Monday, January 16, 2012

Book Review: Getting Things Done

There must be tons of reviews of Getting Things Done, by David Allen; the book even has its own Wikipedia page. One of the ideas that David mentions in the book, and that I've heard elsewhere, is that taking notes as you're reading, or at least having pen and paper handy so that you have the option to take notes, helps you to think more critically about what you read. I've found that to be true, so now after reading the book I have all these notes sitting in my Filo that I need to do something with - hence, book review! I've included page numbers for my own reference.

GTD, as the methodology in the book is frequently referred to, is basically a time management system (although David doesn't particularly like that label because "time can't be managed", but you get the idea). One of its key tenants is "making sure that everything you need is collected somewhere other than your head (p. 27 and elsewhere)," i.e. everything should be in your "system" - professional tasks, personal tasks, reference material, right down to the smallest piece of work you have. As a stay at home mom now, I really like David's definition of work: "anything you have a commitment to making happen" (p. 196). If you've agreed, with yourself or with someone else, to make something happen, that's work.

The book guides you through collecting and processing all of your "incompletes" into seven categories of stuff in the end (p. 140):
  1. Projects list (where a project is anything that takes more than one step to complete)
  2. Project support materials
  3. Calendared items (things that must be done on a certain day)
  4. Next actions list (every active project must have a next physical action that will move it forward and these actions are organized by "context," i.e. where you can do them - at work, at home, at computer, etc.)
  5. Waiting for list
  6. Reference materials
  7. Someday/Maybe projects list
David makes the point that "everything you experience as 'incomplete' must have a reference point for complete" (p. 252), i.e. you have to know when you're done or you never will be done with a project. Likewise, imagining what a successfully completed project would look like can help lead to a successfully completed project - "You often need to make it up in your mind before you can make it happen in your life." (p. 69) And keep that negative thinking away! "Ceasing negative imaging will always cause your energy to increase." (p. 242)

As you process your "stuff" into the "system," you are obviously supposed to decide what to do about it, but sometimes that's tricky. When the next thing you have to do is decide what to do, "determine what you need to do in order to decide," for example, "draft ideas re: X." (p. 130) Also, "it's OK not to decide as long as you have a decide-not-to-decide system, e.g. calendar reminders." (p. 172) I missed these two points the first time I read the book, and things that needed tricky decisions had a tendency to sit around in the in-basket for a long time. (Another GTD tenant is keeping your inbox empty as much as possible - don't let stuff stack up to be processed.)

The book does spend a bit of time on project planning, a topic that I didn't make many notes on. One phrase that stuck out was "If the project still on your mind, there's more planning to do," (p. 78) which is another example of GTD's underlying principle of getting everything out of your head so you can concentrate on what you're currently doing.

Finally, it ends with the suggestion to reread it in three to six months - I plan to!

Other Quotes

"The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators." --Edward Gibbon (p. 7)
"Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does." (p. 11)
"We all have times when we think more effectively, and times when we should not be thinking at all." (p. 194)

"If you know what you're doing, and what you're not doing, surprises are just another opportunity to be creative and excel." (p. 198)

"Your work is to discover your work and then will all your heart give yourself to it." --Buddha (p. 201)

"There's always too much to do." (p. 226)

"The secret to getting ahead is getting started." --Mark Twain (p. 239)
A Gap in GTD?
One topic that I didn't see covered in the book is that of repeating tasks. Say I have to make dinner every day - is that the next action that I don't cross off for a never ending "Make Dinner" project? Or do I cross it off and rewrite it every day (I don't think David would like that)? Do I move it to the next day in my tickler file every day? I don't think any of these choices are very satisfactory, so then I seem to be left with .... keeping it in my head, oh noes!

Maybe it's just an issue of where the line is drawn. Obviously your time management system isn't going to remind you to breathe, perhaps routine tasks like making dinner are in the same category. Something to Google for sometime...

Today's unrelated picture is of part of the Pembroke Terrace in Abbeyleix, Ireland, taken on my honeymoon. A sign in front of the houses reads, "These 19th century houses were built for and named after Lady Emma de Vesci, daughter of the 11th Earl of Pembroke after her marriage to Thomas, the 3rd Viscount de Vesci. This terrace originally housed the Post Office, the Hibernian Bank, the Police Barracks and the R.I.C. Inspector's House" (Taking pictures of signs is great.)

I just made a DVD of honeymoon pictures for my dad, since he's tentatively planning a trip to Ireland!

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