Book Review: Getting Things Done

Does your life feel disorganized? Is your inbox overflowing and office growing more and more cluttered? Do you tend to put things off until the very last minute? Do you feel like your schedule is dictated by the tyranny of the urgent? Then take the time to read Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. It may literally change your life.

Early on, Allen gives a five-step process to getting control of your life. First, he says to collect every single item or ‘open loop’ in life that commands your attention and is sapping your energy. Second, begin to systematically process what each item means and what to do about it. Third, go deeper by organizing the results. Fourth, regularly review the progress you are making and re-negotiate your priorities. Fifth, go and do it!

The rest of the book unpacks these five principles with many helpful step-by-step instructions and examples. One thing can be said about David Allen: he takes nothing for granted. He doesn’t just tell you; he shows you. He knows that by the time you pick up his book you may already be overwhelmed and on the brink of burnout. He is patient and walks you through the entire process. It’s like having a personal productivity coach

Probably the most helpful summary of the system is found on page 36, where Allen captures the whole process in graphic form. At first, this workflow chart (which you can view here) may resemble an engineering schematic, but it’s actually a streamlined concept that can be adapted to any profession, from stay at home mom to Fortune 500 CEO.

Though I would already consider myself a fairly organized person, I found GTD invaluable. A pastor will get swamped without some level of organization. Our weekly duties range from shepherding to studying to praying to ministry planning. We have to be ready to preach on Sundays, manage office staff, plan events, govern the master calendar, prepare for committee meetings, maintain good communication, handle crises, and participate in local and denominational events. The sheer diversity and urgency of tasks can be overwhelming at times. And all of this is on top of personal and family commitments. Having a secretary will certainly help, but this should only complement, not replace, your own organizational system.

I have quickly implemented many of Allen’s ideas and am already reaping the benefits of a clearer mind and more organized life and ministry. I am quickly tackling small tasks using his two-minute rule. I have implemented his weekly review (p. 185), taking time each Tuesday morning to now review my calendar, task list, membership needs, etc. Using his context method (p. 140), I have consolidated my To-Do list into Microsoft Outlook, keeping separate categories for things like phone calls to make, visits to make, subjects to study, etc. I have also created a project list (p. 155) that is helping me keep a long-term perspective and make sure I’m staying on track with projects. I have designed a tickler file (p. 175) to remind me of things I need to pray about, plan, or follow up with in the future. I’m now carrying a note pad or card with me wherever I go, or calling the free service Dial-to-do when I need to remember something while driving.

As I continue to review my schedule and re-evaluate my commitments and goals, I am very thankful for David Allen’s system and believe it is already making me a more effective minister of the gospel and shepherd to my flock.

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