David Allen Part 3: Really Getting it Done is Not Just Lists

David AllenA few weeks ago I had the opportunity to interview Getting Things Done author David Allen on a variety of topics.

Read on for the concluding part 3, where I ask him about his new book and focus on the core of GTD.

Bob Walsh: How’s the new book going, can you tell us about it?

David Allen: It’s going. And it really developed out of the Roadmap Seminar, which is a one-day public seminar that I developed a couple years ago. I kind of re engineered my public seminar face into a one day, kind of a high level overview. It’s really sort of GTD on steroids. It’s sort of like most peoples’ perception of GTD is still rather surface.

But the principles that underlie why GTD works have huge implications and applications that most people haven’t yet either dug deep enough into it or didn’t understand it enough. So this is just going to be a further explication of that.

Bob: Trying to get them past the idea of just lists?

David: Well, a lot of people looked at GTD and said, gee, I either have to do that whole system…that’s a lot to do, I quit. And not really understanding that if you walk into anywhere and want to get more control, all you really need to do is a version of collect. That is I need to sit down and just get everything that has my attention or the attention of everybody in the group I’m trying to get control. Then you can get it out. I need to externalize it.

So externalizing things that have your attention is a very powerful thing to do as an initial step of getting control. That could be in a relationship, it could be in your family, it could be in a department, could be on a project. That core principle, people say, “You mean I need to write everything down? Well, I don’t want or need to write everything down, I’m still just going to make half a list.”

There’s still very few people, even people that you think do GTD are really, really, really doing GTD. Meaning truly nothing on their mind. Truly nothing is in their head. They’ve learned that the brain is not the place to hold that. And it’s externalized. It takes a couple of years for most people to really, really, really begin to integrate that so that that builds the consequential and sort of cruise control kinds of behaviors.

So there’s still a lot there. So again, I wouldn’t change anything. The first book, when you think about it is still just the tactical manual. You want to get control of your personal environment, here, sit down and do it. Part two of the first book is our coaching process. That hasn’t changed.

That’s actually how we do it. Now, we’ve learned a few things about, for the most part it’s a little too confrontational for most people to sit down and just walk themselves into this. A few people do. But they’re really kind of ready for it.

But most people sit down and say, “Oh my God, you mean gather every single thing that is not perfect or complete or finished in my world and put it in one place? Oh my God, I quit.” It’s hugely intimidating and I understand that. But sort of explaining why and how that works so that people stick with it.

It ain’t going away. My book is number 33 right now on all of Amazon. It’s increased sales of 20% every year and we don’t do anything to promote it other than just what we’re doing in terms of our work. Because I think people just really realize that oh my God, this is not another business du jour fad that’s going to go away. This is a whole new way to match your operational procedures to the way your brain really works.

The objective is to be positively engaged and in your world. Everybody gets off and gets on every once in a while. GTD was just look, there is a way that you get on. And getting on means in your zone. You know, when you’re in your zone, time disappears no matter what you’re doing. Like there’s no sense of overwhelmed, there’s no distinction between work, life. There’s no “gee I’m stressed.” You’re just on.

You could be “on” meditating and in zazen for six hours or you could be “on” running a four minute mile or you could be on hanging around with your kids. So “on” has nothing to do, it’s not situationally dependent. What it is dependent on is that you sort of get into the flow. You know, the guy who wrote the flow book. The whole idea of flow is to be able to be engaged in something that you can feel successful and positively engaged forward and that’s enough of a challenge.

So the whole idea of next actions on things, of externalizing your world and getting things down to doable chunks. All those things really serve and support people making it easier for them to be able to get into that zone. So that’s what GTD is about. It’s like, if you’ve somehow lost perspective and control, you know how to get back on fast.

That’s what GTD is. If you’re out of control or if you have lost perspective, I guarantee you if you write everything down, get it out of your head. If you take next action decisions and outcome decisions about what all those things mean and you park those in to a trusted place. Which you then review against all the horizon of commitments that you have so that you kind of integrate all that together and then make an intuitive judgment call about what to do, more than likely you will be on.

GTD just gives you the blueprint. If you want to get there, here’s how you get there. It’s not something to believe. Maybe there’s something wrong about GTD but I’ve never gotten one single email or anything that anybody said anything in there was wrong.

The issue is how do people implement it? Everybody says, “it’s really right, I just don’t have time.” Or, “I started, I fell off, and oh damn.” So that’s mostly what the feedback is.

Bob: Has your publisher and you set a pub date or a title?

David: January, 2009 is projected pub date.

Ed note: We’d like to thank Mr. Allen for his time. So, are you a really, really GTD’er? Why or why not? Tell us about it in the comments.


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