AS THE NEW YEAR unfolds, wouldn’t you like to manage your life without always feeling out of time and overwhelmed? (Yes!) Then meet David Allen, grand guru of personal productivity. His first book, Getting Things Done, has been a cult-spawning best seller for years. Now, Allen’s back with Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life (Viking, $25). We asked for enlightenment.
Aren’t some people just naturally more focused and organized than others?
Some have a proclivity one way or the other, but just as anyone can learn to sell, anyone can follow a process for getting things done.
You write that we use our minds the wrong way. Explain.
Too many of us use our minds primarily for remembering and reminding. We’re good at having ideas but not at holding them. You need a trusted system that will hold your commitments so the mind doesn’t have to do it. The more something is on your mind, the less likely you’re really getting anything done on it.
But how can you do something about dozens of commitments at once?
You can’t, but you can decide what the next action is on them. You can only feel good about what you’re not doing when you know what you’re not doing.
Should a novice begin by clarifying big life plans and visions, or start by getting his desk organized?
One is not more important than the other, but it’s usually easier to get inspired “upward” when you get control of the more mundane levels first.
GTD doesn’t set priorities for people or tell them what they should care about. Why not?
I give equal weight to anything that’s pulling on your psyche, anything that’s making you feel out of control -- whether it’s your sense of purpose in life or buying cat food. You have to pay attention to what has your attention.
How do you feel about the Getting Things Done “cult” members who reverently call you “The David”?
The myth is better than the reality. I’m just a regular guy who needs GTD as much as anyone.
“The David’s” Path to Stress-Free Productivity
Start with a mind sweep of all outstanding commitments. You may be horrified by how many you discover, but an exhilarating feeling of lightness will follow.
Use a minimal number of in-baskets or collection buckets, and empty them regularly. Never put anything back into the basket; make a decision and deal with it.
Develop the next-action habit. Always ask what you could do to advance any project, however small, toward completion.
Use the two-minute rule. If you know you are going to do something and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it now. Don’t put it off.
Set up a tickler file with 43 folders -- one for each day of the month and one for each of the 12 months -- to hold things like party invitations, doctor’s appointments, and things you may want to revisit on a certain date.
Get a labeler for your file folders. It’s magic.
Set a time for a weekly review of all outstanding commitments and progress made during the week.