For the latest edition of the Numberwise Book Club, I chose Getting Things Done, by David Allen. As you probably guessed from the title, this is a book focused on productivity. I picked this one because it seems that everyone I know is always busy and never has enough time in a day to, you know, get things done.
I’ve encountered many books on productivity in recent years, but Getting Things Done turned out to be one of my favorites. It’s full of valuable tips to help you feel less overwhelmed, more productive, more creative, and even relaxed.
Does David Allen share the secret to moving at lightning speed or actually adding more hours in your day (after all, who needs sleep)? Nope.
Instead, Allen discusses how the human brain works. He also lays out a systematic approach to organizing and tackling important stuff, and renegotiating or letting go of unimportant stuff.
The brain & memory
One important concept from Getting Things Done is that the human brain is great at processing concepts, solving problems, and coming up with ideas. It is not great, however, at remembering a bunch of things you need to do.
The problem with trying to remember many things in your temporary memory is not just that you might forget them, but that the very act of trying to remember takes up important brain power that should be used on other things. Trying to remember your to-do list also hampers your creativity and adds stress that’s difficult to pinpoint.
Allen shares an example of putting “clean out garage” on your mental to-do list. Every time you park in your garage (or have to park in the driveway because the garage is too full of stuff), you say to yourself “I really need to clean out the garage.” You tell yourself maybe you’ll tackle it next weekend. Then that weekend comes and goes, and you feel like a failure.
Cleaning out the garage is such a big job that you don’t know where to start. And every time you see the garage, even if you’re not consciously thinking about it, your subconscious says you should be cleaning that garage. The subconscious kind of sucks with understanding future plans vs. the present. You feel anxious but don’t even know why.
There’s a better way, using Allen’s methodology. If you want to clean out the garage, write it down! Instead of putting a vague “clean out garage” on your list, you need to identify the specific first action for the project you will do, like “clear garage steps” or “take donation boxes to Goodwill.” Then, assign a realistic deadline for yourself for the first step.
“Use your mind to think about things, rather than think of them. You want to be adding value as you think about projects and people, not simply reminding yourself they exist.”
Write it down
My biggest takeaway from this book is to write down everything! Your brain stays stressed if it’s trying to remember things. If you log everything that needs to be done and have an effective system in place, you free your brain up tremendously and kick that continuous state of stress to the curb.
Knowing I have everything written down has taken my stress level down at least one full notch. I haven’t made promises to myself about when everything will be accomplished yet, but knowing that I’m returning to and periodically assessing my complete to-do list frees up my brain so that I’m not constantly rehearsing undone projects around the house, emails I need to write, and so on.
The immediate next step
Another helpful takeaway is that each “to-do” item on my list must have the immediate next step recorded. This sounds like a minor detail, but it’s actually crucial.
David Allen offers this example: if your car needs a tune-up, you can’t just write “car tune-up” on your to-do list, unless you have the tools and just need to throw on your overalls and head outside to do the tune-up yourself. If you know where you want to take your car, you can write “call Joe’s car repair to make tune-up appt” on your to-do list. If you’re not sure where to take your car, you might write “search google for local mechanics, pick a 5-star shop nearby, make appt for tune-up.”
I believe anyone would benefit from this book. Implementing just one of the numerous tips can be life-changing. David Allen teaches how to take control of tracking and accomplishing things in your personal and professional life. Getting Things Done is a wonderful book to help you get sh*t done, feel accomplished and organized, and unload unnecessary mental strain and stress.
If you’re dealing with overwhelm in your life, check out the guide from Numberwise on kicking business owner overwhelm. I also recommend Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown, and The Lazy Genius Way: Embrace What Matters, Ditch What Doesn’t, And Get Stuff Done, by Kendra Adachi. These books are wise, actionable, and inspiring. Bonus points if you get the audiobook version of any of these books, to make your life a little easier.
More editions of the Numberwise Book Club: