An Interview With David Allen

Discovering Getting Things Done by David Allen ten years ago was a huge professional turning point for me. GTD provided a way to structure work that allowed me to achieve more than I had thought possible. In fact one of the best training tools I ever purchased was a ten CD recording of a GTD Live seminar which I listened to a dozen times. Over the years I have frequently returned to David Allen’s ideas and still find a clarity of thought this is always inspiring.

If it has been a while since you read Getting Things Done, or maybe have yet to open it, I highly recommend this interview with David Allen on Medium. He covers a lot of the basics of the GTD philosophy and how to apply it. For example:

These are the 2 elements of productivity:

  1. What am I trying to accomplish?
  2. How do I allocate resources, attention, and activity to make that happen?

They’re not automatic decisions. No email will tell you outcomes or actions. No thought you wake up with tells you that. You actually have to sit down and think and use your cognitive muscle. Put yourself through this thought process.

Later on in the interview he discusses priorities and clears up misconceptions around how they are set.

You’re making priority decisions every moment. Now you are talking to me, that is your priority. And that’s the best thing you can be doing right now. Otherwise, your head would be totally somewhere else.

If you’re always thinking about priorities … I’m not saying to not set priorities, but don’t try to oversimplify that and give yourself some formula that determines your purpose, your core values, your vision in where you’re going. The goals you need to accomplish, the things you need to manage and maintain to make sure you’re healthy.

Read the full interview to learn more.

Keeping the Calendar Clean

Almost everyone working in a professional job uses a calendar. Even people who are very loosely organized understand the usefulness of keeping track of upcoming appointments and commitments. However, many people try to use a calendar to remind them of next actions or keep track of things they are waiting for. They may also clutter a calendar with desired due dates for projects, but then have to sadly re-calibrate when life gets busy and the dates fly by.

David Allen has thought a lot about how to optimally use a calendar. In Getting Things Done he identifies three specific uses of the calendar as a productivity tool. They are the following:

Time Specific Commitments – Basically what most people use the calendar for: keeping track of appointments. i.e. Dentist 3 pm on Tuesday.

Day Specific Commitments – Things that have to be done on that day, but not linked to a specific time. For example, you must submit the monthly statistical report on Friday. Anytime that day is fine, but it has to be done before 5 pm.

Day Specific Information – Information about the day that you need to know. For example, your supervisor is on leave, which means you have to wait for her to get back to approve your project. Or there is server maintenance until 9 am, so email is not accessible.

What is not on the calendar are “to-do” items that are not specifically linked to the day. These items are best dealt with through action folders and project lists. David believes that operating this way keeps the calendar clean and by extension keeps your mind clear. So I invite you all to take a look at your calendar to see if it needs tidying up.

Finally, don’t forget to examine your calendar during the weekly review. It is a great way to keep track of where you have been and where you are going.

Making Successful Resolutions

With 2021 a reality, many people around the world made New Year’s Resolutions. Unfortunately, most of those resolutions fail to make an impact. According to U.S. News, 80% of people give up on them within six weeks. Does this mean resolutions are useless to make? Not necessarily.

In an article from Forbes Magazine, journalist Jennifer Cohen shares reasons why people fail to achieve their resolutions. In those reasons are embedded ways to make them successful. For example:

We Fail To Pick Realistic Goals

According to Statista, the most common New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight, exercise and eat more healthfully. These are achievable goals, yet so many of us can’t follow through. It’s because we don’t take an approach that’s rooted in reality.

Ask yourself the following question—which goal is more achievable? Losing 100 pounds or cutting refined sugars from your diet? The answer is obvious. If you cut sugar from your diet, you’re more likely to lose weight. 

You should also keep in mind that choosing realistic goals or resolutions and achieving them improves our mindset. Even a small victory is still a victory (like 30 days without sugar) and you end up preparing yourself for a much larger one.

Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

Not sure what resolution to make? Then you might benefit on a period of structured reflection. The good folks at Getting Things Done created a simple document to guide a review of the past year and to look ahead at the new one. The PDF handout can be found here.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year!

What is Your Next Action?

One of the most fundamental moves in productivity is identifying your next physical action.

You may have heard this statement before especially if have studied Getting Things Done (GTD). In fact the question is at the center of the David Allen’s famous workflow diagram. Why is it so important to identify your next action in a very specific way? Because vagueness is the antithesis of productivity.

The reason is simple to understand. When our actions are undefined the mind has nothing to focus on. Sure it may have a sense of what our completed projects will look like in the end, but to get there involves a series of steps. Most of the time our next actions are self evident and require little thought. However when a project becomes stuck it creates stress and avoidance. That is when defining the next physical action is vital to forward progress. Getting specific forces the mind to focus through visualizing success. Often it only takes a minute to figure out an appropriate next action.

In the book Getting Things Done David Allen provides a classic example of what it means to think this way. Imagine you are overdue to take your car in for an oil change. The next action for almost everyone is not “change the oil” unless you are a DYI car mechanic ready for grease. The next physical action might be any of the following:

  • Call to schedule an appointment at your favorite garage
  • Talk to your colleague down the hall who recommended a shop
  • Search the Internet for local oil change deals
  • Check your calendar for an open day/time on your vehicle in
What is your next action?

