Self-help = Help yourself

I didn’t intend to review this, but it’s been ages since the last post and well, this is what I read. So, without any embarrassment, here is my review of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen.

Ironically, I kept putting this off, and ended up abandoning it eventually (hey, it kept telling me to Get Things Done, and wading through this book wasn’t helping me Get Things Done). I was pretty skeptical about the idea of self-help books, but wanted to give it a shot. Also, engineering education left me with zero work ethic, and study habits that look like this:

  1. Wait for the night before the final exam/ submission.
  2. Ingest copious amounts of caffeine.
  3. Memorize textbook solution manual/ plagiarize code from the Internet.
  4. Hello, sunrise!

This didn’t seem like a very good idea in the long run…

First, let me summarize what I gleaned from the first 50% of this book.

  • The main aim is to get into the Zone, where you are fully focused on your work.
  • Having worries or ‘Oh, I have to do that, too!’ bouncing around your head takes away your focus.
  • Maintain detailed documentation of your to-do list, and an inbox of things that you need to get done.
  • Break tasks down into bite-sized sub tasks (and sub-sub tasks if needed) to avoid unstructured work. All work needs to be geared towards completion of a task- you shouldn’t waste time thinking about what needs to be done next.
  • If any task takes less than 2 minutes, just do it now.

That stuff seems pretty obvious, right? Unfortunately the author goes the business management route of laboriously developing terminology for everything and explaining it before getting to the gist of things. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Mockery aside, there are a couple of tips that could be useful in practice. Pre-planning and breaking down assignments and projects make it a lot easier to start work in advance. Having a giant 12-hour task looming makes it tempting to procrastinate, having a one-hour-long reading to do is less intimidating. However, the planning and inbox system he describes seems super laborious and could increase ‘planning overhead’ time by quite a bit, something he seems to realize considering that 2-minutes rule.

This book could be useful to someone who has a lot of responsibilities (managers, people with households to run, etc), but not so much for students or people with more intellectual jobs (say, code monkeys). Also his writing style is super annoying, and you need to be dedicated enough to plough through the annoying jargon to get to the actual content.

2/5 from me.


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