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on 12 October 2012
This books puts forward David Allen's 'Get Things Done' (GTD) framework for managing all your 'to dos' based on the context of the task and the time. As a concept/model, GTD has a lot of potential, particularly if you're managing multiple projects and have a busy personal schedule too. But...

1. Allen needs to update the book to contend with how you organise your to do lists and time if you use phones/iPads/computers to manage your diaries. The GTD model in the book pushes (or rather rams down your throat) an archaic paper-based system. He even advocates carrying this paper based system in your "satchel".

2. He complicates what should be a very simple system by proposing list after list for almost every task (and then having sub lists within those lists) - and then how to set up and manage those lists. Consequently, the book is more of a mechanical read than a pleasure. Those 'aha' moments are few and far between because they're buried in dry and long-winded prose. If this was any other type of book, I'd have binned it after the first 40 pages. He admits much of the book is common sense, but leaves the execution of when to do what to the reader's 'intuition'.

3. There are no summaries or checklists at the end of chapters - given how long-winded the book is, a simple one-pager asking the reader 'Have you done the following" at the end of each chapter would have been nice. Instead, you're forced to go back and re-read swathes of text just to get to the couple of lines of explanation that have any resonance.

4. The book would have been better off as a whiteboard/overview book, which could have been a fraction of the size. I really don't need to be told how my life will change after implementing GTD - what I want is a simple explanation of how to implement it and something short enough that I can easily refer back to. Then I'd have given it 5 stars.

Overall, a poor read. If you're keen on exploring GTD, then YouTube and Google are your friends here. Plenty of people have explained Allen's methodology better than he has. There's a a good YouTube video that explains it all in about 7 minutes [...]
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on 29 June 2006
this book is a great foundation of the basics of being organised for someone new to working life or a manager of a shoe shop or similar but personally i found the book didnt teach you anything more than how to write lists and to get everything out of your head and on to "paper" which lets face it, the majority of people looking to buy books of this nature are likely to be in higher pressured roles and will already know the basics. I didnt learn anything new from this book and found that it to tries to be grown up but its not really in touch with the reality of the pressure and awkward situations most working professionals face on a day to day basis. If you are completely ignorant or new to this type of list based methodical thinking however then you should find it will help you
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VINE VOICEon 21 February 2010
This book comprises a densely packed 259 pages of advice on time management, aka, as I am sure David Allen would prefer, productivity management, and that might prove a major obstacle to anyone who feels that they have, as Allen writes in the first sentence, "an overwhelming number of things to do". Reading the book, however, is but the first step in what would, at the very least, be an administratively demanding approach to time management - one that starts with "capturing all the things that need to get done - now, later, someday, big, little or in between". And he means all - professional, personal, everything.

Allen uses the metaphor of "psychic RAM", and suggests that we should not burden our working minds with issues that should be safely stored elsewhere. His approach is based on the assumption that if any task is "on your mind" then "your mind isn't clear", and therefore any task that is "unfinished" must be captured or collected in a "trusted system outside your mind" - in short, written down, whether on paper or in an electronic system. This, I suggest, is quite questionable as a universal assumption: there may be many people who can order their most important thoughts, prioritising in their heads, so that they can safely write down only those things that need to be written down and worked on actively. For those who have poor memories, or are always worrying that they will forget one key thing that will drop them in the soup, then this all-encompassing system may be worth the effort.

While I do question the universality of Allen's initial assumption, however, I don't doubt that this system would work if you devoted enough time to setting it up and getting into the habit of doing it. (His company provides software and other materials to help you, although pen, paper, traditional filing systems and simple software like Outlook or Lotus Notes are all you need.)

The second thing to do, having written down all of your tasks and wishes, is to decide which the active ones are. (The others should be consigned to a "someday/maybe list".) You should then to be clear about - and write down - the next action on each of those active projects. Actions should be specific, measurable way time bounded in SMART fashion (although he doesn't use that acronym). While that makes a great deal of sense, he doesn't balance that working forward in time, action by action approach with a plan back through time from the desired completion date to make sure that you will be able to complete it on time. I was taught that invaluable technique a long time ago as "time appreciation".

