Monday, October 01, 2007

David Allen, "Getting Things Done."

Yes, everyone knows about this already. I've known about it for, what, two years now? This long article on Wired about David Allen has got me thinking.

"Allen's practical suggestions on how to turn thoughts into reality sharply distinguish him from his predecessors. His advice is so simple as to appear simpleminded. He insists that nothing should ever appear on a to-do list that is not a specific, concrete action expressed at the most practical level of detail. Do not write "set up a meeting," for instance. Instead, write "call to set up a meeting." "If you just say you are going to set up the meeting," he says, "then that leaves a question open: How are you going to do it? Are you going to call? Are you going to email? It's like having a monkey on your back that won't shut up." Allen's voice shifts into a more taunting register. "How are you going to do it? How are you going to do it? Somebody shut up the monkey!"

"The difference between issuing an invitation by email and issuing it over the phone seems perversely minuscule. But in practice, as Allen points out, the question of how to communicate is often freighted with unarticulated anxieties. His mandate to resolve apparently trivial issues serves as a kind of research tool, bringing to light aspects of work that are otherwise felt only as vague concerns. And when it is difficult to find a simple physical action that can advance a project, it is a sign that the project may be unrealistic or even impossible. This is an excellent thing to know in advance."

This one passage explains a lot. I don't know if I'm thorough enough to do the whole GTD system--write down everything? Yowza. But, "when it is difficult to find a simple physical action that can advance a project," maybe I need to be listening to myself more. I've already been thinking about what my true obligations are versus what I have decided that I want or should do. (Blogging is one of those wants, not an obligation.) Maybe there's more to be investigated with this system.

As it turns out, Allen was a mental patient roughly in the vein of Phaedrus in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Somebody shut up the monkey, indeed.

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