Thank you to David for this review, I've only just started reading this myself. I never got to read the original!
This a review I really didn’t expect to be writing, not because of the subject matter but because of my experience of GTD as ‘boiled down’ and encapsulated by the revised edition of the book, which as many of you will know, was published last month.
If you wanted to read a 100% and unreservedly positive review of the book, you can find one at
…and there are many others. This is both a review of the new (second) edition of the book, and also a review of GTD as well, written by someone who has used it for 2-3 years.
First, a word about the book itself. I downloaded a copy to my Kindle on the morning of publication (the paper copy not being available until some days later, for unknown reasons), immediately prior to departure for London by train, and looking forward to making a start on reading it during the 5 hours of train time these return trips give me.
Unfortunately, publishers Piatkus have done a really bad job on the book. The dreadful inset text boxes, which exist only to break up the flow of the main text and add nothing to the main message, are still in place from the first edition, but because the book has basically been ‘dumped’ into ebook format, they often extend off the bottom of the Kindle screen, while the main text continues to do so as well, making comprehension difficult at best, and mostly just impossible. I gave up on the Kindle edition after about half an hour and decided to go looking for the (at that stage non-existent) paper edition.
Secondly, a well-known publisher like Piatkus really ought to have had the book properly proof-read before publication. There are important changes to the GTD process stage names in the second edition which just aren’t reflected in the accompanying diagrams and graphics, which are retained in their first edition form.
So far, so bad. 2/10 and ‘must try harder’ for the publishers.
Eventually I managed to get hold of a hard copy of the book via Amazon, all attempts to get one from a bookshop, local or otherwise, having failed.
Turning to the text of the book itself, it has billed as a complete rewrite of the original, yet it’s more of a re-type than a rewrite, which is how David Allen describes the process he used to produce the second edition. Yes, there are changes to the core process terms used (although the core process remains unchanged), and the book has if anything, been revised to make it even more what David Allen refers to as ‘platform agnostic’, reinforcing the central idea that GTD is more a set of organising processes than advocating a specific set of software, apps or organising equipment. This is probably a very canny idea as technology continues to drive change in practice, but Filofax fans will take heart from this, as did I.
Yes, you can run GTD using anything from a tablet/phone/laptop or any combination of the three, down to a notepad and pen. Allen is very generous towards paper system users, and freely admits (in the book and elsewhere) that many of the most committed GTD users are also paper users – this despite the fact that GTD forums everywhere have been almost entirely commandeered and taken over by the ‘which app is best?’ brigade.
There are two brand new chapters at the end of the book, one on GTD and neuroscience, which I found fascinating (although it rather reads as a justification for using any system of planning rather than none, as opposed to a compliment to GTD itself), and another pointing towards potential ‘higher levels’ of expertise in the GTD methodology….pointer to a new book to come, maybe?
So why, having been a GTD user for a few years, am I left feeling that I now want to move away, back towards other ‘organisational methods’?
From the very beginning of my GTD experience I’ve been convinced that GTD is a great system – possibly the best ever system yet, for capturing and dealing with ‘stuff’ as it comes towards us in our daily lives. However, I’ve always been dissatisfied with the lack of emphasis on proactive planning as opposed to reactive coping. I have always suspected that Allen’s later book, Making it All Work, is on some ways a tacit attempt to address this, and there is far more in the later book about what Allen refers to as ‘Horizons of Focus’. Personally I find the whole ‘Horizons of Focus’ concept too ethereal and ‘hard to pin done’ to be of much use.
Also, the GTD ‘method’ of keeping tasks off daily plans is something which just doesn’t work for me. Like many people I have spoken to, I found that I have to be able ‘see’ my whole day at a view (appointments, calls, tasks, ticklers), otherwise things don’t get done. If tasks are hidden on lists at the ‘back’ of the system, they don’t come to mind.
GTD presents itself as a deliberately ‘bottom’ up’ system, and the rationale Allen presents for that is that it’s impossible to focus on our own agendas when we are still being chaotically bombarded by ‘stuff’ coming from outside. However, as someone who has always thought that planning is the art and science of capturing time, in advance, for our own goals and priorities, I don’t find the approach of deciding what to do ‘in the moment’ very helpful….it leads to my time being away by others, in the direction of *their* agendas, rather than being used first for my priorities and secondly for those of people around me. I’m all for having a list of ‘small tasks’ which can be done in odd moments of time (the sort of odd moments I often find myself with between meetings when I’m travelling), but most of my tasks need to be allocated to specific days, some (following James Noon’s excellent system) to specific time slots, way in advance of their due date, if last minute panic is going to be avoided. To me, GTD is a great way of organising, but as a method of planning it doesn’t work.
I was really hoping this would be addressed in the second edition of the book, but not only is any balance lacking, there is yet more justification for the ‘bottom up’ approach.
Many people find GTD a very helpful approach, and I think they will enjoy this updated, modernised re-issue greatly. However, GTD isn’t for everyone, and on further reflection I feel that it probably isn’t for me – at least not in its unmodified, ‘out of the box’ state. Despite the obvious neglect shown by the publishers in the actual publishing process, I don’t think this is a bad book. Rather, I think it’s a good book about a world-renowned system of organisation (I now hesitate to use the word ‘planning’), which many will find helpful. If you enjoyed the first edition of the book, the second edition is well worth reading to update yourself. If you didn’t read the first edition, the second edition is still worth reading, but please – read the book, not just the reviews! If, like me, you had reservations about the system expounded in the first edition, I’m afraid the second edition isn’t going to offer you any encouragement that they have been, or even are likely to be, addressed any time soon.