Okay, so the full title of this book is Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. I can’t remember how I found this book exactly, but I’m sure the title is what drew me in. After all, that’s kind of my goal with this blog: to be productive without being stressed.
I guess I could start by stating that I absolutely loved the principles in Getting Things Done. It is chock-full of actionable advice (which I love). The author, David Allen, provides a full system for getting your entire life in order. I’ve implemented lots of that advice in my own life, and I can honestly say that it’s working! This was one of the first books I read this year, so I’ve been working the system for about a month now, and I feel like that’s a solid trial run. Here are some things I’m doing that were advised by Mr. Allen:
1. Organizing my thoughts.
Much of my anxiety is caused by a constant barrage of thoughts. “I need to take out the garbage.” “I need to call the case worker.” “I need to wash my clothes.” Etc.
These thoughts all take up valuable space in my mind, and that leads to a persistent nagging feeling that I should be doing something other than what I’m doing. In other words, it’s the exact opposite of mindfulness, which we all know is the goal for staying calm and loving life.
So, the Getting Things Done idea is to organize these thoughts as soon as they enter my mind. The author has some suggestions for different systems, but he ultimately tells you to do whatever works best for you. So here’s mine:
When a thought first enters my brain, I either do it immediately (if it takes less than 2 minutes) or add it to a list on my phone called “Add to Master List.” At the end of each day, I transfer that list to my paper “to do” list, which is verrryyyy long. As I set up my planner for the next day, I pick a few of these items (based on importance and/or urgency) and add them to the next day’s “to do” list. Every now and then, I realize the item isn’t actually important. In that case, I just scratch it off the list completely. If it needs to be delegated to my husband, I just ask him to add it to his own list.
2. Breaking big projects down into smaller tasks.
I used to include large projects on my “to do” list with smaller ones. “Respond to email” was given the same amount of space as “Start a business,” which obviously doesn’t make sense. When it came time to tackle one of these tasks, which one do you think I chose first? (Hint: It’s the one that only takes five minutes vs. a year to accomplish.)
Now, using the GTD method, I’ve learned to separate each of these larger projects into smaller tasks. For example, instead of “start a business,” my list might say “brainstorm business ideas.” I only put the next step of the project on my list at any given time so I don’t feel overwhelmed. But once I’ve accomplished that next step, I’ll go ahead and write the next one down so I’m continually making progress.
3. Using my calendar.
I’ve used both my phone calendar and my planner calendar for years, but I haven’t been making the most of either one. I scheduled events like birthdays and doctor appointments, but that was it. The author of Getting Things Done suggests adding tasks to your calendar if they are date-specific. It works so well!
As an example, the pediatrician told me to bring my son to the office to have his ears checked three weeks after his last appointment (he had an ear infection). I’m not worried about remembering this task because it’s written on my planner calendar and stored as a reminder on my phone calendar. I scheduled it for two days before the three week deadline so I can make sure it’s done promptly.
It’s a small step, but when you do this for all those nagging little “don’t forget” tasks, it really helps you focus.
4. Reviewing my system.
Though my system works really well for me, I still take time to review and make changes as needed. Like I said earlier, I’ve been working this way for about a month now. In that time, I’ve reviewed my lists, routines, calendars, and other organization tools countless times. It sounds like a lot of work, but I only spend about five minutes a night on all of it. It’s quickly become my favorite part of the day because it allows my mind to relax and wind down. Even better, I usually wake up each morning refreshed and ready to start the day because I know my priorities. Everything else can wait.
I have my short “to do” list that only includes the things I really need to do that day. Then I have my calendars and master “to do” list that captures everything else I might need to remember. If anything new pops up during the day, I just make a written note and file it away for later (unless it’s urgent or a quick task; in that case, I do it immediately).
So, obviously the book works well for me. However, there is one glaring downside that I feel I should mention here:
The book is organized very poorly.
I know that sounds strange since productivity is this man’s forte, but it just kind of jumped all over the place. The author is rather wordy, and he repeats things quite a bit. Still, though, I struggled to understand the overall system until I looked up much shorter, better written summaries online. (This is a good one if you’re interested.)
Still, I’m glad I read the book instead of just focusing on the summaries. There’s a ton of additional information he includes that’s really helpful, and it didn’t take that long to read the whole thing. I’ll probably even read it again next year, just to refresh my memory.
Overall, I give this book five stars. The writing style does ramble, but it more than makes up for that with the amount of helpful information provided.