Getting Things Done

The GTD method is a little complicated to get started and took me a few years before I called myself a practitioner. The tagline is "The Art of Stress-Free Productivity" and once you get the hang of it, work can become a stress-free thing.

Getting Things Done
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Why I Read It

I picked up the book because a friend told me about it. I started reading it, but found I couldn't get through the book because I would stop and think about all the things that I wasn't doing or how complex the system was. It took me two years before I finally broke down and listened to the audiobook version (twice!).

Once I powered through and started implementing GTD, my effectiveness at work increased. After a couple of years, I really was stress-free with productivity.

Key Insights

Welcome to a gold mine of insights into strategies for how to have more energy, be more relaxed, with more clarity and presence in the moment with whatever you're doing, and get a lot more accomplished with much less effort.

This was the opening of the book. It's true.

GTD is a practice for managing your work. Like any skill that you want to master, it takes study, repetitions, and time before you call yourself an expert in the system.

GTD is a very bottom-up approach and written for the overwhelmed knowledge worker. Putting the system into practice is more than just organizing emails and your electronic calendar; David Allen has you by organizing all of your "stuff".

The Main Workflow

His proposed workflow is in 5 steps:

  1. Capture the "stuff" that has our attention.
  2. Clarify what each item means and what to do about it.
  3. Organize the results, which presents options we
  4. Reflect on, which we than choose to
  5. Engage on.

Here's his workflow diagram:


Complicated, right? But we work through each element of the system in the course of the book. I have a few blog posts that talks about an email workflow based in part on the workflow above.

Decision Making Models

One of the things I love about this book are the models that David Allen implementing the GTD system. He writes about three different kinds of decision making models:

  1. Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment. Here are the four criteria: (1) Context, (2) Time Available, (3) Energy Available, and (4) Priority.
  2. Threefold Model for Identifying Daily Work. The three kinds of activities: (1) Predefined work, (2) Do work as it shows up, and (3) Define your work.
  3. Six-Level Model for Reviewing Your Own work. (1) Ground-level: Current actions. (2) Horizon 1: Current Projects. (3) Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountabilities. (4) Horizon 3: Goals. (5) Horizon 4: Vision. (6) Horizon 5: Purpose and principles.

The decision making models won't tell you what to do next. Instead, these are three different ways on how to decide what to engage in next. Of course, the most complicated one is #3, the six-level model, but if you can work through each horizon and level, it will help in defining your life's purpose and make you much more effective in both your work and personal lives.

The GTD Practice

Chapters 4 through 10 of the book is all about setting up your physical work spaces and overall productivity system. Looking back, this is where I got hung up on the book because my work space (both physical and digital( was disorganized mess that I could barely get through the capture phase of corralling my "stuff".

Part 1 introduced us to the five-step workflow. In Part 2, David Allen devotes an entire chapter to each step. After implementing your system, the most important part?  The Weekly Review (or reviews in general):

The real trick to ensuring the trustworthiness of the whole organization system lies in regularly refreshing your thinking and your system from a more elevated perspective. That's impossible to do, however, if your lists fall too far behind your reality.

After my initial implementation of the GTD system, I would often skip the weekly review. After four years of practice though, I found weekly review was the thing that held the entire system together and now make time (an hour a week) to have this review with myself.

The Power of Key Principles

This is the third section of the book and speaks to the results that you can expect after implementing the GTD system in your life. The capturing habit (always having a way to take notes), the power of next-action decision making, outcome orientation, and how GTD relates to brain science are topics covered in their own chapter.

The last chapter talks about the three tiers of GTD mastery: (1) Employing the fundamentals, (2) Having a more integrated total life management system, and finally (3) Employing the system to create the space needed to getting things for your own self-actualization. Focus, direction, and creativity are the promises of having mastered the GTD system.

Get the Book or Pass?

Absolutely, get the book. Or, if you're like me, get the audio book (and listen to it twice).

There are other resources available as well. Vital Smarts is the only "authorized" trainer for the GTD system in the U.S. Link to their training program is here and I highly recommend training with them (after deciding if GTD is for you, of course.)

And, for my teenager, I bought her Getting Things Done for Teens, whIch I've worked with her on and am thankful there is a manual out there for me to be able to share the GTD system with my soon-to-be adult.

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