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Book Review: Getting Things Done by David Allen

by Matt Jones, CPA
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Last year I made a mistake. It feels like something most of us have done, but it really bothered me. It was 9:10AM, I was in the office and my phone rang. Not recognizing the number, I was hesitant to answer the phone, but ultimately accepted the call.

It was Kate. My heart sank because I already knew what she was going to ask: “Hi Matt, it’s Kate, are you still coming?”

I’m being dramatic (or Dra-Matt-ic, as my wife calls it). Nobody was hurt or dying. Kate was understanding when I explained that somehow our coffee meeting just hadn’t made it onto my schedule. We rescheduled. No big deal, right?

It bothered me, I couldn’t shake it. I’ve been on the other end, awkwardly waiting alone at a coffee shop or restaurant, quietly cursing the other person for being late, unorganized, unreliable… an “over-dra-Matt-ic” reaction, but maybe we’ve all felt that way; I hated feeling like I’d let someone down, even a stranger. 1

In that moment I decided it wouldn’t happen again. I’d be sure that anything I was supposed to remember, I would. I’d get organized. Challenge accepted.

Conveniently, I received a book on the subject for Christmas a decade earlier. Ironically, I hadn’t ever finished that book: Getting Things Done by David Allen. I tried searching through old boxes in my parents’ basement without any luck so I bought a new copy of the updated version. 2

Over the next several weeks I read the book, took detailed notes 3, and did my best to implement every single strategy from the author.

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them”

– David Allen

Putting the Getting Things Done, or GTD, concepts into effect in my life was not fast, fun, or easy. But I’d set my mind to it and explained to my wife what I was doing, asking her to hold me accountable and be patient with all the time I would need to spend reading, taking notes, and organizing.

Results

The impact was almost immediate and the financial investment minimal. The biggest difference was reduced stress, both from throwing away old, unnecessary notes and papers and by knowing that every “thing” was accounted for. My organization in the office involved raiding the supply closet for notepads, file folders, and sticky notes, while my home organization required a couple of trips to Staples and Amazon and the purchase of my new favorite gadget, a label maker.

If writing every little thought and to-do sounds miserable, you’re right – it was at first. I remember balking at recording simple little things that didn’t really “matter” like remembering to send my parents the address for my in-laws or to buy garbage bags. But suddenly I didn’t have that task floating around in my head all day, particularly when I was in no position to take action on it.

In addition, it helped me prioritize my actions and focus on the right tasks at the right time. If it’s quick, I do a task right away. If not, I write it down and add it to my next actions list or projects.

“If an action can be done in two minutes or less, do it right now”

-David Allen

One lingering project has been getting my inbox to zero. I managed to accomplish this on my personal email account, but my work email is another story. Since August 2019 I’ve filed every email received, but there remain over 17,000 emails prior to that which I’m slowly organizing. Lesson learned: if you can start off organized, it will save a lot of time over the long run.

Mirroring the system both at my home office and work office makes transitioning from weekend to weekday to weeknight seamless. Like most of us, my job isn’t the traditional 9-5; it involves a hectic and erratic schedule where things can easily get lost in the cracks.

When another project gets dropped on your desk, a small commitment turns into a big project, or you miss time due to an injury, having a system can help you keep your head above water. Without this system, I wouldn’t have kept on top of my professional responsibilities when I broke my shoulder and needed to take some personal time to recover 4

Organizing my home life and work life has taken me to the next level of efficiency, relieving the underlying stress, and helps ensure I’ll be early to our next meeting together.

Want more good reads? Check out the full reading list.

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