David Allen Is A Genius

working

If you happen to follow my rare personal commentaries on Facebook you’ll notice that the title for today’s article matches with the headline I broadcasted Saturday morning.  I’m being repetitive because I’m twice as convinced in the truthfulness of the statement.

For starters, who is David Allen?  Well, I suppose many titles would fit, but I’d define him as a personal productivity guru.  His first book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity was released in 2001 and remains a best seller and fuels worldwide demand for his workshops and personal coaching/consulting.  In short, he has established an industry around a simple and profound approach to getting things done – or GTD in the vernacular.

Allen’s concepts while easy to understand are profound in their implementation and application.  By no means am I an expert.  Barely a novice is where I’d start my self assessment.  However, as I listen more and more to his ideas and even start to deploy them in my day-to-day… wow, I’m impressed.

I’m only scratching the surface here, but Allen’s thesis is to clear the mind.  He often says that the mind is a great place to have an idea but a horrible place to store that idea.  He elaborates by suggesting that a task on the mind will consume more thought and mental energy than it deserves.  Rather, those thoughts and ideas and action items should all be captured and processed.

Items determined to require more than 3-5 discreet actions should be logged as projects and each project should reflect a ‘next action’ required to advance the effort.

Actions should then be organized into what he calls ‘contexts’ which speak to when and where they should be completed.  It becomes and activity matrix really, which ‘next steps’ can be performed while making phone calls or online or while out running errands?

Lists and folders and note pads and pens are the tools that make this system work… and work it does.

For the last several years I’ve deployed parts of his approach without being aware of his larger premise.  For years, every January, I’ve labeled a file folder as “Year XXXX Tax Documents”.  Throughout the year when I collect a document that might influence my taxes – receipts, W-2s, charitable contribution statements – I simply file it away.

Without realizing it, I had created a context and was filing appropriately.

Allen takes my simple illustration and blows it out times ten.  Everywhere is a context and everything is a project with a discreet next step.  The ubiquitous ‘To-Do’ list then is no longer filled with procrastination begging landmines like “eat the elephant” but contains clearly defined actionable next steps like “take bite” and “chew”.

 

So why then did I FB “David Allen=Genius” on Saturday and why am I trumpeting it again today?

The answer – to me – is clear.

On Friday I cleared my schedule and spent several hours identifying all of my projects and open actions.  I pulled from my To-Do list, from actions starred in my notebooks, from phone messages, from actions listed on my white board, and from too many previously ignored emails.

While I didn’t do anything, I organized next steps and pictures of completion for each of 20+ individual projects.  After nearly two months of 60 hour work weeks, I left the office early and with a clear mind.  As a measure of success, Friday night I didn’t bolt up in bed with heartburn AND an urgent thought of an undone work item… and another… and another… and another.  Rather, I slept through the night and the next morning actually remembered parts of my dreams for the first time in too long.

I had no less work to do – probably even more – but I had a true literal handle on the work required.  On Monday morning I was able to pick up any project folder and immediately take action towards its resolution.

To make matters better – do you ever hear that expression – I did the same thing Sunday afternoon for my personal/home projects, about 40 individual efforts.  It represents a ton of activity and finding time to execute against all of them will remain a challenge, but I have more clarity as to my outcomes than I’ve had in a while.  Rather than a mind cluttered by so many concurrent games on pong, I have a mind that is now clear and freed from having to remember such that it can creatively engage.

I like this feeling and have scheduled time with myself to re-establish this baseline each week – called the weekly review by Allen if you’re wondering.  This will keep me honest with my activity and organized against my objectives and mentally free to wander and ponder.

 

Admittedly I’ve only unpacked the small boxes relative to David Allen’s larger inventory of concepts and principles.  While I hope to engage elements of this approach again in the future as I learn and benefit from them, I don’t want your learning curve to rely on me.  Please visit his site for more information, free newsletters, free podcasts, and free downloadable worksheets and articles.

If you’re interested in any of his books, here are links to help streamline your review and purchase decisions.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life

Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life

 

Photo By: Joe Thorn

Your Turn – If you enjoyed this article, I would personally appreciate it if you would consider commenting below and/or subscribing to our Free Updates via email or RSS updates.  Thanks!

 

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Thinking is Unnatural

 Recently, while listening to a David Allen podcast, I was struck by a simple and profound statement.

“Thinking is an unnatural act”

At first blush it is easy to recoil from this statement in sheer disbelief.  But when you actually start to think about it, it starts to make sense.

  • Slow drivers in the left lane
  • Absorbed shoppers blocking the grocery store isles with their carts
  • Rampant credit card debt
  • Car Loans
  • Paris Hilton’s popularity
  • The government’s Cash for Clunkers program

Evidence of “not thinking” is everywhere you look.

That this statement would flow so seamlessly from the mouth of the renowned time management expert and author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity is further evidence.  Allen’s constituency after all is not the numbed masses gorging themselves on cigarettes and Big Macs while simultaneously complaining about the high cost of healthcare.  Rather, David and is Company work with successful corporate leaders, executives, and business owners around the country if not around the world.

His premise, as the rest of the podcast unfurls, is largely that people react rather than think about their next steps in advance.  As the rushed reaction replaces even just a few minutes of ‘next step’ planning we create unnecessary stress, forget important steps or events, and frequently deliver less than our best – if we even deliver at all.

I’m sold on his idea as I can see elements of this in my own life.  Exploitation of the last minute was certainly a habit in college and it presents itself even today.

But breaking the cycle is relatively easy – even without absorbing the full contents of Allen’s book – stop, breath, and take time to think. 

  • What am I working on or do I need to be working on
  • For each unique effort or project, what are the next steps
  • Write it all down, track, and revisit it

Investing (not spending) even just a few minutes on each item will at once engage and clear your mind allowing you to be more creative, worry-free, intentional, effective, and successful.

What more could you ask for, if you really think about it?

Your Turn – If you enjoyed this article, I would personally appreciate it if you would consider commenting below and/or subscribing to our Free Updates via email or RSS updates.  Thanks!

Related Articles I enjoyed:

Trent at Simple Dollar is fan of David Allen and has shared his thoughts here and here.

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