Modern life is often highly complex, fast-paced, and over saturated with information—and not just trivial information either. Success in one’s personal and professional life requires the ability to manage and keep track of a seemingly overwhelming number of variables. There are hundreds of books, seminars, and methods for maximizing planning and efficiency. Getting Things Done by David Allen was one of the first such books and remains one of the best.
First published in 2002, Getting Things Done was an instant classic and has remained relevant for nearly two decades. It sparked a revolution in how professionals and knowledge workers thought about productivity and task management. Even the title of the book, “Getting Things Done,” has become shorthand for the sort of productivity and project-management focused mindset the book puts forward. There are dozens of GTD apps, websites, and other services available, to say nothing of workbooks and planners specifically designed to be used in tandem with Allen’s method.
What, then, is the GTD method? The basic problem that GTD aims to solve is how to maintain productivity and focus in an environment where we are constantly bombarded with new tasks, emails, and notifications. The unceasing stream of distractions crowds our thinking, takes up a ton of mental energy, and prevents us from getting things done.
To prevent being overwhelmed, you have to set up a collection system, whereby you jot down and file each no task or idea when it comes to you. If you can finish it in under 2 minutes, do so. If not, file it away until you review your collected ideas at the end of the week. Each goal must be broken down into a set of actionable tasks so that they can be addressed in this manner. The collection system prevents the flood of new information throughout the day from overly disrupting the given task at hand.
The collected and filed tasks can then be sorted into different lists and subsystems. GTD presents a detailed workflow, where any task that comes up can be addressed, dismissed, or delegated according to certain definite factors. It is very detailed and can be applied to almost any project or situation, whether personal or professional.
The fundamental mindset of the book is one of freedom — freeing your mind from the constant distractions that pour in by systematically collecting, categorizing, and addressing them. It only works if you also have a clear sense of your goals, both short term and lifelong. Allen stresses that while GTD seems more designed for sending out emails and planning projects, it also applies to your highest aspirations, from climbing Mt. Everest to learning Japanese.
The GTD model has its drawbacks. It is a rigorous, monolithic system that can feel a bit too one-size-fits-all at times. If you are not comfortable with tracking every single idea and task in your life without exception, GTD may not be the best fit for you. It can feel like a lot of work to keep up all the different lists and systems. But if you do follow through and stick with it, GTD can be a truly liberating system for ordering your life.
Getting Things Done is available for purchase here.