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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