hobbs) and computer programs (Life Balance from Llamagraphics), that can help you prioritize.
The second problem, and perhaps considerably more grave, is "Getting Things Done" encourages you not to plan. It encourages you to simply decide in each moment what to do (based on the excellent lists and reminder system you've created). It encourages a seat-of-the-pants, ju-jitsu approach to daily life. And this is a BIG problem for a lot of people, myself included. If you have trouble prioritizing what to do next in your day and life, then having to make those prioritizing decisions 200 times a day, as GTD encourages, is incredibly draining. GTD preaches that you live life efficiently, but that there's no need for habits or rituals. This is a contradiction and truly counter-productive.
If there's one common thread that you get from reading the biographies of incredibly productive and successful people, it's this: they have very regular, structured, and beneficial habits and rituals. They do not "wing it." "Getting Things Done" could be retitled "Winging It In the Most Efficient Manner Possible." There are successful people, of course, who do "wing it," but the vast majority of successful people are habit- and ritual- driven. That goes especially for work habits (and often for sleep habits, exercise habits, eating habits, and social habits, too). For a great example of this, read "On Writing," by Stephen King.
If you read "Getting Things Done," seriously consider supplementing it with "The Power of Full Engagement," by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz -- especially chapter 10, "The Power of Positive Rituals." It explains very convincingly why purposefully "winging it," even in the most efficient manner, will not work and could be your undoing.
"Getting Things Done" is still a great book, but it does not stand well, on its own, as a system for organizing your life. It needs supplementation.
on March 19, 2015
Summary: For anyone new to GTD, go ahead and buy this 2015 version, or save some money and buy the paperback original for $1.50. For anyone who already has a GTD book, just reread it and take a pass on this one, there's really nothing new.
I purchased the original in March 2001 for use with my Palm Pilot. I subsequently purchased the Outlook add-in around 2007; and my company had a GTD consultant onsite and provided us access to GTD Connect in 2008. I've found the workflow and methodology useful. The underlying original strength of GTD is that the book not only states "what" has to happen, but through a specific methodology also "how" to make it happen.
I was so excited about this 2015 update, with my expectations of entry to the digital age that I pre-purchased in Nov 2014. Just received the book today and I'm sorry to say that David is essentially punting on digital-age specifics in favor of generalities. Further, David admits that this is not a rewrite (though he did "retype the original manuscript").
I'm actually fine with the retype vs rewrite though - as he states, the core ideas and methodology of GTD remain the same. But the reason I went to GTD in the first place was that it provided specific workflows incorporating paper and pencil and Outlook and PDAs - he had done the work to figure out what works and I was happy to adopt his recommendations.
Since the original release there has been a profound shift in the use of technology - hardware, software, mobile and cloud. 2015 finds us in much more diversified and integrated data input/output environment than what the Palm and MSOffice suite offered in 2000, and so there is a very good reason to update the "how" part of the equation to manage this new information capture and task-list ecosystem.
In the new edition, the author provides some digital guideline feature specifics (software outline program should allow for sub-headings, expand/collapse ability), even more generalities, but mostly just derails the digital conversation of any 'how' by sweeping particulars under the carpet with a few ambiguities of "what" needs to be done, not "how" to do it, "Make sure you create comfort with the [computer] applications ["used for developing and capturing project plans and collateral"]. It will behoove you to do regular reviews and updating of this content and keep it current with consistent purging and reorganizing."
Punting on digital specifics of today's workflow world because, in his words, “the rate of innovation in this area means that any specific software program can easily be outdated, upgraded, or undermined by the next new thing", and that he has admittedly "hopped out of the fray, opting instead to provide a general model for how to evaluate the usefulness of any tool" is, for me, not useful. I *know* there is a plethora of digital tool options, and I wanted him to do the work and figure out what works. Fine, publish a revision when the tools change, I'll buy it. That's why he and his team get paid the big bucks. But if I wanted to spend my time figuring the complexity of tools out myself I'd have done that from day one. To me, this would be like Lonely Planets back-peddling on restaurant and hotel reviews. "Oh, there are just sooo many these days, let us tell you what to look for instead,,,, try to find a restaurant with lots of people in it, and look for a hotel with clean sheets." Uh, yea.
The original methodology and task-driven workflow remains true in the 2015 book as in the original. The "psycap" and other psychological drivers and underpinnings are interesting in the new book. But whereas I was confident that I had a pretty holistic system set-up as a result of the original book (and actually, as much a result of a smaller digital footprint, and I know I'm not the exception), I now feel, with this "completely updated" edition, that I have half a system with a digital divide, a "black hole" as the author even alludes.
