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Good Reads: Getting Things Done by David Allen

I was expecting to be overwhelmed with guilt by Getting Things Done–feeling like I had to set up all these new processes and procedures in order to get my life in order. However, I was really encouraged to realize that I’ve unintentionally set up processes and procedures for many areas of my life that are working quite well.

Everything in my office has a place and everything in it serves a specific purpose. I have a process for mail, a process for email, and a process for dealing with paper clutter and stuff clutter.

So I was excited to realize that there’s no need to overhaul something that’s already working well most of the time. Instead, I just need to work on tweaking and refining these processes so that they serve me even better.

That said, reading this book helped me to realize very clearly that my paper planner system is no longer working well for me and that’s likely one of the reasons my head has been spinning so much recently. My home management binder has been great for a daily to-do list and overview, but, with the increased business responsibilities on my plate in the last few months, I need to be able to have a running to-do list of business projects and I also need to be able to schedule out projects, to-do’s, and reminders days, weeks, and months ahead of time.

Since my husband manages a busy law firm and has to schedule out and keep on top of all sorts of client stuff and court appearances, he’s been helping me think through what would work best for me. I think I’m going to try a paperless system using a combination of Google Calendars and the Reminders app and To-Do app.

I’ve resisted the paperless approach for so long, as I’m such a visual, write-it-down-on-paper gal, but I think perhaps the time has come to break out of my rut and go paperless. I’m at least going to try and will let you know how it ends up going!

Two Key Points I Picked Up From the Book:

Write Everything Down

I think one of the biggest reasons I’ve felt like my brain is overloaded recently is because I’ve not been dumping enough information out of it. I’ll think of something I need to remember and, instead of writing it down on my to-do list, I’ll tell myself, “Don’t forget that.”

Getting Things Done strongly encourages you to get stuff out of your brain and onto paper or your computer or handheld device. If you capture and store the information in a trusted system, it not only guarantees that you won’t forget it, but it also frees up brain space! Plus, instead of having to remind yourself ten times about something you need to remember, you can just write it down once and forget about it until you need to deal with it.

Follow the 2-Minute Rule

As I’ve confessed before, I tend to be a procrastinator. Getting Things Done encourages you to immediately do any project that can be done in less than two minutes.

Instead of thinking repeatedly about how you need to make that appointment, just pick up the phone and make the appointment. Rather than leaving an email in your inbox and looking at it multiple times, just answer it as soon as it comes in.

I know that following this rule would help me keep on top of all those little jobs much more efficiently and effectively. Instead of continuously putting off little jobs or writing them down onto my to-do list, I should just do the job and get it done.

I thought some parts of Getting Things Done felt overly complicated and some parts I felt like the pace of the book was dragging along too slowly. In addition, since my copy was the 2001 version, the technology referred to was outdated (anyone remember Palm Pilots?), but overall I felt this book is well worth reading if you are struggling with feeling overwhelmed with life–especially if you are a professional or own your own business.

Have you read any good books recently?

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  • I just got a smartphone, and am determined to use it for the Remembering Issues I always struggle with! I’m going to check out that To Do App!

  • GTD is a system I’ve been trying to fully implement for some time now but getting everything “dumped” out of my brain & getting paper clutter under control was my biggest obstacle. I haven’t mastered it yet but thankfully I’m much father ahead than I was. Since I’m a simple step by step kind of girl, I’m launching a series in 2012 to help readers get their paper couter under control in a few easy steps. Hopefully it will eliminate a few if the challenges I had! And hopefully it will help getting things done be a reality!

  • Shannon says:

    I read that book a few years back and I think it’s time to re-read it! I can’t get away from paper planning! Maybe if I find the right app then I would, but I just love opening my planner without having to access my phone.

  • Shannon says:

    Crystal – I forgot to add: I hope you and your family have a wonderful New Year. Thank you so much for your site! I love the content and it keeps me motivated.

  • I am adding this book to my 2012 reading list! I have been struggling in many of the same areas and with a new baby coming (in 10 days!) I need to make some changes in how I organize and prioritize.
    Thanks for the review!

    Happy New Year!

  • Kelly says:

    I decided to go paperless this year with my home management system, using Reminders, iCal, and Evernote. I’ve had Evernote for about a year, but I just started using it more since I was able to upgrade to an iPhone. I consider it my new brain as it catalogs anything I need to keep, and it keeps it all organized for me. I can even send important emails to my Evernote account, as well as file important receipts, user manuals, etc. I’m excited about going paperless this year.

