This is a book review of the book Getting things done by David Allen. I read it in the context of a personal literature review project on the topic of productivity and well being. If you are more interested by advice on productivity and wellbeing than by this specific book I advise you to read the project report first, which condenses the advice from multiple sources (including this book).

How I read

I started skipping many parts of this book near its middle. Mostly, I read entirely the first quarter, read by bits in the middle, occasionally skipping an entire chapter, and then read the end.

Description and opinion

A good book packed with insight on being productive written by someone with a good track record of making people productive. Specialized in executive positions but modular and made to be adaptable. The part on decision processes is certainly the weakest for someone who already cares about rationality and decision making but that doesn't mean it cannot be a good catalyst and a source of inspiration.

Sometimes what the book says in terms of precise factual statements is false or flawed but I do not think that matters much if you keep in mind not to trust those.

Main takes

  • Store information pertaining to what you plan to do in an outside system. Actually store very little information of the form "think of at time " in your mind.
  • The two minutes rule. --> When planing, do immediately what you can do right away in two minutes. This is not recursive.
  • For each project (or more generally for sequences of actions), make it a habit to often ask "what is the next action".
  • Shape your physical setup to guide you to be productive. What is or isn't easy has a lot of influence on how you behave and feel. Take advantage of this fact in both ways (make what you want to do easy to do, make what you do not want to do hard to do).
  • Make it easy for you to store files and know you will find them. A good first step is to have a drawer or a paper tray for "divers". Of course, you need to actually go through it in time.

Recommendation

If what I wrote above sounds vaguely relevant to your needs and goals I advise that you read the book. I think it is really a good book. The main flaw is probably that is wastes a lot of time. I feel it could be made shorter.

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I went on a personal productivity kick a while back, and along the way I read and tried to implement the system that Allen describes in Getting Things Done. I came away with the impression that his system was optimized very closely around the needs of managers. So much of his system is built around figuring out what to delegate, figuring out who to delegate it to, and then scheduling the follow-up meetings to ensure that the delegated task got done correctly.

That's great, if you're a manager. But if you're a "leaf-node" worker, then it's not really all that helpful. The one piece of advice from the book that I have stuck with is keeping my to-do list and calendar separate. Furthermore, even though I don't do formal daily/weekly/monthly reviews, I can see how they would be helpful for people who are concerned with longer-term goals. But other than that, I found Getting Things Done to be mostly a waste of time.