Review of Getting Things Done by David Allen

Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen is an excellent book and concept.  I have been a fan and practitioner for years.

David Allen created a productivity system for the office based on the martial art Karate.  Beyond his book, he has many videos on YouTube that are worth watching.

Here are some of his key concepts:

  • GTD is a thinking process that facilitates getting things done.
  • Achieve organized, stress free, productivity.
  • Be in control at all levels at all times.
  • Clarify and surf the issues instead of being buried by them.
  • Spin many plates at a more sophisticated level.
  • In a chaotic workplace, we do not have time to optimize our environment and must react to what is on our plate.  The emphasis is on managing next actions and taking as many actions as needed until completion.
  • Your environment will swamp you.  Its a matter of survival to act quickly.
  • Get ahead and stay ahead.  You do not know what is coming around the corner.
  • Want to get things done with as little mental and physical effort as possible.
  • Your mind tries to be the system.
  • Your mind is limited in its ability to manage commitments, because it is handicapped in its ability to remember and remind.
  • Develop a trusted system to be your minds mind.
  • Discipline is remembering.
  • You don’t want to have to re-think or have the same thought twice.
  • Get things out of your head for the rest of your life and into a trusted system.  Your brain is a focusing tool not a storage device.  Lose ends cause mental drag.
  • The brain is a natural problem solving tool.  Tasks requiring more than two steps are projects but do not require sophisticated project management tools.
  • David offers a ” Natural Planning Model” that reflects how your brain actually plans:
    • Clarify purpose and values
    • Vision of what “done” looks like
    • Brainstorm
    • Organize
    • Take next actions
    • Move: up to increase clarity, down to increase action
  • Core process steps: Collect, Process, Organize, Review, Execute:
    • Collect Information:  Capture everything into the inbox of your trusted system so that you don’t have to store them in your head. Collect all potentially relevant information.  See my recommendation below for a trusted system.
    • Process the Information: Collected things need additional processing to clarify and determine if further action is needed.   Derive next action and execute on it.  Move the item from your inbox to an appropriate storage location or trash it.  If the next step can be done in 2 minutes or less, execute on it now.  Transform tasks into actions.
    • Organize the Information:  Organize and prioritize tasks for next action management.
    • Review the Information:  Review your projects frequently to keep them on your mental stage.
    • Execute Next Actions:  What is the next action needed to move this forward? Next action management is the key.
  • How do I set things up so that:
      • I don’t have to remember
      • I can find things quickly and easily
      • The least amount of effort is used; how do I define what “done” what looks like
      • I can be in control at all levels, at all times
      • I can capture things that grab my attention, then figure it out later
      • I have a reminder function so tasks cannot disappear

After years of practicing GTD, here is my evaluation:

  • Pros:
    • Fighting is a great metaphor for life and GTD is based on Karate.
    • David Allen is completely right.  You cannot keep things in your head or your environment will swamp you.  Get ahead and stay ahead.
    • If you are not taking notes, you are wasting my time.  I am dismissing you as I speak because I know your brain is overloaded.
    • “Get things out of your head for the rest of your life.”  This is a brilliant concept that I use all of the time. You never know what is potentially relevant.  Taking notes helps you pay attention the first time. Your recall will dramatically improve as well.  The act of paying attention and recording helps your mental recall as well as it can be searched in your trusted system when you do not remember.
        • Idea > capture it in Evernote or write it down
        • Defect > capture it with a picture in Evernote to commicate broadly
        • part number > capture it, then you don’t need to ask for it later.
        • Contact info > capture it
        • anything and everything > capture it and free up your mind.
  • Cons:
    • Karate is a series of katas or dances to simulate fight scenarios with multiple opponents.  It is a scripted set of rules.  GTD is a smaller set of rules that make quick action more likely.
    • GTD originally did not fully recommend a system to be your “trusted system”.
    • The Secret Weapon (TSW):  GTD was written before the explosion of modern internet tools.  At the time there was no perfect organization system for executing GTD principles.  I discovered TSW on YouTube, implemented it, and have been using it for many years now as my “GTD trusted system”.  I could not live without it and highly, highly recommend using this tool. TSW is free and involves using the Evernote application with GTD principles.  I used this tool in my Mechanical Engineering job for years and now have a premium Evernote subscription due to the megabytes of data that I process.  Capture on your phone, process on your PC after synchronizing. Those megabytes are not stored in my head. Its a true competitive advantage.  Click here to watch a video on TSW.

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