Book Summaries

Book Summary: Getting Things Done

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Getting Things Done by David Allen is a must read and a must have if you want to become more productive in your professional life and also in your personal life. I loved reading this book, and I adhere to his principles till today! It’s incredible how much productive a book can make you. So, don’t just scheme over it, read it and apply everything in that book today!

Give Your Brain a Break

Too many people make the mistake of trying to remember everything they need to do in a given day. Not only this is inefficient, but your chances or forgetting and feeling overwhelmed is very high. David Allen argues that your brain is excellent at thinking but severely falls behind when it comes to remembering something to do. Also, if you don’t write things down or store your to-dos in a single place, it leaves open loops in your brain. So, when you are trying to concentrate, your mind works to nag you or try to remind you about an unfinished task. Not only it’s annoying, but you end up using up your brain power and lose focus quickly.

So, David urges everyone to adopt three simple steps to give your brain some time to breathe.

  1. In a centralized place, daily record all your nagging or actionable thoughts, ideas, todos and anything that needs some action from you. It could be a diary, notebook, your smartphone or an app. The goal is to have it recorded all in one place.
  2. After recording all your items, review them and decide what you can do with them. These could include organizing the tasks by their priority, your target goals and whatever makes them more critical to your life.
  3. The next step is to take action on those tasks. Whether the functions need to be completed by you or if you can delegate to someone better than you then this is the time to make that plan.

Organize Your Workspace

David Allen strongly believes that your workspace alone can make a difference in your overall productivity. Whether you are at work or home, your workspaces should be identical with a similar setup. He argues that when you have different workspaces and different types of filing systems or tools, they contradict your brain and requires more brain power. However, if they are identical in both places, you have less thinking to do, and you achieve flow more naturally.

At a minimum, you should have a proper desk, enough room to write, your computer, Post-Its, paper clips, tape, baskets, and a filing cabinet. The filing cabinet should be labeled A-Z to keep them organized.

Your laptop, computer or mobile devices need to have a consistent setup as well. So, instead of following different folder or file structures at your personal computer, follow the same naming convention and organizational structure you use at work. The goal is to keep them consistent across everything to make it easier for you to process them.

David also recommends purging your cabinets and your digital library on a yearly basis. Not only it makes room for more, but overall it optimizes your workspace and helps you achieve peace of mind.

GTD Step 1: Capture Everything

As mentioned in the give your brain a break section, the first step to GTD is to collect and store all your thoughts, todos, wishes, wants or anything that is occupying your mind in a central place. The goal is to show your brain that you have stored the information in a trusted location and it doesn’t have to worry about it anymore. Not only you will find it liberating, but you will see that your brain becomes more efficient at doing the task at hand.

David suggests that you should be writing those things down or record them on a device of your choice on a regular basis. So, if you have an idea at the middle of the night, write it down and go back to sleep. No need to think over it or act on it, write it down and come back later to reflect and then decide what action you need to take. If you don’t write it down or record it in your trusted collection box, your mind will leave an open loop and might nag you over and over again.

GTD Step 2: Review & Empty Your Collection Box

On Step one of the GTD approach, David asked you to collect and store all your to-dos, thoughts and other items in a trusted place. Whether it’s your laptop, diary or a napkin, as long as it’s consistent and gives you peace of mind, you are doing it right. However, throughout the week, you will find that your collection box becomes quite huge and if you don’t review your notes, they will start to bloat very quickly. So, listed below are the steps David Allen suggests to review and empty your collection box.

  1. Review, reflect and organize your tasks. If an item is no longer relevant or not needed then trash it. No hard feelings!
  2. Do you need to work on the task right now or is it something you will have to do at a later time? If so, set a reminder and forget about it.
  3. Does the task require less than 2-minutes to complete? Then get it done!
  4. If the task requires more than 2-minutes and if you are not the best person to do it, then delegate to someone who is. Then get it off your list or move it to the “waiting on list.”
  5. If the task requires more than 2-minutes and if you are the right person to do it, then defer it. As in deciding on the next step what to do with them.

