Revisiting Getting Things Done by David Allen – With my nine lessons and takeaways

still the "bible" on time management

still the “bible” on time management

I presented my synopsis of Getting Things Done by David Allen, yet again today, for a leadership team for a mid-sized city.

I have probably presented this synopsis close to a dozen times.  That means I have read the book, and then re-read my handout, at least a dozen times.

And…I still don’t have my life fully organized, or fully under control!

There are times when I feel like something of a… failure…

If you have not read this book, it is worth reading. It is THE book on time management; kind of the bible on time management.

How to Get ControlOh, I’ve read other books dealing with aspects of the subject; good books.  The Power of Full Engagementby Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.  Deep Work by Cal Newport.  The newer books Stolen Focus by Johann Hari and Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman.  I’ve even read the first classic in the field, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life by Alan Lakein.

But, in my view, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen, is truly the go-to bible of the field.

There is so much in the book that is valuable.  In my synopses, I ask Why is this book worth our time? Here are my three reasons for this book: 

#1 – Every minute we spend not knowing what to do next is a failure of system. This book will help.

#2 – Every task that “falls through the cracks” might threaten a relationship with a client, thus threatening business outcomes. This book will help.

#3 – We all have more to do, and tomorrow will have even more of more to do. This book will help.

Here are just a few key excerpts from the book:

The methods I present here are all based on three key objectives: (1) capturing all the things that might need to get done or have usefulness for you—now, later, someday, big, little, or in between—in a logical and trusted system outside your head and off your mind; (2) directing yourself to make front-end decisions about all of the “inputs” you let into your life so that you will always have a workable inventory of “next actions” that you can implement or renegotiate in the moment; and (3) curating and coordinating all of that content, utilizing the recognition of the multiple levels of commitments with yourself and others you will have at play, at any point in time. 

First identify and capture all those things that are “ringing your bell” in some way, clarify what, exactly, they mean to you, and then make a decision about how to move on them. Second, you must clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what you have to do, if anything, to make progress… Third, once you’ve decided on all the actions you need to take, you must keep reminders of them organized in a system you review regularly.

What Is the Weekly Review? The Weekly Review is whatever you need to do to get your head empty again and get oriented for the next couple of weeks. It’s going through the steps of workflow management—capturing, clarifying, organizing, and reviewing all your outstanding commitments, intentions, and inclinations—until you can honestly say, “I absolutely know right now everything I’m not doing but could be doing if I decided to.”

David Allen presents the five steps of mastering workflow:

Step #1 – Capture     Step #2 – Clarify     Step #3 – Organize     Step #4 – Reflect     Step #5 – Engage

The book is filled with tips, and tricks:

  • The two minute rule – if you can do something in two minutes, (or so), then do it now!
  • The everything within physical reach rule – work where you do not have to “go” get/find anything to do your work. – All the tools you need to do your work; keep them all at your side, always! KEEP PENS AND PADS OF PAPER HANDY EVERYWHERE!
  • Date everything! (every note; every piece of paper)

I presented this synopsis today, and said to myself…darn it, I need to remember to be doing all this stuff.

At the end of my synopses, I always include my own lessons and takeaways.  Here are my nine for this book:


#1 – Seriously, read this book yourself (or this handout in
its entirety); put the systems in place; and in 6 months, re-
read, and refine…
#2 – Question: Where’s your Kroger list?
#3 – Read the glossary of the book, carefully, with pen in hand.
#4 – Check your new, thorough system – every day, and thoroughly every week!

#5 – Do your weekly review; every week!
#6 – Create, and use, checklists.
#7 – Set up, and use, tricks – many tricks.
#8 – Always have everything you need, close at hand!
#9 – As an organization, adopt a “what’s my/our next action?” culture.

After all, getting things done is an important part of what work, and life, is all about.  And Getting Things Done will help you get things done!

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