Getting Things Done

David Allen has written a book, Getting Things Done, that has been immensely helpful to many people. I’ve heard the book mentioned many times around the office. I have been using applications that were created with the GTD philosophy and methodology in mind. But I hadn’t actually read it until last Friday (and I’m not quite finished yet, because I skipped to the end).

I had been thinking about reading the book and was putting it off because I didn’t want to spend more money than I really needed to at this point. I discovered a podcast called Back to Work by Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin on 5by5 that had a series of talks about Getting Things Done.

I was intrigued by the title of the first talk, She’s Five for a Living, in the GTD series. Merlin relates a story about how he and his five-year-old daughter were deciding what to do with their day. He listed off a whole bunch of options and one of them included the word “cookie.” So, what she heard was “Blah, blah, blah, cookie, blah, blah blah.” By the time the day was over, they had enjoyed a cookie, but they weren’t able to do all the other things, so this was a little upsetting to Merlin’s daughter. Well, “she’s five for a living,” so she doesn’t understand that by choosing one thing this will mean that she’s choosing not to do the other things. We, being more mature, need to get organized and get focused to do what we want to do in life.

The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, is divided into three parts:

  • Part 1: The Art of Getting Things Done
  • Part 2: Practicing Stress-Free Productivity
  • Part 3: The Power of the Key Principles

This roughly breaks down to theory, application and benefits.

Each part of the book is divided into chapters:

  • Part 1: The Art of Getting Things Done
    • Chapter 1 - A New Practice for a New Reality
    • Chapter 2 - Getting Control of Your Life: The Five Stages of Mastering Workflow
    • Chapter 3 - Getting Projects Creatively Under Way: The Five Phases of Project Planning
  • Part 2: Practicing Stress-Free Productivity
    • Chapter 4 - Getting Started: Setting Up the Time, Space and Tools
    • Chapter 5 - Collection: Corralling Your “Stuff”
    • Chapter 6 - Processing: Getting “In” to Empty
    • Chapter 7 - Organizing: Setting Up the Right Buckets
    • Chapter 8 - Reviewing: Keeping Your System Functional
    • Chapter 9 - Doing: Making the Best Action Choices
    • Chapter 10 - Getting Projects Under Control
  • Part 3: The Power of the Key Principles
    • Chapter 11 - The Power of the Collection Habit
    • Chapter 12 - The Power of the Next-Action Decision
    • Chapter 13 - The Power of Outcome Focusing

How does it work?

David Allen wants to help us shed the mental weight that keeps us from being effective. To be a “black belt” in the area of productivity, you need a “mind like water” so that whatever anyone throws at you, your pond will return to a restful equilibrium rather than generating a wave pool that is blown about by the winds of external pressures.

You can get things done by:

  • collecting your stuff, organizing it and thinking about what to do with it:
    • defer it
    • delegate it
    • do it
  • focusing on the outcomes to define projects to commit to
  • deciding what the next physical action is and doing it

But why so much paper?

The bit that I found a little off-putting was David Allen’s reliance on physical organization systems. For example, the “tickler file” is a set of 43 folders (p. 174). This bit was such an important idea to Merlin Mann that he created a site dedicated to the idea: 43Folders.

My initial thought is: wouldn’t it be friendlier to the trees to not cut them down for things that I intend to discard anyway? If I’m going to follow this system, I’m going to use text files for ideas and folders on my hard drive for projects. I am trying to avoid paper as much as possible these days. I am more of a web designer than I am a print designer because I have always felt uncomfortable about killing trees for a living. I’m sure that’s not a new thought, but I have yet to delve deeper into the ideas that Merlin has to offer.

At any rate, the theme of this month is about getting things done. While I am writing a blog post, I am not getting other things done.