Book of the Week #13 – Getting Things Done


With no power on Monday thanks to Storm Ophelia, I didn’t have much else taking focus away from my “book a week” goal (other than worrying about the contents of my freezer*). Or as this book would put it: since I had no way of moving any other action items forward, I could focus completely on reading the book (even if it had to be by candlelight – an advantage of paperbacks vs eReaders with limited battery life).

This Week’s Book Title [Week 42] : Getting Things Done – the art of stress-free productivity

by David Allen



Paperback, 301 pages. Nice, wide margins so plenty of thumb space to hold the book & good font size.




If you’re a dis-organised mess, Getting Things Done (GTD) provides a blueprint to get you organised and get working on your action items. Even if you’re a pretty organised person like I consider myself to be, there’s still plenty more to learn from this book.

The author is deliberately repetitive in the book, introducing concepts at a high level first and then going into them in more in-depth detail in later chapters of the book.

Like other books I’ve read, the author is a proponent of making lists to get everything out of your head and on to paper (physical or electronic).  This is the “Capture” phase. Even getting this far feels really good when you’re feeling overwhelmed with everything going on in your life.

Then you “Clarify” each item. Here the author provides a useful flowchart (p37) that includes the 2-minute-rule. If it’ll only take 2 minutes to do it, then do it! It’ll be off your mind and off your to-do list. I’ve been implementing this on my email Inbox for years and am a big advocate of it. I have the dump it/file it part of the flowchart down too. The bit I need to get better at is deciding to delegate the action instead of taking everything on myself.

Once you have everything out & clarified, you “Organise” action items into different lists – things to do “At the computer”, “Errands to run”, “Things to talk to X about”, or whatever lists suit you best.

Next, you need to “Reflect” on the lists. Here’s another area that I need to improve on. Lists are great, but not if you don’t have them to hand whenever you want them or if you don’t review them regularly. If you don’t know what your next action item should be at any point in time, how do you know whether to tackle a item from a list or to just react to anything that happens lands on your lap during the day?

The author defines a few models to help you decide what you should do next:

  • The four-criteria model for choosing actions in the moment
    • Context
    • Time available
    • Energy available
    • Priority
  • The three-fold model for evaluating daily work
    • Doing predefined work
    • Doing work as it shows up
    • Defining your work
  • The six-level model for reviewing your own work
    • Horizon 5: Life
    • Horizon 4: Long-term visions
    • Horizon 3: One to two year goals
    • Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountability
    • Horizon 1: Current projects
    • Ground: Current actions

I’m not going to go into any detail on the models – why would you buy the book then!

Throughout the whole book, the author weaves stories about himself and stories about clients of his, showing the benefits of getting “open loops” (e.g. “I must remember to talk to X about Y”) out of your head in order to leave your mind free to focus on what you have decided is the next most important action item to move you forward in some area of your work/life/project.

Part 3 of the book is dedicated to why you should follow the author’s methodology, citing other books and many papers in the area of productivity and positive psychology.


This book is a must-have anyone who is feeling overwhelmed and thinks they have so much to do that they’ll never get it all done and is constantly “fire-fighting” to keep meeting deadlines. Following the methods described in the book WILL get you organised and once you’re organised and getting through your to-do list, the psychological benefits are huge.

I also recommend it to anyone interested in improving how they gather, assess and complete their “to-do” items. I’ll be implementing the “What’s the next action item here?” method in my meetings at work to nail down exactly who is doing what next to get projects moving.

Next week’s book

I need to put all of my focus on a project I’m working on, so this coming week’s reading will be a bit of a mixed bag that will include parts of books like Reliability Engineering and academic papers on the project’s topic too.



*My power came back on within 11 hours so nothing defrosted…thanks ESB guys! I was very lucky with no damage to family or property and realise that not everyone had it so easy.

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