I’m generally wary of self-help books, business motivation books, diet books and just about anything else that promises a “revolutionary secret” to help you solve a particular problem. That being said, I’ve actually read quite a few of this type of book. They’re not completely devoid of value. Many of them have good advice and ideas. But they are hardly “revolutionary” and most of them don’t lead me to fundamentally change anything.
The big exception for me has been Getting Things Done, by David Allen. This book changed my life forever. I’m in my third year of using Allen’s principles, and they are amazingly flexible and effective.
Allen describes the ways in which all of us are bombarded with “things” to do, each of them creating a strain on our minds. Then he suggests a method to promote “stress-free productivity”. His techniques help us keep detailed track of the myriad things to do, while allowing us to focus specifically on the task at hand, without wondering if there is something else we should be doing instead.
The basic premise is that you need a system. You need a way of tracking your projects (both at work and in your life), and you need to follow this process every time, without fail. If you setup a easy-to-use system, and you follow it always, then you will be able to trust it. You will trust that your system will not let anything fall through the cracks. And when you are sure that nothing is falling through the cracks, then you will experience lower levels of stress.
That’s the broad overview, and I’m sure it sounds much like the vague self-help nonsense that I mentioned earlier. But Allen’s book details a series of specific techniques that are easy to implement and amazingly effective. It’s not vague at all–he spells out exactly what you need to do, and when you need to do it. I’ll explore these techniques further in future posts.
Does it work? It’s worked wonders for me. It allows me to manage an ever-expanding client list (managing 60 clients sometimes requires me to switch my focus every 15 minutes, resulting in a very productive day even though it is filled with small tasks), keep track of life’s daily activities and build a list of “someday” projects that I can easily pluck and tackle when time allows. I plan to follow this system (with my own tweaks and innovations) for the rest of my life.
So that’s my endorsement. It’s not easy for me to get excited about something I read in a self-help book, but Getting Things Done is legitimately awesome.