I understand all the high reviews, the methodology is still very good as described, and yes, freshened. My rating of this book is as a version updated for what we would all agree is an increasingly digital world and unfortunately, whereas the "what" might be explained, I find the book lacking on the "how". I agree that it has helped me refine my thinking about how to use GTD in the digital age,,, i.e., I now think that I cannot rely just on this one book as a holistic model of how to get it all done ;)
For anyone new to GTD, go ahead and buy this 2015 version, or save some money and buy the paperback original for a $1.50 and you'll learn the essentials that have not changed. For anyone versed in GTD, I offer David's statement from this new book: "...whenever anyone loops back through the material, they invariably have a response like, "Oh my God, this is totally different information and perspective" than what they had remembered from earlier, "it was a totally different book each time!" So if you have an earlier GTD book? Just reread it and you'll likely get the same "new" experience and fresh perspective as from this 2015 book, particularly given that there really are no digital age specifics that many of us were hoping for.
on May 2, 2015
I really enjoyed reading this new version of GTD updated for today's environment. The principles and methodologies haven't changed but the insights, examples and implementation methods have been revised to be relevant for today's environment.
If you've not read the book and feel overwhelmed with all there is to accomplish on a daily basis then the purchase of this book needs no further thought. If you've read GTD in the past and are looking for a refresher this new edition is absolutely worth the cost of the Kindle version.
The physical book itself is not worth the price as it is VERY cheaply made. After getting through half the book the cover started to delaminate due to its thinness. Equally thin are the pages themselves making it clear the book will not hold up to multiple reads which is essential for this subject matter.
David Allen builds upon his best selling original edition, adding some fun anecdotes, new research, and stories about how his clients have used his system. The author’s message is really the same--just some of the details have been updated to include the latest technology. In this edition, Mr. Allen also makes use of the many seminars he has given, updating his material based on their feedback. The author also adds new stories and suggestions for readings that were not in the original edition. Finally, he also includes the latest in research into the human brain. (See Chapter 15, “GTD and Cognitive Science.”)
The strongest part of this book is the explanation of why you feel stressed-out, always worrying about those unfinished tasks. This one chapter is itself well worth the price of admission. Here's the point: The brain subconsciously works away on those tasks, until you have decided to do something concrete: “Until those thoughts have been clarified and those decisions made, and the resulting data has been stored in a system that you absolutely know you will access and thing about when you need to, your brain can’t give up the job.” I found the author’s recognition of this brain activity a really great insight. Your brain just won’t let something go: “Your mind can’t let it go until and unless you park a reminder in a place it knows you will, without fail, look.”
His advice is simple, but persuasive: List all the tasks that are on your plate, create a folder for each one, and then list what specifically is the next step to do. That is, ask yourself, “What is the next action step?” Chapter 12, “The Power of the Next Action Decision” explains why this approach is so powerful. By doing this, your brain "knows" that the next step has been defined--it doesn't need to keep "spinning" away, pondering what to do. Mr. Allen notes that it is very frustrating, once you’ve embraced this approach, dealing with others who simply don’t get it: “It clarifies things so quickly that dealing with people and environments that don’t use it can seem nightmarish.”
My Kindle edition formatting was fine. As with the original edition, this book is very professional edited and designed. I don't think there are really any monstrous new scientific theories here, but the author provides some excellent, practical steps that you can take today.
All in all, a fun read, with some interesting new twists and research. If you’ve already read the original edition, and understand the author’s suggestions, you can probably skim through this edition quickly.
Advance copy provided for impartial review
on April 7, 2006
I was pretty organized and efficient before reading GTD--over the years I had learned a lot of the guidelines Allen pushes, such as the Two Minute Rule and the axiom that you always identify the Next Action in any project. As he says, most of this is just common sense.
For me the big benefit of his system lies in the concept of emptying your head. It sounds trite, but it really works. As Allen states, in busy, chaotic modern life our minds must constantly work to remember all kinds of details and loose ends. We carry around so much of this mental noise we are no longer even conscious of it. Yet it is draining our energy and stressing us. After I had cleared all this "stuff" out of my head I immediately felt different. My wife even said I seemed more relaxed. And after several months the effect has persisted, because I have kept the discipline so far.
And as Allen also predicts, I feel more creative. With the stress reduced, you just naturally have more ideas. Your mind feels clearer. It is kind of weird.
WARNING: Another side effect is that you start thinking more about the big picture--where am I going, what am I doing--only now you find yourself really able to concentrate on these things. This can be uncomfortable if you were happy in the old rut. But Allen also predicts that this can happen. The book is based on his twenty years of coaching/consulting work.
