Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Reviewed on , book by David Allen

As someone who’s fairly obsessive (in sprints) about personal productivity, I should’ve read this sooner. This is essentially a 300-page book about managing to-do lists. That should either exhilarate you or cause you to roll your eyes. Depending on which one you are, you either pick this up or stop reading this review. The advice in the book has stood the test of time, but don’t expect him to recommend you any system (rather, attributes of one). The main insights for me:

* If you are procrastinating an item it’s probably because it’s not clearly describing the next action. E.g. “Apply for Canadian citizenship” is a terrible task. Split it into the 20 tasks that actually requires: “Get passport photo taken”, “Fill out travel history for the past 5 years”, “Find a good source of information for the Canadian history test” and so on.
* If there’s more than two tasks associated with something and it takes less than a year to complete it’s a project, not a task—a feature most to-do applications support.
* Tag everything based on: energy, context, deadline, and time to complete. If you have these tags properly organized, you know what you can do when you’re in a waiting room on your phone (low energy, mobile context, and 5 min or less time to complete). If you don’t know what’s highest priority where you are right now, your system is not serving its function.
* Thinking “about” things cause stress. If you think about something and it’s in your system, you should be able to immediately dismiss it. Put everything in there.
* You cannot run a proper to-do system if you don’t review all tasks once a week.
* If a task takes less than two minutes, just do it now, the graphs cross of system overhead and cost of doing it immediately just around here.
* If you don’t trust your system, you need to do a complete dump of everything in your life that needs to get done. The book has multiple-page “triggers” to make sure everything in your life is captured.

If you’ve ever opened “Things” and had no idea what to do, this book is for you. I’ve used Things for many years, but find now that I am lacking some power and now consider switching to OmniFocus as a result of reading this book. Time will tell whether it all sticks, but I find it highly likely.

I should say that if you are someone who doesn’t have a million things on the go, you might not need this. However, you may find that you have more on the go than you realize…