Cover of the book "Getting Things Done" by David Allen. Background by Michael Oeser on Unsplash
Book Review Productivity

Book Review: Getting Things Done by D. Allen


For productivity nerds, Getting Things Done by David Allen is somewhat of a bible. In every video, blog post or also comment, the book gets referenced as providing the rules for organisation, productivity and even lifelong happiness. It is generally referred to as the GTD method. Naturally, I did need to read it also at some point and now I did. What did I learn? Surprisingly little.

The book is divided into three parts: 1. The Art of Getting Things Done, 2. Practicing Stress-Free Productivity and also 3. The Power of the Key Principles. He teaches about planning projects, setting up workspaces, visioning the outcome and also most importantly defining next actions. This book is geared for people who have none or little sense for organisation. Two aspects did resonate with me and I would like to present them here in more detail.

Getting Things Done with the two minute rule

If an action will take less than two minutes, it should be done the moment it is defined.

David Allen, Getting Things Done, page 39, pos. 1072.

So this is also something I didn’t know and I quiet like. In the process of organising your day or week you are always faced with the question when to do something. Do I do it now, tomorrow or next month? I don’t find it particular difficult to answer this question. I myself organise the things as they come along and sort it based on how important they are.

There are also so many small tasks and I always thought, that it does not make sense to write them down. Time thinking about a problem is probably the same as solving it. So the two minute rule by David Allen helps actually and I used this for quiet a while now. Sure, sometimes unimportant small tasks fill up my morning. But after I have done them, I don’t need to think about them anymore. That is also a benefit.

Getting Things Done with creating next actions

A person writing in a ToDo list in a notebook
Some thing need to get done. Writing a ToDo list can help | Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters

Thinking in a concentrated manner to define desired outcomes and requisite next actions is something few people feel they have to do (until they have to).

David Allen, Getting Things Done, page 17, pos. 679.

I already wrote about this in another article and I can stress this here now also: If you are making ToDo lists, it is crucial to know how to do that. If you write something down like “Birthday present Aliah”, it is not really clear what you need to do. In other words, you still have that on your mind, instead of your ToDo list. By defining clear next action steps you can also clear your mind. For example “Go buy David Allen’s book as a birthday present for Aliah on Monday” is a better way of writing the same action down.

By defining clear next actions, David Allen proposes a way of knowing what to do and also when. Therefore you can clear your mind of the burden of thinking about everything. I also totally agree with that. It all boils down of getting things out of your head. This brings me to the third and also last quote from the book.

Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.

David Allen, Getting Things Done, page 277, pos. 5373.


Besides the two ideas from his book that I just described, I think this sentence boils down the whole idea of the book. It is true, the more you have to hold in your head, the lesser “free space” you do have. It’s kind of like having a hard drive in your PC that is also nearly maxed out. The PC gets slower and slower. The recommendation is to keep at least 40% of free disk space to allow the PCs to run smoothly. It is more or less the same with humans. There are things on our mind, that we can’t get rid of. But all the other things – and that includes not only work stuff, but also getting groceries or birthday presents – need to get out of our head.

I am currently reading a book about Deep Work (review coming soon). It also seems clear, that in our day and age, we need to filter everything out, to keep our minds running.

Reading the book Getting Things Done didn’t give me much more than this I am afraid. I know that David Allen is a respectable figure in the productivity scene, but most parts of his book seem to stretch the same information over many many pages. Also, in my opinion his book and his very good ideas could be boiled down to 80-100 pages (instead of 319). But maybe that is just me. It might be, that his detailed descriptions on how to organise your desk and inboxes will resonate with you though.

David Allen has a commercial website with more information about his methods:

Cover of the book "Getting Things Done" by David Allen
Allen, David. 2015. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. New York: Penguin Books.



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Sebastian Hageneuer

Hi! My name is Sebastian. I am an archaeologist, a university lecturer, freelancer, guitarist, and father. You could say I am quiet busy, so I learned to manage my time and energy to build good habits and still have space for myself and my family. Sounds difficult? Read here how I do it. (Nearly) Every Friday.

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