HN Books @HNBooksMonth

The best books of Hacker News.

Hacker News Comments on
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

David Allen, James Fallows · 3 HN comments
HN Books has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity" by David Allen, James Fallows.
View on Amazon [↗]
HN Books may receive an affiliate commission when you make purchases on sites after clicking through links on this page.
Amazon Summary
The book Lifehack calls "The Bible of business and personal productivity." "A completely revised and updated edition of the blockbuster bestseller from 'the personal productivity guru'" — Fast Company Since it was first published almost fifteen years ago, David Allen’s Getting Things Done has become one of the most influential business books of its era, and the ultimate book on personal organization. “GTD” is now shorthand for an entire way of approaching professional and personal tasks, and has spawned an entire culture of websites, organizational tools, seminars, and offshoots. Allen has rewritten the book from start to finish, tweaking his classic text with important perspectives on the new workplace, and adding material that will make the book fresh and relevant for years to come. This new edition of Getting Things Done will be welcomed not only by its hundreds of thousands of existing fans but also by a whole new generation eager to adopt its proven principles.
HN Books Rankings
  • Ranked #24 this month (jun/jul) · view

Hacker News Stories and Comments

All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this book.
I'm a software engineer, but these have been instrumental in my success in a way no coding book can compare to(though John Ousterhout's "A Philosophy of Software Design" would have, if it came out earlier in my life).

Personal time/task management- The classic, Getting Things Done( The power this has on people cannot be understated. Turns out that most of how life is conducted is rife with forgetfulness, decision paralysis, prioritization mistakes, and massive motivation issues. This book gives you specific workflows to cut through these in a magical way.

Personal Knowledge Management- The equally classic, How to Take Smart Notes( Where GTD(above) does this for well-defined tasks/work, this book does it for open-ended work, giving you an amazing workflow for introducing "Thinking by Writing", which is frankly a superpower. This lets you see things your friends/colleagues simply won't, lets you deconstruct your feelings better, learn new/deeper subjects faster, and connect thoughts in a way to produce real insight.

For Product/Business Management, Gojko Adzic's "Impact Mapping"( feels like it could make nearly every software team/business 10x better by just reading this book. I've personally watched as enormous portions of my life were spent on things that barely moved the needle for companies, or merely didn't keep the metric from rising. So many projects taken on faith that if you work on X, X will improve, without ever measuring, or asking if you could have accomplished that with less. The world looks insane afterward.

I second "A Philosophy of Software Design" as a great set of loose principles. Just some really good stuff to keep in mind in a succinct book. Would love for Ousterhout to write some more.
Thirded, I'm reading it now and it's a lovely book. Dense with good ideas.
Sir, I have started reading The Art of Getting Things Done and boy that book is pure gold!

I've been missing it all my life! I'm on my way on getting wealthy and rich!

Thank you for your super practical list! Going to go through all of those books over the next few months.
What do you use for your getting things done workflow? I just started using neovim and found the neorg ( package which has a GTD module.
ATM I use Todoist, but I'm wildly unhappy in using it. The only reason I do is that since it's a web-based UI, I can use it from my Windows box. Most of the halfway good GTD tools are Mac-only.

I've had a project going to build my own but admittedly have been somewhat dumb/lazy about it.

Keep it simple. My inbox only contains mails that require an action at some time. If I have done this action, I immediately archive the mail. I often mail todo's to myself so I have only one place for todo's. If I have to do something on a specific time, I put it in my online agenda. I have a separate setup for work and private, that's it. This works great.
I adopted GTD right before I left college, and I sometimes wonder how I ever would have managed to adapt to the explosion of tiny, attention-grabbing tasks that adult life supplies without it. Admittedly, it feels a little clunky and "enterprise-grade" in places, but the underlying principles are so rock-solid and obvious-in-hindsight it feels magical.

Plus, org-mode really helps to make the over-engineered parts more frictionless--I run my life off of org-agenda now, where creating a new project, capturing tasks for it, and refiling them as needed are only a few keystrokes away. Keeping with the theme of hyped productivity books, I also take inspiration from Deep Work to tag certain actions as being ":deep:", so that after clocking into those tasks, I can look at a clock report at the end of the day/week to understand how many hours I actually spent working on "important" stuff. It's very motivating to make that number go up!

