getting things done book summary and review by david allen

Getting Things Done by David Allen: A Disappointed Book Summary & Review

I’ve heard about this book everywhere. It’s called Getting Things Done by David Allen.

It’s one of the best-selling, most well-known productivity books . It’s always on the top of recommended lists and blog articles.

It’s a quick read of 267 pages. I’d like to share the top insights and my disappointed review.

Find the next action step

David argues that most people fail at productivity because they haven’t organized what they need to do next properly in priority.

They fail to do this because they haven’t clearly seen the end goal and don’t really know what to do next.

He gives an exercise: imagine your big goal is complete right now. Walk back to the present. What is the next step you need to do right now to move towards that goal being accomplished?

This imaginary exercise helps crystallize what’s the right next step.

The 2nd exercise he recommends to ask yourself “What then?” until you find the true end goal.

For example, let say you have on your calendar “get oil changed for car.” In reality, that’s not the true end goal. If you ask yourself “What then?”, you realize you need to find the cheapest price nearby. If you ask yourself “What then” again, you realize you need to go online to research prices.

Therefore, you should put “Research prices online” on your calendar rather than “get oil changed.”

It makes things much less confusing and makes clear what your next action step is, which eliminates wasted time.

Or you might know which place to go to but haven’t scheduled an appointment. What then? You need to call them to schedule a time. You should put “Call car repair store to schedule appointment” rather than “Change oil” on your calendar.

When you’re in a meeting, always finish the meeting with a determined action step to take. This will help you think deeper and get more out of the meeting.

If you don’t plan out tasks, you needlessly think about it

Have you ever caught yourself thinking about something you should do or will do even though you have no control over it at the present moment?

Have you ever done this even when you know that it’s mostly a waste of time to think about it because it won’t help much?

It’s very easy to keep thinking about tasks after you leave work or do something else. To avoid this, make sure you properly plan out everything so you know what needs to be done.

When you leave work, you can silence your mind and leave it to rest.

See goals at different levels

David recommends seeing goals at different time period levels.

There are your 2 year goals.

Then, there’s your 5 to 7 year goals, which may be more tough to accomplish.

The smarter you are, the more you procrastinate

Why is this the case?

David explains that in his 15 years of coaching, he’s found the most intelligent people to be the most imaginative and creative.

Therefore, they are most likely to envision the future and depict in their brain all the work, obstacles, and problems that can occur when they start a task. This overwhelms and scares them, which encourages them to procrastinate.

He said the dumb people are too stupid to even consider the future. They just plod along with the task, unaware of consequences. This ends up serving as an advantage in productivity because they aren’t overwhelmed to even start.

The point is to limit or spend less time getting caught up in the future and how hard a task will be in your mind. Don’t let it intimidate or overwhelm you. Switch your thinking to something else if you notice it happening. 

What’s the point?

Whenever you have a task, project, or meeting, ask yourself why. What’s the point of having this?

If there is no good reason you can come up with it, move on. Sometimes, it will take time to come up with. This will help clear things up and identify wasted time.

My vicious book review

What I hated:

Do, delete, store, or delegate

All information that comes to you in the form of email, mail, or any form of communication should be done now, deleted, stored for later reference, or delegated.

David’s rule is to do anything immediately that takes less than 2 minutes. Otherwise, you delegate everything someone else can do it or file it away to when you should do it on your calendar.

I don’t think this process is effective because he assumes tasks that take longer than 2 minutes should never be done immediately. Some of your most important work is longer than 2 minutes.

Also, there’s no emphasis on prioritization here. There’s no recommendation to check which of these tasks is most important to your 5 year, 1 year, or monthly goals to assess what to do.

“Some Day” folders

He says that you should put any task that nags you into a “Some day” folder so it doesn’t nag you each time you’re reminded. He gives the analogy of walking past an uncleaned garage. He says this will keep that nagging feeling away and you can keep pushing it off each week if it’s not the right time.

This assumes that you have a nagging feeling or that this will solve the problem. Constantly pushing it off into the future will just strengthen the issue.

A full-on rant on credibility

He says that you should acknowledge it and let it happen if someone interrupts you during your workflow.

I think this should be avoided. Having people interrupt you with highly important tasks is fine, but letting them stop your flow with low-priority tasks should not occur. A system should be built so it doesn’t happen.

He also has a very convoluted system of prioritization for a lot of things. There’s his one system where he has you build out a folder for every day of the year and throw things into each folder to know what you’re doing.

He says it helps with scheduling and being reminded of stuff. He also said you absolutely must check it every day and if you can’t, you must prepare in advance.

Granted, this book was written before the Internet and Google Calendar got big, but it just goes contrary to what billionaires have said about keeping things simple.

It almost chains you to your productivity system like social media and phones chain most people. I think this should be avoided, which is why I didn’t go into too much detail on his system.

It failed my credibility test because why should I listen to his advice? I did some research on who he was and this was the best stuff I could find:

Amazon says that David Allen spent 30 years researching and coaching CEO’s and managers of the most prestigious companies. But doesn’t specifically list any names.

Forbes’ recognized him as one of the top five executive coaches in the U.S. and Business 2.0 magazine’s put him in the 2006 list of “50 Who Matter Now.” Time Magazine called his flagship book, “Getting Things Done”, “the definitive business self-help book of the decade.” Fast Company Magazine called David “one of the world’s most influential thinkers.”

This is all well and good but I’ve been more and more skeptical about publications like Forbes. Their accuracy is getting more and more diluted as they move towards being more like Buzzfeed. They’re clearly shooting out content to shoot it out for more views without regard to accuracy. Plus, I’ve never heard of Business 2.0.

I’m not saying he isn’t successful or helpful. But a false positive on advice is more dangerous than a false negative so I’d rather put him guilty until proven innocent.

The point is that publications and lists can be highly inaccurate these days. And you can get on them just with connections or a well known book that you’ve published.

The fact that no specific companies he’s helped is listed is a bit fishy. Why didn’t they list big names if they could? Maybe he’s hiding that he’s only worked with smaller names?

Like the author Robert Greene, David claims he has had over 35 jobs before he was 35. Not the best thing to have on a resume. It spells “job hopper” and “can’t keep a job.”

These jobs were low-wage jobs which include magician, waiter, karate teacher, landscaper, vitamin distributor, glass-blowing lathe operator, travel agent, gas station manager, U-Haul dealer, moped salesman, restaurant cook, personal growth trainer, lawn service manager, and minister.

He spent the second half of his life building his productivity coaching company, David Allen Company. There’s no mention of how successful (or unsuccessful) this company is online.

Wikipedia says that his employees charge $595 per person to speak. He charges $20,000 to come himself to speak. He lives in California with his 4th wife.

I’m not going to hold this last point about his lack of credibility from a work experience standpoint against him. Robert Greene also went through many jobs and now he’s a successful author. Sometimes, you need to test out many jobs before you find your calling.

The book has a 4.5 rating on with 2,000 reviews of the book. It’s helped many people and they have voiced the results and approval.

Just be careful of what advice you take from this book. If it doesn’t work when you try it, drop it. That way, you reduce the risk of letting bad advice from a stranger negatively affect your life.

What are your thoughts about productivity and this book?

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