Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done

Rating: 3/4 (Pretty useful)

Anyone who has tried some method of personal productivity in the last few years is bound to have heard of Getting Things Done or GTD, as it is popularly known. I heard about GTD though the productivity methods which I currently use, Zen To Done (ZTD) and Inbox Zero, both of which are heavily influenced by GTD. So, for a long time it was quite disconcerting for me to keep procrastinating from reading the book that started all of this, Getting Things Done, written by David Allen. In contrast to its fandom on the internet, the book is actually quite old, published in 2002. It has not undergone any major editions or changes since then. That could be seen as a testament to the broad sweep and generality of the GTD method.

What David Allen tries to attempt in GTD is to help you set up a system which helps offload every last little nagging task from your mind. His core premise being that, a task, no matter how tiny or inconsequential it is, drills away in a dark corner of the human mind unless it is put down in a place which the mind (itself) has confidence in. Keeping many of such tasks in the mind (which is what we all tend to do) affects the focus on the current task and makes the tasks highly susceptible to be forgotten.

GTD grapples with this problem by setting up a system which (1) captures all tasks as they emerge in the mind (2) process them sometime later (3) organizes them into lists or calendar events and (4) periodically reviews them. One of the key insights comes in the processing stage where Allen suggests that you (1) delete or archive a task if it is not important (2) delegate it if that is possible (3) do a task immediately if it can be done in a few minutes or (4) defer it by putting it on a list. The underlying idea everywhere being to free the mind of tasks it has to remember and also to clear the lists of tasks as quickly and by as much as possible.

The book is broken into three sections. The first two sections which explain the above system seem to me most interesting and as having the most takeaway. I found the last section to be quite vague on details. I like the fact that David Allen sticks to laying the groundwork for a system without getting into the nitty-gritty of specifying the actual tools for that job. That means that you can use any medium that you are comfortable with for the job, from paper to personal organizers to computers and online tools. And in fact, lots of online fora and software have sprung up today around the diverse implementations of GTD.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink,” goes an old saying. GTD ensures that the horse is brought to the water, but it does not (or as Allen insists, it cannot) help with the drinking. There are a few aspects of GTD which I could not fully understand, especially that surrounding projects. Allen is very particular about a weekly review for the system, but does not say anything about when to process or how to pick the next action. Also, given a fully cranking GTD system, it still cannot indicate what tasks might be important in a given day. (I find that most of these lacunae are fixed in ZTD and Inbox Zero.)

Whether I can completely incorporate the GTD system in my workflow is doubtful. My current system, a hybrid monster of ZTD (for tasks) and Inbox Zero (for email), has worked pretty well for me. But, after reading this book and related online articles about GTD, I am able to notice, and attempt to fix the places where I needed better capture and processing. All in all, GTD is a good book to get initiated into the framework of freeing the mind from being a TODO list. I recommend this book for anyone who is looking at improving the productivity in their life.

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Landscape Townscape

Landscape Townscape

Rating: 4/4 (Must see book!)

Landscape Townscape is a coffee table book of 105 photos captured by Henri Cartier Bresson. Most of the photos were taken during 1940-1970s in Europe, USA, Japan, SE Asia and India. All the photos are in B&W, which is Henri’s defacto medium. A majority of the photos seem to be taken with a wideangle lens, especially the landscape ones.

I have seen many of Henri’s famous photos and know a bit about the man who essentially created photojournalism. But, this is the first proper compilation of his that I have got my hands on. The landscape photos all show a very keen eye for patterns and composition. In fact, every photo has so many composition elements captured beautifully right that it’s a joy to study each one. Long stark shadows evoking feelings of decay and sadness are a repeating feature in a lot of these photos. The landscape photos are mostly bare of humans, who are traditionally Henri’s popular subjects. But, people going about their everyday lives start to appear in the townscape photos. It’s a testament to Henri’s small camera (the legendary Leica he is known for) and quick eye-arm coordination to see photos where a certain moment has been captured. A moment (Henri calls it the decisive moment) so fleeting yet precious that one can only wonder how the hell Henri happened to be at precisely the right place at precisely the right time!

I highly recommend this book for all those interested in photography. The book is huge due to the large print of the photographs and is surely expensive. Just see if you can borrow it at your library. The book is full of some of Henri’s most seminal works. The grainy faces and images are sure to remain etched in your memory. Every Bresson photo is such a joy to look at and study and it is sure to influence your photography the next time you put your eye to the viewfinder.

Show Stopper!

Show Stopper!

Rating: 4/4 (Reads like a thriller)

I picked up the book Show Stopper!: The Breakneck Race To Create Windows NT And The Next Generation At Microsoft in the library after listening to it being mentioned by Joel Spolsky on the StackOverflow podcast #48. I wasn’t really intending to read it, but after racing through the exciting opening of the book there was no way I was going to let it go. Written by Pascal Zachary, this is a book that tells the story of the creation of Windows NT and was written way back in 1994 after NT was released. More than the software, it’s the story of the people, the teams and their efforts and achievements that made the first version of Windows NT possible. The book is a very breezy read and should be un-put-downable for any techie. Recommended reading.

Chasing The Monsoon

Chasing The Monsoon book cover

Rating: 4/4 (Hilarious, must read!)

In his travelogue Chasing The Monsoon, author Alexander Frater follows the 1987 monsoon across India. Frater spent his youth in the New Hebrides (now called Vanuatu), a splattering of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean where his dad worked as a Mission doctor to the tribals. A strange set of personal events convinces Frater to undertake the monsoon journey across India. Starting from Kerala he follows it across the West coast to Mumbai, then Delhi and Kolkata. His final aim is to experience the monsoon in Cherrapunji, the place with the heaviest rainfall in the world back then. This is when Indian bureaucracy throws a spanner into his works, not allowing him entry into Meghalaya due to the sensitive conditions there. Crestfallen he returns back to London. But, due to his persistence and with the help of some enterprising friends he gets that elusive permit and finally gets wet in the Cherra downpour.

Alexander Frater totally won me over with this book. The monsoon is a religion in India and it plays a major role in the lives of Indians. When it’s delayed or less, it causes droughts. When it’s early or heavy, it causes floods. Yes, it’s old and dated, but Frater’s travel tale is laced with such delightful and funny anecdotes and filled with such colorful characters that it’s hard to not love it. Though monsoon is the main theme of the book, Frater also weaves in his own personal life journey into the threads. And even those parts are just as interesting. This is the best Indian travelogue I’ve read in years. A very good read.

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