I know not everyone feels the need to be so intentional about their productivity landscape--indeed, a lot of very naturally productive people I know explicitly /don't/. But for those of us who aren't one of those magicians, I highly recommend putting some thought into at least a bare-bones system.

I would recommend for you to read and implement the organization/productivity system from Getting Things Done by David Allen [0]. It discusses essentially your main problems of dividing up your life into projects and timing yourself. The system also includes sections for putting some of your ideas in an 'Incubate', basically putting it off for another day once you get through what you have. Having a running list of all your commitments and projects like the system does I think will help you to analyze your time usage and realistic expectations for your productivity and stuff you want to engage in.

[0] =

I’m really very surprised that so many people recommend GTD. I absolutely hated the book. It felt like he was trying to sell the book for half of it. The techniques are very outdated and manual. It requires a huge amount of categorization to the point of way too much. I tried it, and really strongly do not recommend it in any way. It’s like Org Mode in emacs. Feels like most people just recommend it because they bought into it so heavily and hive-minded around it. Sorry but I really wanted to balance out the positive comments about GTD.
Ditto, plus I feel like it sort of poisoned my thinking on task management. I'm obsessive by nature, and I think it made me more obsessive.
I agree -- the two things I took from it were to write everything down and to do things immediately that will take less than 2 minutes. Other than that it was overkill for me.
My one caution with this: It's pretty easy to OVER categorize your life and never get anything done either. I had a former co-worker who read GTD and began to impliment it for everything. It felt like he was perpetually planning and never actually doing.

Additionally it became rather humorous to see how the most minute things became 'projects'. Sometimes it's worth just stepping back and observing what you're considering to be 'projects' or 'tasks' and ask if you're over doing it.

And for people who make these mistakes it's probably helpful to re-read Allen's book and fix these issues.

> It's pretty easy to OVER categorize your life and never get anything done either.

This is called procrastination.

> perpetually planning and never actually doing

GTD is specifically about clearing your mind so that you can focus on doing without distraction.

To defend GTD slightly, one of the core tenants is if it will take less than 15 minutes or so, do it now (maybe it’s 5 - I stretch it to however long it takes me to do dishes or mop the floor).
The text mentions 2 minutes as the time for “just do it now” tasks.

However, Allen recommends finding a thresholds which fits your situation.

[ "one of the core tenants" -> "one of the core tenets". tenants live somewhere; tenets are principals, beliefs. ]
I agree completely. This book was recommended to me as “life changing”. I was skeptical given that my experience is that 90% of self help books are a rehash of “How to win Friends and Influence People”.

As I have moved into professional roles with progressively more responsibility, the tools and techniques in this book are what have allowed me to scale myself out in a way that my prior ways of working would not have enabled. Many productivity tips (such as inbox zero) have their roots in this book.

After trying GTD for about 7-8 years, I gave up.

I mean, I kept using it, thinking it was working, but I'd look back and ask myself key questions:

1. How often do I stop looking at my lists, because I felt overwhelmed?

2. How often do I need to spend a large amount of time cleaning up the lists?

3. How often are things getting missed? How often am I doing things not in my GTD lists because I couldn't figure out how to put it in there?

4. How often do I tweak my GTD system to fix the above?

And so on - I realized that while GTD was of some help, it was not really working.

It did have some useful things/ideas, and as such it was not at all a waste. However, it really didn't do a good job of the fact that my lists were huge. I think he recommends looking at your Someday/Maybe in the weekly (or monthly?) review. That list is huge.

Even the TODO list can be large with his system. I don't think he addresses granularity well. Should my TODOs be the mundane small things, or just the big picture project (he leans towards the former). In reality, the potential Next Action on a project could be multiple things, so I would have multiple TODOs (it's not always clear which one I can do first due to external constraints).

His system is mostly priority agnostic. He does address it a little (10000 ft view, etc), but it was very vague.

No clear guidance on how to know if you're trying to do too much. Especially needed with GTD, because as a system, it makes it easy to try to do too much.

I think if someone could write a book with all the stuff GTD is poor at or doesn't address, with solutions, then GTD + that system may actually be great.

