walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Getting Things Done_, David Allen

I bought it used.

Subtitled: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
Publisher: Penguin

Why did I read this? Because I know I need a tickler file. That I am clear on. Unfortunately, I'm having some difficulty coming up with a reasonable implementation of a tickler file, and a lot of people point to David Allen when the subject of tickler files comes up. FYI: tickler files are less fun than they sound like -- they exist to remind you in the future of things that you know about now but cannot act upon until later. Sensible people living Sensible lives would consider this a reminder of all their loved ones birthdays and anniversaries and so forth, and possibly the existence of April 15 (altho probably not -- they probably file sometime around the middle of February and laugh at everyone else. In a kind and supportive way, of course). I'm looking for one because I need to remind myself of a whole string of things that occur on a more or less quarterly basis, but not on the same date. My loved ones know that being loved by me does not involve steady stream of birthday and holiday cards. I'm not sure why they put up with me, but I'm glad they do, and in my more ambitious moments, I think maybe I'll put birthday reminders in the hypothetical tickler file.

Anyway. David Allen's tickler file involves paper (duh) and 43 folders. There is a blog/website/thing with this name devoted to (more or less) GTD (getting things done) type of ideas.


It's not run by David Allen. This, however, is:


At least in book form, GTD is all about turning everything into pform, sticking it in a tray, and then sorting through the resulting gigantic stack until the "tray" is "processed". After processing, there will be paper in the trash can (because you just DID anything that would take less than 2 minutes -- and that's a hard 2 minutes, not the 2 minutes that turns into a half hour, and I appreciate that he can tell the difference), paper in your "reference files", paper in your "next actions", paper in your "projects" list and "project support" files, etc. There will be notations in your calendar (the hard landscape of your days, the things that _must_ be done or they die, not the things you'd like to get done that day, but will roll over to a later day if they don't get done). There will be checklists. Etc.

If it wasn't clear in the paragraph above, There Will Be Paper. Given that my entire declutter/organization mania of the last days/weeks has been oriented to the Annihilation of Paper, I have a Very Large Problem with that. However, I have an imagination. I can overcome that.

I kind of like that David Allen uses a ton of physical adjectives when he is describing things, rather than exclusively visual imagery which is more typical not only of organizational books and self-help books but of writing in general. I particularly like his "going numb" descriptions. I am less enthusiastic about his martial arts analogies. They are poorly developed, in the sense that there isn't enough detail in the analogy to figure out where he's going with it, and whatever he is trying to communicate is not mapping well to my experience with martial arts. His tens of thousands of feet analogy for perspective is visually oriented, but is struck me as effective. I also liked that in his lists of parts-of-your-life he did not feel compelled to include organized religion.

Having just read Rosalie Maggio's _The Art of Organizing Anything_, it's worth pointing out that where Maggio has a physical object approach to organization (spread everything out on the floor and sort through it), Allen has a stack it up in a tray approach to organization (which presumes paper, altho he tries to wedge everything into the scheme by creating pieces of paper to represent the things that don't fit in the tray). That's the same. What's different is the piece-size they carve out. Maggio, like virtually all personal organizers, operates on the find-a-project-you-can-complete theory (usually a closet; sometimes the top of a piece of furniture), then use the energy from making that work to tackle something a little bigger.

Both Maggio and Allen incorporate a fair amount of you-need-to-fix-that in the course of their books: learn how to say no, here's a short course in how (in Maggio's case), faster and to more things (in Allen's case). Both are big believers, however, in the idea that if your stuff is organized and under control, you'll be better, in a way that tackling things from a higher level of generalization (feelings, values, past history, therapeutic stuff) fails at (I'm attributing this opinion to them -- I don't necessarily share it and my attribution of it to them may be incorrect).

As Jennifer Niesslein discovered in _Practically Perfect in Every Way_, reading self-help books (which organization books definitely are) tend to depress people by making them feel dissatisfaction with their lives. The idea is you read them when you are already dissatisfied and the process they describe will make things better and then you will feel better. Alas, for whatever reason, self-help books tend to increase dissatisfaction and, in the case of _Getting Things Done_, are potentially highly triggering for perfectionism and mania. They ought to come with warnings.

There are definitely things of value in Allen's book. Maggio-type books rarely address workflow issues, and workflow issues are part of what I wanted to think about and adjust in my life. I do not want to adopt the GTD workflow in its entirety, and I don't intend to -- it is quite obvious that a lot of people who hire Allen don't adopt that workflow in its entirety (he says as much, almost in those words, more than once in the course of the book). I may take a look around for other time management/personal organization books that address workflow, but I suspect most of what I find is going to be overkill, and oriented very heavily towards office-work, which isn't exactly what I'm dealing with.

Should you read it? If after all that, it appeals to you, probably. Allen's a Smart Guy who has thought his system through very carefully and presented it clearly.
Tags: book review, decluttering

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