This last effect is a shock, considering that GTD is so bottom-up, take-care-of-the-details, in its approach. It is all a bit like the old Voltaire schtick: tend to your own garden and the world will take of itself. I was on guard for something more like Covey's Seven Habits with its top-down approach. I am not a Self-Help/Business-Guru Book groupie. I see by the Amazon reviews that many people read loads of these books and become real connoiseurs, so they can compare among them and I can't. Years ago, however, I heard so much fuss about Seven Habits that I broke down and read it. What a contrast to GTD: folksy, patronizing, preachy, and puritanical. If you are a good person you will be rewarded materially. As if scoundrels can't be efficient and successful. Allen's tone, on the other hand is grown up, practical, and business-like. A lot of his wisdom and seriousness comes through indirectly, and he alludes to higher things, but thankfully, consciously decides not to go there.
Seven Habits brings to mind another point: I always disliked DayTimers and all that kind of thing. In the real world schedules don't survive. GTD promotes a loose, flexible system that matches what I have been doing for years: having my work and priorities mapped out but, as far as possible, not scheduled.
Another laudable thing: refreshingly, Allen is not selling any software, stationary, calendars, schedulers, workbooks, or other collateral; GTD is a system or a method, but it's implementation is up to you. You can use paper, notebooks, folders, a PDA, a PC, whatever works for you. Essentially, as he often reminds, you are simply keeping lists, in order to get all the "stuff" out of your head.
Implementing the system might require a couple of weekends, but you will not likely regret it.
on January 19, 2004
Bottom line, read this book! Act on this book, its not as daunting as it sounds. Spending 2 days setting up this system could prove the most valuable thing you do! Make a resolution to get things done! It really is worth following the advice, even the small things which seem irrelevant i.e. buying an automatic labeler; it really does help when you want to file something! If you are a procrastinator you NEED to read this book, it will explain to why you have had so much stress in your life. Also for all those people out there who consider themselves creative and hence feel that time management and organizational system aren't for them because they fear it will stifle their creativity, well read this book and try it!! I really feel more creative since I got all this unimportant stuff out of mind!!
OK All procrastinators out there, this book really works! Let me tell you a little about myself and then you might understand why this book has been so important to me. I am a world class procrastinator, or should I say was! I had every excuse in the book for why I felt time management systems, to do lists, organization methods just don't work. I am a creative guy and I always felt that getting organized would some how decrease my creative thoughts and ideas. Some of my best ideas came from the mess of papers and books around my study and I thought if I got organized that this would somehow stifle my creativity. The other aspect that always held me back was I didn't want to waste lots of time implementing a system and then just keep maintaining the system and not have time to do the "real" work. Even though I have all these excuses, I knew deep down they were just excuses. I could not work out why I had such a barrier to these systems. I have looked at and half heartedly tried many different systems, Franklin Covey, Time Manager, I have many different organizers and PDA's that I just don't use. I didn't realize it until I read this book, but a lot of my fear stemmed from that I always felt that there was so much that these systems wouldn't catch and I would lose ideas. Most systems don't seem to cope well with unstructured ideas, thoughts, magazine articles etc... And they don't seem to mesh electronic information and paper based information. I wasn't interested in just another system that managed my schedule and to do lists, I needed something that would cope with the way that I worked and wouldn't stifle my creativity! Getting Things Done! Managed to develop a system that incorporated everything and I felt that things weren't getting lost! Wow! It feels good!
I committed to read it and start taking action on January 1st (like all good procrastinators, New Years resolutions are plentiful and always ambitious. We all have good intentions!). Well this is a resolution that I kept. I first worked through my home office and piled up everything that needed to be looked at into the "In Basket" (or pile(s) as it turned out). It took half the floor space in my study. I had purchased the labeling system; I had files, file drawers, staplers, paper clips etc... I had it all together, and I started processing. I finally had all my work papers processed. I then started in on my work email; I had a backlog going back to Nov 2002. By the time I had finished I had my Inbox down to zero!! It took 14 hours! I had purchased the Outlook Add-on that helped me setup my Outlook Folders and it even gives you an easy toolbar to process all new email. My next task was processing all Non-work stuff, which included all creative projects. This took another 8 hours over 2 days, but I finally got it processed, filed away and task lists setup! I have only been back at work for a week, but I have kept processing all incoming messages and with a little work I have kept my email inbox empty and I have all the important tasks and projects setup. This is a major accomplishment! It really has freed my mind to concentrate on creative projects, be able to tackle my work better. My worst fear of being organized has not been realized, actually the direct opposite, I have had more creative ideas since I started than I had before! My mind is clear and free to roam! It feels amazing to know everything you are supposed to be doing (and also to know everything you don't need to be doing), and it's amazing to know that something is captured and even if I don't do this now, I have an action to do it; this means my mind doesn't feel shackled.