Saturday, January 31, 2009

Getting Things Done: The David Allen way

I'm a fan, but not a practitioner, of David Allen's (GTD) "Getting Things Done." I often feel technology should be doing more to help us get more done in less time, but as Dave points out in this web excerpt, the obstacles are generally bigger than technology. Yet, he does acknowledge using tech to keep organized can help us feel we are mastering the multitude of obligations tearing at us each week:

Critical Behaviors in the Crunch

It's a perfect time to capture, clarify, organize, and reflect; and to decide what's really important, what you now want to have true, and what you need to maintain. What you really need to do, in other words - now, and next.

Here are a few GTDisms that might be particularly useful in a crunch:

Capture. Get the data. Acknowledge what's true. (We have ____ in the bank. Our expenses are ______ . I feel insecure and apprehensive. There are no debtors' prisons.) And clean up. This is when it's super-important to identify and get a handle on all the open loops pulling on your attention.

Clarify. Identify the outcomes and projects you now need to focus toward, and of course, what actions you need to take. (Re-do personal budget; talk to partner re: asset inventory.) Get all your attention-grabbers processed. And leverage the heck out of the two-minute rule. Being an instant executive is the best cure for transcending a funk.

Get your lists and systems current and complete. Your psyche needs the freedom that affords to concentrate and direct your thinking.

Reflect. You may need to do Weekly Reviews daily. You must keep situational awareness vital and present to be able to trust your intuitive responses, which you will be calling on frequently. Regularly engage in forest management (instead of tree-hugging), so you can see smoke from a distance.

Engage. Keep moving. Pick an action and do it. Don't get hung up on priorities. It's much easier to control a boat that's got way (momentum through the water) than one simply at the effect of the currents. It's easier to know your priorities by taking an action that's not so important than by stressing about them.

Allen says: "This is where getting control morphs into gaining perspective, and the Horizons of Focus come into play. Obviously goals and plans and job descriptions may need a recalibration. But, in addition, give yourself permission to acknowledge and take advantage of the deeper conversations with yourself and other key people in your life that will undoubtedly come closer to the surface in rough seas. For at least a year after 9/11, everyone I know and every organization I dealt with operated with an increased infusion of 40-50,000-level content in their consciousness. (Why are we really here? What's really important to me/us? What are we really trying to do, and is it worth it?)."

Addendum-2/01/09: Wonderful writer James Fallows, in Atlantic Monthly, summarizes the reason GTD is such a success:

"In earlier times, Allen says, work was more physically exhausting than it is today. But it produced less anxiety, because people could easily tell what they had to do and whether it had been completed. Either the wood was chopped or it was not. The typical modern day, he says, is a fog of constantly accumulating open-ended obligations, with little barrier between the personal and the professional and few clear signals that you are actually "done." E-mail pours in. Hallway conversations end with "I'll get back to you." The cell phone rings. The newspaper tells you about movies you'd like to see, recipes you'd like to try, places you'd like to go. There are countless things that everyone really "should" do more of—exercise, read, spend time with the family, have lunch with a contact, be "better" at work. The modern condition is to be overwhelmed—and, according to Allen, to feel not just tired but chronically anxious, because so many things you have at some level committed to do never get done."

Read Fallow's full 2004 article "Organize Your Life" here: