It has been a while since my last book review. Let’s just call that a little spring/summer break, shall we. I am back this month with a doozy you may already be familiar with, Getting Things Done by David Allen.
I’d heard of the title, but I was totally unaware of the wealth of ideas in this book. I was barely through the first chapter when I realized the library copy I had just wouldn’t cut it. I needed my own copy to underline and scribble notes in. Each page was stocked full of ideas and tips and it became clear why this book has such a big following.
The introduction begins with a new concept- a simple to do list and setting of goals doesn’t help “get things done” consistently. You must have a “trusted system”, a place that is regularly reviewed, where you can empty your brain and capture all the to-do’s that are swirling around you, in order for your subconscious to focus on more meaningful thinking. I love how he recommends you “get into the habit of keeping nothing on your mind” by recording an idea as soon as it pops into your head. Get it out of your head and into your system.
Many of us waste precious mental energy by trying to keep track of lists of “to dos” in our mind and therefore miss out on using our “creative attention”. Instead, that attention gets lost within our task list.
Throughout the book, David Allen takes you through the steps of (1) collecting all of your tasks and ideas (I mean everything!) into one place. Everything in your in-basket, your piles, your files, and the to dos in your head. (2) Processing them to decide what action to take next, (3) organize them, (4) review and then (5) do.
“You can’t organize what’s incoming-you can only collect it and process it. Instead, you organize the actions you’ll need to take based on the decision you’ve made about what needs to be done.”
Instead of wasting “time thinking about things more than once” decide the next required action.
To-do lists are usually lists of “stuff”. These to-do’s can become stale because what you have listed isn’t an actionable item. Instead, David Allen encourages us to look at each to-do and get clear about the desired outcome and the next action required. “You have to think about your stuff more than you realize, but not as much as you’re afraid you might.” The real problem is that when projects seem overwhelming because of lack time or some other excuse. It’s really overwhelming because of lack of clarity and an understanding of what the specific “next-action” steps are.
Let’s say that on your to do list is plan birthday party. Has it been on your mind for a while? That might be because the item isn’t specific and actionable. David Allen suggests breaking it down so it looks more like draft guest list, order invitations, collect address and so on. Actionable steps help you “get things done.”
Although it is hard to give Getting Things Done proper justice within this simple book review, this book provides real clarity on how to get past projects and tasks and get focused on clearly defined ”next steps.” Those looking to increase efficiency, as well as those feeling overwhelmed and stressed with the amount of things to do but not enough time to do them, will all find the strategies presented in this book beneficial. This book should jump to the top of your to-do list. I mean, to the top of your “trusted collection system.”
The good news is, anyone can learn and implement this strategy to increase their productivity. Although we may sometimes feel that we are destined to be scatterbrained thanks to some unknown disorganization gene, Mr. Allen shows us that there is hope.
I will be honest, this wasn’t always the easiest book to read; some parts are repetitive and a little dry. If you are looking for an easy read that requires little mental input to increase your productivity, this isn’t it. However, if you really want to change, there is some work involved to follow along with the steps in the book to reset past behaviors. Once you get past the initial collection phase and begin organizing your actions, the system becomes easy to follow through with and maintain.
The 2 minute rule- if the action takes less than 2 minutes to accomplish, do it now. The reasoning is 2 minutes is the “cutoff point where it starts to take longer to store and track an item than to deal with it the first time it is in your hands.” For some reason this idea provided me relief that every little thing doesn’t need to recorded. And since you also don’t want it taking up valuable mental energy, it grants the freedom do it now. A simple tip that boosts productivity in the small things.
Most people get to their in-basket or their e-mail and look for the most urgent, most fun, or most interesting stuff to deal with first. …But that’s not processing your in-basket; it’s emergency scanning. When you’re in processing mode, you must get into the habit of starting at one end and just cranking through items one at a time, in order. As soon as you break that rule, and process only what you feel like processing, and in whatever order, you’ll invariably begin to leave things unprocessed. Then you will no longer have a functioning funnel, and it will back up all over your desk and office.
There were tons of hidden gems just like this one. I plan to reread this book in a few months after I have been following the system for a while to reprocess. I now consider myself a Getting Things Done follower.
Are you a GTD follower? Do you have a tickler file? Or does tickler file just sound a little creepy?