Dear Friends and Clients,

This is a good time of year to clear clutter and get organized. For me, Spring is really too lovely to waste on cleaning. I like to spend some of the last hours of winter on reordering my desk, my office and the systems I use for staying on track.

At this time of year, I direct some energy to clearing the decks and streamlining the ways I organize life’s tedious details. I want my business to be humming along, my “to-do” list to be up to date, and my mind to be clear. I want to have everything in shape so that I can head outdoors once the warm weather finally arrives.

This year, when I felt the urge to organize, I turned for inspiration to the latest book from productivity guru David Allen. In this issue, I’ll write about some of Allen’s major themes.

Warm Wishes, Bev

Getting Things Done
The David Allen Way

March 3, 2009 * Number 99

David Allen’s first book, “Getting Things Done,” has many fans. The book has sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and Allen says that his “GTD” method for managing action is so popular that it has become an international movement.

The essential GTD principle is that you need to move tasks and other “stuff” out of your mind by somehow recording them externally. That way, your mind is freed from the job of remembering everything that needs to be done, and can concentrate on actually performing the tasks you need to do.

The basic GTD steps are to:
  • Write down or otherwise capture anything and everything that has your attention.
  • Define actionable things in terms of desired outcomes and concrete next steps.
  • Organize reminders and information into categories.
  • Keep current and focused by frequently reviewing your commitments.
A problem with “Getting Things Done” is that the book describes a detailed and complicated system for applying Allen’s basic ideas, causing many readers to become discouraged long before they’ve adopted the GTD habits.

Allen’s latest book, “Making It All Work,” is at times wise, and at other times tedious. It gets off to a slow start, with much of the first 70 or so pages devoted to bragging about the success of GTD. But a great thing about the book is that Allen discusses his classic principles in a way that is more reflective and less rigid than in his first book.

GTD fans may not find much that is new, but perhaps the most recent book will lead them to a deeper understanding of the concept of “capturing.” As he writes about the importance of moving “stuff” out of our head, Allen recommends:
  • Clear your mind. Your mind isn’t well suited to managing multiple commitments. It has limited short-term memory space, and can’t handle many items without starting to lose track of some of them. You can free yourself from distractions by capturing information someplace other than in your own head.

  • Write it. The first thing to do when you’re feeling out of sorts is to clear the air by grabbing hold of whatever is pulling on your focus. If you lack clarity, you should identify anything that might be the source of the discord. In other words, if it’s on your mind, write it down or otherwise record it.

  • Get perspective. To be effective, we must be able to focus on a single task. Yet at the same time we need to keep the big picture in mind. Allen says, “we all need to manage the forest while we hug the trees.” It takes a concrete capturing process to assure that we can maintain perspective, and get it back if we lose it.

  • Journal. A wonderful way to experience an increase in control while working on “capturing” is to keep a journal.

  • Clean. You can achieve immediate payoffs by cleaning things up. There’s no universal standard for “clean”. What is important is that you have some standard, so that, when things sneak in where they don’t belong you have a way to assess the situation.

  • Inspire change. It can be enormously powerful to capture whatever commitments and ideas that might have meaning and value for you. Allen says, “I guarantee that if you only increase the amount of things you write down (and don’t lose) consistently by 10 percent, it will change your life for the better.”

  • Carry a notebook. The more senior you are, the more likely it is that many of your good ideas won’t actually come to you at work. The more your notebook or other capturing device is constantly available, the more it will get used, and the greater will be your flow of ideas.

  • Make it a habit. Writing things down takes intention and effort, so it has to become a routine that is followed consistently. Allen promises that developing the habit of capturing everything “will have incredible consequences.”

  • Have fun. Do whatever it takes to make it easy and fun ”to grab and objectify all the ideas, information, and commitments that stream through your head.”

Want more ideas for enhancing your productivity? In addition to providing executive coaching, Bev is available to speak about a broad range of issues related to your work life. Visit her website at www.ClearWaysConsulting.com or email to Bev directly. Bev is associated with Executive Coaching & Consulting Associates.

Bev’s Tips for a Better Work Life is published on the first and third Tuesday of each month by Beverly E. Jones of ClearWays Consulting, LLC.   Bev is a lawyer and former executive who now coaches accomplished executives and other professionals to bring new direction, energy and enjoyment to their work lives.

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