It has only been in the last year that I actually picked up and read David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. As I’ve mentioned before, my father was an avid follower of Franklin Covey – this is what I learned about how to structure time and productivity. I’ve also seen how often Franklin Covey does not work for people – clients with binders never opened and frustration. This is just another reason there is such a plethora of systems for people – one way doesn’t work for everyone. David Allen doesn’t care what tools you use, he outlines his way of organizing your time and productivity.
A major component of David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach is the idea that if something will take you less than 2 minutes to accomplish – you do it now. If it will take you longer than 2 minutes, you then evaluate where it needs to go: into a specific day/time in your calendar or into your organization system to do later (or to delegate it). If you can successfully apply this, you cannot procrastinate those fast tasks and will in fact getting things done. Also intrinsic to this system is the need to review your system at regular intervals from the daily to the Weekly Review.
There are 5 stages to mastering work-flow: collect, process, organize, review, and do. One of the steps people gloss over is often the collecting – it can be hard to really collect all of your tasks, emptying your mind of everything and getting it down on paper (or electronically). Our brains can only hold a certain amount of information at a given time – we need to have it collected somewhere concrete. Processing is about deciding on the next action item, which I wrote about in “Decide on the Next Action.” Organize for him is where you add the action to your calendar or appropriate list. Review is critical to any time management system; you need to stay aware of what is on the horizon. Finally, do is for deciding on what you will tackle next.
One of the most intriguing aspects of what David Allen talks about is his “4 Criteria for Choosing Actions in the Moment.” Many systems focus first and foremost on the priority of the task, not with Getting Things Done. This applies only to those tasks that aren’t important enough to be in your calendar already. His criteria are:
- Time available
- Energy available
Context is an easy initial criterion since if the task requires a computer, but you are not near one, you cannot do it. Time and energy available are self-explanatory, and do need to be evaluated before deciding on a task. No matter how high the priority might be to work on ‘x’, if you do not have the time or energy, it’s better to wait until the initial 3 criteria are in place. I think choosing your next action based on following these criteria could ease the stress I see people putting on themselves – the rational for why they need to wait.
Most productivity systems promote the importance of thinking beyond the immediate – Stephen Covey wants you to create a mission statement for your life; David Allen is no different, he talks about the six levels for reviewing: the runway or your current actions to 50,000+ feet or life. David Allen clearly outlines what the six levels are and I find this more accessible than a mission statement. Too often this is an area we neglect in our planning, yet is a worthwhile task in order to keep us in line with where we want to be.
Although this book was a bit dry, I appreciated many of his ideas. It has flexibility built into it, with the idea that you don’t put things into your calendar that aren’t time sensitive. I’ve been know to be one of those people who will put things into the calendar with the best of intentions and then to avoid it. I’ve learned how important it is to keep the calendar a sacred space and now have another way to approach the other tasks – to consider the 4 criteria.
The key to any system you use to manage your time and productivity is to make time for reviewing. It’s likely most of us fall off our systems from time to time – I know I do – but we need to be able to get back on the system. David Allen lays out the steps to hopping back onto it and makes it easier to do so.