Thursday, August 25, 2011

David Allen: Avoiding the Gnawing Sense of Anxiety

Getting Things Done book cover

I've long been a fan of David Allen's book, Getting Things Done. So when KQED's Forum ran an hour-long hour-long interview with Allen, I downloaded the podcast to my iPhone, and listened in the car. (Ignore the host calling this a "new book"; he was confused.) Allen covered many of the GTD basics, but he also had some ways of putting things that I hadn't heard before. I thought I'd share some of my favorite snippets.

Allen talked about "the GSA of life — the Gnawing Sense of Anxiety — that somewhere out there I ... could/should/ought to be doing something, and it might be more important than whatever I'm currently doing; oh damn." His answer to avoiding GSA starts with having a written inventory — on paper, or electronically — of all our commitments.

Allen noted that we're dealing with an awful lot of these to-do type items — and to make things more complicated, "life changes a whole lot." One of the biggest changes in recent years, he said, is "how frequently we need to recalibrate" — so he advised that we not try to over-structure our days. More specifically:
Most people have between 30-100 projects — what I call projects, things that take more than one step to finish, that they can finish within a few weeks or months: get tires on my car, the next vacation, hire this person ... stuff like that. ...

You need a list of what you've got to do that day ... that's what I call the hard landscape. ... But then all the other things, which actually happens to be the vast majority, is the "as soon as I can get to" list. ... So you look at the hard landscape and say, "OK, that's what I got to" and then if you have any discretionary time at all, then you have the list of all the other things to do — and by the way, most people have over 150 of those other things they need to do, if they actually sat down and had integrity about keeping track of the inventory.
Allen also spoke about how, if we don't have good systems for managing our commitments, we wind up being "at effect" of all that stuff coming at us — so we're "driven by latest and loudest" versus "consciously making good choices." The host asked:
Isn't it easier to be in charge of your life if you're in charge of your company, or your organization, as opposed to being way down on the list and taking orders from the boss?
Allen's answer stressed taking control of the things we can control:
Oh, well, we're all at effect of the weather and our bosses and a lot of other things, so we start with well, let's at least handle the 10 acres that you're in — make sure that's under control.
Allen also addressed the ongoing maintenance issue that comes up with any such system:
I empty my in-basket and do regular reviews and keep all this current for the same reason I brush my teeth and take showers: If I don't, the scuzz factor gets too high.
And while Allen always advocates tools that are simple to use, including paper tools like the notebook he uses to capture ideas, he did admit:
I like things small, black, high-tech and expensive.


TinaAtHome said...

This is one of my all time favorite organizational books.

Jane Campbell said...

Amen amen. I have a PhD and have been studying GTD for over 5 years. My system is very nearly air-tight, but it looks--borrowing from Mr. Allen here too--at least as complicated as an automatic transmission. Never mind. GTD is my sugar daddy. Whatever I want, I get.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

The term "at effect" makes me cringe a bit, but I appreciate David Allen's observation that it's not a good idea to be "driven by the latest and loudest." That's certainly a challenge for me.

Uh-oh -- must go. Latest and loudest demands my attention!

Jeri Dansky said...

Cynthia, the "at effect" caught my attention because a friend from many years ago often spoke about being "at cause" vs. "at effect" - and it's not terminology I usually hear.

Some web sites say the terminology originates with Scientology, but a number of NLP sites use it, too. I know my friend wasn't a Scientologist, but he may have been into NLP. (Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about Scientology and NLP.)

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Thanks for the info, Jeri. I know that language is dynamic, but the changes do mystify me sometimes -- especially jargon!