The Irony of Trying to Read Getting Things Done


By Carlos Portocarrero

Getting Things Done

Having heard so much about this book (mostly from Trent over at The Simple Dollar), I decided I just had to check it out. Especially since I’ve been feeling low on time and like I’m neglecting my fiction. Plus me and a friend of mine are talking about starting a joint blog, so I need to figure out a way to make my time more efficient. This book seemed like a perfect place to start, so I checked it out of the library and took it home.

Problem was, I didn’t have enough time to read it before it was due back again. Woe is Irony unto me. Yes, this is a site about writing (which includes reading), but it’s also about finances, so there is no way I’m paying fees on things like this. Having only read about 30 pages of the book, I had to return it — this is one of the disadvantages of checking books out from the library instead of buying them. No problem though, I’ll request it again (so many people want it that it’s on back order to a bunch of other patrons so it’ll be a while) and eventually get to it. But still, it’s kind of funny.

What I did read, though, made a lot of sense. Here’s what I learned from just reading the first 30 pages:

  • If you don’t write something down, it will pester you and you may forget it.
  • Your mind will worry, stress, and spend valuable energy thinking about these “open loops.”
  • One way to alleviate that is to write ideas and projects down (which I already do) so your mind is free to come up with more.
  • One thing he does add to my system, however, is writing down what the next actionable step is to get that project rolling. So instead of just writing “Schedule Physical with Dr.” I now add in parenthesis, “(Wednesday during lunch).” It sounds ridiculously simple — and it is — but it clears your mind even more than just writing something down. By setting an immediate course towards the objective, your mind starts to work on the next thing because it can see that X or Y is going to get done. I’ve only been using it for a day now and it makes a huge difference.
  • I’ve experienced this before with my fiction too. If I have a story idea in my head and it’s only in my head — that’s the only idea my mind can juggle. I will rarely come up with anything new until that story gets “resolved,” whether that’s by actually writing it or by jotting down notes on it in a place I know (subconsciously) I’ll revisit.
  • It’s all about relaxing the subconscious and freeing it up to do it’s thing. Some people may think that it’s a little too “new agey” to be talking about the subconscious and unconscious this way, but anyone in a creative field (or athletes, even) know what I’m talking about. It’s called “the zone.”

Anyway, this is all from reading 30 pages. I knew I wasn’t going to finish it so I started skimming ahead and I didn’t see a whole lot that excited me. Has anyone else felt this way? I’m still going to “get it done,” but I feel like I’ve already gotten something very important from it and don’t know that I’ll get any more. It seems like a lot of logistical/operational stuff.

Care to comment on that?


9 Responses to “The Irony of Trying to Read Getting Things Done”

  • BCS Says:

    I thought that I was the only person having this same problem. I picked up the book a little while back, and I’ve barely made any progress on the book. I do agree with you, though. There are quite a few good points in the first few pages. Some of them have even been integrated into my life already.

  • Carrie Says:

    I’ve had the same problem with GTD. There seems to be an almost cult-like following to the GTD system, although it’s principles are kind of, well… common sense?

    I’m struggling geting through it (second renewal, still sitting on my bedside table.) Good luck and thanks for the tips so far.

  • Walt Says:

    Good time management would be to listen to the audio version of the book, which you can do while doing other things.

  • Mick Says:

    I’m writing in support of the GTD system. I’m not one of the cultish follwers, for sure. I’ve found that this, like any other program (diet, financial management plan, etc.) can be taken out as far as your heart desires… There are computer programs, books about the book, audio support programs, blogs, message boards, you name it… I’m one of those people who needed organizational direction, and this concept of putting the concept to rest absolutely worked for me. I’m constantly juggling multiple projects and planning things for home, work, church, and extra-curricular activities… I’m also one who generally despises lists. Certainly, I did not take GTD and adopt it fully and literally…but the folder system and the concept of writing and prioritizing has been spot-on for me. I feel like there’s another “me” helping me now…

  • Bob Says:

    I suppose I am one of the cultish followers! The significant thing about next actions is that they should be actual things that need to be done. Imagine that you are giving instructions to a ten-year old. Your example was to “Schedule Physical with Dr.” So the next action is to “Telephone Dr X on 1234 5678 to schedule a physical” This means that whenever you have a couple of minutes you can do this step. However stressed you are you can do this step. However tired you are you can do this step. OK so I admit that I have exagerated a bit but the point is that there is no thinking involved in doing the next step, just do it. That is the difference between a “next action” and a “to do.” Generally “next actions” do not need to go into diaries, so you are free to decide what to do next from your lists.

  • ImprovedLife Says:

    Like many other people, I went through the book and found that not all of the methods fit ‘me’, but what I could take from it (a list of next actions being one of them), has dramatically changed my organizational skills. I think with anything book like this, you have to read through and pick out the points that make sense for you life. Sometimes the whole system might fit perfectly, but other times you can only fit a bit. I would recommend reading both GTD and 7 Habits. I have based my personal ‘system’ off of these two books. What works for me may not work for you, but what it has done, is changed my life.

    Hope this helps!

  • The Writer’s Coin » Blog Archive » Carnival of Improving Life Says:

    [...] the 13th (my favorite number!) edition of the Carnival of Improving Life over at Improved Life. My article about trying to read Getting Things Done is mentioned, so that’s always [...]

  • The Writer’s Coin » Blog Archive » Getting Things Done — What I’ve Learned Says:

    [...] mentioned last week that I tried reading Getting Things Done, the productivity book that is so popular, but [...]

  • Russ Says:

    I just returned the book myself without finishing the whole thing but I did get further than you did. The beginning was very slow and difficult to understand how it works. However, once you get into the expanded chapters on each of the steps I think it becomes a much better book. I have started writing done everything and collecting in one place like he suggests and am thinking about how I can rearrange my den/office. However, I will have to wait to get the book again (I’m on the list again at the library) before I go all the way with it.

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