“Getting Things Done” in 500 words

Davide Magrin, a blogger, has much the same opinion I do of Getting Things Done by David Allen, specifically:

Getting Things Done by David Allen is a book that I found tedious, excessively long and filled with corporate buzzwords. Fortunately, it also contains extremely interesting and actionable ideas for personal organization and productivity. Even when isolated from the context, these principles apply very well and can be useful in everyday life.

Getting Things Done in 500 words or less – David Magrin (2 July 2015)

But Magrin has gone further than I have and summarised the book, saying:

I believe that if you get a sense of the main ideas of the book and experiment with them on your own a little bit, you can get the same results you would reach reading the whole book. The only differences would be in your life duration (5 hours longer) and in your wallet’s weight (15 bucks heavier).

I don’t mind the bucks as it’s worth it to me to spend a little cash on these things plus of course Allen should be rewarded for the good bits of his works. I do mind the time, though I seemingly read faster than Magrin.

Still, he has got the book down to 500 words – actually, 389. Read the full piece.

David Allen: You’re Doing it Wrong

Previously… David Allen is the author of Getting Things Done, easily one of the cleverest books I’ve read, certainly one of the most very useful, but also unfortunately just a bit irritatingly with corporate-speak. I mean, come on. Genuinely tremendous ideas explained in ways that don’t explain and do make you wish you’d never started his book.

Fast Company has a new interview with him which they summarise with this headline: “The father of Getting Things Done: You’re Getting Me All Wrong”. And I just find that so aggravating. Read the actual interview, though, and the worst you can say that he comes across as smug. There’s more about his belief we need six “horizons of focus” and I just gesticulated at Fast Company for letting him say that without following him up with “Eh?”.

Bringing those horizons into balance requires reflection, he says. “If you want to say, ‘Am I focused on the right thing?’ I would say, which one of those conversations has not been matured sufficiently or lined up with the other ones appropriately? Some people need to focus more on their goals. Some people need to stop focusing on their goals and actually get shit done.”

The Father of ‘Getting Things Done’: You’re Getting Me All Wrong – Ciara Byrne, Fast Company (16 June 2015)

If you got through that quote, you got to a good bit. Who could disagree with the need to get shit done? That’s GTD in a nutshell: not the shit, at least not in that way, not the ideas, but the amount you have to get through to find the good bits. It’s just that the good bits are clever and immensely useful. Read the full piece.

Unfair review of “Getting Things Done” 2nd edition

Look, you should probably get this book. How’s that for an unfair review? Also, much of what started me off doing The Blank Screen can be traced back to David Allen and Getting Things Done so, you know, I do entirely believe that the man is smart and that this GTD is clever.


After more than a decade, he’s released an updated version of the Getting Things Done book and I can’t get through it. I got the opening 30 pages or so from iBooks as a sample and the book is only £6.99 but I can’t do it, I can’t buy it because I just know I won’t be able to press on

I just don’t think Allen is a writer. Brilliant ideas and such great, great experience, but not a writer. For instance, I don’t think he always knows what he’s conveying. Follow. This new book is a complete rewrite except that he admits it’s more a complete re-type: he did retype the entire book and he added and changed bits along the way. I can’t tell how much is new but the core ideas are the same and that’s how it should be.


For this edition I grappled with how much attention to continue to devote to paper-based tools and materials… as many in the younger generations have come to believe they don’t have to deal with paper at all.

Tell me I’m wrong, do, but I can see him tussling over the phrasing of this and trying to not sound like paper is best and we’re all eejits for not seeing it. I’m fine that he believes in paper but he doesn’t sound like anyone else’s belief could be valid. This is about paper and whether you make scribbles instead of typing into your phone yet it’s rankling like a religious issue.

Maybe that’s partly because in the run up to this passage I’ve been finding the writing a slog. Maybe it’s because a sentence or three later he can’t resist going “so there” on us with:

Ironically, there is a growing resurgence of interest in the use of paper among is the most sophisticatedly digital.

Is there? To give the man credit, he may write that line like a defensive drinker in a pub argument but he pops a footnote asterisk next to it. There’s no answering footnote in the sample so let’s give him credit and the benefit of the doubt too.

But even if this is correct, it isn’t me. So he’s not writing about my world and he isn’t writing well; he doesn’t have to do the former but he does the latter and that’s why I’ve got to skip the rest of the book.

