Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Getting Things Done review: Chapter 1

A New Practice For a New Reality

Initial expectations

From what I've seen so far, I expect to hear how yesterday's methods don't work in today's world. In our jobs and personal lives, we have so many responsibilities to keep track of, that we just can't trust ourselves to remember exactly what needs to be done when. We spend so much time and energy trying to keep a mental tally of our tasks, that we can barely find the bandwidth to focus on the actual tasks themselves. I'm thinking this will be Allen's "pitch", where he lays out exactly why we need the GTD system.

Chapter Summary

Allen breaks this chapter into four sections:
  • The Problem: New Demands, Insufficient Resources
    Our definition of "work" has changed, and the old methods of keeping track of our commitments are no longer sufficient. It's much more difficult today to identify when a project is "done". At the same time, there is a push to "think of the big picture", although this actually works against our ability to deal with our day-to-day tasks.

  • The Promise: The "Ready State" of the Martial Artist
    Here we have the promise of the GTD system: have total control of every level of your personal management system, at all times. You will maintain a "mind like water", having a perfectly proportional and productive response to all new information that you encounter.

  • The Principle: Dealing Effectively with Internal Commitments
    Here Allen talks about the "open loops" in our mind: anything that does not belong where it is, in its current state. He has the reader go through an exercise to illustrate this:

    1. Think of a project or situation (i.e. an open loop) that is currently weighing on your mind.

    2. Think of what the state of that open loop would have to be in order for you to consider the project "done".

    3. Determine the very next step you would have to take to make progress toward closing this open loop.

    The essense of GTD is this process of identifying outcomes and next steps, and then putting reminders in a system you trust (so you don't need to trust your brain to remember them).

  • The Process: Managing Action
    Here Allen underscores the importance of getting this "stuff" out of your head. The GTD system is all about recording outcomes and actions so that you don't need to remember them: you can refer to them. You then spend your effort on doing rather than remembering. This is a very "bottom-up" approach to projects, and Allen argues that there is a lot of value in looking at work this way, as it can actually free up your creative energy to do some "top-down" strategic thinking.

Did this chapter deliver?

This chapter has me excited to learn the details of the GTD system. That alone qualifies it as a success: it's hooked me into reading the rest of the book. Based on the level of detail that's been provided so far, the basic tenets of the GTD system seem to make sense. It's up to the rest of the book to deliver on the promise of being in total control of everything at all times.

Beyond the actual content of the chapter, I'm impressed with Allen's writing style. He has a very conversational yet professional style. He also includes numerous quotes in the margin to underscore the points made in the main text. So far, these have been interesting sidebars; I'll have to see whether these become a distraction as I read through the rest of the book.

Overall, I enjoyed this first chapter, I like the tone of the writing, and I'm excited to read ahead. Not a bad start to the book.

Want to read more?

Go to my GTD review index page.

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