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Discussion Forum > What's Mark's best book?

Let me put it differently. I've been haunting this place for a while, but haven't bought a book. I'm most tempted to get Get Everything Done, but is Do It Tomorrow an update or does it till a new field completely?

Money's a bit tight, so it's just one to start with.

I'd appreciate your comments.
February 9, 2017 at 15:24 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Williams
Start with the latest and work backwards. Secrets of productive people is full of ideas to get started on right away.
February 9, 2017 at 15:33 | Unregistered CommenterErin
I agree with Erin!
February 9, 2017 at 16:25 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thank you, both.
February 10, 2017 at 21:12 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Williams
"Secrets of Productive People" is by far the best book on time management and personal productivity ever written.
February 11, 2017 at 19:50 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher

<<"Secrets of Productive People" is by far the best book on time management and personal productivity ever written.>>

All of his books belong at the very top of their genre. It's completely bewildering to me that the GTD books are so obsessed over when Mark's are clearly better. The computer programming crowd and the corporate world seem particularly obssessed with those books for some indiscernible reason.
February 11, 2017 at 20:30 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
GTD has a nice, complicated, programmable system. Also, a huge marketing push and accumulated momentum. Also, GTD doesn't actually make you think. Just do. The infamous 20-minute rule. Brain-dump and sort by context and next-action, but not considering actual importance.
February 14, 2017 at 19:05 | Registered CommenterCricket
Add to that the fact that the author of GTD has consistently advertised and sold the same system for getting on for twenty years now and has changed it very little during that time.
February 14, 2017 at 23:48 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Here's a good discussion of personal experiences with GTD and how it contrasts with using Mark's systems:

I love Alan Baljeu's comment:

"Never-ending figuring about what's the best way to process, to organize, how to properly go through it all. I eventually developed a very detailed algorithm to direct me through the steps with input from several online sources. Then I found AF4 and abandoned it all overnight."
February 15, 2017 at 5:00 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
I had a much more positive experience with GTD, before the wheels fell off. Having found Mark's work I wouldn't go back to it, and some of the criticisms are painfully accurate (it's an overly complex cash cow), however, I think there are some misunderstandings about what the system is supposed to look like. I don't have the book to hand, but from memory:

The idea with full capture in GTD is not to do everything, but to make note of potential tasks as they occur and toss them into an in-tray (a bucket in GTD terms). This is to prevent incoming ideas and incomplete tasks from distracting you from your current work. This is a core principle of the system.

There's a formal process for going through an in-tray in which you decide whether to Do, Defer, Delegate or Ditch each task. If you decide to progress a task, you visualise the desired outcome to provide motivation and clarity of what you want to achieve, identify the 'next-action' and add it to a to-do list based on the physical location required for the action. For multi-step tasks, you also make a record of the overall task on a projects list.

There are special lists for incubating ideas and follow up. The purpose of the 'someday/maybe' list is not to do everything, but to provide a place to store persistent ideas where you can trust that they will be regularly reviewed so that they stop distracting you.

Any task that can be completed in two minutes or less is still subject to the decision making, but then completed immediately rather than added to the lists.

Meetings are recorded on a calendar.

There is no prioritisation and to-do lists are worked on from top to bottom. The theory being that the next actions should be so small as to offer no resistance and that everything will be worked on in short order (another core principle of the system). You can work on a task for as long as you like, adding a new next action when you finish.

Every week all projects and tasks are formally reviewed to check that they align with overall goals. The reviewing is not in addition to the system, it is necessary part of the process.

There's more to it than that, but hopefully that will go some way towards explaining how it's supposed to work. I could write an essay on why it doesn't!
February 15, 2017 at 11:42 | Unregistered CommenterJD

"I could write an essay on why it doesn't!"

Perhaps you should! I'm very interested in reading about the other half of your experience!
February 15, 2017 at 17:34 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
GTD encourages you to do all your processing up front, whereas with something like the recent "Natural Selection" method, I combine working through my inbox with actually working on things. The problem I always had with GTD was you might come up with context specific To Dos but still have a terrible time making yourself do them. "Natural Selection" method avoids forcing yourself to do things which still getting you to do a lot of things that you are actually ready to do.
February 16, 2017 at 1:12 | Unregistered CommenterDon R
Does GTD really encourage you to do _all_ your thinking up front, or just more of it than many people actually do?

