I´ll admit it. I was skeptical that I would learn to be more efficient from a book that was published when barely half of all workers used a computer at work, only 7% of Internet users worldwide had broadband, and the most popular way to archive and organize was with Pendaflex-style file-folder hangers.
I was wrong. Getting Things Done, is part tools and techniques, part psychology. The idea behind the book is that you need to move tasks out of your mind by recording them externally, so the mind is free from the job of remembering the tasks that need to be completed. Then you can concentrate on performing the tasks, instead of remembering what you have to do.
Get it off your mind!
The fact is, that at least a portion of your brain is really kind of stupid – in an interesting way. If it had any innate intelligence, it would remind you of the things you needed to do, only when you could do something about them. Between the time you woke up today and now, did you think of anything you needed to do that you still haven´t done? Have you had that thought more than once? David Allen claims that it´s a waste of time and energy to keep thinking about something that you do not make any progress on.
The big problem is that your mind has no sense of past or future. That means as soon as you tell yourself you need to do something, and store it in your short-term memory, there´s a part of you that thinks you should be doing that something all the time. Everything you tell yourself you ought to do, the mind thinks you should be doing right now.
If you do not write a task down and save it in a place your brain knows you will review regularly (like a to-do list), your mind will keep thinking about it. So to clear your mind, the first step is to write down everything you have to do. Once you have everything off your mind and written down, on paper or electronically, you have to decide, “What’s the next action?” Once this is decided, the action must be completed or tracked in a trusted system.
David Allen introduces three frameworks in the context of deciding actions:
- The four-criteria model for choosing actions in the moment
- The threefold model for evaluating daily work
- The six-level model for reviewing your own work
Other techniques you will learn are:
- The “Do it, delegate it, drop it” rule
- Reassess goals and stay focused in changing situations
- To overcome feelings of confusion, anxiety, and being overwhelmed
- Feel fine about what you are not doing
While parts of the book are framework and models, some of it is common sense. But not all common sense is commonly practiced, like asking the question “why?” – “Why am I having my next meeting?” “Why am I doing this?” To know the purpose of what you are doing is sometimes forgotten, simply because we get so caught up in our routines and way of doing things, and forget to touch base with our goals and intentions. Besides, we all love to win. And if we´re not totally clear about the purpose of what we´re doing, we have no chance of winning.
Even if the book might not work as a framework for you to follow from front to back, you will definitely pick up a trick or two. Tricks are for the not-so-smart, not-so-conscious part of us. The smart part of us sets up things for us to do that the not-so-smart part responds to almost automatically. Have you ever had something that you had to bring with you the next morning? Where did you put it the night before? Did you put it in front of the door? On your keys, so you would be sure to take it with you?
Congratulations – this is actually a sophisticated piece of self-management technology you´ve installed for yourself. The smart part of you the night before knows that the not-so-smart part of you first thing in the morning might barely be conscious.
David Allen calls this trick Put It in Front of the Door. And in this book, the door is the door of your mind, not the house. But it´s the same idea. If you could capture everything you had to do, and find a way to trigger the action when it had to be done, you´d feel a lot calmer and have a clearer head. It´s not rocket science, just a good trick. The book teaches you different ways to accomplish this.
So would I recommend you read this book? The common characteristics of the most successful people I have worked with are that they have known exactly what to do, and when to do it. Whether they had a 10-minute break between two meetings, or if they were on hold for a phone conference, they would make the most out of their time, and thus be able to accomplish much more, calmly and with a sense of control. I think they´d read this book.