Not having clarity on the next action could mean that oil change will not happen for a long time. Deciding on the next physical action creates greater clarity and makes it far more likely for the project to be completed.

Your challenge is to identify all the stuck projects in your life and decide on a next action for all of them. Taking these steps will boost the odds of completing them while reducing your stress level at the same time. Sounds like a win-win!

The Missing Link?

How easily can you decide on what to do next at work? The answer to that question goes a long way towards determining your daily success.

The basic building blocks of knowledge work are next actions and projects. The two are deeply connected. Projects themselves are essentially the outcomes we want, such as finishing a report, losing weight, buying a home, or hiring a new assistant. The next actions are the physical things we do to move projects forward, such as call Joe, read the article, draft an essay, or schedule the next gym class.

In a recent piece piece on the GTD web site, the connection between projects and next actions was explored. It discussed why sorting actions by context rather than project is more helpful than first apparent.

Sorting next actions by context, not by project, can initially seem awkward. Some people are used to having multiple files, piles, notepads, documents, and spreadsheets related to a project, with next actions for the project buried amongst all of that information. Next Actions lists don’t replace project plans—we would just call that data “project support.” In our experience, it rarely works to have current next actions stored with project support for day-to-day action management.

Read the rest on the Getting Things Done web site.

The Ninety Minute Self Help Book Challenge

Below is the opening of a new article that can be found on the Efficient Librarian web site.

Last month I highlighted a strategy by Darius Foroux. He claimed a reader could get just about everything useful out of a self help book in only ninety minutes.  To explore his technique I tested it out on Joy at Work by Marie Kondo & Scott Sonenshein.  Here’s what I found.

Step One in Foroux’s method was to pick the book wisely.  I choose Joy at Work. It is a follow-up to Marie Kondo’s best selling The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up which focused on the home. My family had fun applying the Konmari principles to our house last summer, so I was curious to see how the philosophy could be transferred to the workplace. Given that I am a firm believer in GTD, I was also interested in learning how her techniques complimented and contrasted David Allen’s classic approach to getting things done. 

Learn what happened in Steps Two, Three and Four by reading the rest of the article at the Efficient Librarian web site.

The Art of Stress Free Productivity

Today I want to share a classic David Allen video.

When I first discovered GTD back in 2011 I searched for anything related to David Allen and his teachings. One of the most impactful pieces was a video of his first TEDx talk from Claremont College. I have lost track of the number of times I have watched it, but it always yields something new on repeat viewings.

Right off the top, David shares a central theme of GTD. It is the idea of appropriate engagement:

“Getting things done is not about getting things done. It’s really about being appropriately engaged with what’s going on. Appropriate engagement is the real key here. Many times not getting something done is the way to appropriately engage with it. … There is some key, something unique about being appropriately engaged. Why does a crisis get us there? Because it forces us to do the behaviors that get us there.”

The video is twenty two minutes, but it is time well spent. Share in the comments your biggest insight from watching it.

Where to Start with GTD

For people who are staying or working from home, this strange time presents an opportunity to start a new habit or finally read a productivity book like Getting Things Done. However, like any new project it can seem overwhelming at first. This can in turn lead to inertia and the old habits remaining in play.

Yet, it may not be as hard to change as it first seems. In a recent blog post, David Allen answered one of the most popular questions he receives about GTD: “Where do I start?”

I have a very strict and specific procedure that must be followed, without exception. If followed, it’s a guarantee of success. If not, well…good luck. Where, exactly, should you start? (Hang on, this is going to be tough…)

Anywhere.

Yes, anywhere. Any portion or component of the GTD approach, applied, will bring at least a bit more clarity, focus, and control for you—without exception. And very likely when any one thing is executed, it will create a reverberation effect and spread to other parts. It’s a holistic model—i.e., any piece can be worked, and it will add to the whole gestalt.

Read the rest of his advice on the Getting Things Done blog. As well, I recommend purchasing the new Getting Things Done workbook for a practical guide to implementing the GTD practice.

Is Your World Outrunning You?

Are your ready for the next surprise? Did you know there is a surprise coming? It is inevitable that something will occur in the next week or so that you were not expecting to happen. It could be a pleasant surprise, or a shocking and jarring one, but it will happen. So, how will you handle it?

David Allen built his GTD system with the understanding that life moves quickly and we can not possibly anticipate everything that is going to happen. In a recent blog post called “Is Your World Outrunning You?” he considers how we came to this point and why systems like GTD help us navigate these fast-changing times:

David Allen – Founder of GTD

There is nothing new in the world, except how frequently things are new, and the number of people having to accept and adapt consistently to that reality. The difference between your world and that of your parents is in how much less you can count on anything providing stability in your life and work, for any significant length of time. Perhaps your father and mother had to totally reconfigure their worlds two or three times in their adult life, if that. You might have to do that two or three times this year.

(Why is GTD successful?) Quite simply, the need people have to create more room in their heads, less stress in their lives, and more control over all the facets of life and work that now impinge on most all of us.

Read the rest of his article on the GTD web site.