  • Toni says:

    One of my favorite reads has been Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende (2004 HarperCollins). He is an M.I.T. grad, as was his father, and he decided to embarck on a year long living “experiment” to see how technology (which he once held dear) affect society. He moved into an Amish order community and took on their way of life. As a Christian, I will caution that his viewpoint was much more liberal than mine would be in examining such a conservative group of people, but the lessons gleaned from his experience were well impressed. He wanted to know, in light of technology affecting nearly every facet of our lives, how if they actually robbed time away from us more than freed it up (less time to appreciate reading a real book, too busy to talk to neighbors, pray, prepare a homecooked meal, interact with loved ones, etc.) The way he learned to take in a slower rhythm and pace of life, to appreciate twilight and the sounds of nature, to love the leisure of reading, etc., was so inspiring to me. It’s one of the few books I’d love to read a second time.

  • Rox says:

    Congratulations on reading through the bible in Chronological order. I’ve done the chronological order and felt like I was in the OT like forever and really missed the NT. I don’t read as much anymore just my bible. I’ve felt conviction of how much time I spent on other books and hardly any on bible reading. My time is now on learning all about our Creator. I find much joy in reading His word each day. Congratulations on all that you have accomplished. I love your website!

  • I read “Getting Things Done” a few years ago and loved it! My favorite is the “2 minute” tasks, taking the time to complete the tasks as they come up has been a great help with keeping things organized. It is amazing how the little stuff can add up when procrastinated.

    This year I went to a smartphone and Google Calendar for the first time (before I used a planner and master calendar). I was a little hesitant but my husband encouraged me to try it. Since using it I REALLY enjoy having everything on my computer and phone without having to write it down as well (I type faster than I hand write anyway), every week I print out a paper version for the upcoming two weeks so I have something to look at and reference. I have been using the Google Calendar which we have color coded for each member of the family as well as joint activities, work, and church activities so at a glance I know exactly where everyone is going / doing.

    Our family shares the calendar and I can add appointments to my husbands (or Date Nights together). 🙂 Plus if a client or friend calls while I am away from home I can look at the calendar and add in the appointment from the phone (a two minute task) therefore I don’t need to remember or add it later. Plus if I have a regularly schedule event that is spread out over several weeks I can enter it once into the Google Calendar and have it repeat instead of writing it down several times.

    On my phone I have the calendar and a running “To Do” list application to help stay on top of those items. It is amazing how much time making the calendar more efficient has saved everyone in our family Plus my husband can reference it while he is at work without having to contact me. He can figure out if I am spending the morning at a clients, volunteering, or running errands which has made it easier with coordinating the perfect time to have a mid-day chat! 🙂

    Hope the new system works well for you Crystal!

    • Tina says:

      Okay where is the todo list on Google Maps?

    • Meghan says:

      My husband and I also use iCal with several Google calendars that are shared between us. That way, he can see when we have family commitments or the kids have shows at school, for example, and he can schedule things at work without having to wait to talk to me about our calendar. Also, he has been trying to get me to use Wunderlist, which is a way to share lists between people. For example, he created a “To Buy” list to which I can add things we need, and then if he happens to be near a store he can see if there’s anything he can pick up for me.

    • Becky says:

      How do you go about setting up a Google calendar? I’m a little computer/phone illiterate at times. Thanks in advance for your help!

  • Mary says:

    Crystal – consider signing up for the free site. It will only take you 5 minutes of playing with it to see if it will work for you. I have used it every single day since I found it and I can throw everything at it except daily recurring tasks (just because I’m too lazy to complete and retype every day).

    It dovetails with GTD because it’s a trusted system where your items won’t fall through the cracks. I blogged about it writing a fairly length post (you can search my site for “Work Flowy” if you want to read more detail on how I actually use it.

    The only thing it doesn’t do is embed images. I get around that when I need one by using Evernote for images and then linking to it from Work Flowy.

  • Michele Jones says:

    Hi Crystal — Thanks for all the resources to get organized and simplify our lives. I have really benefited from your advice and encouragement. Peace and blessings for 2012.

  • Mary says:

    I meant to add that I can access WorkFlowy from my laptop, iPhone, and Kindle Fire so it’s always accessible.

