Book Review: GETTING THINGS DONE by David Allen

The National Bestseller Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen was an absolutely awesome read, and I’d like to tell you about it. Firstly, let’s hook you up with the good stuff:

Purchase on Amazon here (you can snag it for less than 4 bucks!)download (26)

Visit the official David Allen Getting Things Done website here.

I want to say that Getting Things Done (GTD for short) is a time-management method, but it’s more than that. Getting Things Done is a mentality, a lens that alters your entire day, from top to bottom. From the mundane–receiving an email or hearing an idea–to the transcendent–accomplishing all of those outlandish, bucket-list goals on which you never imagined you would begin working, your mind is in the right place and on the right ideas. That’s one of the most powerful messages from GTD:

Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.

And again:

Everything you’ve told yourself you ought to do, your mind thinks you should do right now. Frankly, as soon add you have two things to do stored in your RAM, you’ve generated personal failure, because you can’t do two things at the same time. This produces an all-pervasive stress factor whose source can’t be pin-pointed.

The idea of RAM was something that really struck me, upon reading this book. David Allen likens our mind to a computer–a common and accurate analogy–and human-brain-computer-chip-27078394speaks on the idea of Random Access Memory (RAM). Every incomplete thought, every undecided action, every open-ended project occupies space in your conscious mind–when there’s an idea you haven’t completed, it lingers in your mind, and it cannot be resolved until you either complete the idea or deposit the ‘open loop’ in a trusted system.

Allen goes as far as to say that your mind, stuck on every unresolved concept, will gravitate back to that concept and worry about that lack of resolution at every timein every place, especially when you can’t act on that concept. As soon as you submit an idea into the RAM of your brain, your brain thinks it should be doing that idea right now, all the time. The second you have two ideas stored in RAM, you’ve failed, because you can’t do two things at the same time.

This is such a powerful concept because it demands deliberate, focused thought–and the only way to achieve that deliberate, focused thinking is to synthesize a system that collects every ‘open loop’, every unfinished business, processes them to give context and meaning and organizes them, which gives us the power to review them and consequentially decide what to do about them.

That is the skeleton: David Allen moves forward to describe the many pieces of his full system, and the book is so valuable (YET YOU CAN GET IT FOR ONLY $4) for that reason. I’d recommend this book for many reasons–that is the primary. Top to bottom, life-changing redefinition of the every input, every idea, every stimulus.

One aspect of the system that is so crucial–and has been my greatest stcalendarruggle in the implementation of my system–is trustworthiness. I’m an avid triple-checker. If I have an appointment or a meeting, I put it in my Google Calendar–I add the date, the time, the location, and reminders. Google Calendar even knows that I bike around the city, and will send me a notification with ample preparation time to let me know by when I have to leave to avoid tardiness, WHICH IS AWESOME.

But nonetheless, the second I get that notification, I open the original e-mail or letter that produced that meeting, and I check to make sure the date, time, and location are correct. Once I arrive, I pull out my phone, for the third time, and make sure–just in case I got it wrong the first two times–I have the time, date, and location correct.

I don’t trust my system, and without trust in the system, the loops remain open. Instead of not thinking about my meetings and obligations, I do think of them: if not their actual existence, then their context: the how, the what, the why.

All in all, this book rocked my world. I must again stress the fullness of the teachings. Unlike many productivity tips/tactics/teachings, it examines and affects the entirety of decision-making, information processing, and project management. At its conclusion, Mr. Allen recommends you return and reread within 3-6 months–you’ll probably hear more from me about it then. Until that time, please give it a solid look: it’s a real game-changer.

-B

 

Vision

download (25)Close your eyes. What do you see?

I know, I’m supposed to make you think of something first, but work with me. What do you see?

Have you done it yet? Just five seconds, go ahead.

Awesome.

Have you ever turned off the lights, before you go to bed, and realize you left your phone on your desk, your water bottle by the sink? I do it constantly, and no matter how many times I stub my toe or trip over the ONLY thing on my floor, I say to myself: ‘You got this. You know your room, you know where it is. You don’t have to to turn the lights on.’

Oh, how wrong you are, silly, over-confident Ben. How wrong you are.

Sometimes, after the first, inevitable stumble, I give in and turn the lights on; other times I just keep blindly groping for landmarks–chairs, walls, corners–anything familiar, to give me my bearings so that I know which way to turn and how far I need to go. Occasionally, I reach for a landmark, that without question is gonna be exactly where I’m wildly swinging my arm…and I hit empty air.

Oh, how wrong you are.

