In the next Productive Living Newsletter, David Allen talks about the “Strategic Value of Clear Space.” Here’s a short excerpt:
“How easily you can make a mess is how truly productive you can be.
I don’t usually work in a neat fashion. Whether I’m writing an essay, arranging flowers, or making guacamole, I wind up strewing stuff all over the place. If you were to walk into my office while I was working or thinking about something, you’d likely see notes, books, and files strewn around somewhat randomly; a mind-map on my computer screen; doodles and words scrawled on my whiteboard. When I really get involved in something and my creative juices start flowing, it’s likely to look like something exploded in the middle of it. I have a singular focus, but it doesn’t seem orderly until it’s done. My best work happens that way. Yours will too.”—David Allen
To read the rest of David’s essay about the value of clear space for making a productive mess, subscribe to his free Productive Living Newsletter. Next issue comes out the end of May.
Question: I have been implementing GTD for approximately three years. I read Getting Things Done and Making It All Work, and have gained a lot of respect for you, and the enormous sphere of knowledge and wisdom that you have shared with the World.
As an architect, I run a design-oriented architectural practice, along with several job roles, and consistently attempt to balance work and a family life. Over the years, I have found that organizing next action items by context is difficult for me to implement for the following reasons:
1. I tend to be very intuitive and think about next action items by project in lieu of context. Once I disconnect the next action from a project, it seems to lose some relevance and importance.
2. The knowledge worker is now mobilizing the tools of his trade; his “office” is redefined and flexible to temporarily become the location that he is inspired to work in. The knowledge worker is part of the mobile workforce; therefore, next action items organized by contexts, such as: @ work, @ home, @ computer, @ iPhone are becoming more and more interrelated, and less segregated.
I agree with your theory in regard to deciding what next action item to accomplish by the energy level you have at the moment, or the time available. I am also familiar with the work of Tony Schwartz on The Energy Project. Have you given much thought to redefining contexts, organizing by project, and if so what do you recommend? What if you organize next action items by energy level, such as: @ high energy level, @ medium energy level, or @ low energy level?
Any wisdom or advice to share? I am very interested in your response.
David’s Answer: Great questions. In truth, the only reason to organize by context is for streamlining decisions about your focus. In other words, it doesn’t make sense to keep having to consider options that are impossible. If something has to be done at your house, why include it in your options when you’re not at your house? But context, to your point, could mean ANY context – time required, energy required, type of activity, etc. There are times when I need to segment some of my At Computer stuff into a Creative Writing category, because I have to be in a certain frame of mind and location to do that kind of work. Before I go on a big trip, I create a “have to do before the trip” context. I had a CTO once who had an At BrainDead context, for those kinds of tasks to do, when he was toast. Etc. Etc.
Whatever works. Just doesn’t make a lot of sense to NOT be able to see something you could be doing (if you only had actions you could see when you opened up project notes); nor does it make sense to have to sort through options when they’re not an option. Otherwise it’s all fair game.
Click on the link below to get a free podcast of David Allen’s conversation with Charles Duhigg. Come on in to the mind of an investigative journalist with a GTD spin on it. Duhigg, a multiple award-winning reporter for the New York Times and author of The Power of Habit, talks with David about his career and how he does his work, his dedication to GTD, and the fascinating discoveries he has researched in the arena of habits and how we can change them.
Join David Allen and Senior Coach Meg Edwards for a GTD Connect webinar about “Customizing Your GTD System.” They’ll talk about what you can customize without affecting the integrity of the GTD methodology, signs you’ve over- or under-customized, and creative ways to make your GTD system more your own. No matter where you are in your journey with GTD—just getting a system off the ground or looking for fine-tuning to optimize your workflow—this webinar will give you helpful coaching about ways you can customize your system to work better for you, including your tools, contexts, projects, and the Weekly Review.
Not a member? Join for $48 and get this webinar and the wealth of content on GTD Connect for 30 days.
(Please note: live webinars like this one with David, podcasts, and public seminar special rates are not available for free guest pass members.)
Watch this informal and insightful interview with David Allen, inventor of the Getting Things Done methodology. It was recorded at the SANG Conference in 2012. Hear David candidly talk about why people need GTD, simple steps to get started, why we procrastinate, and more.
(This video is streaming from YouTube, so it may take a few seconds to load.)
Earned Attention, by Klaas Weima, is an interactive handbook for social communication in the digital age. David Allen contributed his thoughts on how to make this “digital cocktail party” work for you.
There you are. Staring at your screen. Your smartphone in your hand, laptop in front of you and a pile of papers on your desk. All ‘to do’. As quickly and as accurately as possible. David Allen can help.
David Allen is well known for his simplicity. With a few simple rules you can change your behaviour and get a grip on your overloaded inbox. Allen prevents you from drowning in the flood of messages.
This interview covers the following topics:
1. How do you keep more than one million Twitter followers happy?
2. The simplicity and logic of the GTD methodology.
3. Besides practical also spiritual tips.
4. Why you should see your smartphone as a bucket.
5. In five steps from unrest to overview.
The interview is available here. (May take a couple of minutes to download.) And click the Play button below for an overview of Earned Attention.
David Allen’s interview with Dose of Leadership is now available as a free podcast.
Question: Any advice on how to “make myself” (or entice myself to) sit down and do the things that are less easy to do given my bias toward creation v. completion?
David Allen’s answer: Read Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, about habit change. Build in the simple but potentially keystone habit of doing the hardest/most-resisted thing first, especially early in the day when you still have decision-making muscle. Look forward to the easier and more fun and interesting stuff you’ll do the rest of the day as reward.
Review your higher-level commitments to yourself, and ask yourself if you’re on track with them. If you are, then who cares whether you’re creating or completing.
Build a simple habit of finishing something (anything, little or big) before you do your “create” thing.
It’s natural to want to create a system for priority coding (like “A, B, C” or the flagging feature that’s showing up in a lot of software programs) to tell you the most important things to do. But it’s a short-term insurance policy that won’t give you the trust you need when the time comes to take action.
All the best,
DAVID’S FOOD FOR THOUGHT
LEAPING FROM HOPE TO TRUST
Every decision we make about what action to take at any point in time is an intuitive risk. I have twenty minutes before my next meeting—should I call Bob, work on chapter eight, or go get Susan’s opinion on the new software?
The over-simplicity of “A, B, C” or “high, medium, low” priorities or daily to-do lists can never really answer that question sufficiently for any of us. No matter how organized we get, how squeaky-clean our systems and our processes are, or how current our strategic and tactical planning is, we have to ultimately trust our hunches about the best thing for us to do at 10:43am or 3:22pm today. It’s true that we can utilize those prioritizing frameworks to good advantage, from time to time, to help us focus constructively. But to the degree they potentially limit our options unnecessarily and constrict spontaneous, creative thinking that is dynamic to the moment, they do us a disservice.
This excerpt is from the most recent issue of David’s “Productive Living” newsletter. It’s free and sent about every 4 weeks. You’ll find essays from David Allen, thought-provoking quotes, and productivity tips you can use every day.