Note: My two takeaways from Getting Things Done

Nov 8, 2022

I’m generally allergic to anything that has the slightest whiff of “self help”, but I read David Allen’s book Getting things Done (GTD), in college and it had a profound impact on me. It didn’t give me a solution to productivity or anything, but it did give me sound mental model for what makes productivity difficult and some tools to help combat that difficulty.

As someone who had a profoundly hard time staying on-task all through school, its a topic I’ve wrestled with a lot in my life. I still struggle with it, but I think GTD helped me quite a bit.

As I think back on it, these are the two main concepts from the book which still stick with me to this day:

  • If you have a todo list with stuff on it, and you’re having a hard time getting started on any of them, they are probably too large or generic. The brain has a hard time transitioning to tasks it can’t visualize itself doing. Define the next concrete task you would take to make progress, and you’ll often be able to get unstuck. Sometimes my next step is just: “Figure out the next step for X”, and that works!

  • Your brain knows when your system of self accountability is not reliable. If tasks are not tracked in a reliable way, it will periodically remind you of tasks you are mentally tracking. This feels stressful since they are intrusive thoughts about stuff you need to do. However, if you have a TODO list you can add that item to, which your brain trusts that you will revisit at the right time, it will give you peace. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I have to take time to write down the things that I’m tracking. I almost always feel better.