  • Hi Crystal-I love the content on your website. For going paperless with your to-do’s I would highly recommend taking a look at Evernote. It can be downloaded to your pc, and there are apps for any type of smartphone.m this allows you to stay synced across all devices.
    Happy New Year to you and yours.

  • Laundry Lady says:

    Getting Things Done is a book I’ve been recently wanting to read. My husband bought it for me for Christmas since our libraries copy seems to have disappeared. I’m a bit intimidated but looking forward to trying to implement as many aspects as possible. Though I’m beginning to wonder if right before having a new baby is the best time approach a new method of organization.

  • 2012 is my first year to try a paperless calendar, too – Google calendar. It seems like it will make life easier. I hope it works out for you.

    I ended up reading 55 books this year. : )

  • Reesa says:

    I am moving to a paperless system too but decided to keep a small calendar and small notebook in my purse at all times. Sometimes it is easier for me to write something down than it is to get out the phone and type it. That written information goes into my paperless system or Google Calender the next time I am on the computer. So far so good!

    My next paperless goal is to get a handle on my recipes and meal planning. I am tackling that next week!

    • Dee says: has a great recipe and menu planner with an upgraded membership. I love allrecipes so much, I have no problem paying the small fee. I also have the allrecipes app on my smart phone and tablet.

  • Kathy L says:

    This book will be added to my list for 2012. Love your blog I just discovered it a month ago and I can’t get enough!

  • sona says:

    could someone write a tutorial or a lesson or 2 on google calender? I am trying to use it however… I got a reminder of a birthday that is in JUNE!!! Obviously something isnt right!

  • Sarah says:

    What did you think of Personal Investing: The Missing Manual? Congrats on getting through your entire list and happy new year!

  • Faith says:

    Crystal, all of your organizational posts have been wonderful!! I am so thankful that you have shared so many of your great ideas 🙂 I am making a list of books to read for 2012 and was wondering, what were a few of your favorites from 2011 or any all time favorite books?

  • sarah says:

    My problem with the 2 minute rule is that i find it interupts the flow of my day a lot and i find myself running off to do “little” things when i could have consolidated the time it took to do all of them into a more efficient chunk.

    I find that this particularly applies to answering an email or checking smethin out on my phone as well. Annoys the pants off my husband!

    • BethB says:

      Yes, this is my problem. When I’m really on top of my game I keep a running list of things I need to take care of on the computer and phone calls I need to make so I can focus on getting them done at once.

  • Amy Pickett says:

    Here in VA we had a hurricane, tornado & an earthquake. We live in Providence Forge and this year we went (almost) paperless. Most all of my alerts, calendar events, to do’s, etc were on my iPhone. But, with the natural weather problems we not only lost power we lost all service and guess what? I couldnt access anything on my iPhone. No calendar, no alerts to remind of those important things that I didn’t want to forget. I almost went crazy on day two, feeling like I was forgetting something major. Subsequently, I learned to have a back up. I still write down a lot on our family calendar and on (paper).

  • BethB says:

    I’m curious to hear how the paperless system works for you. I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about doing that myself but I keep coming back to the problem of having everything in one place. When I use my phone to make notes or lists I don’t go back to them like I do in my management notebook. But I get tired of transferring the schedule and appointments into the notebook every week. I’d really love a way to attach lists to calendar days, weeks, and months but so far haven’t run into anything. I’ve been using OneNote for some things (and some other program we used to have on our desktop, it looked like a Post-It) but the bottom line is I haven’t found a good way to streamline that stuff with my Droid. For some things I prefer the view of the big screen or a full sheet of paper. We might get an iPad this year but I’m not sure if that will solve the problem or not.

    And I’m also a big dork and enjoy the act of crossing something off my list with a pen. 🙂

    • Amy says:

      Beth, I’m the same way! There’s some sense of accomplishment when you look at the list and see how much you actually got done for the day!

    • Dee says:

      That’s the beauty of Google Calendars. Everything is on the “Cloud” so it automatically updates on any device from which you access it… no syncing necessary.

      • beth b says:

        We use Google calendar and love it. Where it doesn’t work is the way I make lists,take notes, brainstorm, etc.. I could put meal plans and lists in the calendar but I don’t want the page looking that cluttered because I’m afraid I’ll miss a professional commitment. . Google Docs is ok but in terms of using them on my phone I don’t find it very usable.

