I’ve a confession to make. I’m a self-professed productivity geek, yet I never read David Allen’s Getting Things Done before now.
I have been an avid paper planner user for decades now. I’ve tweaked my system consistently over the years as new technology has arrived on the scene. I teach a productivity workshop, for Pete’s sake!
I can even admit to Googling the GTD method before and dabbling with it!
So why haven’t I read THE definitive tome on productivity yet? Sheer fear, I’m afraid.
But I conquered that fear and read the book – and I love it!
Yes, if you go all in, it’s an intensive system. But I felt like the author GOT me!
The very first sentence of Chapter 1 says “It’s possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively.” Yep, that’s what I want to do. Get all these thoughts out of my head so I can focus on what I’m doing and get it done!
Furthermore, just a couple paragraphs later, it says “you already know how to do everything necessary to achieve this healthy, high-performance state.”
Great! I’m an not able to cram any more radicalized productivity thoughts into my wee brain these days. If I can just rearrange what I’m doing, tweak it if you will, I am on board!
Productivity: Mastering Workflow
The first part of the book is devoted to get things out of your head so you can decide on what to do and then focus on doing that.
That resonated with me quite a bit. I have my Army job, the STEMinista Revolution, a primary home, a vacation home, a marriage and family to consider. My mind is swamped with all the things I ought to be doing.
It literally paralyzes me sometimes.
Allen’s workflow consists of the following five phases which alleviates the stress of only being able to do one thing at a time:
- Capture – In order for your mind to let go of the lower-level task of trying to hang on to everything, you have to know you have truly captured everything in “containers” and that at some point you will process and review all of it.
- Clarify – This phase processes all the input containers from the first phase until they are empty. You decide what it is and what the next action is for it.
- Organize – In the GTD system, there are eight ways to organize all the information or stuff from the first two phases. Some are easy, such as trash it or do it right then. Others are more complicated, like calendar it for a specific day or make it into a project.
- Reflect – This phase requires that you review the whole picture of your life from a broader perspective as well as “in the weeds” as needed and at regular intervals. If you’re looking at all your defined actions and options, you radically increase the odds of doing the right thing at the right time.
- Engage – Everything up to this point is preparing you to make good choices about what you are doing at any given time. Engage is where you make action choices based on:
- context – are you in the right place with the right tools?
- time available – do you have 5 minutes or 30 available now?
- energy available – how much mental and/or physical energy to tackle that action do you have right now?
- priority – what action, given the previous three criteria, has the biggest bang for the buck?
This is the heart of the GTD system, but of course the devil is in the details! But this book has you covered.
It goes into fairly extensive detail about how to do all of the above so that the reader has a blow-by-blow instruction manual. This is to provide a catalyst for people wanting to implement the system, but also provides a lot of “tips and tricks” for people who just want to “tweak” what they are currently doing.
Sound familiar? That sentence, all the way on page 85, alleviated the largest fear I had about reading this book. I didn’t have to revamp a system I’ve morphed for 30 years. I could just implement a few strategies to be a little bit better in areas that I wanted to improve!
Wow! For the rest of the book, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. One chapter per phase, just chock full of great tricks. The engineer in me appreciated the deep dive into the brain science of why this system works with our brain. The organized person in me loved the chapter on how to plan a project.
Bottom line: I definitely recommend reading it. Everyone I know is overwhelmed these days with all the information and physical stuff coming at them. This book can help sort all that into something rational, so you can trust that what you are doing at any given time is the best use of your time.
Even if that time is watching M*A*S*H* reruns on TV Land.
Leaving you with this from the lighter side: You’re my favorite person in the office because, comparatively, you make me look very productive.