Even if you decided not to try to collect all of your thoughts, all of the other methods, techniques and "tricks" that he recommends in the rest of the book seem eminently sensible. Allen provides us with lots of techniques around envisioning, maintaining focus, natural planning, team alignment, using your diary/calendar, etc. There are, in my mind, some significant omissions, however. Allen says about one fifth of the way into the book, "Let us assume that you're not resisting any of your "stuff" (i.e. tasks/projects) out of insecurity or procrastination". He doesn't really come back to address this problem directly - productivity is often impaired by a general lack of will or determination or plain bravery to do the difficult, uncomfortable task. There is, for example, no equivalent to "eating the frog", which I personally found to be a most useful new approach to productivity a few years ago - possibly because Allen believes such tricks would be unnecessary if everything is completely ordered.

David Allen ranges from detailed practical advice on one page, e.g. prefer a simple A-Z general filing system, make sure filing cabinet drawers are no more than ¾ full, to theoretical or broad overview on another, such as the "six level model for reviewing you own work. I found that this maintained my interest quite well, although some might not like that style and wonder whether it might have been structured differently.

So, to conclude: this is a great book if you are interested in how best to use your time and how to be more productive. Whether his all-encompassing idea collection system will be right for everyone I doubt, but I don't doubt that anyone who did manage to apply it systematically would gain great benefits. That probably depends on the type of person you are - and I think that I might be someone who would find it useful and I might give it a go. There is, however, a great deal of good material here whether you adopt the "full system" or not. One last thought - it is probably not a good book to make a start with if you are already in over your head, as it is just too dense and the recommended system has too great an overhead to be usable unless you do have some coaching support to get you through it. Allen refers several times to spending whole weekends coaching clients, in their offices, as they collect all their "stuff"!
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This is a seminal book, which has in some ways been superseded by its own children. If you survey the Mac and PC software applications that offer help with time management, by far the most popular system implemented is Getting Things Done, or GTD for short.

GTD has been criticised for being no more than common sense. In a lot of ways this is both untrue, and unfair. More accurately, it's two simple ideas put together, and supported by a collection of useful ideas borrowed (with appropriate acknowledgement) from elsewhere. The two ideas are the idea of 'stuff', and what you do with it (collect, process, organise, review, do), and the idea of using (and relying on) a reliable filing system. It's backed up with other good ideas like brainstoming, mind-mapping, the 50,000 feet perspective, and other notions that you may have encountered in their original contexts, or in programmes like TQM.

GTD is less revolutionary than the 4th generation time-management that Stephen Covey introduced in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. However, it's more powerful for most of us in the sense that you can implement it easily on a computer or a PDA. David Allen makes the most of the power of easy storage of information. If you're a computer user (and if you're reading this on Amazon, then chances are that you are), then this is by the far the most practical system, whether you use a specialist piece of software like Omnifocus, or just make the most of the built-in functions of Outlook or iCal.

This is the strength, and the weakness of this book: get one of the many software packages, read the help-file, and you may not need to read the book at all.

Just one more thing about Getting Things Done. As the author points out, this is really a book for people on the fast-track to improve their personal organisation. It's not going to make a great gift for someone else who you _think_ should get organised.
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on 12 February 2018
This is the best Self-Help Productivity book ever written. Well, I think so and I’ve been using it for 13 years. It has had such a profound impact on my working life that to this day, it is a part of my daily practice. I have the GTD apps on my phones and tablets, and it is a default webpage I load automatically in my browser. The greatest fear we have when we’re dealing with so many projects or issues or people is that item that we forget because we’re maxed out with everything else that’s flying at us. We need to get it out of our heads and into a trusted system so we can function clearly – today’s modern technology makes this easier. Plug for Toodledo.

I have read the typical time management books and if I hear the ‘big rocks first’ story one more time I’ll hurl one of them at someone. What struck home with me in this book was the recognition of things constantly coming our way throughout the day and more than probably from our bosses, or customers who don’t take kindly to being considered a small rock and deferred. This book, therefore, deals with a very pragmatic and defined workflow for managing things we need to get done and understanding the priority. The workflow proffered here is 1. Collect 2. Process 3. Organise 4. Review. Which he covers in great detail.

