Productive Living by David Allen

DAVID ALLEN”S FOOD FOR THOUGHT

THE ONE LIST PEOPLE TRUST

If you’re like me, with quite a number of lists of many next actions, projects, someday/maybe’s, etc., you’re likely to encounter people who question your efficiency if not your sanity. “You’ve got so many lists! That’s just too much work!” (Sound familiar?) If you ever feel like you need to defend your lists, ask your skeptical friend if they are sitting around trying to remember what appointments they have on their calendar for next month. They’re probably not biting their nails about where they need to be a week from next Thursday at 4pm. They’re probably not even thinking about it. Why? Because they have their appointments tracked in a system they trust—a calendar they trust they’ll review at the appropriate time and place.

So, why not have the same lack of distraction about all the things that you need to be reminded of?

A calendar is nothing more than a list of next actions in the context of sequence in time—something to look at when time is of concern. My “Calls” list is the same thing—a list of next actions that can be done from any phone, to be reviewed when I have time and a phone. In the same way I’m not distracted by trying to remember and remind myself about who to call—it’s in a trusted system. The problem with most people’s system is that the calendar is the only list they trust, and more than 95% of what they really need to keep track of is not a set of appointments but all the things to be done in between them. Thinking that your head is a better place to keep track of stuff, and yet finding it critical to maintain a calendar, seems to me a kind of intellectual dishonesty.

So, now that you have this secret knowledge of GTD lists, you no longer need to defend them!

QUOTABLES

If you can’t convince ’em, confuse ’em.—Harry S. Truman

Q&A WITH DAVID ALLEN

Q: Should I keep separate personal and professional lists?

A: The divisions of lists I recommend in GTD have emerged solely from my interest in mental efficiency—with how little effort can I ensure that I spend no fruitless thinking time about anything that I’m not doing at the moment? With how few steps can I catalog and review my commitments at appropriate levels?

In one sense, system-wise, it doesn’t really matter whether you split your items personal and professional or not—as long as you can see whichever one you need, when you need it. It’s fine to have a Personal Calls list and a Professional one, if you want. I’d just recommend that you have them both with you whenever you happen to be able to make calls from either group.

COMMUNITY STORIES

Email inbox to zero—a breakthrough!

I’ve been struggling with implementing GTD for two years—wanting to use my system, but never fully trusting in it.

This week, I had some time to explore GTD Connect—look at articles, listen to some webinars, and just re-energize my efforts with GTD. Every time I came across a resource related to email I found myself skipping it—really being repelled by it. After listening to a webinar on GTD Connect I realized that the reason these resources were repelling me was because it was an area I had never collected. I was still trying to use my inbox as a reminder of agreements. I have always kept my inbox to around 100–150 items, and rationalized, “I don’t have thousands of emails—I can manage a few hundred.” I was WRONG!

I shifted my focus and actually reviewed all the resources I could find on getting email to zero. Then I spent the afternoon moving items to a few folders—Action Required, Waiting For, Reading, and a couple folders specific to projects I have in process.

Once my inbox was at zero I couldn’t stop looking at it (yeah—I know this sounds a little crazy). I felt such a sense of relief. For the last couple of days I’ve made sure my inbox was at zero before the end of the day—and it still feels just as amazing as the first time I got it to zero.

The most unexpected “side effect” of doing this for me was I found it so easy to now go into the other folders I created and process the items into my system. It was so much easier to ask the “What is it?” and “What is the next action?” questions once I wasn’t looking at a jumble of actionable and non-actionable items all together. All the actionable items are now in my system and the only remaining items in email are reading or reference.

I truly feel “lighter” knowing I’ve captured all of my commitments!—Karen

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