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Marketing Bookshelf: Getting Things Done

May 27, 2014

Andrew-442_2In a new series for Outlook, we’ll review popular business and marketing books and report back on their applicability and/or utility to marketers in the A/E/C industry. Is that book your boss is always telling you to read actually helpful, or just another passing business fad? Andrew J. Beaton, a Senior Communications Specialist with CDM Smith, will be our guide through tomes both useful and irrelevant!

Every A/E/C marketing writer or artist has had the experience of working against a deadline, and reaching a point at which every to-do item becomes crystal-clear, and the entire day unfurls in your mind toward the moment when the proposal goes out the door. You simply begin cranking through what needs to be done, and a Zen-like state of marketing mastery is achieved. What if you could achieve that kind of “zone” on a daily basis, for all critical projects, personal and professional? That’s the promise that David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity dangles before us.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen | $8.99 for Amazon Kindle

If you haven’t heard of Getting Things Done, or GTD as its adherents call it, suffice it to say that this book has achieved near-cult status in some areas of the corporate world. Here’s an example review from one business-consulting site: “This is the only personal productivity book you ever need to buy. If you even use this SIMPLE process halfway, you will become 2-3 times more efficient. If you’ve ever felt like you have a million things to do rattling around in your head, this book is for you.” Wired reported on GTD like a religious movement: “A holy book for the information age is turning stressed-out worker bees into members of an unlikely new cult obsessed with keeping an empty inbox.”

Somewhat fittingly, reading GTD is something that’s been on my to-do list for quite some time now, but I just never managed to get around to it. So when I resolved to kick off this series of book reviews for Outlook, it was time to put up or shut up. I found GTD to be a dense and at times challenging read, because it describes Allen’s system in great detail and in a very prescriptive manner. This is not a “business fable” full of light, anecdotal stories that you can read once and discard; it’s a comprehensive instruction manual to achieving organizational Zen.

So how legit is this bible of personal productivity? Once you comb past the flow charts and jargon-heavy prose, you’ll find a fairly straightforward system to keep all your projects organized. That’s not to say that it’s easy to implement! Allen recommends a two-day reboot of your workspace and files, replacing the piles of paper that are no doubt cluttering your desk as you read this with a meticulously categorized system of file folders. But as daunting as that may sound, Allen offers in exchange the ability to keep your brain’s “computer RAM” clear of stress, distractions and tasks left undone. For marketers in the A/E/C industry, who can easily get overwhelmed by key proposals to the exclusion of all else, that is a tantalizing prospect indeed!

Now, I haven’t yet implemented Allen’s system, so I can’t speak from firsthand experience, but even reading through this book once, I found a number of simple concepts and ideas that I could put into play right away:

  • If a task will take you less than two minutes to complete, never put it off! Do it immediately.
  • To successfully complete a given project, take time at the outset to think about and define the desired outcome, so that you have something to plan and work towards.
  • Once an email/document/to-do note is no longer needed or actionable, trash it!

At times, GTD seems a bit dated, insofar as it orders you to arm yourself with sheets of paper, file folders and a labeler, instead of a cutting-edge new productivity app for your smartphone or tablet. But there’s something to be said for a system that trades in bells and whistles for good old-fashioned elbow grease. I know that I am far more likely to process and remember a note that I actually write down on paper versus one that I speak or type into my phone! However, Allen’s disciples have devised tools to implement GTD concepts in both high-tech and low-tech settings, ranging from Outlook plugins to the Hipster PDA.

If you’re like me, and you constantly berate yourself for lack of organization and planning, you may find Getting Things Done as intriguing as I do. I’ll be sure to update this entry if I do take the plunge and become one of Allen’s many enthusiastic followers! And for those of you who have gone GTD, let us know about your results in the comments.

Loved or hated this book? Continue the conversation on Twitter: @andrewjbeaton

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