Book Review: ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen – 2015 Edition

Books Geek Culture Reviews
Image used by permission from David Allen Company
Image used with permission from David Allen Company

Getting Things Done (also known as the GTD system) is a task management methodology. Before you dismiss this book (and this article) as boring hear this: GTD changed my life about seven years ago when I read David Allen’s book and implemented his system. If you are a geeky parent like me and want to have more time to do the things you enjoy–and be able to enjoy them even more because you know you aren’t dropping the ball somewhere else–then this book is for you.

Instead of focusing on the contents of the book itself for this review, I am going to talk about what the GTD system has done for me and what it could potentially do for you. After all, you aren’t visiting GeekDad to brush up on your task management skills; you are here because you share our passion for all things geeky. Being a geek is all about being able to spend time “geeking out” over things that we truly enjoy. You can only afford to spend time doing this once your work and family commitments are met, and sometimes that is easier said than done.

Seven years ago I was not quite ten years into my engineering career. I was taking on more responsibilities and getting involved with more complex projects. It was getting very difficult to keep up with everything I had to keep track of on a daily and weekly basis. Plus, as a father of three my home life was not so simple either. Then I read David Allen’s original release of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity book. I read the book cover-to-cover in a single day over a weekend, and that next Monday I used the entire day to get all of my work and home commitments captured in the system and under control. I immediately noticed a change.

Suddenly I was able to not only keep up with my current commitments but I was able to take on more. While I was still early in my engineering career, being able to take on more was extremely beneficial. On the home front I was able to capture all the little things I had to do on a regular basis and gain control over all of it. This enabled me to focus more on the things that absolutely had to get done on the weekends and then allow me to spend time doing things I wanted to do.

“Mind like water” is a phrase that David Allen uses often in this book. It means being able to have nothing on your mind except the present. It doesn’t mean you aren’t extremely busy, but it does mean that you no longer stressing out about “that thing I just remembered I have to complete at work tomorrow” because you already captured it in your system and have a plan in place to complete that task. It is all taken care of.

This may sound like a silly thing to make a big deal out of, but look at it this way: you just sat down with your kids on the weekend to play Munchkin (awesome family RPG by the way) and you were able to play for 2 straight hours without a single thought about work or other responsibilities popping into your head. You were able to stay in that moment with your kids and truly enjoy the game and the time spent playing it with them.

Our brains are quite the amazing little computers, but sometimes they can get in the way of a good time. The whole “mind like water” concept centers around taking the cognitive load off your brain and throwing all that “stuff” into your GTD system. The basic idea is that if you can capture all of these things that your mind had previously been keeping track of for you, then your brain will see a drastic drop in cognitive load and allow you to relax more and stay in the moment. This is absolutely essential if you are trying to do something creative (or just trying relax).

I highly recommend buying both the electronic and the paper versions of this book. I have both and have found that having it in both formats is extremely useful. I like being able to highlight and take notes in the digital version and then having the paper copy available to flip through to various sections for reference later (there is something more efficient about being able to quickly thumb through a paper copy of a book).

I bought the electronic version of the book on the iBooks Store. Amazon also sells both a digital version for the Kindle (which also works on other devices like an iPad running the Kindle app) as well as the paperback version (which is where I purchased my physical copy).

If you want to know a little bit more about the GTD philosophy you should check out episode 254 of the Mac Power Users podcast, “Reviewing GTD with David Allen.” David Sparks and Katie Floyd talk with David Allen about this new version of his book and discuss a lot of the philosophy behind GTD and why it works so well for so many people. While you’re checking out Mac Power Users you can also listen to episode 228, “Rocket Science with Skip Owens,” if you want to find out a little bit more about me and how I use technology at work and at home.

I used Evernote for several years as my main GTD tool and then switched to OmniFocus 2 for iOS and OmniFocus 2 for the Mac and never looked back. (It’s an amazing tool!) But the great thing about the GTD system is that it doesn’t matter what tool you use; the system just works. In fact, as David Allen even talks about on the Mac Power Users podcast, sometimes all you need is a pencil and a pad of paper.

Don’t stress over the tools and how to get started, just read the book and follow David Allen’s instructions, and in no time you too can be focusing on really important things like attacking a potted plant with the destructive weapon that is the “Boots of Butt-Kicking” (another Munchkin reference). Get all that other “stuff” off your brain and get on with the business of enjoying the fun and “geeky” parts of life.

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen – 2015 Edition

  1. OmniFocus is great, but Mac only. If your readers are interested in an alternative that works on all platforms (browser based) I would recommend taking a look at – it is purpose built to implement GTD. I just found it a while ago and love it!

    1. Yeah, I specifically didn’t get too much into tools because tools are such a personal choice and with GTD it’s all about the system not the tools. I thought it was worth at least mentioning a few tools I had some success with. David Allen is working on his own web-based tool, so that should be REALLY interesting when that comes out.

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