Have you seen the hashtag #TODOZERO? I didn’t think so. It’s as elusive as Nessie, unicorns, and movies with protagonists played by Ray Liotta. It just doesn’t happen.

There’s always something left undone at the end of the day, more work that could be done, more work that should be done. At some point, you have to acknowledge and make peace with the fact that not everything will be done today. (There’s a short but very good book by Andy Stanley called Choosing To Cheat that describes this in more detail. I reviewed it a while back.)

There are a lot of productivity books on the virtual shelves of Amazon and an equal number of life hacks on the internet. Some suggest making an Eisenhower Matrix. Others advocate doing the most important or yuckiest of tasks first. One of the more popular systems is Getting Things Done by David Allen.

I read Allen’s book when it was first released in the early 2000’s. I was left with the impression “Wow, this guy is making a mint writing and consulting on a series of paper To Do Lists! That’s so simple. I’ve got to come up with an idea like that.” But after trying and failing with the GTD system several times, I understood why his business model is successful. The system is simple in concept but difficult to put into practice.  Eventually, I abandoned GTD altogether; there was too much overhead in the system and I was both overwhelmed and discouraged at the depth and breadth of my lists. In retrospect, I’m sure it was my lack of understanding or perhaps discipline with the system that led to my failed attempts.

Recently I discovered and read a short book by Leo Babauta called Zen To Done. Babauta, like me and countless others, had trouble adopting all of the aspects of the GTD system. So he tweaked it to fit his own working style. He distilled GTD into 10 simple habits. He recommends implementing only one or two habits at a time and encourages the reader to use only those that make sense in your environment.

For example in GTD, the only things that go on the calendar are the hard-set appointments that if not done at that time will be missed altogether, such as doctor appoinments or meetings with clients. All other activities are documented and driven by the context To Do Lists.

With the Zen To Done system, Babauta recommends scheduling your Most Important Tasks (MITs) on your calendar each week (typically early each day) so that by the end of the week you have completed something of significance. According to the author, that’s critical. It ensures that the more important things get done. The practice also is helpful if your calendar is available to others in the organization who can schedule meetings with you during your free time.

Admittedly the ZTD system borrows quite a bit from the GTD. If you’ve read Allen’s book, ZTD will be very familiar to you. The author acknowledges that and thanks Allen for his framework. However the modifications are subtle yet significant enough to inspire me to give the combined system another go, albeit with a few minor tweaks of my own.

Overall, I’d recommend reading Zen To Done. But don’t go into it expecting groundbreaking concepts. Rather, expect customizations to an existing system that may make it actually doable.



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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Zen To Done

  1. Josh Hayes

    Interesting perspective. I just purchased “Getting Things Done” because I have now had it recommended to me numerous times and recently listened to a podcast with David Allen which was the tipping point for my purchase. Should I skip GTD and move straight to ZTD?

    1. joe

      I wouldn’t. GTD is a good approach. I believe that most people have to adapt it to their own work environments and habits. That’s what ZTD did. I would read both and then use what works for you.

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