Big huge takeaways from Getting Things Done

I’ve been more or less doing this Getting Things Done1 thing for about 18 months now. I learned about it first from my friend Mikko and remember my initial feelings being very skeptic. Isn’t this a way too complicated system for simple geeks like us, isn’t this just a self-help system for really busy big company leaders?

Turns out that’s not the case. I also have plenty of projects to keep track of, both in my personal life and in my two simultaneous work lives.

I kept hearing about the system from Merlin Mann’s podcast and my curiosity rose. I have to admit at first it was the productivity porn aspect that got me interested, tinkering about what’s the best todo-list-app available. Ended up in OmniFocus, mostly because during the time I got it, it was the only serious tool with good syncing available between the Mac, iPhone and iPad clients. I’m not totally satisfied with the Mac client, but the 2.0 is just around the corner and it looks way better (both feature- and just plain lookswise).

So in the last 18 months I’ve also been trying to read the Getting Things Done book by David Allen. I’ve kind of got the grasp of the system by reading and hearing tidbits of information about GTD from here and there, but never got around reading the book. That changed lately, when Merlin Mann had a trilogy of five episodes talking about Getting Things Done (those episodes were 95, 96, 97, 98 and 99). Inspired by Merlin I picked up the book and started reading.

Boy is it ever a boring book! Filled with 10 year old business jargon, it really takes some imagination to get to the meat and potatoes, as Merlin would say. Nevertheless I managed to struggle through and I am glad I finally did. I thought I’d jot this blog post about the three key takeaways I got from the book.

The three key points in GTD (for me)

  1. If a task takes less than two minutes, do it immediately.
  2. A trusted system is really invaluable (but only if it’s reviewed regularly).
  3. To actually get anything done, it’s extremely important to define a “next actionable step”.

Let me open them up a bit.

If a task takes less than two minutes, do it immediately

A gamechanger. Instantly makes me feel a lot more productive and better about myself. Quick replies to emails are sent, dirty dishes get in the dishwasher, Photoshop layers are organized and properly named. When not done, these tiny things keep nagging even though you might not think so. They stack up.

A trusted system is invaluable

It feels great to dump stuff from my brain to a system (OmniFocus) that I know I’ll be constantly reviewing. To know that nothing will be forgotten feels amazing.

Define next actionable steps

Just as the next guy, I have certain goals in my life. For instance, I want to learn how to play the piano. Thanks to GTD I now know “Learn the piano” is not really a good task to have on my todo list, since it’s just daunting to have such juggernaut things as single tasks. It’s far more likely to happen if I make it a project and think of the first concrete step I can make. In this case, it could be “Google piano courses near where I live”.

So there you have it, the main three things I got out of the book. I guess I’d still recommend reading it, but I strongly suggest doing it in parallel while listening to the five Back to Work episodes.


  1. ©DavidCo, 2001.