Getting Things Done by David Allen

This book is a treasure. Although I’m only one third the way through it, I can see that it will benefit me on a very personal level. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity is divided into three sections:

  • The Art of Getting Things Done.
  • Practicing Stress Free Productivity
  • The Power of the Key Principles

Chapter 1

The first section shows readers that the outdated organizational methods people have used in the past cause more stress. Yesterday’s time management techniques don’t cut it today. Allen points out that

A major factor in the mounting stress level is that the actual nature of our jobs has changed much more dramatically and rapidly than have our training for and our ability to deal with work.

We are victims of our own success! Work doesn’t have the boundaries that it used to have. People carry laptops home and continue working (kinda like what I’m doing), they answer emails while on vacation in Disney World, they take business cell phone calls while out to dinner with their families. These factors are causing stress among the knowledge workforce. No more is there an 8 to 5 factory job and at 5:01 it’s over.

Also factored into the equation is our obsession with being the absolute best at everything. How good can your next staff meeting really be? How much more effective could that new training program get? The answer is infinitely! The Internet has an almost infinite amount of knowledge that can help you do anything better. What if you miss something? That causes stress.

A personal calendar can only be so effective in helping us organize our lives and manage our time. It is effective in some areas, but woefully inadequate in others. You’re carrying too many half formed ideas in your head to be productive and effective time management is dependent on more than just a pocket calendar.

What David Allen offers is a flexible system that YOU control. Not a system that controls you.

Chapter 2

He has a lot of lists in this book but getting control of all the “stuff” in your life begins with:

  1. Collecting it. He covers an extensive list of options to help you collect all your data, ideas, projects, and those “one of these days” items so you can forget about them until later. It will also help you remember where you put that sticky note with Carol’s cell phone number.
  2. Processing it.
    1. Does it require action? Choosing the proper course of action depends on
      1. Context
      2. Time available
      3. Energy available
      4. Priority
    2. Could I delegate it
    3. Should I defer it?
  3. Organize it. Arranging your list of “stuff” so that it makes sense.
  4. Review it. Aka remember it. What to review and when.

He says that you should immediately do anything that shows up on your desk and can be accomplished in less than 2 minutes. In a previous job, I was a point of contact for 20 sales people. My motto was “do it now” because if I didn’t, I would probably forget. Almost everything that came across my desk took less than 2 minutes, but it sure was a lot of stuff.

Chapter 3

In Chapter Three, Allen shows us the Five Steps to getting a project started. I found it interesting that, just as he pointed out, most people and most companies have the entire process backward. The steps (in correct order) are:

  1. Decide the purpose of the project. Ask WHY? What are the principles guiding you this direction?
  2. Visualize the perfect outcome. What does success look like? What would be the perfect result?
  3. Brainstorm to get new and better ideas. No idea is off the table. You have to go through a lot of bad and so-so ideas to come up with a good one sometimes.
  4. Organize your good ideas into a workable plan
  5. Identify and take the next action steps to move you toward your goal.

As an example, I took a store manager and assistant manager out for dinner and asked them what goals they had for their location. Neither of them had anything specific so I asked, what do you want this store to be? Still nothing. I told them, “How would you like to make this store one of the top 10 in the company?” They both smiled and agreed. I then asked, “What would this store look like if it were number 8 in the company?” The manager’s countenance fell as he answered, “Not like it does now.” I asked him what it would look like and he mentioned housekeeping issues for the most part. I told him that my vision of success was a parking lot full of customers and a staff that was busy helping them. We spent the next morning brainstorming on some ideas to help the store achieve this goal, we organized those ideas into a workable plan and they began almost immediately. Thank you David Allen.

Tomorrow, section Two: Practicing Stress Free Productivity. I’ll review the next seven chapters to let you know if this system of Getting Things Done is feasible (so far it’s looking pretty good!).

Read part 2 here.


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