Monday, July 07, 2014

My Nerdie Bookshelf - "Getting things done - The art of stress-free productivity" by David Allen

I don't remember exactly how I heard about this book but it immediately caught my attention when I heard that it suggests productivity tricks based on the use of to-do lists. I was and still am a great fan of lists: they really helped me to untangle the huge mass of tasks and problems I have dealt with in the last ten years. I'm using lists for almost everything, including when I'm preparing the luggage for a trip.

I must admit that the author's method is quite interesting and effective. To say that it is simply based on lists is a huge understatement. David Allen proposes a process to deal with everyday's activities in which for every task that must be faced a "next action" is defined. Lists and calendars serve for keeping the mind free, instead of trying to maintain schedules, appointments, deadlines, notes and things to do all in one's memory.

Most of the advices proposed in Getting things done are purely based on common sense, but they are strangely often forgotten or dismissed, especially in work environments.
I've learnt some interesting few tricks from this book. Three are worth mentioning here, that is: the 2 minutes rule (if you need less than 2 minutes to do something don't defer it and do it now), the importance of always identifying a next action for each task and defining in meetings a clear purpose at the beginning and a list of actions (and responsibilities) at the end.

The book has been initially published in 2001 and there isn't much emphasis on the exploitation of technology (besides some random mentions of PDAs - that was way before smartphones! - and personal productivity features of desktop softwares like Outlook or Lotus Notes). This should not be considered detrimental of the book: its value is in the process, not in the suggested (low tech) implementation.

Despite these good things there are also some annoying facts about Getting things done. To start with, its messianic style, the constantly repeated mantra that your life can deeply change if you follow the advices of this book. Moreover while the method can really apply to everyone (and, to say the truth, this is often repeated throughout the pages) the examples in Getting things done refer always to a vip audience. All this gives the impression that David Allen is constantly promoting his activity as a consultant: this is legit of course, but it is sincerely annoying to get this feeling in a book you've bought.

Finally, despite the book is not very long, often concepts are repeated over and over again. You could actually get the same value from it even if it had 40% less pages.

Despite these flaws I deeply suggest the reading of Getting things done to those who feel in trouble to keep the pace of business and personal events. I honestly learnt some useful strategies here, which at the end is the only thing that matters in a book like this.

Getting things done - The art of stress-free productivity, David Allen, Penguin Books 2001

Source Wikipedia


Carlo Piccini said...

I can state that the book really changed my life (personal and professional).
Only three things managed to change my way of living:
- The original PALM Pilot
- The birth of my son, Gabriele
I had a need of something like GTD way before 2001, and competing methods like the Pomodoro Technique did not seem to be a viable solution.

The basic principles fascinated me and I have become totally addicted to the “Mind like Water” mantra. It took at least three years to roll my own tools and adapt nearly every concept to my world.

I realised I needed a method more than a tool or software, and GTD was a pure distillate of common sense and great ideas (love the 2 minute rule, the tickler file or my in-boxes).
Mr Allen conceded over time that he used a Palm PDA with the plain vanilla apps when asked about his favourite tools. However, as you pointed out, the focus is on the method, not on the tools.

Some people say it is easy to “Fall Off the Wagon”, but I think it never happened to me in more than 10 years because of the awareness of needing strict rules. I remember the feel of my mind being electrocuted by the rules, and how habits were carved in my will.
I find that the same principles are stressed out and repeated a bit throughout the book and it truly is “messianic”, as Allen is a minister of Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA). Very easy in the U.S. to found your very own church… :-)
In the end if you are vaccinated against philosophical or religious smears the style is polished and clear.

I would not recommend the other books from David Allen (Ready for Anything – Penguin Books 2003 and Making it All Work Penguin Books 2008) as they are mainly collections of excerpts from his seminaries, while there is a fairly good italian translation of the original book: “Detto fatto! L’arte dell’efficienza” – Sperling & Kupfer 2006.

lucadex said...

Wow! Thank you very much for your insights Carlo!