Book Club – ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen

Earlier this year, we started a book club at White October to bring together a group of people wanting to read books for their personal development, but needing motivation and peer support to get the most out of it.

Our first book chosen was ‘Getting Things Done’ (GTD) by David Allen, hoping it would help us learn to manage our time better and be more productive, both at work and at home.

This post gives a summary of what we got up to (more than just reading!), our review of the book, and what’s next for book club. Read on for our GTD Top 3 tips you could start today.


Why join book club?

In the first session, we started by thinking about why we were all here, and what we all hoped to get out of book club. This ranged from specific aims related to ‘Getting Things Done’ (GTD) to general desire to read more, through to the social aspect of interacting with colleagues we maybe don’t normally work with.

First rule of book club…

Read the book!

A major challenge facing us was finding time to read the book so we had a principle to discuss it every week even if not everyone was up to date (there would be no plot spoilers, after all!)

Aligned with this was a focus on doing practical exercises from the book, ensuring we were trying out the principles of the book, not just talking about them.

Journl, Trello, Omnifocus, pen and paper…

The core behind David Allen’s principles is that you have to have a system to manage your life. This could be pen and paper, email or something more technology based; it doesn’t matter as long as it works for you and it gets your thoughts out of your brain, and into something that you trust and will review regularly.

As a result, we all chose a different tool to try, with various success. We discussed these during the book club sessions, and even held a special post-work pub demo session where we invited Journl along to see how we were finding their solution.


The 2 Minute Future Goal Exercise

One of the best sessions we had was spent doing the GTD 2 minute brainstorm.

You take a blank piece of paper and spend two whole minutes focussing on a goal you want to achieve. This could be something in your life or work, that is imminently achievable or a bigger lifetime goal. In our session ideas ranged from arranging a party at the weekend to recording an album.

When the two minutes are up, you look over your list and simply decide…

What is the next action?

We found this one of Allen’s more powerful messages. It can be daunting to look at a long to-do list for a project you want to get going with, and start worrying about the order in which to approach the tasks.

If, in fact, you always pick the next task that can be done, it can break down a seemingly huge task into one that can be done.

For the recording an album project, the first step was simply deciding on a genre, and it will build from there. Picking (and doing) the first action can be greatly freeing.


If it can be done in 2 minutes or less, just do it

Another of Allen’s principle is if a task will take 2 minutes or less, do it when you see it, don’t delay it until later. This forms part of his ‘Do it, Delegate it, Defer it’ mantra when sorting through to-do lists, meaning when you find a task you either get it done, assign it to someone else to do, or put it into your system to be sorted later.

The 2 minute principle has worked really well for some of the book club members, helping them to get towards the, at times elusive, inbox zero.


Our GTD Top 3

Our 3 top tips from the book were:

  • If it takes less than 2 minutes, just do it

  • Write everything down somewhere you trust that you won’t forget it, otherwise your brain won’t let go of it

  • Having organised lists can help both at work and at home

Overall review

Overall, we all learnt a lot from the book, although we found it dated and at times a bit over the top.

The book club experience was a new one for the company, but it has been great to bring together colleagues from different teams to talk about how to improve ourselves, and the company, in an informal setting, and we hope to keep it continuing.

Coming next for book club…

We are now reading ‘Undercover User Experience Design’ by Cennydd Bowles and James Box and trying out UX techniques with our colleagues, other companies and maybe even the public soon.

More on that coming soon!

If you have also read either books, or have any suggestions for what to read next, we’d love to hear from you.

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