Ever since I started reviewing books and movies, I’ve felt like a college student cramming before finals.
Let’s say that I want to publish a review on Friday. I’ll start reading the prior Sunday, but I’ll only finish a chapter or two before I get distracted with buying groceries / folding the laundry / watching cute puppies on YouTube.
Then I’ll stay up late Thursday night cramming the last half of the book.
In short, my time management stinks. So I figured I should read a book about — what else? — how to manage your time.
Enter: Getting Things Done, the bestselling book by productivity expert David Allen.
The heart of this book is summarized by the subtitle: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. It’s not enough to manage your time, David says — the real goal is to be relaxed while being efficient. “Mind like water,” he calls it.
In fact, productivity is the result of a calm mind, he says. “There is usually an inverse proportion between how much something is on your mind and how much it is getting done.”
There’s Nothing on My Mind
One of the key takeaways is that your mind should be as “clear” as possible. Your brain is a lousy Inbox.
To illustrate this idea, David poses two questions:
#1: Anytime today, have you thought about something that you need to do? (Buy toothpaste/ send your boss an email/ find a babysitter?)
Almost everyone’s answer is yes.
#2: Have you had that thought more than once?
Almost everyone’s answer is yes. That’s a waste of energy, David says.
“There is no reason ever to have the same thought twice, unless you like having that thought,” he says.
He spends the bulk of the book laying out a formula that helps you cultivate an “empty” mind. Broadly, the formula is consists of:
#1: Collecting every thought, idea, “I should” and “I need to” in some type of in-basket.
#2: Consolidating your in-baskets (having as few as possible.)
#3: Emptying these regularly.
Okay, fine. Sounds simple enough. But most people get stuck on step 3 — emptying those in-baskets, clearing out their to-do lists.
“Not emptying your in-basket is like having garbage cans that nobody ever dumps – you just keep buying new ones to hold all your trash.”
So he lays out an extensive formula for clearing that in-basket:
Ask Yourself: Is It Actionable?
If No, you have three options:
- Throw it away
- File it under “Reference,” (conference notes, an article about best restaurants in your city)
- File it under “Someday Maybe.” (As in “someday maybe I’ll write a novel.”) Set yourself a reminder — once a year, once every six months — to review your “Someday Maybe” file.
If Yes, ask yourself: What’s the NEXT actionable step?
- Goal: Buy another rental property.
- Next step: Schedule a time to tour a house I spotted for sale.
- Next ACTIONABLE step: Look up the phone number of the agent. Then (2nd step) dial that phone number.
Once you identify the next actionable step, ask yourself: Will this step take less than 2 minutes?
If Yes: Do it now.
If No: Delegate it or Defer it until you’re done repeating this process with every item in your in-basket.
One of my favorite take-aways from this book was the notion of Inbox Zero: your email inbox should have nothing in it. Everything should be filed into an appropriate label: Do, Delegate, Defer, Waiting on Response.
“You keep your Inbox to zero by dealing with whatever shows up in there as rigorously as you do your answering machine at home,” David says.
Our email inbox is a reflection of our mind. Empty inbox, empty mind.
This book’s main purpose is to help you devise a system for dealing with all our assorted inputs (my car needs an oil change/did I remember to bring my gym clothes?/my client needs that sales form).
This Book is For You If: You struggle with time-management and efficiency, like I do.
This Book is Not For You If: You’re already good at managing your time. (Yes, those people exist. I know at least two people who are “effortlessly” efficient: They’re never stressed and accomplish everything ahead-of-schedule.) If you match that description, don’t bother reading this book.
Read more about Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.
Photo courtesy Rain Song.
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