Suraj Deshmukh


containers, programming, golang, hacks, kubernetes, productivity, books

Book Review: Getting Things Done

The Art of Stress-free Productivity - David Allen

Suraj Deshmukh

9-Minute Read


Recently I completed the book called Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity by David Allen. I read the book on my kindle e-reader device, and as the name suggests, it is a self-help category book and about three hundred pages long.

The book is an extraordinary walkthrough of how to set up a system that will help you navigate your daily tasks without missing any of them. This system then enables you to patch up the crevices of your memory from which day-to-day tasks fall through.

If you have been in a situation where you forget to do something because something urgent was highjacking all the attention? Then this book is an excellent guide for you. The book explains how to build a paper-based task management system, but you can use whatever tool to make a similar system digital or not. I used a tool named Notion for implementing my GTD system.

Most stress they experience comes from inappropriately managed commitments they make or accept.

Content and Context

The book promises to improve your productivity at the same time, reducing stress about remembering to do the work. This reduced stress frees you to do more work or think about other prospects of your career. In effect, this book not only improves your productivity but also increase your throughput. This book teaches you to break things and tasks into the smallest possible granular actions. These actions can be performed right away if time is allotted to it.

The very broad and simple definition of a project that I have given (more than one action needed to achieve a desired result) provides an important net to capture the more subtle things that pull or push on your consciousness.

Author’s primary purpose is to make sure that people don’t rely on their brains to remember stuff. But to use it to do creative work. And he emphasises a lot on doing a mind sweep into an external system and having improved productivity without increased stress. This place where you put all your instant ideas about things to do is called In-basket. And then you process each item from the In-basket by following the flowchart. Each item ends up in one of the final baskets. From these different baskets/queues, you handle the work item according to its own triggers.

GTD Flow Chart

We generally do things ad-hoc or whatever is consuming our attention the most gets the highest priority. But there are better ways of handling and doing things. This book conveys a better method of planning, queuing and executing jobs. What we don’t realise and nobody tells us is that there are better ways of managing our tasks or things to do. We very well know how to do things we don’t know how to manage them, and it is not taught in any school or college. This book fills that gap!

Most decisions for action and focus are driven by the latest and loudest inputs, and are based on hope instead of trust.

The author has worked in this industry of productivity for more than three decades now, which gives him enough credibility and to the methods introduced in the book. He did workshops with top rank executives of companies. There he helped them build their system to channel information, funnel decisions and build a task administration system. This experience has enabled him to tweak, tune and perfect the system of GTD. It is up to the reader to follow the book religiously and create a framework of their own.

The author has done a great job in handholding someone new into creating a system from the ground up. And then the author gives tips on how to use the system, how to keep it up to date? How to make sure you don’t lose on information or idea and how to create capture tools.

Most of us have, in the past seventy-two hours, received more change-producing, project-creating, and priority-shifting inputs than our parents did in a month, maybe even in a year.

Book Organisation and Tone

The book is divided into three parts. The first part is the theoretical explanation of what the system will be like. In the second part, it takes a deeper dive into how to create one. In the third and final part, the author talks from his perspective and how he uses it and what is the ideal time to review the system and some other general tips and tricks.

The first part can be challenging to go through. Because it is a lot of theory, and I always felt I should get my hands dirty and start implementing what I am reading. But I went through it all and finally got to the part(second part) where I could do something with the information and implement the knowledge learnt.

The book is very relatable. When you set out to create your own GTD system, the author gives so many mental cues that help you clear your mind and dump all the information in it into your system. These mental prompts range from single-word categories to situations that a person might encounter and should put into the system.

Any “would, could, or should” commitment held only in the psyche creates irrational and unresolvable pressure, 24-7.

Overall Impression

I would prescribe the book to anyone who feels that they are losing their mind over all the stuff they have to do. I was overwhelmed by the tasks I had to do and was not getting to any of them. There were many occurrences where I would forget about doing something only to remember it at the eleventh hour. I was keeping all in my head. Many tasks that were due someday, but I missed deadlines. In other instances, I would get these ideas about things at work or in personal life, really cool ideas, at that moment I would note it down in a note-keeping app as Google Keep or Apple Notes, but there was so little context in them that over time when I looked at these one-liner notes I wouldn’t remember what it was all about. These note-keeping apps became dumpsters of ideas whose context was decomposed over time.

All this became really frustrating, and that’s when I came across this book. I will recommend it to anyone and everyone who wishes to get more done in the same amount of time. The book has helped me set up a system that I can trust to close all my open loops, deliver all the promises made to myself and others.

The sense of anxiety and guilt doesn’t come from having too much to do; it’s the automatic result of breaking agreements with yourself.

The author helps anyone reading and obeying the book to build a system to be productive. So if you give time to make the system as you read the book, then you will have something to use at the end of the book. Don’t try to finish the book cover to cover it is more like an instruction manual to follow along. Since I was following along, it took me some time to finish the book. Also, I was watching other videos to implement my system in the tool of my choice, Notion.

There is no reason to ever have the same thought twice, unless you like having that thought.

For me personally, the system has helped immensely in my work and personal task keeping and making sure that I don’t lose out on something that I need to do. I have felt an enormous boost in my productivity and throughput.

Now even for unloading the ideas in my moment of creative flashes, I use my GTD system built into Notion. In the spur of the moment, I input the thought from my phone. And later, when I get to my computer, I add more context to the idea that I had. And then decide on what needs to be done with the idea.

The book also highlights the significance of checklists. Generally, we tend to remember and try to obtain things to do from our brains. It could be stressful, so it is a good idea to make checklists. I have started making checklists for repeatable stuff now. Like I organise a meetup every month, and this involves many small tasks. Now I have created a checklist with the help of my co-organiser, and this relieves the pressure of managing a meetup. Now we can follow a predefined algorithm/checklist.

Capability and willingness to instantly make a checklist, accessible and used when needed, is a core component of high-performance self-management.

My favourite part of the book is implementing the system. I would like to get through part two again and try to get those mental hints to dump anything I still am holding in my head to reduce the cognitive baggage. I want my system to become my second brain.

The author has used a lot of epigrams in the middle of the book. I think if those are removed, the book size will reduce considerably. Sometimes they feel out of place. Nothing against the quotes themselves, but I felt it was overdone.

Anyone who likes to improve their own life by doing things efficiently would like the book. People who are productivity nerds or who are always looking for ways to do tasks more effectively would like the book.


Before reading this book, when I didn’t have any system for managing tasks, I used to wander off and waste a lot of time on social media. Now I don’t do it because I always have an action that I need to do next and doing that task and checking it off the list is my source of dopamine now.

I won’t say this is a perfect system of getting things done. But it is one of the effective ones, and I believe having one is beneficial than going with the flow. This book and the system created from it will help you chart your own flow.

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I am a Senior Software Engineer at Microsoft, working on various tooling around container technology like Docker, Kubernetes, etc.