Next action for every project, and context for that action, yes, GTD encourages you to think about those up front. That's a huge improvement for many people. The next action for the weekend project is a phone call, which I need to make during business hours, so that goes on the "while at work" list, even though it's not a work project.

However, as I recall, even full-blown GTD doesn't actually say what to do when. It just ensures that, when you always have a complete list of everything you can do at that time. Five minutes between meetings? Here's a list of possible phone calls, including one for your weekend project. Meeting with your boss? Here's everything you want to discuss.

Which actions you do in that context (if any) are still up to you, but it's a conscious choice based on a complete list of possibilities.
February 18, 2017 at 19:31 | Registered CommenterCricket
Cricket: I guess what I mean is GTD has you process all of your Inbox and leave the doing for later. He talks about setting aside a week just to do that when you start, and telling people you will be unavailable while you sort everything into your project list and next actions. That's not realistic in most cases.
February 19, 2017 at 16:34 | Unregistered CommenterDon R
Hello Michael, I've had a quick stab at putting down my thoughts on the GTD experience.

My experience of GTD was initially great. It transfers the stimulus for action to the location where it can be completed, so odd jobs that were waiting for me to buy the missing lightbulb, screws or fuses, were completed effortlessly. This created a series of quick wins and an initial feeling of high productivity along with the usual buzz of clarity and control that comes from organisation.

I would consider GTD to be a kind of personal project management system and I imagine the people it helps most are chronically disorganised (which I was). If you compare it to Scrum, which is probably the most popular formal project management process used for software development, there are some striking similarities but it also has peculiarities that cause problems.

As Mark has mentioned previously, catch all lists encourage a widespread focus. A next-action mindset also makes this focus shallow. This should be offset by the broader '10,000 ft' view of the weekly review process, but it isn't. There's also no concession to building habits and routines.

Next-actions create a single point of failure for each project. If the next action was too far outside my comfort zone, too trivial, no longer relevant, required prior arrangement, etc, the project would stall. This was particularly noticeable with the follow up process. As soon as the next-action belonged to someone else, work on the project stopped, even if there were plenty of other ways for me to progress it. Mark covers this problem in Secrets of Productive People where he talks about the pitfalls of divorcing actions from their objectives.

The lack of dismissal compounds this and lists can quickly become dominated by terrifying and trivial tasks.

The system only pays lip service to motivation. It's extremely telling that struggling to complete the weekly review process is a common problem. This is unfortunate because if it were effective it might help unstick some of the lists. I think it's popular in software development circles because that work is highly motivating in itself and I had most success with it in that environment.

GTD only works properly if you can trust the lists implicitly, so as soon as they stagnate it stops working. This is also very unfortunate because tweaking the system itself provides endless opportunities for procrastination disguised as productivity.
February 20, 2017 at 18:35 | Unregistered CommenterJD
I vote for Do It Tomorrow, which I found revolutionary because it contradicted much received wisdom.
February 22, 2017 at 21:23 | Unregistered CommenterDavid C
Another vote for "Do It Tomorrow". Not sure if it's the best, but it's certainly the one I prefer. Closely followed by "Get Everything Done ..." which was my initial encounter with Mark's work and the reason that I followed his output ever since...
February 24, 2017 at 9:44 | Registered CommenterMarc (from Brussels)
Thirding DIT.

Unlike many other folks on this thread, I actually made it through several years of consistent GTD before discovering Mark's work. During that time, however, I was doing less Getting Things Done, and more Getting Things Listed. Despite the (to me) comforting completeness of Allen's system, I made much less progress on my 'next actions' list each day than I should have - and, particularly, less progress on the tasks and projects that mattered most.

For me, DIT was a real revelation. Amongst the many other great insights it provided, the core was understanding that I needed to be able to get a day's work done in a given day, or else it wasn't really a day's work. As the CEO of my company, I was particularly susceptible to overloading myself (and my colleagues) with possible work, as I was bounded only by my own ambition for what we might do at a given time. But, as Mark has repeatedly pointed out, work is like ordering off a menu: you can choose anything you want, but you can't choose *everything*, or it will make you (and your company) sick.

