Book Review: “Making It All Work”

David Allen’s latest book completes his well known “Getting Things Done” or GTD system.  For several years, people have raved and become almost cult-like in their following of his principles for organization and life skills.  In “Making It All Work”, Allen puts together the pieces that many felt needed a bit more explaining in his best seller.

In short, the book spends considerable time explaining the methodology behind the GTD principles.  As it nears the middle and ending, the book then shifts gears to focus areas and context.  One of the areas in the original GTD book that was mentioned was that of the different levels of focus.  Allen uses a metaphor of airplane flight to describe it.  From the ground up, you begin with your “runway” actions which are the current moment actions you need to be doing.  From there the plane climbs to 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, 40,000, and then finally 50,000 feet.  At each level, specific life tasks are brought to review such as your values and principles, long range planning, short range planning, and project organization.  These are the “dreaming” type areas that many folks don’t spend too much time with but in my experience, if you do not plan in these areas, you will most certainly remain basically where you are in life maintaining but never achieving any long-range goals you’d like to.

One review I read put it best when he stated that GTD is the “action” or left brained area of execution while “Making It All Work” is the right brained or dreaming mode that you ultimately will formulate projects and then action plans from.  Well stated.  It is one reason why I liked the book.  I will admit at times I started to feel a bit disinterested because several pages of the GTD explanation were old-hat for someone who’s used the system for several years now.  But in fairness, Allen writes from a standpoint that not everyone will have read GTD so he is obligated to at least give surface level explanations for his method.

If I was recommending this book to a friend, I would suggest they first read “Getting Things Done” before trying to tackle “Making It All Work”.  For certain, you could benefit from this book not having read the other but to maximize the impact of what Allen is getting at here, you really should divest yourself of the initial information.  Besides, it’s one of the easiest and most effective systems of task execution I’ve ever used.

There are many reviews on this work that highlight individual chapters and their meanings.  I think that’s overkill but you can certainly search those reviews if you wish.  What I’m interested in here is the overall impact of the work.  In this Allen succeeds by lining out what it means to think at a higher “altitude” to plan your life and work goals in a way that gives you a clear target to work towards.  Too many times, especially in ministry circles, I see people with lofty goals but no action plan to reach them.  To write this stuff down and then organize it in ways that bring about real action seems “geek” like to them.  So be it.  I’ve committed myself to spending more time at the “altitude” levels that Allen talks of here and have set up a notebook to record my thoughts, visions, and dreams for each level.  I’ve roughly done this in the past but can see the benefit of developing project lists that ultimately bring about actions that will bring much of these dreams to fruition.

When this is accomplished and your plans are out of your head and onto paper to be organized, then the clarity of mind you will experience is something that brings a peace that you cannot imagine.  Allen calls it “Mind Like Water” but I call it “Stress Busting!”  If you are looking to organize the various aspects of your life and bring clarity and planning to your life and work goals, this book is well worth your investment of time.  Pick it up, read it, but most importantly, USE IT.

Book Review: “Making It All Work”

2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Making It All Work”

  1. Hey Scott, Thanks for your blog. I enjoy reading it. I am interested in the GTD system, but I know nothing about it. I am an executive pastor and feel consistently overwhelmed in my duties and responsibilities. I was wondering if you could answer some questions about GTD like is it really complicated, how hard is it to implement, is it difficult to maintain, have you tried any software apps? I read some information on the website, but I would like to hear from someone that uses it. Please email me if it’s not too much trouble. I look forward to hearing from you. Don

  2. Dan says:

    For implementing GTD you can use this web-based application:

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A mobile version is available too.

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