"Getting Things Done" by David Allen is one the most influential books in the productivity space, and rightfully so.
If you have ever been in a situation where you felt overwhelmed by the number of things you keep in your head, then this book will be of great value to you.
Before starting the post, we need to clarify that this post should only be a refresher or a teaser to the book "Getting Things Done" and not an alternative. We strongly recommend reading the book and using the official GTD workbook to get the most out of this system, as David Allen gives a lot more actionable tips and details in the book.
Big ideas in "Getting Things Done"
We will examine some of the ideas shared in the book and find practical scenarios to put them to use. With that out of the way, let's jump in.
Big Idea 1: Your mind is not meant for storing information
The author states that keeping open tasks or information on your mind doesn't do you any good. He argues that the best way to manage this information is to store them in a trusted location.
For example, if you come up with ideas about a blog post, you should look to write them down on an app like Routine rather than hoping to remember that information when needed. Having a trusted vault you can later revisit lets you free up mental space for other activities like decision-making.
There is also extensive research that states the negative impact of mental overload causing stress, anxiety, and sub-par cognition.
Big Idea 2: Create a trusted place to store information
As we mentioned earlier, you need to have a vault to store the information you want, and you can do this using digital apps or physical notebooks. We would recommend that you use the medium method where you combine physical notebooks with apps like Routine.
There are a few things to keep in mind when you are choosing your tools:
- Accessibility: These tools you use should be accessible to you need them. For example, if you listen to a podcast while walking, taking down important points about it in a notebook is not ideal. So, in this case, we would recommend using a tool like the "Voice Memo" on iOS.
- Transferability: The idea behind jotting down information is to store it in a safe place. Hence, the transfer of data between tools should be easy. We recommend using digital tools most of the time so that you can easily back up the data. For example, I use the Routine app to jot things down on the move and the Routine macOS app when I'm on my computer.
- Storability: You'll need a permanent home for your ideas and thoughts. So we strongly recommend backing up all your data for long-term storage in a safe place. You can use services like Google Drive, Dropbox, etc., to back things up every 3-6 months.
While you choose your tools, remember that the essential part of this exercise is taking things out of your mind and externalizing your mental load. Every decision you make regarding the tools has to facilitate this cause.
Tip: When I jot things on Routine, I use the Inbox tab. When I'm ready, I add a date or time to relevant items to make them actionable. Here is a short video tutorial on using Routine => How to use Routine.
Big Idea 3: Know what "done" means to you
While working on tasks or processing a list of prospective items, it is essential to understand how the end goal or the finished job might look like. David argues that it is difficult to map out the journey without an idea about the destination or end goal.
So the next time you start a task, figure out at what point you can mark it as "done." And another advantage of this exercise is being able to estimate how long a task might take to finish and if the task can be done quickly, then acting on it sooner than later.
The author also touches upon the "X minute rule," where you decide that if a task takes you less than X minutes to complete, then you get it done then and there. For example, if you have a 2-minute rule, then any task on your list that takes less than 2 minutes, you get it done ASAP and check it off your list.
Tip: When I list certain tasks on Routine, I also describe what the end goal should look like in their description; this helps me contextualize items on my list.
Big Idea 4: Tasks and projects are two different things and should be treated accordingly
You can do tasks in isolation that is not part of a bigger group or an overarching goal; these are different from a project. A project is different from a task, and it is essential to categorize them accordingly.
You can categorize anything that can be done with one step or a single sitting as a task and anything that needs multiple steps/tasks as a project. For instance, reminding your boss about something is a task, but preparing a sales presentation is a project.
Tip: Group tasks that aim for the same end under a project, and when a project has too many tasks, break it down into mini-projects that are easy to plan and execute.
Different phases of "Getting Things Done"
In the book, David Allen gets very detailed into the execution aspect of the system.
Allen leads you from the collection phase, where you bring all the information occupying your mind space into a single unit, to the review phase, where you regularly look at everything you have done, planned, and currently contemplating.
There are five that David Allen explores, namely: collecting, processing, organizing, doing & reviewing. It is essential to keep these stages deliberately separate to get the most out of the process.
The author stresses the importance of the review stage in particular because it brings exponential improvement to those who learn from their past and want to correct the course.
While reading this part of the book, we felt that a weekly or bi-weekly slot would be ideal for reviewing; however, this would vary from person to person.
Tip: Schedule weekly or bi-weekly review sessions as recurring tasks on Routine; it is super simple and will take less than 10 seconds to set up. Here is a short tutorial on scheduling recurring tasks.
How to consume GTD
Finally, while the book "Getting Things Done" is a good read by itself, we strongly recommend that you add the "GTD workbook," which can help re-clarify and ingrain the ideas shared in the main book.