        • Dee says:

          Google Calendar has a task list via GMail. On the GMail page, there is a drop-down menu: contacts, mail, tasks. When you open “tasks” it will minimize/maximize on your “mail” page. I sync mine on my phone and tablet via the free app Taskos. Once I sign in to Taskos the first time, it automatically syncs with my Google task list. The idea is that you manage your tasks and reminders in GMail since you set up reminders in your Google calendar to email you.

          I do my menus on I agree that Google docs would be a pain on my phone.

          I do my shopping lists on GroceryIQ on my phone and tablet (do it once and it syncs to the other automatically.)

          • BethB says:

            I recently started using Grocery Tracker and I’m excited about it so far. More complicated to set up but in the long run it looks much easier than what I was using. Ziplist had been my grocery app but it was So. Slow. it was making me nuts.

            My husband is a “User Interface Design Architect” (corporate speak for Web Designer, ha ha) and was grilling me on exactly what it is I’m looking for in terms of a calendar and list making app. How what I experience visually affects the way I work. I feel stifled by the small screen of the phone, not to mention the lack of keyboard, much like I do with a lined notebook. It’s very interesting how the mind works, isn’t it?

  • Carla says:

    My husband always uses paperless for everything. I truly enjoy writing everything down on paper. I love notebooks, notebook paper, pocket calendars, etc. I love highlighters and pens! So for me and my lifestyle, that is the route I use! My husband cannot understand why I don’t use my IPad for all of this, but I just feel better and happier with a well organized control journal on paper in my lime green notebook. I just love it!
    Best to all of you, and Happy 2012.

    • Monica @ OurPerfectSeven says:

      You have described me perfectly! I LOVE my binder. I love writing everything down and marking it off as it gets done. It just works for me! I described the new year yesterday as my new composition book with a very sharp pencil….just ready and waiting! I don’t think I would feel the same way about a computer program….but to each his own!

  • You also might enjoy an app called “Home Routunes”. It’s great for keeping track of the tasks that get done on a regular basis (every morning, every week, once each month, etc.). You can make master lists that reset whenever you want. It’s very helpful…..when I use it!

  • Charlotte says:

    It’s a great book and I wish I could better implement the system.

    For anyone who wants a very detailed summary and explaination of Getting Things Done, Trent at The Simple Dollar did a lengthy series (18 or so posts) on it, chapter by chapter, over a year ago. I read that first and later read the book but just skimmed since I already knew the main parts. If you can’t get a copy or short on time, I think his series is worth reading.

    Thanks for the reading planner…just filled it out and can’t wait to get started on my reading goals for this year!

    • Stacy says:

      I was hoping someone would mention Trent’s series! It was awesome and I haven’t even read GTD itself. Here is the link to his final post where he also backlinks all of the original posts in order.

      I don’t have a smartphone but one of my favorite free tools is Reqall. What it does is allow me to call a number and essentially leave a message for myself. The message then gets transcribed and e-mailed to me. This is essential for me since I drive a lot and often make a mental to-do list in the car and forget before I can safely write it down.

  • Amanda says:

    I haven’t started yet, but I just posted on my blog about the books I’m planning to read in 2012. I borrowed a couple from your list too, they looked good!

  • going paperless is great! you might want to consider using for a reward system as well. you just log in, “schedule” a feat like making your bed, washing your dishes, ect. and when you do that, you check it off there and then you earn points towards gift cards like $10 Starbucks. I earn a FREE card roughly every 4-5 weeks doing this and it keeps me motivated. You can check it in on your phone, too. I haven’t found an android app for it, but there might be one for the iPhone

  • Sarah says:

    Crystal, you inspire me! I have a long list of books I have half read and am wondering, when do you read during your day? I have 3 young girls, about your kids’ ages and homeschool as well. I would love to get 1 book read a week, how do you go about making sure that gets done? Do you read before the kids get up? During nap time? or just any few minutes you can grab? Thanks!

  • Lisa says:

    I find the two minute rule useful with mail and bill paying. Since we do the zero based budget (DAve Ramsey), I am prepared to pay bills as soon as they come in. i don’t hold them until a bill paying sesson. I go immediately to the computer and pay the bill online. It gets that bill off my mind and there are no worries of being late or fogetting the bill.

  • Dee says:

    Happy New Year, Crystal!