The book is well written with a style that is easy to read and provides margin notes and images where appropriate. He tends to use bullet points and flowcharts which help illustrate important concepts. If you can take on-board just some of his concepts you’ll notice the difference immediately.
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VINE VOICEon 14 May 2004
This book is for all those who are overwhelmed with too many things to do, too little time to do them, and a general sense of unease that something important is being missed.
Everyone has experienced times when everything seemed effortless, and progress limitless. David Allen has captured ways for you to achieve that wonderful state of mind and consciousness more often.
His key concept is that every task, promise, or assignment has a place and a time. With everything in its proper place and time, you feel in control and replace the time spent on vague worrying with effective, timely action. As a result, the accomplishments grow while the pressure to accomplish decreases. As a result, the book contains many insights into "how to have more energy, be more relaxed, and get a lot more accomplished with much less effort."
The key psychological insight of this book is that rapid progress occurs when you take large, unformed tasks, and break them down and organize them into smaller, sequential steps for exactly what to do and when. The book provides lots of guidance and examples for how to do this.
The book is organized into three sections. The first gives you an overview of the whole process for how to get more done in a relaxed way. The second spells out the details of how to implement that process, in a way that a personal coach might use. The third provides subtle insights that help you appreciate the benefits that follow from using the process. Like all good coaches, Mr. Allen understands that appreciating a subject from several perspectives and getting lots of practice with it are critical steps in learning.
The process advocated by this book is described with lots of systems flow charts that will appeal to all of the engineers and left-brained people. The right-brained people will find lots of discussions about emotions, feelings, and stress. So both types of thinkers should do well with this material.
The essence of the process is that you write down a note about everything when you take on a new responsibility, make a new commitment, or have a useful thought. All of this ends up in some kind of "in" box. You then go through your "in" box and decide what needs to be done next for each item. For simple issues, this includes identifying the action you should take first and when to take it. For tougher issues, you schedule an appropriate time to work the problem in more detail. You organize the results of this thinking, and review your options for what you should be doing weekly. Then you take what you choose to do, and act. Think of this process as the following five steps: (1) collect (2) process (3) organize (4) decide (5) act.
For the tougher problems, you start with identifying your purpose and principles so you know why you care how it all turns out. Then you imagine the potential good outcomes that you would like. Following that, you brainstorm with others the best way to get those outcomes. Then you organize the best pathway. Finally, you identify the first actions you need to take. Then you act, as in step 5 above.
From this outline, I hope that you can see that this is not rocket science. It is simple common sense, but with discipline. The critical part is the discipline because that is what focuses your attention where it will do the most good. For example, rather than sitting on something you have no idea how to get started, you can decide right away to get ideas from others on what the purpose and principles are that should be used in selecting a solution. So, you are in motion, and you have saved much time and anxiety.
What I learned from this book is that many people allow a lot of time to pass without taking any useful steps because they cannot imagine what to do next. This process should usually overcome that problem by showing you what to work on, providing methods to accomplish that step in the process, and guiding you to places where you can get appropriate help. As a result, this book should help overcome the bureaucracy and communications stalls that bedevil most organizations.
This fits from my own experience in helping people solve problems. If you simplify the questions and make them into familiar ones, everyone soon finds powerful alternatives drawn from a lifetime of experiences and memories. Keep things broad, abstract, and vague, and peoples' eyes glaze over while they struggle for a place to begin.
After you have finished reading and applying this book, I suggest that you share your new learning with those you see around you who are the most stressed out. By helping them gain relaxed control of their activities, you will also be able to enjoy the benefits of their increased effectiveness in supporting your own efforts.
May you always get the tools you need, understand what to do next, and move swiftly through timely actions!
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on 3 April 2013
This book contains many thought provoking ideas and explanations on how the brain of a modern life person can become cluttered with oodles of 'stuff' to remember - the general outcome being that things fall through the cracks and blow up in your face.

Unbeknown to me, in productivity circles the GTD principal appears to be well known and there are many signed up individuals. As you read around the net you will find there are masses of blogs and spin off sites and tech products which may help you implement the method of working. But, readers should beware that the principal is one thing, the implementation method is probably about 90% of it. The book does not offer you the results on a plate and real work is needed to launch it – he recommends two days to empty your head of every task/project/reminder/goal etc into your ‘in box’ before you then process it. Once running your system needs regular reviewing and maintenance. For me, I admit to being not the most organised person, but with GTD I hope to change this for good; I have already began by changing my mind set on certain things at work/home and it’s getting noticed.