It's a good book, but don't beat yourself up if it doesn't work well for you. Try to tweak it to your needs, and if that doesn't work, look for something else.

You're describing success, not failure. The GTD system is generally so good at streamlining work that a novice will react to the new streamlining and the sudden availability of time and mind space by simply filling the space with "more to do". GTD is agnostic about the quantity of work you take on.

If you like using systems to help balance out your selection of work, I would suggest looking into OKRs. The book Measure What Matters is a good start.

>GTD is agnostic about the quantity of work you take on.

Which makes it only a partial success. I disagree that it is agnostic. It does recommend you evaluate it - it just doesn't give any idea how.

I'll look at the other resources - thanks.

I used to use GTD. I still use it for reactive tasks. It is not good at proactive tasks. I use evernote as a GTD repository, but I only act on it occasionally.

Since I retired my tasks are by nature proactive (since they come from me). I tend to organize by long term goals. I start a goal by defining the success criteria for that goal then each long term goal is a "project" in an outline text file. Each morning I look at my long term goals and decide what I want to make progress on today. That turns into a backlog for today.

Since one of my long term goals was to learn swift - I wrote an iphone app to parse the file for items marked "@today" and turn that into a todo list that I can carry with me. Apple made this convenient when they added an icloud file system for the iphone.

I second Getting Things Done. This book is a little engine of productivity. It was responsible for a good chunk of any special productivity I've been perceived to have.

The book is easy to start with as your read it because it ties together skills you already have with creating an air tight system that enables your brain to trust you trust you not to forget anything - lowering your mental and cognitive load so you can focus in the present by taking a unique approach..

It literally lets you collect every random thought that has no relevance to the moment, capture it in a "someday/maybe" pile and put it away for future review. The brain, one emptied is ready to focus.

The new edition is updated for digital life too, which is great, I try to read it every year or two as well to keep sharp, the current read has been a nice refresher.

Currently using the newest 2Do app between Android/MacOS/Windows /iOS. It's really decent inter platform tool. If you're all Mac a lot of people like omnifocus too. I found other apps (things, toodle, rtm) lack the ability to break apart projects into super detail when needed but otherwise are great.

There are a few other books that help build a car around this engine (Mindset, Focal Point, So good they can't ignore you, Deep Work), but a car without an engine isn't a car.

Second reading this book at some point. I think what originally hung me up about it was that it isn't really prescribing an exact system, just a series of general ideas that you can use in whatever system you are using. It can be used with Trello or Asana or Omnifocus or pen and paper. But generally the idea of projects and an inbox and the someday maybe list are great. In short, get things out of your brain taking up cycles and into a system you trust.
I can also recommend GTD, it was definitely an eye opener.

A few takeaways for me:

* There is no (need for) 1 list to rule them all. I'm using Google Inbox, Calendar, Keep, Post-it notes in the house on doors & walls, and a handwritten notebook for my day job.

* Inbox helped me organize a lot better. Snooze is great for getting an empty inbox. It used to have "snooze to someday" to incubate, but unfortunately that's not an option anymore. I still have 50+ items in there that I review a few times a year. I'm sad inbox is getting killed. Gmail has most of the functionality, but the UI is waaaay to busy.

* Keep is nice for simple lists. Grocery shopping has become a lot faster and easier. I will try to order the list so I can pick up everything in one pass. The kids & wife are joining the shopping trip? We can split up, see the list update instantly, and be done in half the time.

* GTD defines 5 phases: collect, process, organize, review, do. I wasn't used to having collect as a separate phase, but a lot of sites make this easy. Inbox has reminders, and a browser extension to save any page, Reddit has a save button, Inoreader has starred items. HN even has a favorite button, but does a very good job of hiding it. Seriously, I have to click on the post/comment age to favorite it?

Yup. I use Gmail Snooze + Google Calendar.
I agree with this as well. Reading this book really helped me get organized.

Some of the information on it is getting a _little_ bit dated. In particular, it talks a lot about the different 'contexts' you have your tasks to complete, like at home, at work, at a coffee shop, etc. I feel like this holds up a little bit less nowadays, because almost the entirety of all my work can be done if I have my laptop with me.

