Getting Things Done by David Allen is one of those classic productivity books that even if you don’t implement you should probably read. I first read this about 10 years ago and it dramatically changed my organizational skills for the better. I was really great about inbox zero for many years and then the skill slowly wore off. I decided to pick the book up again with the most recently revised edition to see if I could bring some of that organization back.
An important thing to know about the book is that even though “GTD” is an entire strategy to workplace productivity which can can take classes and even get certified in, you don’t need to do it all to get a lot out of the tactics within that strategy. For me, the whole thing seems like way too much but I employ several of the ideas.
The overarching thrust of Allen’s philosophy is that the human mind isn’t good at letting things go. The moment you think of something you need to do, until you do something with that thought that captures it in some way, your mind will not let that thought go. Let’s say you are at work and remember, “I need to buy dog food.” If you just tell yourself you will get dog food on the way home, for the rest of the day, some part of your brain is thinking “pick up dog food, pick up dog food.” However, if you have a to do list you write the task down on or send your self a reminder email, your brain will let it go.
So the whole point of the system is to find a way to get absolutely everything you are holding onto in your head and put it someplace. Then start taking care of them one at a time. This leads to the mantra Do It, Delegate It, Defer It, Delete It. Whatever new item or task comes at you in your life, make a decision immediately to do one of those things. If it takes two minutes or less, do it right then. If it is someone else’s responsibility, tell them. If you are going to do it later, have a system in place for setting a specific follow-up time. Finally, if none of those things apply, be relentless about what you say no to.
Allen has a hierarchy of thinking he steps through, basically these are how your organize tasks from small to big picture.
- Current Actions – Review Daily
- Current Projects – Review Weekly
- Areas of Accountability – Review Monthly
- Goals – Review Quarterly
- Vision and Purpose – Review Annually
What I liked most about the hierarchy is how he explains that, you have to get the small stuff under control before you can think about the big stuff. There are several times I have attempted to do larger goal or vision planning but always get side tracked and don’t implement anything. Until the current chaos is tamed, an vision you come up with for you life will quickly drown in the noise.
“If your not totally sure what your job is, it will always feel overwhelming.”