Getting Things Done – Book Review

Getting Things Done by David Allen

This books is written more like a guideline/instruction manual of how to be more productive. This book review will not be as long as some of the others since it is a book I will be referring back to and implementing into my work life. I also plan to implement and re-read some of the key actions in this book in future months to make sure I am still applying the GTD method.

The premise of the GTD method is that our minds are excellent tools for thinking, creativity, etc. but horrible at storing and recalling. The more that we are forced to keep in our minds bogs us down and destroys our productivity. David Allen’s solution to this problem is his Getting Things Done method. At its most basic level, what you are doing is defining the next action for each project on your list and you review the list of actions, not projects. This is an extremely simplified version of what it took 300 pages to explain, but it captures the essence. I listed out below some of the tools and tricks he goes through in the book:

  • Two minute rule: if something takes less than 2 minutes, do it now. If not, go ahead and make sure the next actions are defined and defer it or delegate it. Here is the process flow for the “stuff” you compile in the capturing process
  • Create a “mind like water” – what this really means is that your mind is free of all obstacles to be completely focused on one thing. Compared it to athletes being “in the zone”
  • Exercise for defining next actions: page 15
    • Write one sentence about a project: write the successful outcome of the problem or situation
    • Write your next physical action that needs to be done on this project
  • Manage your actions, do not manage your “stuff”
  • The process for managing your workflow is:
    • Capture
    • clarify
    • organize
    • reflect
    • engage
  • Projects are defined as “any desired result that can be accomplished within one year and requires more than one action step.
  • How to effectively use a calendar: page 43
  • Four-Criteria model for choosing actions in the moment:
    • Context
    • Time available
    • Energy available
    • Priority
  • Threefold model for identifying daily work
    • doing predefined work
    • doing work as it shows up
    • defining your work
  • Six level model for reviewing your own work. This model takes  a bottom up approach to planning your projects/life. It would be best practice to review this regularly (like rock generation). Also keep in mind that this list should be viewed both personally and professionally. Pages 55/56
    • Ground: Current actions – Next actions on projects: Call Sandy, make set up meeting with Mike, Review scenarios with BOT team
    • Horizon 1: current projects: What are the current projects: Coster, ESOP valuation, outdoor kitchen
    • Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountabilities: Costing CR, ESOP DR, FDR, etc.
    • Horizon 3: Goals: What you want to be experiencing in various areas of your life and work one to two years from now will help you define your work. Travel in Spain, Start a business, Start a family
    • Horizon 4: Vision: 3-5 year time horizon. Career and lifestyle circumstances, longer term career, family, financial.
    • Horizon 5: Purpose and Principals: Big picture views, “why” questions: why does our company exist, why do I exist, the ultimate job description. All goals, visions, objectives, projects and actions derive from this, and lead toward it.
  • The Natural Planning Model: There is also an exercise on page 63
    • Defining purpose and principles
    • outcome visioning
    • brainstorming
    • organizing
    • identifying next actions
  • Brainstorming: The best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas.
    • Mind mapping
    • Distributed Cognition: page 74 looks really interesting on this to review in the future
      • Building an extended mind
        • Getting things out of your head and into a reviewable objective format
    • Brainstorming keys
      • don’t judge, challenge, evaluate or criticize
      • go for quantity, not quality
      • put analysis and organization in the background

Implementing GTD

  • Go through the Capturing process- get all projects, thoughts, etc. onto single sheets of paper and put them into the “in” box. later on we will process them but now it is just a data dump.
  • Complete “triggers” list is on page 116-120
  • Clarifying: getting the “in” to empty. in this step you will be processing everything gathered in the capturing process. Identifying each item, deciding what it is, what it means, and what you’re going to do with it. This is when you will use the “stuff workflow diagram” from above
  • Processing Guidelines -Starting page 124
    • Process top item first- process does not mean spend time on (remember 2 minute rule)
    • process one item at a time
    • Never put anything back into “in”
  • Key processing question: “what’s the next action?”
  • Items with No action
    • Trash
    • Items to incubate
      • someday/maybe list
    • Reference material
      • Feel free to create a new reference file for a new topic, theme, person, or project.
  • Defer it-it is important to track the handoff, set reminders to follow up, record dates of everything that is handed off to others
  • Organizing:
    • A projects list
    • Project support material
    • Calendar actions and information
    • next actions list
    • A waiting for list
    • Reference Material
    • A Someday/Maybe list
  • Categories for action reminders- pg 147. Always categorize by action, not by document type
    • Calls
    • At Computer
    • Errands
    • At OFfice
    • At Home
    • Anywhere
    • Agendas
    • Read/Review
  • Never use support material for reminding
  • Someday/Maybes: read pages 176-179 for categories and how to optimize
  • Tickler file: page 182-185
    • I set one of these up at work already. basically a way to “deliver” documents/next actions you want to do on a date in the future. you are reviewing the file folder the day of.
  • Reflecting– keeping it all fresh and functional
  • What to look at, when?
    • Calendar first
    • Then your actions list
  • Power of the Weekly review – Pg 194-199. Best time to do the weekly review would be Friday early afternoon when people are still around, events are still fresh enough in your mind, allows you to go into the weekend with a clear mind
    • Get clear
    • Get Current
    • Get Creative
  • Bigger picture reviews
    • reviewing horizons 3-5
    • you need to decide how often you need to do this
  • Engaging: Making the best action choices
    • Review the models outlined above
  • Getting projects under control- pages 227-239
    • Clear the deck, create a context and do some creative project thinking- you will then be way ahead of most people

Part 3 : The power of the key principles

  • Part 3 of the books is the theory and the why and how it works. i am not going to outline it like i have in the other sections. the high level is that we are better at thinking then remembering. He says that bright people procrastinate the most because they overthink all of the steps and play out all of the outcomes. they need to break it down into the simple “next action” that will clear their anxiety
  • Talks about how this theory applies to Maslow’s hierarchy
  • You can only put your conscious mind on one thing at a time. If that’s all that has your attention, your in flow
  • Psychological Capital – page 283
  • Levels of mastery -Pages 286-300

A lot of good takeaways from this book. i need to set in my Tickler file to reread this in 6 months and refresh my outlook. Main action items is to go through the Capture, clarify, organize, reflect, engage processes to clear my mind and start getting things done. I also need to make time for some intentional brainstorming sessions on whatever topics I am passionate about that week: business ideas, project brainstorms, strategic visioning, etc…


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