Productivity book review of Getting Things Done by David Allen

Took advantage of the chronically rainy long weekend to get stuck into David Allen’s “Getting things Done.”

Firstly, it’s more written for white collar, middle management people who are looking to keep work and life in balance and keep the boss happy.

Not that this is a bad thing, but it will take some adapting to try and translate it for a freelance or startup person.

Secondly, it is worth the read... but be prepared to skip things a little because of the first point- and also because it does high level and detailed analysis.

Finally, the author says you can challenge his ways, that there are a million ways out there, and that the baseline is generally the same…and he is right.

I can guarantee even if you do skip stuff and feel a little “not necessarily for me” it does get the synapses firing!

Anyway, here is what I have gleaned on “Getting Things Done”.

Getting Things Done

Why be organised?

• If you don’t make progress with an idea or project, your tension will increase. This is why things can haunt you later on in the day/night.

• It’s not a lack of time that beats you- it’s a lack of clarity, not defining what your project is and what action steps are required that makes time run low and tension run high.

• If you don’t break it down, of course it will look too big.

• Stop hiding from getting things done- and spot when you are doing it. Procrastination, being daunted by a project or making endless lists without much of an outcome means you aren’t planning well and are “hiding” behind these things because the way forward is not clear.

• You need to complete stages of workflow and what to action to really get what you need done effectively and with minimum pain.

The 5 Stages of the “Getting Things Done” Workflow:

1. Collect- information, emails, ideas, whatever

2. Process- what they mean

3. Organize- the results of the processing of your collection

4. Review- the options available

5. Do- what is ready to be done


Notes on Workflow:

• Empty out your collection points on a regular basis- whether that is your Inbox, a board with post-its, crap on your scratch pad etc. By regular, he means each week.

• Keep yourself to routines, deadlines, timetables. You break these and you’ll break concentration.

• Do a weekly review of what you have going on where you clean up what you have, clarify it and assess whether it’s still relevant/worthwhile.

• Stop crap from just hanging around as it will stop you from being productive- if it hits a maybe pile or you start screwing up your face about it, what’s the point in carrying it around. Turf it.

• Set up boards for projects, ideas, things you like, sometime activities and so on. This helps capture them, but also keeps them out of the way of physical things to do without losing them.

• Choose a way to file reference materials that matches the way your brain works.


What to Do

How do you work out what you need to do?

a) Context- where can it be done and where are you now?

b) Time available- how long is the task in relation to the time you have?

c) Energy available- this is considering your mood, creative energy, physical energy and so on

d) Priority


It sounds simple enough because it is. It’s about putting the right shapes in the right holes so you complete more of your daily puzzle efficiently.


The Natural Planning Model

1. Define the Purpose and Principle

2. Spend some time Outcome Visioning

3. Brainstorm

4. Organise what you have

5. Identify the next actions


Key Points:

• Never be afraid to ask “why” of yourself or anyone else for that matter because it defines success, creates decision making criteria, aligns resources and it motivates, clarifies and expands options.

• Make it up in your mind before you can make it happen in your life.

• View the project beyond the completion date- imagine its future, its impact, its influence.

• Envision your version of “wild success” and think about it from there in terms of what steps you would need to take.

• Capture the features, aspects and qualities you imagine.

• Brainstorming means drawing links, writing down all things without judgement or challenging it, evaluating it as you go or criticising and go for quantity, not quality.

• Always keep the A to D framework of what to do in mind with your actions.


That’s part one of the book done… What do you do to get things done?


3 Comments. Leave new

  • Karen Lambert
    June 12, 2012 5:17 pm

    This book sounds deep and informative and it’s great to know that there’s someone out there reading it (thanks Bek) for those for whom ‘effective’ (sic good) organisation doesn’t happen ‘naturally’ via words. Something worthwhile to remember is HOW you like to think about things, learn things or generate processes. Ultimately your preferred style of learning (thinking, being, living) will impact on your preferred style of organising yourself and your tasks (doing). So if you prefer visuals of things, spatial patterning, using numbers, more tactile or kinaesthetic processes, increased emotional engagement, mulling things over in your own head or running ideas by others then you would probably prefer those styles of organising yourself and what you do. A word of warning: this may also influence the styles of organising that you do not do 🙂

  • Hey Bek! Thanks for the review. I look forward to reading the book and putting the best bits into action. Maybe I’ll write a book one day for those of us who work outside a typical office!?! 🙂

  • Charles Cuninghame
    August 1, 2013 6:38 pm

    Hi Bek – I love GTD. It really changed my life. More useful than 90% of self-help books if you ask me.


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