I've tested out the majority of the systems that Mark has introduced since, but I keep returning to DIT, in large part for the hard choices it entails. If I'm only willing to put things on my list for tomorrow when I'm actually committed to getting them done, I'm forced to wrangle selection / dismissal / etc. up front. Then, on a given day, even with dreaded 'resistance' inevitably dragging on me, I have nothing to do but suck it up, buckle down, and get to work on my - sometimes emotionally daunting, but still time-wise achievable - daily list.

I know that many of the people who give up on DIT do so because they perpetually find themselves falling behind on completing their daily lists. That's happened to me, too, more times than I can count. But I don't find that to be a fault of the system; instead, I think it's precisely the point. With a catch-all list and a freer-wheeling approach, I can delude myself about what I'm able to accomplish, can dream by folding my 'someday/maybe' intentions into my current task list, and can self-soothe by opting for easier tasks over more consequential ones. With DIT, every single day, I'm instead accountable to myself: did I start with my current initiative? Did I stay on top of inflows with my daily checklist? And did I mete out - and then hold myself to executing - a realistic day's work?

All of Mark's books are great, and I suspect any you start with will turn into 'gateway drugs' that pull you through the rest of the pile. But, in my opinion, there's no greater starting place - and no better end-point - than DIT.
February 24, 2017 at 20:55 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua Newman
Thanks, Joshua. Great revue.
February 24, 2017 at 21:00 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thank you, everyone.
February 25, 2017 at 2:51 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Williams
Lots of great ideas in DIT. I also rather enjoyed Dreams, which I am surprised has not been mentioned yet. And it's the only one that's free.
February 25, 2017 at 3:31 | Unregistered CommenterAustin
for me "Secrets of Productive People" but I also like DIT
February 25, 2017 at 22:20 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter

"Hello Michael, I've had a quick stab at putting down my thoughts on the GTD experience."

Thanks for writing that review of your experience. My progression went:

Franklin-Covey's System
David Allen's GTD (in a notebook)
Tony Robbin's "Rapid Planning Method" (RPM)
GTD+R (a gamified GTD created by an obscure Japanese programmer)
GTD again (using apps like Things and Omnifocus)
RPM again
Brian Tracy's "Eat That Frog" Method
Michael Linenberger's "Master Your Workday Now" System
Charles J. Givens "SuperSelf" System
Mark Forster's "Superfocus"
Mark Forster's Back Catalogue
Mark Forster's Newest Releases

Mark's work was the first to give me repeatable results with very little tension. And it brought me restored hope. RPM was the other major evolution for me.
February 28, 2017 at 14:19 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
Yes, RPM seems to be in a sweet spot between GTD and Covey. It was my experience too that it worked. Or maybe it's just GED's slighty slower cousin. Who knows for sure?

Michael B., is "Bit Literacy" - "DWM 3.1 for Email" not in your collection?
February 28, 2017 at 22:31 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher
DIT was a revelation to me as well. It forced me to realize that I was adding faster than I was doing. Part of me wasn't surprised. Most of me was impressed and tried to do things faster.

Denial is not one of the 4 Ds.

I only use DIT if I have a lot to do in little time, but the lessons it taught me were valuable. Almost taught me. I'm a stubborn student.

Dreams was great in theory, with Future and Present Self. I did it for a few weeks, on and off, more at first, and it helped me weed out several Someday/Maybe projects. It has much overhead for regular use, although now that I think about it, I should add it to the list of things I do in my journal. Maybe one role or goal a day, rather than all at once.

His others were useful, but those are the two that I remember today. (No doubt tomorrow I'll remember a different one.)
March 1, 2017 at 16:14 | Registered CommenterCricket
Another vote for Do It Tomorrow. I love Joshua's review above. For me it was Franklin, then Covey, then David Allen, then Mark.

The discovery of DIT was one of my favorite types of experiences. I learn a traditional way (prioritized daily task list), then find a really cool way that beats the first way (next actions and projects lists), and I think it's now either/or, and I found the best. Then someone like Mark shows up on my radar with a third way that isn't like either one, and clearly explains why the other two don't work. Clear, sensible, instantly usable, and a lot of head nodding and "of course!". That's what happens when I read any of Mark's books.
March 15, 2017 at 20:52 | Unregistered CommenterScott Moehring