    I love being paperless. My husband and I use Google Calendars and the To-Do list. We can see each other’s calendars, which is very convenient when scheduling things that involve us both. Having everything on the “Cloud” makes it so convenient to access whenever you need it, wherever you are. I’ve had friends lose their paper calendars and be completely out of luck and lost. Not a problem if your data is on Google’s servers.

    I use the Grocery IQ app on my phone and tablet to manage grocery/shopping lists. It takes a few minutes to set up all of the stores, but then I can organize my list by store.

    As I said in a comment above, I use to manage recipes and menu planning. You do have to have the upgraded membership to use the menu planner. I love it though and have the app on my phone and tablet.

    The other feature of smartphones and tablets that makes list-making easy is the voice command. It is quicker to say “carrots” than to type it to add it to a list… or write it down on paper.

    I’m looking forward to more and more good coupons being electronic and less paper-centric, too.

  • 60 books? Where in the world do you find the time. I have 3 on my list for 2012 and I hope to get to them all. I’ve never been a big reader, maybe I’ll have to try the audio tapes. Thanks for all you do, love your blog.

  • I bought my husband the book: 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done by Peter Bregman. This book sounds similar to the book you mentioned- it is very readable (yes, I bought it for my husband, but I haven’t put it down yet 🙂

    I recently found an amazing book about food and nutrition that I think every parent should read. I picked it up in Barnes and Noble and even though I pretty much never buy new books for myself, I had to buy it… The reviews on Amazon confirm that that it’s not just me 🙂 (One reviewer said, “If there’s such a thing as a page-turner when it comes to nutrition, this would be it!”) It’s called: What’s Eating Your Child: The Hidden Connection Between Food and Your Child’s Well Being by Kelly Dorfman.

    Finally, I want to read: Bright From the Start: The Simple, Science-Backed Way to Nuture Your Child’s Developing Mind From Birth to Age 3, by Jill Stamm. I checked it out from the library, started it, but didn’t have time to get very far… I may have to buy this one too 🙂

  • rachel says:

    I got a kindle for Christmas and really want to start reading more. Can anyone suggest any of the free books that would be good to add to my list?


  • Ebie says:

    So far I’m liking the Cozi calendar, which you can set up to sync w/ Google calendars. There’s also a meal planning feature that was just added. I use Google calendars for work and the Cozi for everything else, so now my husband can see when I have a work appointment.

  • I loved this book too but I recommend listening to it on CD if the reader has access to it from their local library. It helps it the dragging-on parts go faster 🙂 Love the one-inbox concept especially.

  • crystal c says:

    Toodledo is also a really great app for all your devices and website. And it’s easy to input- only one click instead of mutiple clicks to enter a todo. It’s helped me a lot especially after buying like 20 apps to do this task. 🙂 I also love to use evernote as my home management binder. I have one notebook with sub-categories as if they were real tabs in a binder. I have everything there and when I see a good idea/recipe/picture, I just use the chrome extension for evernote to send the clipping right to evernote to save for me. Best part is that if you take a pic on your cell of say a recipe, evernote will even search for the text in the pic and in PDFs. Good luck!!!

  • Freeing up brain space…love the way you put it! I have been searching for a way to describe to my friends why I write very single thing down. My hubby thunks I’m crazy, but he’s game for whatever works:) I don’t own any type of smart device as of yet…so I will have to stick with the old pen and paper. Good luck with the paperless route. I bet you are gonna love it!

    A little tip I picked up somewhere recently was to jot things on sticky notes and leave them where you can see them. I put mine on a little piece of my wall by the phone on my desk. Sometimes I just can’t take that 2 minutes to make the call bc it will disrupt our homeschool day. If it’s on a sticky…it’s out of my brain and easy to remember when I do have the 2 minutes:)
    Thanks for all you share! Have a blessed day!

  • Jennifer C. says:

    I’ve been really into reading books about the internet and it’s affect on our lives. (ie. not all good) I read Hamlet’s Blackberry this year and one of the things he talks about doing is an internet sabbath (either a day for a certain amount of time). It’s great to “unplug” once in awhile – no checking e-mail or anything. i’m also now reading The Shallows: what the internet is doing to our brains. I love anything scientific – this talks about how the internet is actually rewiring our brains in ways. Really fascinating – makes me want to be on the computer less this year!

  • Emily says:

    Love the post, but just have to say, it’s “dragged” not drug. 🙂

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