How <i>Getting Things Done</i> Saved My Business and My Family

Yes, you read the title right; David Allen's book Getting Things Done saved my business and my family.

To start this story, let’s go back a few years. I had just left a software engineering job to work for a garden center that just happens to be my family’s business. Anyone who has worked in a family business should know how difficult it often is to work with other family members. In this case, my older brother, my younger brother, and I were taking over the family business started by my mother and father.

The Garden Center

The first few years were chaos. For starters, my parents were not the most organized individuals. They did a great job starting and running the garden center but it quickly became clear that their system was not going to work for us.

Then, we were hit with the housing market crash. As everyone knows, the market just plummeted; people stopped buying houses, which means builders stopped building houses. Thus, almost all of our contractor customers no longer had work — so there was a pretty big drop in sales for the garden center.

This was followed by the biggest recession our business — in fact, our country — has seen since the Great Depression, and not many people I know were around then, since it was 80 years ago. Not only were contractors not buying from us but homeowners were cutting back, too.

And one more thing … that year, the big box store Lowes opened right next door to our garden center. Just what we needed: more competition for an already shrunken market.

Things couldn't get much worse. Profits were nonexistent and my brothers and I were fighting every day because of the stress. It seemed that there was just too much work to do and not enough time to do it. Strange, isn’t it — less business, but more work? Anyway, the questions became: Can our company survive this situation? Can my brothers and I be able to work this out without killing each other?

One day, someone who knew of our situation gave me the book Getting Things Done (otherwise known as GTD) by David Allen. I had heard about the book before but never really looked into. One stressful day, after coming home from the garden center, I saw the book sitting on my coffee table and I started to read. As I got about half way through the book, I just couldn't read any more. It was as if someone had turned a light on and I now could see clearly.

I immediately began to write down everything that that I had to do that I could think of — everything from tasks at work to things that I wanted to get done around the house. After this hour or so “brain dump,” I realized that David Allen was right; writing down all your tasks and getting them out of your head gives you a "mind like water." Almost immediately, I was calmer and less stressed. At that moment, I knew this book had changed my life.

The next day at work seemed like I was at a new job. My mission there now was clear: I will apply the GTD rules from the book to my entire workflow. Within a few hours, I had found a place for all the papers that were cluttering up my desk. I made “next action” folders, an inbox and my favorite, a “someday” folder. That’s where I put all my papers and ideas that I know I want to look into someday but can’t do now (and the top of my desk is not the place to keep these papers).

My next mission was to get my brothers on board with this new way of doing things. It took some coaxing but within a week they both had read the book and were organizing their workspaces based on the way they interpreted the book. It was refreshing to walk through an office that was clutter free and had everything more organized. My brothers and I felt less stressed and could see clearer. The fighting and bickering stopped and we were able to concentrate on the business at hand — figuring out a way to make money in the worst conditions that we could imagine.

Within the next few weeks we came up with a game plan that involved cutting costs anywhere possible, keeping less inventory, and increasing sales through a new “Landscape Makeover” service idea that we had been playing around with. We needed to be smarter and leaner, and we needed to differentiate us from the bog box stores that were popping up all around us.

Watering the garden

Fast-forward six months. The big spring rush is over and our game plan turned out to be a huge success! The “Landscape Makeover” seemed to have struck a chord with the homeowners, and between that and our cost cutting and inventory reducing procedures, we had the most profitable spring season in a long time. Even better, my brothers and I are communicating better and (almost) never fight anymore.

The book also helped free up my time so well that I was able to lean on my software engineering background and create a tool to help me organize my home and work life all from an easy web site and an iPhone companion app. Working a few hours each night for about six months, I created http://getitdoneapp.com. About the only negative factor in creating this new app is that my wife also is on it, so I no longer can use the “I forgot” excuse because she now is able to “assign” me house work.

So, I say thanks to David Allen and his book Getting Things Done. As you can see, I wasn't exaggerating; it really saved my business and my family.

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