New edition of Getting Things Done out this month

Just a provisional heads-up, a wary recommendation: a new edition of this productivity book is due out on 17 March. Getting Things Done was a giant success of a book that fostered a near-cult of GTD fans as they call themselves. It’s also directly helped me and I talk about it a lot in my own The Blank Screen. But in some ways it was rubbish.

Chiefly two ways. First, it was sometimes hard to get through the corporate-speak writing style. But, second, it was severely out of date. It was only written in 2001 but it’s Victorian with how it believes you can only do work emails at work. Was it ever thus? Really?

So I was excited when I heard a new edition is coming. That excitement has been tempered a bit by an interview I heard with author David Allen. I don’t know, but if he’s updated anything, it doesn’t sound like they are the core ideas. He spoke of a Palm Pilot as the ideal device for us, for instance. If you haven’t heard of that, take this as a sign that he’s talking rubbish. If you have heard of it, you know you’re not trading in your iPhone just yet.

However, a fuller blurb has been released on Amazon that says encouraging things like a claim that this is a total rewrite.

So fingers crossed I’ll be recommending the new Getting Things Done book. Right now the Kindle edition has been made available for pre-order at £6.99. Don’t accidentally order the paperback: the version of that online now is still the ancient first version.

In the meantime, here’s that Amazon publishers’ blurb:

Since it was first published in David Allen’s Getting Things Done has become one of the most influential business titles of its era, and the book on personal organisation. ‘GTD’ has become shorthand for an entire way of approaching the professional and personal tasks everyone faces in life, and has spawned an entire culture of websites, organisational tools, seminars, and offshoots.

For this revised and updated edition, David Allen has rewritten the book from start to finish, tweaking his classic text with new tools and technologies, and adding material that will make the book evergreen for the coming decades. Also new is a glossary of GTD terms; The GTD Path of Mastership – a description of what Allen has learned and is now teaching regarding the lifelong craft of integrating these practices, to the end-game of the capability of dealing with anything in life, by getting control and focus; and a section on the cognitive science research that validates GTD principles

New edition of Getting Things Done – publishers’ blurb (2015)

Video: David Allen on stress-free productivity

Small thing. I’ve said video up there in the headline but actually, whisper it, this isn’t really about bringing you that video. Which is good because it may not be here.

It should be. Take a look right between this paragraph and the next.

Was there a video? If there was, and your name is Adam – and you have the most brilliant job title I’ve ever seen – then hello Adam, Happiness Engineer, all seems to be working now. If there isn’t a video but you are Adam, um, hello.

And whether there is a video or there isn’t, if your name isn’t Adam, then hello you too. How’ve you been?

The Sweet Setup picks OmniFocus 2 as best To Do manager

Quite right, too. But where I took some years to find OmniFocus for myself, The Sweet Setup has done the same in a compressed way. Plus, it shows you its working out. So there’s a lot in this long article even if you don’t or can’t run OmniFocus: it includes much To Do software that is very good and says why each didn’t come top so that you can decide what’s important to you or not.

After much deliberation, soul searching, and not a little stress, I have come to the conclusion that the best productivity and GTD application suite for Mac and iOS users is OmniFocus.

This is no small decision. 5–6 years ago, this was an almost non-existent category of software. Today, solid options abound — from simple list-keeping to complex project management, GTD apps cover a wide spectrum of styles, workflows, and processes.

Our favorite productivity and GTD app suite for Mac, iPhone, and iPad – Chris Bowler, The Sweet Setup (21 October 2014

Read the full piece. Highly recommended.

The way you work is not the way I work

I think that’s obvious. And I hope I’m aware of it all the time. For instance, I might well ram OmniFocus down your throat but I doubt there’s a time I’ve actually recommended it that I didn’t also give you the important reasons why you might not want it. (OmniFocus is astonishingly great and transforming but it doesn’t run on Windows or Android so if you do, it’s no use to you. Also, I think it’s more than worth the money but it does cost more than most so that is a factor.)

Similarly, I might ram iOS and Apple down your throat but I fully accept that there are reasons to like using Windows, even if I’ve yet to discover any.

But I’m worrying about this today because I’m listening to David Allen on Mac Power Users. That’s an interesting mix. Allen is a very clever guy whose Getting Things Done book has helped me greatly – I give him a lot of credit in my Blank Screen workshops and where I don’t promote my own books from the stage in those, I do promote his. Yet every time I listen to him, I feel he doesn’t get it for writers and creatives.

