Book Review: Getting Things Done by David Allen

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
by David Allen
# ISBN-10: 0142000280
# ISBN-13: 978-0142000281


  • Presents a serious, workable system for getting organizing.
  • Explores the psychology of organization and planning.
  • Easy to read and very personable.


  • The book's hardcore approach to organization may not work for everyone.

If you're willing to take a shot at re-organizing the way you organize your life, this is a must-read book. 

I've heard about Getting Things Done since it came out, that presented a system for creating a stress-free yet organized environment for productivity.  I also heard it would appeal to the geek crowd since it's about systems, organizations, and creative application of your mind.  We geeks, otaku, and the like do love using our brains.

The result?  The hype is actually justified.  If anything, it's probably a bit toned down – this is an impressive book that has solid, useful, advice.

Getting Things Done is a book about four things:

  • The demands of modern life
  • The psychology of organization
  • A system to get organized so you have stress-free productivity.
  • How to adapt that system.

Getting Things Done first leads you through the demands of life, modern work, and the psychology of organization.  This lead-in is incredibly valuable as it'll make you actually think about issues of organization, demands you face, and the stresses you face trying to keep everything moving.  These chapters are not only insightful, but help you understand that the author seriously knows what you're going through.

Next, Getting Things Done presents a system for getting organized – a very organized system with flowcharts and everything.  At first it is probably going to seem overwhelming to many, but the author takes time to explain every part and every principle in detail.  This is no cold, mechanical explanation – he explains all aspects of his organization system in human, understandable, detail.

The upshot of his system is basically that we need to clear our heads to work – and that means that we classify incoming work quickly and effectively so we know it's done or going to get done.  When your mind is clear and you don't have "open loops" of worry, then the schedule, project plans, and other lists of what you need to do can get done.  It's all about classification, definition, and action.

Finally, the book talks about how to apply this system – which basically involves making a commitment and doing it.  Fortunately, the author walks you through the steps bit-by-bit.  There's nothing left hanging – you pretty much feel as if he's right beside you giving you advice (as he also coaches people, he has experience doing that).

So the book has good psychology, a good system, and an actual guide to using the system.  Here's the question – does it work?

I can say, actually having applied it for the most part, yes it does.  I've been using it in my own life for the most part since I got the book, and it definitely has results – and better results because of all the psychology in the book.  When you understand why you're doing what you do, you are able to implement it much better.

I can't confess my implementation is the best, but it is working.

I find that once you apply the system it's pretty liberating – emails and requests that come in get quickly classified.  You have calendars, lists, projects, so you know what to do.  You work on evaluating first, which keeps you from worrying about things since you learn to trust your evaluations (and also learn that quick, effective evaluation usually superior to past worrying).

So of course I'm going to classify this as a must-read book, right?

Kind of.

This book is for if you're ready to apply a system to get your life seriously organized so you can be productive with no or less stress.  If you're not worried about your organization, it may not be for you – you may not need it.  If your productivity isn't impacted by stress, it may not be for you.  If you're not ready to seriously apply someone else's system to give it a go (since to really try it out you have to apply most of it), then don't buy it.

On the other hand if you're high-energy, busy, and trying to be productive and sometimes it gets stressful, and are willing to give a well-detailed plan for personal organization a go, it's a must-buy – and a keeper.  You won't be lending this book to anyone (but you might buy them a copy).

– Steven Savage