Getting Things Done

I finished my copy of Getting Things Done by David Allen. Given how extremely influential this book was, it was a bit surprising that it wasn't more well written. My main problem with it is that it wasn't organized very well: duplicate information was scattered in different parts of the book - it felt a bit rambling at places. Because of this, I want to write a couple of articles on GTD, summarizing the book.

So..., here I go. This will be the first article of the sort.

I think that the second to last chapter of the book is the best chapter and really summarizes best what GTD is all about. It should probably have been the first chapter. And so, I am going to talk about it first. The three principles of GTD:

  1. The power of capture
  2. The power of the next action decision
  3. The power of outcome focusing
The Power of Capture

GTD is based first on the principle of capturing all your "stuff". Stuff is just anything your mind thinks of that requires your attention - not just limited to just things you have to do. If you put all of you stuff into the physical world, you relieve your mind of the responsibility to remember them, freeing up your phychic RAM, thus you can focus your mind on other things, like executing on the things you need to do and being creative when you are brainingstorming. The state of having your phychic RAM empty is refered to as mind like water, in that you are ready for anything, because you have all of your mind to work with. Using the computer analogy, when you have more RAM, your program just runs much faster. While the human mind is great at recognition, it is not nearly as good as computers in sequential retrieval of memory, i.e. going from top to bottom through a list of stuff. For example, it's very hard to remember a list of unrelated things. This is why it's a good idea to dump your memory into the physical world, by making lists, either on paper or on the computer.
When you capture all aspects of your life, you end up with a hugh repository of stuff. So you'd better have a good system to keep it all organized. GTD provides a system for organizing your stuff which comprises of several lists and a workflow to systematically sort your stuff into these lists. I will go into more details in describing this system in a later article.
The Power of the Next Action Decision

GTD is about directing your energy towards...well, getting things done. For example, the technique of sorting your task by context - or where you are at the moment - is designed to streamline your work. Many of the principles of GTD are rooted in psychology, which I really like about this book. The principle of the next action decision is one such principle. People - especially smart people - tend to procrastinate. This is because we tend to visualize and imagine when ideas are brought to our attention. When a non-trivial project is brought to our attention, chances are we are thinking of all the difficulties involved in finishing the project. This thinking discourages you from the actual doing, because you can not easily visualize the end to the project, nor the reward - the satisfaction of getting it done. If on the other hand, you split out the projects into very small tasks, each individual task becomes readily doable. And so, rather than filling your todo lists with project titles like:
  1. get in shape
  2. fix car
Replace them with the very next action for in the series of actions required to complete the project, like:
  1. research gym memberships in the area on Google
  2. call mechanic to make an appointment
When you look at these next action items, you no longer feel overwhelmed, and you possibly even want to do a task because you can very easily visualize it being done, and getting the satisfaction of having it finished. That's the power of the next action decision, and why you should figure out the next action ahead of time - when you write your list, and not when you are about to do it.
The Power of Outcome Focusing

Third and finally, since GTD allows you to be so efficient at plowing through your tasks, you run the danger of losing focus and wasting your energy on non-essential or even irrelevant tasks. This is prevented by thinking about your goals and envisioning the outcomes you want at multiple perspectives regularly. GTD suggests weekly reviews of all your lists as wells as bigger reviews staged at bigger intervals.
To me, these are the three most important take aways from the GTD book. For the next article, I will describe the system of lists and the workflow as laid out in the book.
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