Getting Things Done by David Allen

If I saw this book sitting in the book store or library and I hadn’t heard of it before I would have never have picked it up.

Picture of the book "Getting Things Done" by David Allen

But when I did see it late last year and had recently heard of it via Tim Ferris, I thought why not. Besides, I have been experiencing higher levels of stress in my life and thought maybe this could help.

Honestly, it was really good. There are some very practical, and actionable pieces of advice that I’m going to use moving forward.

The two minute rule

Most have heard of this (or some variant) before but never actively tried to implement it. When sorting through your ‘inbox’ (meaning any input coming into your life not just your email inbox) and you find something that has an action associated to it you ask yourself: Will this take less than two minutes? If yes, do it and do it now! If not, defer it for later or delegate it.

In my opinion two minutes is better than five minutes. Most things takes 2-3 times longer to do than we think, so if it ends up taking four or even six minutes, no big deal. With a ‘five minute task’ you could see yourself in 10-15, even 20 minute territory pretty quickly. Before you know it you might even be shaving a yak.

Separating Projects from Next Actions

David Allen defines a project as anything that will take multiple steps and can be completed within a year. This can include a large variety of typically smaller items that we wouldn’t normally consider a ‘project.’

Rather than writing down some generic item on a todo list, you should first define what the actual outcome is (project), and then decide on the specific next action that needs to be taken (as per above, if it takes less than two minutes, do it!).

An example from my own life is fixing the blinds. Normally I would just write down “fix blinds” somewhere in my notebook. Then it would get forgotten about.

With this method I realized that ‘fix blinds’ is actually a project and should live with my projects. The specific next action I needed to take was “Call previous neighbour re: blinds” (he used to fix blinds). Much more specific and easy to action.

Categorizing Next Actions Contextually

What really blew my mind 🤯 was separating your project list from your next action lists. Your next action lists should be organized contextually. For example, At Computer, At Home, Phone Calls, Errands, etc. Or maybe you’re applying this methodology only in a work environment so they might look like this: Creative Time, Research, New Business, etc.

To continue my example from above, when I outlined ‘Call previous neighbour re: blinds’ I obviously added this to my call list. When I was working through some other calls I had to make, I also made this call. Easy.

It’s funny when you think about, most people procrastinate not on the project, but actually taking the time to think about exactly needs to be done next and then executing on it.

Taking the time to actually process the projects you have on the go and decide on the exact next action you need to take is pretty empowering itself. You feel under control and when you feel under control it’s way easier to take action.

As a final thought,I see plenty of reviews on Goodreads or Amazon saying “this book should have been a 3,000 word essay, I couldn’t finish.”

Well, this is a book on productivity and you probably shouldn’t read it cover-to-cover. Get in, get what you need, and get out! Revisit when needed, if it’s useful.