Getting Things Done by David Allen is by far the best book I’ve ever read on organization, and it also has a lot to say about productivity and peace of mind.
When my friend Roger loaned the book to me, I was a little curious but didn’t expect much. I’d already had a pretty effective task management system in place for some time, and at best I was expecting Allen to offer a few ideas for minor improvements. It it did turn out to be true that most of the things he had to say in his book were things I was already doing, but Allen’s deep understanding of the subject offered me a wider, more useful view that was both practical and powerfully motivating.
Getting Things Done offers a way to look at and interact with “stuff”–papers, objects lying around the house, pestering concerns that keep surfacing in the mind, incomplete projects, dead plants, upcoming events, or anything else that’s fighting for our attention. Allen describes how to stream things into useful categories with a set of simple, familiar systems–task list, calendar, file drawers, etc. Yet the rules for the process he describes are not the familiar ones, because once something has been processed, you stop having to worry about it. Allen’s approach doesn’t just clean up and organize a physical environment: it creates reliable ways to know that you’re keeping track of everything and therefore creates a lot of peace of mind. Of course, this same approach does great things for productivity, and it yields unexpected benefits like increased reliability, management of stress, clarifying priorities, and improved communication.
My initial impression of the book was that it was mainly directed toward busy executives, and it’s true that these seem to be the people Allen mainly works with. However, he also understands perfectly well what needs to be done to deal with a home, family, or even vague set of aspirations for the future. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is trying to organize, get a handle on an overly busy life, create more serenity and confidence, or become more productive.
I’ve written recently on the site about several ideas that overlap with or draw on Allen’s: