Chris Roberts

Actually Getting Things Done, Part 1

• Posted in Life

"Getting Things Done" (or GTD) is a book by David Allen. It claims to provide the reader with a complete, flexible solution to the problem of personal time management.

As I seem to be getting busier (and more disorganised) every day, I often find myself wasting what could be productive time simply working out what fire needs to be put out next. As with many things in my life, I turned to the Internet for advice and GTD is what it seemed to suggest. So - I've taken the Internet's advice (it never lies) and decided to give the GTD method a try.

Step 1 - Read the book!

The book itself isn't much of a chore to read. There is quite a bit of repetition in the content but that seems to be fairly normal for this type of 'self-help' book. I suppose the author has to strike a balance between actually driving home the information and labouring the point, and David Allen hasn't done the worst job of this that I've seen!

The book seems to strike a nice balance between background information / advice and tutorials on implementing the method. What follows is a description of my experience as I try and follow the method, not an in-depth description of the method itself - for that, you'll need to read the book.


The book makes several recommendations in the way you setup your working environment. I am currently in the process of setting up a new office at work, so I have been able to take some of this advice quite easily.

A recurring theme in the book is that if your organisational tools aren't both quick and easy to use and right at hand, you probably won't use them! To this end, I've installed a filing cabinet within easy reach of my new desk.

One of the things I quite like about the book is that it leaves you to decide the exact details of the tools you use to implement the method. Personally, I've setup a simple tickler file using 43 folders, and some space for filing. I'm planning on using a combination of Microsoft Outlook and OneNote for my day-to-day tasks and reminders. I suspect my choice of tools and the way I use them will change as I 'settle in' to the method.

Gathering your 'stuff'

Whether or not this method works in the long run remains to be seen (I wonder how many of the GTD fans on the Internet have actually stuck with it?!). My first impressions are that getting ready to follow the method is at least going to be quite therapeutic! Following the first part of the process involves dumping everything that needs doing into one pile. Existing 'to do' lists, paperwork and every little thing that's on your mind all go into a single pile. This, in the space of an afternoon, turned my new office into a complete tip, but did get a large number of things off my mind in the process!

My first tip

In following the method described in the book, I have so far spent one Saturday afternoon in the office gathering things into large piles. I was going to work through these piles in any spare time during the following week. This plan goes against the advice in the book, which clearly states that you should completely set aside 2 to 3 days to get started with the method.

Having muddled through the week not finding the time to look at any of my 'stuff', I can see why the author suggests making sure you have time set-aside. After all, if you could find time to do what is essentially extra work, you probably wouldn't need this method in the first place!

If I had my time again, this is the first thing I'd do differently. I suspect the next chance I get to process my 'stuff' will be next weekend where I can work on it un-interrupted.