Book Review: Zen to Done


“Zen To Done (ZTD) is a system that is at once simple, and powerful, and will help you develop the habits that keep all of your tasks and projects organized, that keep your workday simple and structured, that keep your desk and e-mail inbox clean and clear, and that keep you doing what you need to do, without distractions. ”

Leo Babauta from Zen To Done: The Ultimate Simple Productivity System

ZenHabits author, Leo Babauta just released his great new e-book: Zen To Done (ZTD). Think of it as GTD, formatted to easily fit into your life. Leo’s suggestions take the daunting task of becoming organized and productive and break them down into easy, practical steps. If you’re still struggling with organization, I suggest you pick up a copy.

At less than ten dollars, the book could easily have sold for 20-30, with all the ideas it contains. Although fans of GTD will notice many similarities between the systems, the difference is implementation. Like many of you, after reading Dave Allen’s popular Getting Things Done, I felt a tad overwhelmed. Leo makes the process a lot less complicated.

What is ZTD? Why is it worth reading?

Zen To Done is a productivity system that focuses on simplicity and effectiveness. This means doing less things, but making sure those fewer tasks are more important. GTD treats all tasks equally. As a result, you may end up with a huge lists, without ever considering what you should focus on.

The best part of the book is it’s approach for integrating the system into your life. By focusing on a specific list of habits, you can slowly make yourself organized. I’ve written about habits extensively, including in my own e-book. The breakdown of ZTD into a series of habits makes it easier to digest than Dave Allen’s version.

Who is this book for?

I believe this book should be required reading for anyone who has read GTD. It will address many of the troubling questions you might be left with. By combining goal setting, elimination/simplicity and habit changing I believe it is a richer method for organizing your life.

Even if you haven’t read GTD, I would still suggest picking up a copy. Two reasons:

  1. It’s dirt cheap. I’m worried Leo might be undervaluing his information with such a low price. But for under ten bucks, the information is well worth it.
  2. No prior knowledge is expected. Although Leo references GTD, you can understand all the concepts without ever having heard of the system before.

Further Suggestions for the Book

As a reviewer, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t point out some of the books flaws. I’d like to point out that these suggestions are only clarifications. I don’t believe they detract from the value of the book, rather, they address what the book doesn’t tell you. Any system that claims to solve all problems is either meaningless or fake.

Here’s a few things that the book doesn’t address:

  1. Organization Versus Accomplishment – Cal made the distinction clear in his article, The Art of the Finish. Being organized reduces stress and frees up thinking power. It does not, however, make you more accomplished. This book addresses organization first and only touches on the necessary skills of accomplishment.
  2. Need for Experimentation – Organization systems are built largely on a process of trial and error. Although Leo’s system looks great, it is only one system. You aren’t necessarily a freelance writing father of six. You will probably need to tweak and alter the concepts to suit your life, work and personality.
  3. Summary of Information – The book doesn’t take too long to read (it’s a little under 90 pages). But there are many tips, ideas and suggestions on every page. If you really want to take advantage of this system you need to slow down and re-read, otherwise you might lose 90% of the advice it has. I wish the book had some simple summary diagrams, but I suppose this would have been hard to do considering the density of information in the book.

Those points shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of the book. I’ve been given dozens of products and books to review since I started this blog. Most I would have had no trouble coming up with a long list of improvements that could have been made. With ZTD I struggled to come up with three.

Simple productivity. It’s the tagline for ZenHabits, and is the goal of this book. It’s one I think the book achieves, and for that reason it’s worth a read.

You can buy the book here for the ridiculously low price of 9.50 USD. When you’ve read the book, feel free to comment on this post about what you thought and how to expand on the ideas.

  • Iair

    I think I’ll buy it. I feel that all the advice I read in your blogs just sums well selected information to my head so I can make decisions basing them on experts in the subject. So, less than $10, it’s a wonderful price to pay for such that kind of information. I also bought & read “How to change a habit” and it helped me a lot. Made me believe that i am able to change also what i think it’s impossible. Thanks to both of you.

  • Niels

    Typo–>”that kep your desk and e-mail”

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for that Neils.

  • Albert

    Hi Scott. I’ve been reading your blog lately ever since that article about how to easily memorize something, and I had asked you a question about log.

    You say this book puts organization in front of accomplishments. What I need is to accomplish. I’m one of those people that does a ton of things and is “ok” in all of them, but I’m not good at anything because I haven’t really accomplished much. I play guitar, piano, run a blog that makes money, badminton school team, skipped a grade in math. To be honest, that probably seems amazing to more than 85% of my school population but the truth is I’m only ok in all these areas and not necessarily good.

    One of my drawbacks is speed. For some reason, my speed has declined over the years in terms of accomplishing tasks, studying, acting, etc. I need a book that talks about accomplishment and will appreciate if you can recommend me some. I’m on page 30 something of GTD and I find it really boring. I don’t really think I need to be “THAT” organized but I could be wrong – perhaps thats my fault.

    Sorry for reading through all that but your articles are great. I’ve subscribed to your feed.

  • Scott Young


    Do a search for my website for “The Art of the Finish”. It was a very popular guest-post from Cal Newport, that tackles exactly that question.

    Too be honest, I might have been a bit to harsh on Leo. His book does more in the way of accomplishment vs. organization than GTD. And the advice he gives is still great.