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.
Two Key Priority Questions
One of the first things to do to trust your priority decisions is to make sure you’ve got a current inventory of everything you’ve said “yes” to. Turn over every rock. Look everywhere you’ve allowed input in—especially your head—and make decisions about what each one of those things means and what you want to do about it. If you’re like most people, that will leave you with a pretty healthy (and long) list of things to do. When it comes time to choose what to do, you will first be limited by your context, time available, and current resources. Good chance though, that will still leave you wondering, “Which one should I choose?” This is where priority comes in.
There are two key questions I have found to be enormously helpful with priorities. Ask yourself:
Try asking yourself those questions next time you’re staring at your list and deciding how to best invest your time and attention.
Kelly Forrister is a Senior Coach & Presenter with the David Allen Company.
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.
“You’ve gotta keep control of your time,” Buffett says, “and you can’t unless you say no. You can’t let people set your agenda in life.”
Fast Company has an article on Why Productive People Have Empty Schedules. Buffett and other leaders emphasize the importance of saying “no” in taking control of your schedule.
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.)
Question: I understand that the premise of getting things done is to make decisions on things when they show up, rather then when they blow up. Using this methodology allows you to make decisions and get things done far earlier than waiting to make a decision. But isn’t there some benefit in waiting for the last minute? Suppose I identified that I needed new tires. If I used the GTD method, there is no doubt that I would get my tires earlier, but how would I know that if I had waited, I wouldn’t have, for example, found a coupon and gotten a better deal? If I make decisions when things show up, how can I be confident that those decisions wouldn’t be better had I waited for a few days or weeks?
Answer from Coach James Stevenson: I agree that there are times when acting quickly might not be the best course of action. Your example of buying tires now instead of waiting for the Sunday paper or looking online for sales and coupons could cause me to spend more money than necessary (NOT the optimum outcome!). In reality there are many times in life when acting quickly would not serve us well.
Having said that, the Processing step within the GTD methodology is about deciding what needs to be done as opposed to actually doing it (unless it falls in the “2-minute rule”). It is the difference between Defining versus Doing. (See the article that I wrote for GTD Connect on that subject.) In keeping with the example of needing new tires, your Next Action may very well be “research great deals on new tires for my car.” For me, that Next Action would land on my @Computer list since I would be searching online for those deals. In other words, my true Next Action is not buying new tires, but finding the best deal on a new set of tires. Interestingly, once I found a great deal on new tires, my new next action would still not be “buy new tires,” but it would be scheduling time on my calendar to take my car to the shop for new tires…but that’s just me!
I hope you see that GTD encourages you to do the executive thinking up front and get clear on the very next thing you would actually do. And, as you point out, it isn’t always to jump in to action.
Bottom line is that your thinking is right on target.
James Stevenson presents GTD seminars and does one-on-one coaching for the David Allen Company.