Initial thoughts about “Getting Things Done.”

Earlier this year it seemed like I was reading about David Allen’s book Getting Things Done all over the place on the internet. Most of the time it was on Twitter where people would shorten it to GTD. So I decided to take the plunge and buy the book. That was about two months ago.

The ironic thing was that I couldn’t get myself motivated to read it. I read the first few pages on the first day I had it, then the first chapter or so over the next week, but after that it just sat on my nightstand for about a month. You could say I was procrastinating about reading a book about productivity. If that’s not irony I don’t know the definition of the word.

I finally was able to get through the book, which I just finished today, but it took checking out the audiobook on CD from the public library. I must say that now that I’ve got through the book this way I think it’s the way to go. Starting with the audiobook got me through it rather quickly.

I think I was getting stuck reading the book because David Allen does a really good job of illustrating his points with simple charts that break down his ideas in a very easy, compelling design. That made me really want to do what he was writing about right away, but there is quite a bit of depth to his system, so it’s best to get through the whole book before you really dive in. Now that I’ve gotten to the end of the book I think it will be easier to skim through the printed edition so that I can remember some key points.

Here are the initial takeaways that I had:

  • Write EVERYTHING down. This could be in a notebook you carry with you, moleskin, index cards, or in electronic form. Whenever you have a thought about something you need to do you need to write down that thought and put it into a trusted system/process. He describes this phase of GTD as collection. The main point is that if you’re going to experience stress-free productivity you have to get everything out of your head that you don’t need to be doing at that given moment in time. If it’s in your brain it will distract you.
  • Decide is any piece of information/communication you receive is actionable. There are some things that come into our everyday lives that do not require us to do anything. This could be spam emails, junk snail mail, or a host of other bits of info. This is what he calls the process phase. Once you have it out of your head you have to decide what to do with it. You don’t have to do it right away, but you must make a decision about whether or not you will have to do something about it at any given point in the future. He had a really practical point in this step. He suggests that if an action will take less than two minutes to complete you should do it right then. This has proven very helpful to me. Some things that I’ve had on my task list have been very simple tasks that really didn’t need to be sitting there. I just had to get it done.
  • Decide what the NEXT ACTION is for any project. The next action is always a very specific, tangible task that is required to push the desired outcome toward completion. For example, if your project (or desired outcome) is pick a new curriculum for a class or group that you’re teaching, you would not write “pick new curriculum” down in your task list. This is not really possible as the next action most of the time. You would likely have to first do things like “brainstorm topics to cover with group,” or “check with boss about curriculum budget,” or “look up Rob Bell’s most recent Nooma videos.” After that you would then be able to actually “pick new curriculum.” Most of these next action steps seem intuitive, but I think that I’ve gotten stuck working on projects because I wrote down the desire outcome first without writing down the real, physical, tangible steps to get there.

There’s a whole lot more that I could write about, but I first need to review the printed book and then figure out which areas I need to understand more. Plus I haven’t really enacted most of his ideas. I’m guessing that will take me at least a few months, but I plan on blogging about the process as I go along.

For what it’s worth I think the book is worth checking out if you’re a working adult. There are a lot of very practical bits of advice.

See also:
Getting started with “Getting Things Done”
What is GTD?
Wikipedia article: Getting Things Done

3 thoughts on “Initial thoughts about “Getting Things Done.”

  1. I’m with you on the audiobooks. I find that they keep my mind occupied while I’m running, particularly fiction. It’s much easier to pound out the miles on the treadmill if I’m not constantly staring at the distance counter or the Olympian running next to me. I haven’t been in much of a health phase recently, thus I haven’t “read” anything in a while, but I’ve found that the local library and Half Price Books are both excellent sources when I’m in the mood.

    I tried listening to them on my commute, but I get a bit too immersed and don’t concentrate on my driving.

    Audiobooks: good. While driving: no so much.

  2. For implementing GTD you might try out this web-based application:

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A mobile version and iCal are available too.

    Hope you like it.

  3. @Aaron – I haven’t tried listening to audiobooks while I workout or run yet, but I agree with the concept that it makes it easier to stay focused running.
    What are some of the books you’ve listened to that you enjoyed?

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