Why GTD Is So. Very. Hard. To Read.

Getting Things Done is a magnificent productivity system. I could go on about why that is so, but let us take it as lemma and proceed.

As great as GTD is, learning the system itself is a chore, because the only way to ensure you really learn it right is to read the book by David Allen, which, to sugar coat the matter, is as vibrant as The Silmarillion but with twice the fun (the zero property of multiplication applies here). The first three chapters, in particular, are devastating to get through, and it wasn’t until I was halfway through Chapter 3 (“The Five Phases of Project Planning”) that I realized Allen explains right in his book exactly why his book is so awful to read.

As he describes it, the first step in good project planning is Purpose. Why are you doing what you’re doing? After that, Vision. How do you define when the project is complete? These steps seem obvious, but most of us don’t do them. We dive straight into the work, and most of the time, we don’t finish our projects, because we’ve lost sight of why we were doing them in the first place.

That, right there, is why the first 90-odd pages of GTD are so hard to read: We want to jump in and learn the system, but here’s Allen going on about why we need the system. What a bore! I know why I need the system! I need to get organized!

Ah, but what does that mean? To get organized, I mean. Why do you need to get organized? What will “being organized” look like?

These first three chapters answer those questions! Chapter 1 explains the Purpose, the why: Here is why things suck. Chapters 2 and 3 explain the vision, the what: Here is what it will look like when you’ve unloaded your mind and are flowing like water once again. Allen is following the exact process of project planning he describes in Chapter 3 during these first difficult chapters, and uses that same chapter to tell us why he is doing so!

Unfortunately, he also bores the fuck out of us in the process. Ah, irony.

I once advised someone to skip the first three chapters of GTD so he could jump right into implementing the system. He never finished the book, and never started using the system. Now I know where I went wrong. He didn’t take the time to understand the purpose of GTD, or to visualize what an organized system would look like, and so he lost focus, and his project fell apart. Oops.

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  1. I find the Abridged Audio Edition is a good introduction, leaving the book as a reference.

  2. For implementing GTD you can use this web-based application:


    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    Comes with a mobile version too, and with an Android app.

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