Book Review: Getting Things Done by David Allen

After a few years implementing the ‘Getting Things Done’ (GTD) methodology by picking bits up here, there and everywhere online I thought it was high time I bought and read David Allen’s quintessential volume on personal productivity.

I thought there might be some snippets in the book that I’d not picked up before. I was not disappointed.

The book contains a huge wealth of information about implementing a GTD process for managing your (my) life, from the big picture down to handling the details.

From the stuff I’d read online I did think the book would take me on a minimalist crusade and have me setting up a productivity system using index cards, rubber bands and spring clips. This was not the case. Whilst Allen does mention the relative merits of electronic and low-tech tools the book seems to go out of it’s way to avoid discussing any particular method of implementing GTD. At points this might leave the reader wondering, “Just how to I do this in practice”, though in general the examples and suggestions are sufficient to allow the imagination to reach it’s own conclusions on how a particular chapter might be realized.

The book is divided into three main sections. The first deals with an overview of the concepts that lead to the GTD methodology. It introduces the reader to the idea that you can get your life and all its inputs under control. One of the most useful chapters for me was on planning projects. This was information I felt was missing from other productivity books I’ve read recently that seemed to be more focused on the tasks. Here Allen was encompassing the big picture too in a way the feeds directly into a GTD system.

The second sections is a step by step process for setting up your trusted GTD system. Here again I discovered a lot about the GTD system. One of the big things for me was the importance of creating a trusted filing system that’s simple and fun to use. This is an area of my life that is currently total chaos and is desperately in need of a make over. As well as the practical aspects of this system Allen reinforces the idea of getting all the open loops out of your head and into a ‘trusted system’ in order to free up the mind to be more receptive and creative.

The final part of the book revisits some of the concepts introduced during the practical sections earlier in order to reinforce the power of the simple constructs. So there are chapters on the power of the Collection Habit, Next Actions and Outcome Focusing that look deeper and the reasons why these practices work so well.

There’s so much in this book that I know it demands at least another reading, if not more. A full blown GTD system may not be for everybody; but I think that anybody who has more than a few tasks or projects to organize would be better off using a trusted system to manage the tasks than relying on the vagaries of memory alone. I certainly am.

I give this book five stars: * * * * *