Getting Things Done by David Allen

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The mind is for having ideas, not holding them.
— David Allen

It took a couple tries before this one stuck. At my first read, years ago, I agreed in principle with David Allen’s concepts but I never put them into practice. Honestly, it seemed like too much bother. My life was pretty simple at the time. Fast forward several years and I was juggling a family with two young children, a business and acting as full-time caregiver for my mother. Out of desperation I reached for this book again. There were simply too many details in my head and everything was starting to suffer — not the least of which was my ability to relax or get a good night’s sleep.

With the simple premise that “the mind is for having ideas, not holding them” David lays out a system to move the ideas and details out of our head so we can free our mind to do what it does best — think.


You have to commit
This is not an easy 3 step process you can implement on a Wednesday afternoon. Yes, it’s a system, but in order to actually implement that system I needed to fully grasp the concepts. It wasn’t easy for me. I had to re-read entire sections of the book multiple times. And during the implementation phase I listened to some chapters on repeat as I was doing laundry.

The 5 Steps to Mastering Workflow
Whether we’re cooking dinner or running a business, there are 5 discrete stages we go through when dealing with our life. The best practices, tools and actions for each of these stages form the core of Allen’s system.

1. Capture what has our attention
2. Clarify what each item means and what to do about it
3. Organize the results
4. Reflect
5. Engage

The Very Next Right Step
The powerfully simple clarifying question for me is “What’s the very next right step?” It can be tedious and obvious — find my keys, lock the front door, unlock car, etc. — but if you get in the practice of thinking this way for the simple things it then comes naturally for complex projects. You also become a master at identifying flawed To Dos like “Order fencing.” You can’t order the fencing until Bob tells you how many pickets you need. So, the very next right step for your To Do list is “Call Bob.”


Allen’s overall concept: The key to productivity is clearing the mental clutter. To clear the clutter you have to build a system you trust.

The two most important practices for me are: 1. Creating a system to park and review my stack of reference materials and random ideas. 2. A methodology for breaking everything down into micro steps and next actions. This methodology gets the endless details out of my head and onto paper, electronic calendar, etc. in a way that ensures nothing falls through the cracks. 

Allen doesn’t advocate for any particular physical or electronic system. What works best for me is a three-ring binder and a couple file folders and my digital calendar. I have one binder for my family and one for my business.

Derek Sivers

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Today I want to introduce you to Derek Sivers. He’s been described as a philosopher-king programmer, master teacher, and merry prankster.

I’m fascinated by this guy. Whether I’m listening to an interview he’s done or the audio version of his book I hit pause, “rewind” and listen again, OFTEN, because his brain works in a way mine does not. His philosophies on life, people and work challenge a lot of my assumptions. And that’s what keeps me going back to him. The challenge. He makes me think, deeply.

I hope you find him even a fraction as fascinating as I do.

You can find him here.

Interviews with Derek

When I read this, I felt understood!

Sarah Kay

Sarah Kay. Performing poet. Founder of Project VOICE.

Click that play arrow and watch Sarah. Don’t miss the last poem!

Then scroll down and let’s chat.

Sarah Kay. Performing poet. Founder of Project VOICE. Don’t miss the last poem!

A few of my favorite lines:

“But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.”

“No matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal.”

“If you make me laugh hard enough, sometimes I forget what century I’m in.”


Step one: I can

Step two: I will

Step three: Doing the work is not enough. You must infuse your work with things specific to you, even when those things are changing.


In Sarah’s words, “Great stories start from the intersection of what you’re passionate about and what others might be interested in.”

Good To Great by Jim Collins

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I first read Good To Great by Jim Collins in the fall of 2006 and I’ve returned to it many times. Without reservation, it’s the best business book I’ve ever read.

Collins set out to discover the characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great and sustain the results for at least 15 years.


The Flywheel
There is no miracle moment, silver bullet or one killer innovation. Long term results start slow, build up momentum then achieve breakthrough. “Like pushing on a giant, heavy flywheel, it takes a lot of effort to get the thing moving at all, but with persistent pushing in a consistent direction over a long period of time, the flywheel builds momentum, eventually hitting a point of breakthrough” (page 186).

The Hedgehog Concept
Great companies have a deep understanding of the intersection of 1. What you are deeply passionate about 2. What you can be the best in the world at and 3. What drives your economic engine.

First Who, Then What
Get the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off) and then figure out where to drive it.


Timeless. Sound advice applicable to all business types. Concepts easily translate to personal pursuits.

Steven Pressfield

I can’t think of a more appropriate place to start this What I’m Learning series than with Steven Pressfield. If I could magically make a stranger part of my family I would choose Steven Pressfield and I’d be sure I was seated next to him at every family gathering.

His books The War of Art and Turning Pro have had a huge influence on my work. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to call it life changing. I tote Turning Pro around like it’s life’s playbook. Because…it is. When I’m distracted, ready to give up, etc. I whip that baby open to any random page and I’m quickly reminded: the muse rewards those who do the work.

My Top Takeaways

  • Resistance is real.

  • Resistance is your compass to True North. The higher the resistance, the closer you are to the work of your soul.

  • The muse rewards those who do the work.

  • Concentration & depth = pro. Shallow & unfocused = amateur

Final Thoughts

Simple. Profound. Life changing.