Book Review: Getting Things Done

David Allen is one of those authors that I’ve had on my “to-read” list for quite a while – that ever-growing list of Ought To Read for vague, shadowy business purposes.

Shadow Business


I didn’t end up finishing the book – too many allusions to defunct efficiency practices. However, not everything was a waste because it didn’t include the words “app” or “program”, because streamlining your life doesn’t always involve mounds of technical helpers.

Robot Helper

  • The Ruthless Execution Myth: Despite executives’ desire for themselves and their team members to get everything done no matter what it takes, “They know, and I know, that behind closed doors, after hours, there remain unanswered calls, takes to be delegated, unprocessed issues from meetings and conversations, personal responsibilities unmanaged, and dozens of e-mails still not dealt with.” True. Fact.
  • The Chapter of Not Enough Time: Rigid daily to-do lists don’t work when our priorities constantly shift. Just because machines can go fast, doesn’t mean that humans can really go any faster.
  • Commitment Issues: “most of the stress people experience comes from inappropriately managed commitments they make or accept. Solution: cut down on the ‘open loops’ in your brain, of unwritten commitments to ideas or tasks that drain your willpower and energy. Identify, plan, execute, or throw out. “If it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear.” Word.

At some points, Allen really lost me.

  • After enhancing our ability to produce and make decisions at one level, we can graduate in increasing levels, “whose new challenges will defy the ability of any simple formula or buzzword-du-jour to get you what you want”. Are we sure we want more levels? Side Note:  “buzzword-du-jour” is brilliant.
  • Misplaced Analogy: coaching people “‘in the trenches at their desks.” Sounds like a devaluation of the Armed Forces’ ability to be productive in the face of flying bullets. Paper may get your heart rate going, but it doesn’t physically attack you – even if it feels like that, some days.
  • “Thinking in a concentrated manner to define desired outcomes is something few people feel they have to do. But in truth, outcome thinking is one of the most effective means available for making wishes reality.” Where is all of this time going to come from?!

General good points about organization:

  • Actionable Items = Do It (2 minutes), Delegate It, or Refer It (stick on a Next Action list).
  • Non-Actionable Items = Trash, Incubation (keep-thinking items for Someday/Maybe or a Tickler File), or Reference (stick in a handy labeled file for later).  Would take at least a year to fully implement.
  • Weekly Review – process your piles of Stuff. Monday is too late, Friday would be ideal – pretend you’re going on a long weekend trip. “Most people feel best about their work when they’ve cleaned up, closed up, clarified, and renegotiated all their agreements with themselves and others.”
  • Flight Analogy Framework: Runway: All of the 300 hours’ worth of actions to take if no more new projects come your way. 10,000 feet: The 50 projects on your plate right now. 20,000 feet: The 10 areas of responsibility that include asset management, market research, family, etc. 30,000 feet: 1-2 year goals. 40,000 feet: 3-5 Year vision. 50,000 feet: Life Questions – what is my purpose on earth?
  • Difficulty of Outlines, Goals, and Objectives – they’re often written after you write the report, because you don’t really know what you’ll say before you engage in research or just jot down thoughts.
  • Ask Why: identifies necessary decisions, provides focus, opens options, defines success.
  • Trick Your Mind: Tricking yourself (into doing what you don’t feel like doing) leads to getting in the mood to Do. Eventually, you’ll accomplish an effortless Flow of thinking about the right things at the right time minus distraction.
  • Incentivize Your Desk. Carve out a day or two (or an hour or two) to get rid of desk distractions, and you’ll get rid of the unconscious resistance to cranking through Stuff. Essentially, carve out a block of time guarded from distraction.

In essence, Allen is saying this: get rid of stuff you know you won’t do, spend your time better, get used to saying ‘no’, and get your filing in order.

Piles of Paper

He charged high-level people to do what nobody wants to do: realize that you’ve taken on more than anyone in a lifetime or in their right mind could accomplish. We’d all like to be Superman and Superwoman, setting the world to rights while also peacefully relaxing by the beach and making scads of money. That whole Discipline process of sorting through piles you wish you didn’t have, takes Time. That’s the kicker. We’re either going to have to give up some fun activities to slog through the piles, or say No to good causes, or lose out on income while getting organized.

The best point was this: if it’s on your mind, it’s neither getting accomplished nor leaving you alone. The way to keep your brain from driving you crazy? Write….Things….Down. Then do them. File stuff for later. Review it. Repeat.

The End.

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