The book this month is Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity by David Allen.
This is not a new book. It was first published in 2001, with numerous revisions. The most recent edition is 2015. Since technology and tools are moving so quickly, the most recent edition removes a lot of the tech tools that have a short shelf life and what remains is a timeless edition the focuses on the techniques needed to
This book is about how to manage the overwhelm that represents the reality of modern life.
The author David Allen has been called one of the world’s most influential thinkers on productivity.
As I was reading the introduction of the book, it’s like the author was inside my head. He was articulating many of the struggles that I faced on a weekly, if not hourly basis.
I experienced the stress of having too many things to remember, too many things to do, and too many priorities to ever feel like I’m keeping ahead.
While the title of the book seems to imply that it’s all about accomplishing more, it’s really a book about how to engage appropriately with your world.
In some cases, it’s about doing less, about focusing, and about eliminating the overwhelm and distraction that is associated with what you are not doing.
When I’m sitting at my desk working on a focused task, I’m often distracted by the nagging knowledge of something that is overdue, that someone is expecting me to do and isn’t complete. The mental juggling of tasks is overwhelming and causes distraction and loss of focus.
Even writing down the tasks into a to-do list doesn’t solve the problem. Some people simply write down their focused task list of the 8-10 items they plan for that day. But the problem with this approach is that it neglects the dozens of other items that are not on the list. Those items are still stuck in your head and occupying mental storage. Writing them all down seems overwhelming and not the way to go either. Unless you have a method for decision making, you will quickly get overwhelmed.
The method presented by David Allen is based on three decades of experimentation and refinement. It’s based on three fundamental practices:
1) Capturing all the things that might need to get done or have usefulness to you in the future
2) Directing yourself to make front end decisions so that you a workable inventory of “next actions”
3) Curating and coordinating all of that content utilizing the recognition of the multiple levels of commitment with yourself and others at play.
A paradox has emerged in our lives. We are bombarded with choices that far exceed our capacity. We have an enhanced quality of life, and at the same time we have been adding to our stress levels by taking on more than we have the resources to handle.
The fact is the edges of work have blurred. In the old days, you could tell when the work was done. The field was plowed, the room was painted. These days, there is no real boundary. Writing another blog article, ten more social media posts, updating the images on the website, reviewing the google Adwords campaign, checking that the lawyer has completed the title work, reading the financial statements and ensuring that expenses were properly categorized as part of the construction inventory and not operating expenses. The list goes on and on.
David Allen’s book was all the rage in Silicon Valley for a number of years after it was published and several of my colleagues used its method religiously. I’ve been adopting it into my work flow. While the system required a large commitment in time to implement, the benefits are self evident.