He’s very clear and strident and adamant about the thinking behind getting things done, which I think is fine, but he’s pretty clear and strident and adamant about the specific tools he uses. And where.

For some years I’ve wondered why he doesn’t update his book to reflect how much the world has moved on. Getting Things Done presumes, for instance, that you can only make business calls from your office and that you can only get emails from there or your home, not from your phone on the way. It is what it is, it was written back in the Victorian era of around 2001. And I was very alert to this MPU interview where he mentions that he is finally doing a new version.

It’s just that the more I heard, the more I suspect it’ll be pretty much the same thing with perhaps the odd nod to newer technology. I should and I will have to wait until early next year when it comes out, but amongst all the really excellent and clever ideas he mentioned on MPU, it was still that he is clear and strident and adamant. Maybe you can now email on your phone or your iPad as you go between work and home, but you shouldn’t.

He doesn’t. He won’t. He likes to do this stuff at his desk and that’s where he’ll do it. Fine. Whatever. But that’s not the mark of someone who’s grasped how much things have changed.

I was waiting for MPU’s David Sparks and Katie Floyd to press him on technology and they did. Floyd mentioned how there hadn’t been all this stuff back when Allen wrote the book and he disagreed. Said that there had been the Palm Pilot then and nothing has ever come close to how great that was.


Also, he writes his tasks down on paper he keeps in his wallet and says if you use electronic methods, well, good luck. Specifically, you’re going to end up with tasks in many places – which is precisely what I think of people who use scraps of paper.

He does use technology, though: he has a To Do manager built for him on top of Lotus Notes. I had to Google whether Lotus Notes still exists and, actually, no, not so much. It’s long been IBM Notes and I can’t tell if it’s radically improved from when I had to use it back in the 1990s, but even Allen says nobody’s going to go out and buy [Lotus] Notes to run a To Do manager.

He does swap back and forth between that and OmniFocus. And the reason he goes back to Notes is that someone in his company is developing their To Do app. I can easily, readily see that having a tool custom built is going to be good, just not on Notes.

I’m wrong to rant, I feel. The new version of the book may change my mind, it may address everything I feel needs translation and conversion in the original. But yet again during an interview with him, I went from oooooh to oh.

But I’m going to watch how clear and strident and adamant I get when I’m talking to you about how I work and how you could.

In the meantime, have a listen to this smart man on Mac Power Users.

Dip into the original Getting Things Done

David Allen’s book Getting Things Done spawned an industry which has taken to doing podcasts. Allen’s own site hasn’t quite got in on the act yet, perhaps it’s on his Someday/Maybe list, but it has collated some audio interviews.

They’re all Allen talking on various radio and podcast shows so there tends to be a lot of overlap of topics as GTD is introduced each time. And I’ve had some problems getting the audio to play reliably so that’s two things against it but have a go with one and see what you think.

David Allen podcast interviews on Getting Things Done

Productivity porn

Sometimes I am such a man. Wait, not like that: I mean productivity porn in the way one means property porn, a shall-we-say overt interest in a video for things other than its artistic value. But I will watch videos of how to use software. I will watch YouTube videos reviewing hardware or software that I’m considering – even though every single video by every single body begins “Wassup, guys?” and I want to slit someone’s wrists.

But this is such a new low that I had to share it with you. I was looking up a thing on YouTube, it was for work, honest, and I found a video called Inbox Processing with David Allen.

Now, David Allen is a clever bloke. He wrote Getting Things Done (UK edition, US edition), the book that has become a cult called GTD and which I promise you is so smart that it has helped me and I credit him a lot on my own book, The Blank Screen (UK edition, US edition). My problem with Allen is that I feel he’s more a corporate guy than a writer, a creator. His book could flow a bit better, if you see what I mean.

He is, though, definitely clever and I thought this was a video about how he handles the eleventy-billion emails he must get every day. That was worth a look. I’ve just been away and come back to a full inbox which took me some hours to get back down to nothing and right now I’ll take any advice to get that done faster or avoid needing to do it at all.

This is not that story.

This is the story of how David Allen, GTD guru organises his actual, physical inbox. The metal inbox on his desk. He puts things in and he takes things out.

Now watch how that is padded out to 5’44”.