Review: Zen to done; or GTD, the easy way

I will admit that I am possibly the last person in the world to read this e-book. It has been out for some time and got quite some attention on the web, as I found out this week. But still, for those last few who have been in the same cave as I was in until recently, here is a review of the best e-book I have read in a while: Zen to done.

The book was written by Leo Babuta, the same person who writes the Zen Habits blog. The book is intended as an alternative for Getting things done from David Allen, and indeed also takes many ideas from this and other systems. I have also read that book, but found it a bit overwhelming to implement although it has some great concepts in it. Zen to done seems to understand my problems with GTD and give helpful ideas on how to fix them.

The issues many people have with GTD is that the system is so complex and overwhelming; it constitutes a big change to workflow and lifestyle for many people. But the book also makes you enthusiastic and eager to try it out, so you try to do everything Allen says and then find it not working for you. I know many people do actually succeed, but as he said himself in the podcast at 43folders, the implementation rate of GTD is fairly low compared to sales figures.

One other problem I personally had, is that many of my tasks do not lend themselves well to breaking up. How do you break up the task "prove theorem 2.1 of your paper"? Or figure out algorithm for this problem? (These are personal examples, but I read other people's complaints about similar tasks.) It could take hours or even days, but it does not have a clear next action. I still put these things on my next action list, but it did not work well with these things mixed with email this or print that document.

The Zen to done system remedies both problems, at least it does for me. The book consists of ten habits; which it asks you to implement one by one so as not to overwhelm yourself. For each habit it gives tips on how to implement them, to make it easier. Also, the habits are not at all mandatory. If one does not fit in your life or your work, then skip it. These habits are simple, but not necessarily easy to implement. That is why the book also has a chapter on implementing new habit. This explains proven methods for changing habits, which can be used for the habits of the system.

The other good thing is that there is indeed room for larger, more undefined tasks. One of the habits is to plan large, important tasks for each day and week in advance, so-called big rocks, and to concentrate on them first before you do other tasks. So my think up algorithm task could be one of my big rocks, and not need to be broken up any further.

The last chapter of the book describes a day of a fictional person who has implemented the Zen to done system, so that you can get a feel of how your life could be when you implement the habits. This looks a bit unrealistic to me, but it is fun to read.

The book closes with an overview of some resources you could use to make your own system. The author warns us however not to keep trying out new tools, not to focus on your system, but instead to focus on doing your tasks and living your life. And I think many of us here, myself included, are guilty of playing with our systems a bit too much at times.

So, if you have not already done so, take a look at the e-book, and also at the blog Zen habits. It is certainly worth reading. Even if you will not completely be implementing the system, there are many ideas you can use for your work and life.

Syndicate content

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Big Rocks

Hey, I totally missed this. I'm glad I scrolled down on the recent entries page.

This book/technique looks great. My projects at work all tend to revolve around figuring out some signal processing algorithm that works. The steps in doing so are rather organic and flow rather randomly. I've never been able to break them down into discrete steps. Of course, my hobby is writing novels and my next step is usually something like "write more words." In both these areas it looks like this technique offers promise. Looking at GTD, I knew it just didn't do well with long term more creative projects.

Antony Johnston
This guy's a writer, and had some of the same difficulties with GTD. Interesting comments on the process.

Seen this before

I remember this site.
Someone mentioned it before.
It just reinforces my opinion that there is no singal, universal solution. Ya gotta find what works for you.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)


...there is no singal, universal solution. Ya gotta find what works for you.

Could not agree more. If there was one perfect planning/organizing system, this site would be useless.

OMG - i kant spel

single single single single
dang it !
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

I'd never notice. I'm

I'd never notice. I'm dizzyolexic.

What´s wrong with GTD?

We will soon be looking at GTD in more detail. Our current research provides an extensive list of productivity blogs and to no surprise: most of them on GTD:

Nothing, if it suits you

GTD is a perfectly fine system if it suits the nature of someone's work. It suits complex projects with many transactions or large milstones that have to be broken down into small items, for example IT design and programming. I suspect GTD's suitability for IT work is why it's so popular on the net.

However, if a person is working in a creative field or in a job without the need for long-term project planning, then the full implementation of GTD can be less useful. Initially I attempted to implement the whole process, including the 31-folders, only to discover that I spent more time on planning than doing my job and the 31-folders didn't suit the nature of my work (same day projects etc).

The biggest difficulty I've found with GTD is that it's about process and not quality or choosing to do the right work. And when one's working in a field where quality is as important or more important than getting it done fast then GTD isn't a cure all.

I've always just picked off

I've always just picked off the parts of GTD that worked for me, and left the rest behind!