This book is a great foundation for you to build off of and make your own 'system'.

I don’t think the idea of contexts is dated at all, it just sounds like it doesn’t apply to your situation specifically because you have special circumstances. Most people don’t have that flexibility. It’s important to understand when things don’t apply only to you vs when they really don’t apply generally (when giving advice).
I find the idea of contexts holds up even more importantly - In fact if you are constantly context switching (social phone at work, etc) it may be something you have to enforce yourself
I believe there is an updated version.

Contexts should be adjusted to make them personally useful - mine are mostly categories like "work", "home", "community group" so that I can sit down and focus on work tasks without seeing other stuff, and then I can spend a solid hour working on my community stuff, etc. I also have a couple place- contexts: "house" for things like fixing a thing, "9-5" for tasks that have to be done during business hours, and if I have travel etc coming up I might sort some stuff into "offline", like reading a bunch of docs I have downloaded.

An useful mnemonic of GTD:
I second this recommendation with a suggestion that has hugely helped me. I have more or less copied the approach to to-do lists described in that book into a Trello board and then – importantly – made it my home page on Chrome.

This accomplishes two things for me: 1) any time I open a new tab, I get a reminder of what needs to be done 2) adding an item or recording an idea to be processed later is just a cmd-t away.

This approach (combined with the Trello mobile app) has made the list so easy to maintain it's almost hard not to use it. YMMV, of course.

I do the same with a personal dashboard that pulls in my "today" Asana tasks as my new tab homepage. Are you using the New Tab Redirect Chrome extension? It seems that you can set a homepage for when you open a browser natively with Chrome but not a new tab.
I think this can be a very good start. Whenever I'm reminded of my tasks deadlines I'd work harder. Would also love to include different color signaling for deadlines...
Could you provide a template for you trello board?
Here's my setup, it's pretty similar to the other person's:

Followup: stuff that I'm blocked on (e.g. maybe I'm waiting on someone, maybe I have to let something run for some time, etc)

Doing: stuff I'm actively working on

To Do: stuff I plan to do in the near term

Inbox: everything starts here

Backlog: stuff I want to eventually do

Anything I finish I archive.

I'm also following a GTD-like approach (and I strongly second the recommendation on the book)

My Trello board has the following columns:

- MAYBE - for things that I'll maybe do

- BACKLOG - for things that I decided I'll do at some point

- WEEK - for things that I'll do this week (limit: 8 items)

- TODAY - for things I'll do today (limit: 5 items)

- DONE - move things here once done

Once a week I do a review session where I clean the "DONE" column and reshuffle things in the other columns as needed

Hmm,I hadn’t thought of a week/day in Trello. It’s an interesting idea, but having a les productive week seems like it really screws things up by forcing moving back to Maybe and Backlog while you plan out your week. But i see a possible benifit in that.

I wouldn’t do that to my collaborative work board, but for a personal board that seems interesting.

I do the same! I even started a project so I can have Trello on the terminal to faster access and manage my tasks.

If someone is interested on using/collaborating:

GTF(Getting Things Done) method with OmniFocus

Boagworld has a great video on his setup and how it all works:

Getting things done book:


i really like the Omnifocus app, however i dislike that the only way to sync across devices is to use their private servers, which means sending/sharing all your private stuff with them.

Technically they could easily sync via iCloud and encrypt the stored data, but of course for financial reasons companies prefer to be able to access and sell all your data...

In addition to the comment about private WebDAV (which took me 10 minutes to setup and as a side effect made the synchronisation much faster by using geographically closer server), OmniFocus can encrypt the data synced.
FWIW, you can set up OmniFocus to sync using a WebDAV server you control.
Omnifocus does [end-to-end encryption]( now. They have no reason to access and sell your data because they have a healthy business model built around premium priced apps.

I think the reason a lot of companies don't use iCloud is because some of the various ways in which iCloud worked have not always been reliable or suited to the task at hand.

I didn't know they added this feature, that's actually really cool. Especially since their code is also open source.
HN Books is an independent project and is not operated by Y Combinator or
~ yaj@
;laksdfhjdhksalkfj more things ~ Privacy Policy ~
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.