GTD Step 3: Organize Your List

On the previous step, David asked you to review your collection box, get rid of the tasks that are no longer relevant, knock out the 2-minute tasks and delegate the tasks to someone else if applicable. Now, let’s take a look at some strategies to organize your deferred items.

  1. If a particular item is actionable and will need more than one step to reach your desired outcome, then this task needs to be under a project. Whether the project is writing a novel or fixing the lights in your living, they both apply!
  2. If you delegate an item, you need to move it to the waiting on list. After the assigned person completes the task, you can remove it from your list.
  3. If you marked a task as deferred, you have two choices. Either move the item to your next action list or schedule it on your calendar.
  4. If you have a task that is important to you, but you don’t have to take action on it right now, then move it to a different list, called the “Someday/Maybe list.” David suggests that you break up that list further. For example, “Movies to watch,” or “Books to read.”
  5. If a task doesn’t need any action and it’s only there as a reference then move that to a different folder called, “Reference Materials.” As usual, you can break them down further by other categories.

GTD Step 4: Review Your Projects

Just like reviewing your Inbox or the Collection Box on a weekly basis, David encourages you to reflect on your projects as well. In GTD, a project is any outcome that requires more than one step. So, reading your email is just a task but planning a vacation would fall under a project.

On a weekly basis, you want to review your projects and ask yourself what my next action is? By defining clear action steps, you will be moving those projects towards completion sooner than you realize. So, servicing your car is vague, and it confuses your mind. However, if you define it as ‘Service my car at Tom’s Auto on Tuesday 3 PM.’ it’s more clear and defined.

So, when you are reviewing the tasks under a project, make sure they are well defined, scheduled in your calendar or listed under the Next Actions list. David encourages you also to record the next actions for meetings as well. Not only it will keep a project moving forward, but it will also make it clear to everyone in a plan what the next action items are.

GTD Step 5: Natural Project Planning

David argues that when you undertake a big project, it’s usually unclear. In such cases, you could adopt the natural planning method to get the ball rolling. For example, when you are hungry and need food, you don’t necessarily plan much for it. You know you are hungry, and you know you need food, so you quickly come up with a few ideas and act on them. Whether it’s ordering the pizza or cooking your meal, you don’t overthink and take action to eat.

Similarly, you can start brainstorming for a big project by asking yourself what kind of outcome the project will give you or your company, what is its purpose, who will be working on it. Thoughts like those will give your project planning a jumpstart and sooner or later you will come up with more concrete goals (e.g., grow revenues by 5%, email dave for the current revenue breakdown)

David suggests that when you thought everything through it should give you peace of mind. However, if you have thoughts intruding your mind, then it means you are not done yet with your natural project planning.

GTD Step 6: Use Your Calendar & Next Actions List

David feels that when you create a to-do list item, it doesn’t give you a clear picture of your day to day tasks or how much you can commit in a day. However, a Calendar and the Next Actions List gives you an excellent picture of how your day is going to look like and how much work you can take on in a given day.

However, it doesn’t mean you put everything and anything on a calendar. You need to put a limit to the type of tasks you add to your schedule to keep the GTD system running as efficiently as possible. David suggests that you use your calendar only to add time-specific items like the doctor’s appointments, scheduling a call or any critical information applicable on a given day at a specific time. Also, it would be best if you moved any other tasks to your Next Actions list.

Conclusion

As you can see GTD is not rocket science but a simple set of habits that can make you profoundly more productive than you are today. So, to quickly recap, here’s what you have to do in a nutshell. First, capture every task and nagging thoughts or ideas in your collection box. Regularly, review your Inbox to process each item into projects, delegate them or remove them if they are no longer required. Then take some action towards the completion of those tasks. This summary is good enough to get you started on GTD, but for more insights, I’d highly recommend that you get the book and dive in right away!

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