Atul Gawande Commends, and Follows, David Allen’s Getting Things Done – Thinking about Essential Business Texts

Atul Gawande
Atul Gawande

Here’s an excerpt from Atul Gawande: By The Book. (This is an occasional feature in the New York Times Book Section, with influential authors). It’s in the from of Q & A.

The all-time best self-help book?

You caught me. How did you know I was a self-helper? I don’t think there is a single all-time best self-help book. But I organize my life by David Allen’s “Getting Things Done.” Literally. It provides a system for dealing with your email inbox, the pieces of paper accumulating in your bag and all those to-do lists you never get through, and I follow it religiously — which is to say, imperfectly.

So, just recently, I was thinking about the idea of special texts (almost like sacred texts). Books that are not meant to be just read, but followed. Books that have a plan of some sort to put into action. Books that seem to transcend any one discipline.

I spent 20 years preaching. I defined my job as “expository preaching.” (from Wikipedia: Expository Preaching explains what the Bible means by what it says). I now try to do similar work in my book synopses, helping people know the transferable principles from the best business books.

And, occasionally I ask myself, “what are the essential texts?” This is not quite the same as asking which are the best business books, but it is related. Are there books that provide genuine guidelines and formulas? In other words, “do this, and you have a better chance at being successful” books.

200px-Getting_Things_DoneI’m working on my list. But, in the last week, I read about the value of two such books. The first, David Allen’s Getting Things Done, from the Gawande endorsement. I agree – every good practice I follow (and, I do not always follow these practices as I should) about organizing my personal and work life either comes from, or is reinforced by, Getting Things Done.

The other book that I was reminded of recently was Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish. I know at least two Gazelles Coaches who follow the plan in this book in helping their clients build and grow successful business practices, based on a clear, followable “rhythm” of meetings, and strategy development and implementation.

Neither of these books are in the “profound, deep thoughts” business book category. They are instead, simple. You get their points. You can actually do something with the techniques that they recommend. They are “doable.” That’s what makes them so valuable.Mastering Rock

So, I’m thinking about what other books fit into this kind of categorization. Maybe there could be a canon of essential texts for business success. I wonder what other books I will add to this list…

(And, by the way, Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto is a candidate for this list).


You can purchase my synopses of both of these books, and many others, at our companion web site, Each synopsis comes with my multipage handout, and the audio of my synopsis presentations.


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