I came to David Allen’s Getting Stuff Done because it came recommended by the editor of the The Billfold, an online site for personal finance. The editor there is incredibly productive (she is a freelance writer full-time, and writes about that life on her site) and I knew that if someone like her thought this system was interesting, it might help me.
Allen’s system is logical and intuitive, but he clearly brings a wealth of experience not just on how people get organized and productive, but also in the many, many ways that people sneakily get “un”productive even in the midst of an attempt to organize their lives. He says that when he consults, it often takes two full work days to get everything in order and ready to use his system.
In many ways, the organization of Allen’s to-do lists and filing systems reminds me of Marie Kondo’s Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up book; the principle is that if you can just get your space to an optimum state, all you have to do is maintain.
Rather than focusing on how to keep your office clean, though, Allen notes that everything needs to be framed in terms of the next task to do, and needs to be re-shuffle-able in order to accommodate new tasks. He also emphasizes that most people need a clear way to find old papers but don’t need to have to see them all the time, like I do when I just leave everything pressing covering different parts of my desk (and raising my blood pressure in the process).
What I took most from the book was that I could save all the important papers that come across my desk without letting them pile up infinitely, and that I needed a more central to do list rather than a million tiny ones that I add to all the time. I actually am “allowed” to write things down anywhere, per this system, but I need to always add tasks to the central to do list or they may, in the end, not get done or get done at a non-optimal time.
I also realized that I tend to write to-do lists with lazy phrasing. For instance, yesterday I made a list of kinds of vegetables I want to grow next summer by just listing the names of the veggies, when really, to make it task-oriented, I needed to write “buy pink bumblebee tomato seeds from High Mowing Seeds,” and “Find zucchini and cucumber seeds in the seed box,” and “ask Husband’s brother for some sweet potato slips in the spring.” Even those tasks could be more time-marked, but just rephrasing little reminder words into actual tasks is one of the big take-aways from this book for me.