Ten Books That Changed My Life #9: Getting Things Done

Getting Things DoneGetting Things Done
David Allen
Changed my life in September 2005

During the early stages of my adult life, my time management was truly awful. I would waste time in complete idleness on a daily basis and spend other times simply struggling to know where to start with larger projects. I was fairly strong in a strictly professional sense because I had some natural vision, but in terms of managing my own life, I was abysmal and I knew it.

I tried a number of personal productivity philosophies and nothing worked. I went to some seminars and they just didn’t click. I kept finding myself returning to the same old ruts of doing the same old stuff.

In mid-2005, two things happened almost simultaneously that changed everything. First, my wife and I found out that we were going to have a child. We immediately threw ourselves into education about parenting and it became obvious that I was either going to have to give up the concept of sleep or else I would have to learn how to manage my time better. Second, I stumbled across several personal productivity sites largely focused on the GTD philosophy, mostly due to some feverish searching about time management.

I didn’t know anything about GTD at the time, so I ordered Getting Things Done and read it. And then I read it again. And then I started trying it. It seemed so incredibly simple that I basically didn’t believe that it would work.

It did.

Right now, I have a full time job, I maintain this site, I spend at least three hours a day just with my child, I keep up with several other hobbies, I keep up with my household chores, I’m writing a book, and I’m considering another blog launch. How? I finally got it, and this book opened the door.

What’s it about?

This is the best capsule description of the book that I’ve come across, far better than anything I could have come up with. David Allen, the author of the book, describes Getting Things Done as follows:

Get everything out of your head. Make decisions about actions required on stuff when it shows up — not when it blows up. Organize reminders of your projects and the next actions on them in appropriate categories. Keep your system current, complete, and reviewed sufficiently to trust your intuitive choices about what you’re doing (and not doing) at any time.

Basically, Getting Things Done has one overall guiding principle: write down the stuff you need to do as you think of it, then process that list when you have open time. If you have ongoing projects, keep a list or a folder for that project and check on it regularly to keep it going. That’s the nutshell of it – the book goes on to show examples of how it works and add some detail for specific situations, but that’s really all there is to Getting Things Done.

How did Getting Things Done shape the person I became?

It “tricked” me into being more productive. It seemed so simple that I didn’t actually think it would work until I started doing it. I just started carrying a little notebook in my pocket with the first dozen pages or so for just jotting down anything that came to mind to get done, then individual pages after that for each larger project (which had their own list). This isn’t exactly what the book suggests, but it does express the simplicity of it. It wasn’t long before I began to feel ridiculously productive – I’d get home, whip out the notebook, and just start doing the tasks without burning time thinking about it or wondering what I should do or just shrugging my shoulders and watching television.

It saved my marriage and enabled me to build a relationship with my son. Once I started to eliminate the things I needed to do in my life, it became clear to me which things were important and which ones were not. I began to realize that my wife and later my son were the important pieces, not my job or my hobbies. As time goes on, this begins to feel more and more true.

In terms of my day to day life, this is probably the most influential book I’ve ever read. I can’t recommend it more highly than that.

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  1. plonkee says:

    Along with many other people I’m sure, I completely agree that this is a great book / system. The thing that I liked best is that it doesn’t assume that you are starting from no work, but instead assumes that you’ve already got a bunch of stuff to do (that is written on the inside of your skull)

  2. Brett McKay says:

    What I loved about GTD was that it’s practical. It seems like all the other time management books offer a lot more navel gazing and finding your values (e.g . Steven Covey). While that’s all fine and good, when you feel overwhelmed with all the mundane stuff you have to do, knowing your burning desires won’t help you pay the bills on time.

    GTD really has helped me manage to accomplish so much. By implementing GTD, I’m going to law school and succeeding, I blog, I have time to hang out with the wife, and I’m starting a business. I don’t feel overwhelmed at all.

  3. Geoff R. says:

    I am a student, and I just discovered GTD a couple months ago. It’s a great method, and I have applied to my academic work, and have had great success.

    I didn’t see many resources for students on the topic of GTD, and otherwise general productivity and organization. I started my own, so check it out if you’d like.

    http://www.gearfire.net

  4. David Allen says:

    I know – it’s seems a bit ridiculous sometimes that such simple principles, easily applied, can have such profound results. But then, I lose sight of that from time to time myself…that’s why it’s so way cool to come across an article like yours. It reminds me that I’m not totally nuts (just mildly so, enough to keep me sane). All the best, and keep up the good work!

    - David

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