Book Review: “Getting Things Done” by David Allen

There is no exaggeration in saying that Getting Things Done by David Allen has changed my life.  I cannot recommend this book enough for those who over commit themselves, juggle multiple projects at once, or just want to have a better grasp on their life.  Following the principles in this book, I’m markedly more productive, able to prioritize social/family time, I’m more creative, and I even sleep better.

The basic premise of the book is pretty simple: your brain is like a computer.  When you have too many applications open at once, it doesn’t function optimally and eventually it crashes.  Similarly, when you are trying to regularly process everything that you have to do in life, the same thing happens.  By getting everything out of your brain and into a trusted system of reminders, you become infinitely less stressed and better able to focus directly on the tasks at hand.

As a very simplified overview, you begin by writing down everything in your brain that you think you need to do.  It can be immediate things, such as take out the trash, to long term goals, such as pay off debt or learn Russian.  This process will likely take quite a while because you need to get literally everything you think about all in one place.  Then you start sorting it into either Next Action, Waiting For, Read/Review, Someday Maybe, and Reference material, immediately doing any tasks that take under 2 minutes so you no longer have these “open loops”.

From there, put everything into bite sized pieces.  For instance “Plan Vacation” is not a good to-do list item because it’s too broad and not something you can sit down and just do.  It would need to be broken down into pieces such as discuss destination ideas with spouse, review available budget, check visitation schedule, confirm that time off work is available during that time, research travel and hotel options, book travel and hotel options, etc.  Then consider dividing everything up by location rather than by general task.  For instance, at the office, at home, at a computer, on the phone, etc.  By doing this, when you have 10 minutes free at your computer before your next meeting, you can review your “At computer” list and start making progress on a variety of different projects simultaneously rather than wasting that 10 minutes trying to figure out how to spend it (and ultimately wasting it on Facebook).

This is really just the tip of the iceberg on creating an efficient workflow system as outlined in the book.  A lot of it is common sense, a lot of it may already be things you do, however getting a cohesive plan in place on how to tackle life is imperative.  I’ve used these principles to set up a system through Evernote that allows me to help keep track of projects from any device anywhere.  When I have an idea or remember something I need to do, I add it to my Evernote list to be sorted later and go back to focusing on the task at hand rather than letting my mind wander about how I will make progress on this other thought.  The moment you are trying to think about two things at once, you’ve failed to do one of them.  This system help the time and attention you spend feel more successful utilized (as well as making sure you do it in the right places at the right time).  I cannot over emphasis the importance of this read.

Change your life.  Get this book.

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Sports Ball Leadership Insights Pt. Deux

Book Review (Pt.2): “The Score Will Take Care of Itself” by Bill Walsh

I’ve completed a third book (Getting Things Done by David Allen) since my intent to finish the follow up review of the second half of this book, so I’ll keep it brief.  Although there are many, many phenomenal quotes to site from this book (I recently purchased a paperback copy to re-read later), these are a few additional quotes that stuck out with me as I finished the book.

 

“The culture precedes positive results.  Champions behave like champions before they are champions.  They have a winning standard of performance before they are winners.”

I see too often in general, particularly in my generation and younger, the expectation to be successful just because they showed up.  I think some of it started when everyone started getting a participation ribbon to make them feel “encouraged”, however it seems to have made a pendulum swing in the other direction where few are really willing to try.  It’s created a vacuum of work ethic, which makes it easier to get noticed for those actually putting forth the work.  And they can’t be completely to blame because they were never taught otherwise, however it is a somewhat sad state of affairs looking forward at the future generations of leaders.   I think we would do well to find a happy medium of positive reinforcement and developing a culture of standards.

 

“Conventional wisdom often produces conventional results.”

This simplistic, Confucius style statement really stuck out to me when I heard it.  Too often we run into the convention of “that’s not how we do it, we’ve always done it this way”.  Which, on one hand, is comfortable and low-risk.  It’s also inhibiting of the potential of growth.  I tend to get a bit of a reputation as a rebel rouser because I have a tendency to break convention… and it seems to have worked relatively well for me so far!  Calculated risks, although still risks, can reap great rewards.

 

 

“Flying by the seat of your pants precedes crashing by the seat of your pants.”

All of that being said, the key phrase is “calculated risks”.  By establishing purpose, followed by goals, followed by strategies and tactics, followed by measurable metrics for success… risks really aren’t so risky.  And even when they don’t work out as plan, typically you still have enough structure to learn something from it.  “Winging it” doesn’t often grant the same benefit with an increased amount of risk.

 

“Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” – John Wooden, Wooden on Leadership

This quote was featured in the book and I thought it was pretty solid.  Being busy does not equate to being successful.

 

“Don’t let anyone tell you that a big ego is a bad thing. It is reflective of anyone willing to take their talent as far as it will go.  Ego is pride, self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-assurance.  Egotism, on the other hand, is an arrogance that comes from your own perceived skill, power, or position.  It makes you self-important, self-centered, and selfish… and slow, vulnerable, and easily destroyed.”

That says just about everything, doesn’t it?

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