Getting things done


More than twenty years ago a book came out by David Allen called Getting Things Done. For a while it garnered quite a cult following and it resonated with me as well. The framework was accessible as it had lots of helpful. tactical advice that was easy to implement, but it also had a lot of depth. Similar to the old PacMan arcade game: “A minute to learn, a lifetime to master”.

Recently it re-entered my consciousness as the Get Things Done concept popped up twice in short succession, both times taking it literally and turning it into meaningful career advice. First, Andrew Bozworth wrote about it on his blog:

Too often I see someone who is responsible for accomplishing an important goal doing the best they can in the face of immense odds. It may sound counterintuitive, but the mandate of such a job is not to “do the best you can.” It is to get it done. And if the way to get it done is to ask for help, then that’s what you should do. – Get It Done

Then President Obama put it in similar terms:

I’ve seen at every level people who are very good at describing problems, people who are very sophisticated in explaining why something went wrong or why something can’t get fixed, but what I’m always looking for is, no matter how small the problem or how big it is, somebody who says, ‘Let me take care of that.’ If you project an attitude of, whatever it is that’s needed, I can handle it and I can do it, then whoever is running that organization will notice. I promise.

Barack Obama’s career advice

Both times, the concept is so simple, that I feel a bit awkward turning those three words into paragraphs. Similar to PacMan this is easy to learn, but will be meaningful on every level throughout your career: Move something that is not “done” yet and get it into a state that is considered as done. No matter how small or big this is.

Over the course of your career, the “Things” part will likely increase in scope as you gain more expertise and competence. And the tactics you have to employ to get them to “Done” will be likely change from individual contribution to some form of influencing. But the basic will always be the same:

  • Define what “done” looks like
  • Identify a path from “here” to “done”
  • Take ownership to make sure that we get to “done”

There you have it. Decades worth of career advice applicable to all levels and stages in your career, captured in three words: Get Things Done.

The Author

Raging introvert, estimated to be 120% German. Passionate about photography. If Sheldon knocked on my door three times, I'd let him in.