Book Review: A Christian Look at “Getting Things Done”

Life of a Steward rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Highly recommended.

Most books on time management and productivity are really just the same old ideas repackaged again and again. Authors have new ways of looking at the same old paradigms, but it’s rare that someone truly breaks new ground with their material. Getting Things Done
by David Allen, however, does just that.

I would venture to say that Getting Things Done (affectionately abbreviated as GTD) is easily the most influential and most acclaimed personal productivity book of the last decade. The GTD system outlined by Allen sparked an unprecedented and almost fanatical following, leading to hundreds of fan-driven websites, forums, and blogs (who reads blogs on productivity? <wink> ).

I can personally attest to the power of the GTD system, as it’s something that I incorporate (with a few tweaks) as I manage my time.

Book Summary

Where most time management gurus advocate a “top-down” approach of setting goals and determining values before proceeding down to the level of daily actions, Allen’s method is the opposite. GTD starts with the flood of daily actions and works up to the level of major over-arching goals and principles.

The basic thrust of GTD is to get your thoughts (everything from grocery lists to projects for clients to major life goals) out of your head and into a system that you can trust. When all of these things are swirling around in your brain, you can’t relax – and when you can’t relax, you can’t focus and work at maximum effectiveness.

The GTD system provides a framework for capturing these swirling ideas and organizing them into a form where you can retrieve them when you need to and when you want to. Allen discusses the theory behind his approach but spends the bulk of the book on the practical level of how to start GTD, how to setup your workspace and filing, and how to utilize the system on a daily basis.

Practical Considerations

With cell phones, Email, and the internet, our work lives have changed. We’re inundated with things to do, and we have more decisions to make on a daily basis than our grandfathers had on a weekly, monthly, or even yearly basis. GTD is an unparalleled system for keeping track of the unbelievable amount of input and information flying at us every day.

I’ve found GTD to be excellent at helping me “get organized” and have a clear inventory of all the things going on in my life: personal and professional, large and small, immediate and long-term. It has given me a sense of control, has kept things from slipping between the cracks, and has kept me from having that nagging sense that there’s something really important that I know I’m forgetting.

It goes beyond simple to-do lists which, for me, were moderately effective at best. GTD creates one big, unified system that does a very good job of organizing everything.

But GTD isn’t perfect. It’s wonderful at keeping track of all I have to do and it’s fairly good at keeping me efficient at what I choose to do – I find, however, that it isn’t sufficient in and of itself to help me make sure that I’m really doing the right things. The choice of what action to do next is not handled well, in my opinion, within the GTD system. I’ve rectified this by combining GTD with other time management approaches.

Christian Suitability

This book is so important to the current time management field – and it’s spiritual content so worthy of discussion – that I wrote a separate post discussing at length the spiritual aspects. I would invite you to read that, but the conclusion I reached is this: David Allen is a New Age enthusiast, and this spills over to the book in very subtle ways. However, the system can be reworked with Christian values and redeemed.

Conclusion

Getting Things Done offers a powerful system for personal organizational and efficiency. It excels in helping you catalog and manage the mountain of information and tasks in your busy life. GTD is, however, not great at helping you decide what tasks have the highest value at that moment – so I would recommend combining a GTD framework with other goal-heavy time management approaches.

There are spiritual issues that need to be addressed with David Allen and Getting Things Done, but I believe that the material can be redeemed and utilized positively in a Christ-focused manner.

I would give Getting Things Done a 4 out of 5 stars, deducting a star from an otherwise perfect score for GTD’s ineffective approach to prioritization of actions. Still, I would highly recommend this resource and would place it easily in my current top-three time management books.

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