At times I found the book over long, but it does serve to drum the ideas into you! In fact after reading once, I feel I need another re-read to cement my thinking on how I will use my chosen way of using (Evernote). I would also say some small parts of the writing are not great and needs re-reading and the grammar could have been better; there are also a few typos but don't let that put you off.

In summary – good content and solid principals for working/living better. I would recommend for those keen to improve productivity. It may also be a kick for those of us who are procrastinators, although it will test your habits in a hard way so be prepared to work at it!
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on 31 March 2010
Unlike a generation of self-help gurus that preceded him, David Allen does not promise the stars in the heavens above for those that follow his method or his teaching, but simply offers a tool kit to increase productivity. The GTD method requires a big frontloaded commitment to set the 'full' system up -Allen often spends days with clients getting it up and running- and introduces a number of almost-gimmicky components (the 'tickler' file; the use of the labeller) which are innovative, and in a way, beguiling.

One of the problems with the system is that the 'wow, that's neat' factor can lead to an almost fetishistic devotion to the intricacies that leads people to focus on being 'meta-productive' instead of actually being productive (if you are prone to procrastination in the first place then you should be very wary of the 'bright and shiny' aspects of GTD that so many people get hung up on). Certainly, Allen himself offers no psychological solution for the problem of procrastination; during a podcast with Melvin Mann over at 43 Folders, the best Allen can come up with is, once you are 'clear' and have all your various folders and lists set up with 'next actions', if you aren't going to do what you really should be doing, you'll still have a a variety of productive things to get on with whilst you avoid your primary task. Which is, of course, no solution at all.

Nonetheless, it seems a bit unfair to Allen to criticise him for not offering advice on something -the psychology of motivation and procrastination- that he never said he was an expert in. (A book that dovetails nicely with GTD, that does offer a detailed social psychological analysis of this, is Switch ). One of the refreshing things about Allen is that he isn't trying to sell you a snake-oil solution to every problem you've ever had, and he even says that if you implement a little bit of GTD, you should see big changes (something I can personally attest to- while my tickler file is largely unloved, his 'next action' mantra has changed the way I make lists, and I utilise a stripped down 'capture/collect/process' system that was very easy to implement and incredibly useful).

Ultimately, there is no smoke without a fire; Allen has his detractors, and many self-help gurus have been happy to repackage his work with their own bells and whistles (The Truth About Getting Things Done); the lifehacker types (Upgrade Your Life) have swarmed over GTD and embellished it with moleskin notebooks and freeware computer programs; Cal Newport, author of the brilliant book How to Become a Straight-A Student runs a website called Study Hacks that provides a stripped down GTD version for students; Melvin Mann over at 43 Folders grapples with how 'right-brained' creative types can implement GTD out of the business world and in their own, less conventional life. All these people have been enriched or influenced by Allen's work -as have I. Despite it's flaws then, the innovations of Getting Things Done mark it out as a unique, insightful system that offers real nuts-and-bolts solutions for organization in the twenty first century.
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on 3 June 2013
Allen takes a collection of very simple concepts and puts them together to form a larger system which he calls "GTD". The GTD system in it's entirity does feel a little complicated at first read but I would definitely say this is one of those books which needs to be read over a few times to understand it properly. In the first part of the book he explains the system in brief and goes on into more detail about each concept in the later chapters. This makes it feel like there is a bit of repetition at times but I think he is just trying to reinforce the message. There are lots of great quotes and inspirational messages dotted around the book to help get you into the right mindset.

I don't think this system is for everyone. You can dip in and out and learn some 'tricks' as he calls it but to really get the best out of the system you would need to be very disciplined and committed. Also, I think level of benefit would depends on the job you do or how busy your life is.

On the one hand, this is a 250 page book about making lists. On the other, a clever system system which could change your life (well, in the getting organised sense anyway). His methods have become widely used and he seems to be well respected in the field of time management / consultancy (check him out further on you tube) so he must be doing something right.

Me, well I'm still working on it.
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on 8 December 2004
This book has changed my life. It provides a complete system to manage your work. Once you have set up your systems and absorbed the book properly it is amazingly effective with very little effort to actually maintain the system. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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