Category Archives: Books

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: * * * * *

Book Review: Mind Maps At Work by Tony Buzan

I’ve been using mind maps for some time after seeing a colleague use them for organizing a brain storm session. They seemed to fit:

  • my desire to see things visually
  • to have the data organized and not in some visual chaos
  • the opportunity to use a really cool piece of software (MindManager from

So I had been doing mind maps for nearly two years when I saw Tony Buzans book ‘Mind Maps At Work’ and decided I’d better read up on the subject to make sure I was doing it properly.

The book begins with an introduction to mind maps and how to lay them down on paper before giving a brief introduction to the areas that mind maps can enhance. This was fine, I learned the importance of using images on my mind maps to help reinforce the visual associations with the topics.

The rest of the book attempts to show the reader how mind maps can be used in a number of situations in the work environment. I feel that this was where the book began to get under my skin. I found the tone of the book to be condescending; it was almost as if the prose was directed more at a child’s intellectual level that an adults. I’m finding it very difficult to put my finger on exactly what I didn’t like about this book; but I came away at then end of it with a feeling that I’d been talked down to by the author.

So I shall continue to use mind maps in both my work and personal areas of my life for planning, note taking, brain storming, collating data and all the other things they’re good for; but I don’t think my experience of mind mapping has been enhanced any by reading this book.

I award this book only 2 stars: * *

Book Review: Do It Tomorrow by Mark Forster

I must admit that I first got hold of Mark Forster‘s book last September (2006) and only finished reading it just before Easter this year. This has less to do with the content of the book and more to do with the turmoil that was going on in my own life at the time. “Maybe if I’d read the book straight off there’d have been less turmoil?”, well that’s a possibility. The reason I mention this is because I can recall little about the first 50% of the book that I read piecemeal; but the rest is very fresh in my mind. Anyway, here goes the review.

The main thrust of Mark’s book seems to be concerned with handling the constant flow of incoming tasks that bombard us daily from email, telephone calls, colleagues, family and friends. How do we manage all these new pressures on our time? Mark’s premise is that anything that arrives today is to be done tomorrow (unless you’re working in an industry that requires an immediate response). This recognizes and respects that a day is a finite resource and that you can’t do more in a day than you have the time and resources to do. So anything new is for tomorrow.

So far I don’t think this is particularly radical as it appears to be what anyone doing GTD would be doing; anything new goes into an In-box unless it can be done in under 2 minutes. However where I feel Mark’s book adds value to GTD is with the suggestion of using a Closed List. Whereas GTD maintains a number of open ended action lists Mark suggests that these are counter productive because they are continually being added to; there’s never a chance of finishing a list and this can be demotivating. As you can only do a set amount in a day Mark suggests making a daily Closed List of the things that you are going to do that day. A heavy line is drawn under that list and (within reason) nothing is added above the line.

For me this is a very useful exercise. It means that every evening I have to review all the things I want to get done in the near future and make a conscious decision about which ones I’m going to do tomorrow. Then I start tomorrow knowing that I’ve a fixed amount to get through and not an open ended list of stuff. It gives me a great sense of achievement to complete my daily Closed List.

Finally I promise I will go back to Mark’s book and re-read it straight through to make sure I haven’t missed anything from the first half.

I award this book three stars: * * *

Reading Now

This is the first in a series of occasional posts about what I’m reading now and why. Books that is, if I started writing about the stuff I’m reading on the Internet I don’t know when I’d have time to sleep.

OK, two books I’ve got on the go at the moment. The first is Mind Maps At Work by Tony Buzan. I’ve been a fan of using mind maps in my job as a software engineer for a couple of years; but have never read anything from the man who really made the general public aware of them (in the UK at any rate) Tony Buzan. I’m about half way through the book and so far I’ve found some useful tips; but at the same time I’m not too comfortable with the way the book is written. I’m not going to comment further on this at the moment until I’ve read the whole thing.

The second book is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (don’t you just love the menus on his web site? Now how cool are those?). This book is Tolle’s best seller and, in my honest opinion, is a revolutionary work in spiritual and personal development. The book is next to my bed and I’m reading it slowly because there’s a lot to take in; but so far it has given me a great spiritual boost. Eckhart, you rock man.