Book Review: Getting Things Done by David Allen

Journeys in Construction

Book Review: Getting Things Done by David Allen

Getting things done.

I read the first edition of this book around 2004. I appreciated the detailed explanations, but the writing style seemed overblown. A condensed version, something like Cliff’s notes, might have been enough for me. Despite the woo in the book, the GTD method helped me to improve, and I’ve continued using my adaptation of it since then.

The central idea is that your mind is always keeping a running to-do list in the background while you’re doing other things. This noise distracts you from what you’re doing and makes you worried that you should be doing something else on that list. Get the running to-do list out of your mind, and you can focus on one thing at a time.

A lot of it is basic guidelines including a step-by-step process for organizing information and to-do list items, frequently reviewing and updating, and getting things done.


1. Collect all your information. 

  • Gather all your various notes and files.
  • Do a brain dump.
  • Make a master to-do list.

2. Organize the information.

  • Use a system that works for you and will usually be readily available.
  • Sort by priority, category, context, etc. (today or someday, business or personal, phone calls or writing, and so on)
  • Decide what to do and when.

3. Do what needs to be done.

  • Don’t procrastinate.
  • Use your time effectively when in different contexts.
  • Focus on the next action. 

4. Regularly review and update your system. 

  • Do a complete review at least weekly to make sure your information and action items are current.
  • Re-organize and re-prioritize as necessary.
  • Get rid of junk.

That’s mostly what I got out of it at first. It can be more complicated than that, but you can adapt it to fit yourself.

Since my first reading, I have gone back a few times and reviewed some parts to help me refine my methods. Now I have a better understanding of the parts that I did not really “get” at first.

It took quite a bit of effort to set up a personalized system and implement it, then after a while, it became easier to maintain and the results made it worth it.

Eventually, having that working system helped me to improve my executive function, especially regarding decision making, prioritizing, determining the next action, working with others on complex projects, being better prepared for sharing information, delegating, following up, etc.

I recommend this book for people who want to improve their organizational skills, whether just for yourself or for managing projects with other people. This can help people with a lot of things to do. 

If you’re overwhelmed with complex issues and are a chronic procrastinator, you might not be the type to read it all and effectively implement it, in which case my summary above might help you.

Even if you’re not struggling in that way, and are a multi-tasking organizational nerd who manages your to-do list well, (in which case this might not be news to you), this methodology may be useful.


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