How David Allen Saved My Professional Life
The following is a real-life, first-person account of an event attendee who is conquering their workload like a boss.
Before you begin reading this article, there’s something you should know about me.
I am NOT an organized person. At the workplace, or at home.
A few months ago, I’d have been spread-eagled on my couch, alternating between wiping Pringles crumbs off of my sweatshirt while navigating the chaos that I call my apartment and trying to keep up with a haphazard schedule of things that I needed to.
If having your life in disarray was a skill I could include in my CV, then my family and the people close to me would have glowing recommendations that would likely go up on a hall of fame.
Or that would have been the case.
Ever hear of David Allen? Author of the bestseller ‘Getting Things Done’ which was heralded by Time Magazine as the “defining self-help business book of its time”?
Well, he was in town a few weeks ago, holding a workshop on the GTD (Getting Things Done) Methodology at CoWrks Ecoworld.
Normally, the words “workshop” or “seminar” send a cold shiver down my spine. Especially if it covers topics like self-motivation or productivity. Sitting down in a single place for what seems like an eternity listening to someone drone about how I can better myself isn’t exactly my cuppa tea.
But whatever magical force compelled me to sit in for the GTD Workshop, I am immensely grateful to it.
The seminar itself was very insightful, and if anyone knows how to command an audience, it’s David Allen. Lasting for about two hours, the crowd got an insight into the fundamentals that make GDT tick, and how we could apply them to everyday situations, both professional and personal.
GTD revolves around 5 basic principles:
Now, I’ve only had a month to try implementing these principles, so I’m not exactly an authority on the GTD methodology, but I’ve already seen a shift in how productive, and more importantly, how relaxed I am!
Here are some of the basics I’ve incorporated in the way I work:
1) Mind Like Water
It might sound overly zen-y, but this is one of the core principles that makes GTD work. A Mind Sweep is a GTD technique that helps you clear your cache of ‘psychic ram’ and lets your mind run on cruise-control. This, in association with triggers you’ve created for yourself, allows you to refocus and recollect urgent tasks.
Which leads to the next tip for almost instant sanity…
2) MAKE. A. LIST.
This is relatively low-tech, BUT IT WORKS, PEOPLE. Sure we can go the tech-y route and set up calendar reminders and use apps, but a good old-fashioned notebook and pen makes for putting down things on the go.
Also, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble trying to find power outlets.
3) Just Do It
Following up from making a list, the next part of getting your life into ship-shape is prioritizing aka. the ‘I NEED TO DO THIS RIGHT NOW’ initiative.
Whatever I needed to get done, irrespective of time and effort required, I put into my ‘In’ list. This was followed by segregating my tasks in order of how ‘actionable’ they were, which basically means asking yourself:
Can I do this right now?
How much time will I take to complete this?
Do I have everything I need to complete this task?
Does this impact the other tasks I have lined up for me?
Which leads you to:
“What can I accomplish right now, based on where I am and what tools are in front of me?
Which in turn, leads us to the 2 Minute Rule. This rule essentially states that “If you can do determine that a task can be completed in less than 2 minutes, COMPLETE IT RIGHT THEN AND THERE.”
Putting yourself in the driver’s seat of your task list helps streamline your processes and decision making for the day, and puts you in the driver seat on the roadmap to achieving your goals.
4) Action vs. Inaction
Now here’s a goal I had set up for myself:
Lose weight and look fabulous in 3 months
To this I added a task, which was:
Stop eating so much junk food.
This was my Action Item. Something I needed to complete, which seems rudimentary and driven by a singular step of inaction. Which I quickly gave up on when I crashed a nearby KFC and demanded that they give me all the chicken wings and fries they could produce.
The thing with inaction is that there is no structure to help achieve your goal other than, well, self-control.
By creating actionable moments contributing to this task, like
- research junk food alternatives
- find out where to get carrot sticks
- find places that sell salad
- check weight regularly
These were just some of the actionable moments I had split my task into, which gave me a clear and focused gameplan on how I could achieve my goals. If something didn’t work, I would loop in additional task variants like ‘find substitutes for carrot sticks’ and ‘easy salads to make at home’.
Now obviously, creating so many tasks and subtasks, moments and lists will, in the long run, become almost as challenging as not having GTD in place at all, or maybe even more so.
Which brings me to my final point…
5) Sometimes, you just gotta wing it
Getting Things Done CAN be used in all aspects of your professional life, but that doesn’t mean that it should be. Setting up a method like this and expecting it to solve everything will lead to you having so much extraneous and unnecessary mental baggage that it defeats its own purpose.
Think of GTD as an art form, that you can experiment with and adapt to whatever suits your needs and use those tools that you know work for you.
If you’d like a detailed guide to stress-free productivity, get your copy of David Allen’s bestselling book here.