Lessons from Getting Things Done by David Allen

Quick Summary

Getting Things Done (GTD) is a method of productivity that promotes writing down every task and going through a flow-chart of decisions on the next steps to take. David insists that “your head is for having ideas – not for holding them.”

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen, revised edition published in 2015

Lessons Learned

Capture Everything

David argues that the reason for high stress levels, is that you have too much floating around in your head, so you need to capture everything in a collection tool such as a paper planner or digital app. Once the task or idea is in the collection tool, you need to have a recurring time slot to review your pile of tasks and move on to organizing them.
In my younger days as a single adult with no children or pets, I got by with simple to-do lists in a paper planner. Now that I have multiple loved ones to care for on top of my full-time job and hobbies, I frequently forget things, including where I put my paper planner, so capturing every task now matter how small, has helped me stay on track with actually getting things done. I use with the default Reminders app on my iPhone which lets you make quick lists that can have associated reminder notifications.

The 2-minute Rule

David recommends that if the next physical action to take for a task takes less than 2-minutes, you should just do it. The rationale is that it would probably take longer than 2-minutes to document and track the task, so for the sake of efficiency, just do it now.
This step was hard for me to implement for all tasks, as the time of day is not always appropriate to make a phone call or login to my online bank account. I did however implement this for emails by using the “Schedule send” feature in Gmail or Outlook. This option is hidden under the down arrow to the right of the send button. I compose my reply and then choose a date and time for the email to be sent. This prevents the person I’m emailing from assuming I’m available at all hours for work-related responses.

Prevent Broken Agreements

In chapter 11, David discusses why we have negative feelings about broken agreements, AKA unfinished tasks. Essentially, the feelings are symptoms of disintegrated self-trust, we agreed to do something, but didn’t get to it and now feel awful for agreeing to it in the first place. There are 3 options to prevent these broken agreements:

  • Don’t make the agreement.
  • Complete the agreement.
  • Renegotiate the agreement.

This topic made a lot of sense in that there is a finite amount of time each day to accomplish things. Once I started tracking all the things I committed to, I had to finally say no to some things. If I prioritized a task to complete, this means I probably have to sacrifice something else on the list and be ok with not doing it at all.