I begin tiptoeing, disproportionately cautious of the impeding contact with the landmark–in that moment, I’m unquestionably blind, floating around in a sea of nothingness, no idea where I am and who I am and what I am and why I am, and oh–there’s probably a murderer in my house now.

Fortunately, I’m wrong about that one, too.

Then I find a wall, I slide along the wall, and eventually, I’m re-oriented.

If you’re serious about a goal–and I mean serious–then you’ve gotta do a lot of things (things we’ll be going over in future posts, trust me). The first thing you’ve gotta do is make sure you’re serious about it. Do you think about it, every day? Do you take a step, no matter how small, towards it, every day? What have you invested in it? What else are you willing to invest?

I think we all have a few goals about which we’re serious, but if only one is coming to mind right now, that’s cool–grab that for me, real quick.

Close your eyes. Now think about that goal. What do you see?

You need to have a vision for your goal, and by that, I mean two different things:

1) You need to be able to visually grasp the realization of your goal. If you want to get in shape, you need to see, in your mind’s eye, what you look like when you’re in shape; complete an assignment, you need to capture the image of every item on your to-do list crossed off, a neat stack of papers on your desktop or in your computer.

You need to know where the phone, the water bottle is. What it looks like, and what it looks like in the environment in which you think it is–the desk, the sink. If I told placed you in a room with one hundred phones on one hundred desks andownload (23)d told you to go get the phone from the desk, you wouldn’t be able to realize that task, accomplish that goal…because you don’t know what it looks like.

How are you going to accomplish a goal if you don’t recognize the accomplishment?

2) You need a vision–a forward sight–into how to reach accomplish your goal. If you want to get into shape, you need to see your unique steps: how you’re going to exercise, how you’re going to eat, how you’re going to track those things, when and where you’re going to do those things. The goal is the what–the vision is the how.

You need to visually know what the phone is, what it’s environment is, what success will look like when you get there–you need a vision for the environment. Upon what roadblocks could you stub your toe? What landmarks can you use to orient and direct yourself? What will you use if you get utterly lost?

Too often, we have a goal, but we don’t take the time to sit down and truly visualize the actualization of that goal in its entirely. We don’t make it a real, tangible, palpable, achievable thing–it is just a goal, a cloud that floats around in your head as ‘be healthier’ or ‘be more productive’.

Too often, we have a goal, we take the time to truly visualize the actualization, but we don’t have a vision for the topography. We have a visual on our goal to ‘eat better food, swim a few times a week, and drink more water’ or ‘buy a day planner, check Instagram less, read about productivity’.

And not often enough, we get really honest with ourselves, and create the entire process in our mind’s eye: we visualize the destination and the path, the goal and the process.

Take a moment today, sit down–with no interruptions, no phone, nothing but a pen and paper–and evaluate yourself. Write down the state of the union, your current being. Then, determine the goal–I only started with one, and eventually expanded. Give it a context, a place, an environment–add people who have a stake in the actualization of the goal, like your family members or friends or employers/employees. Now, visualize the steps–be as specific as you possibly can. When, where, how? What will be needed to achieve every step, what resources do you need to access, what questions do you need to be answered, who do you need to recruit into your process?

Armed with this vision, take the next step you can.

Tomorrow, return to the vision, and take another.

The day after that, go right on back, and take another–two, if you’re feeling particularly saucy.

-B

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You Are The Generator

I’m excited for this one. This is the kind of idea that you write on a notecard and plaster somewhere that you’ll see it every day. This is the kind of idea that rings, quietly, in the back of your mind, when you’re tired and bored and tempted to do something easier, something less worthwhile. This is the kind of idea that changes things, and I’m excited for this one.

I hold this concept in such high esteem for its pervasiveness. I was reading one of my school assignments today: Nichomachean Ethics by Aristotle–yes, before you ask, it is as thrilling as it sounds. I kid–I have enjoyed reading about virtue and happiness through Aristotle’s eyes, and it has been enlightening, if a tad pedantic. I stumbled across this:

[A]ctions concerning what conduces to the end will be in accordance with rational choice and voluntary. The activities of the virtues are concerned with what conduces to the end; virtue, then, is in our power, and so is vice…now if it is in our power to do noble and shameful actions, and the same goes for not doing them, and if…good and bad consists in this, then it is in our power to be good or bad.

As it is a discussion of ethics, taking it out of context is difficult. I hardly have a finger’s grasp on the material, but if I were to attempt to decode:

Actions which lead to an end are rational, voluntary choices we make. If to live virtuously is to act virtuously, and those actions are towards the end (i.e. acting courageously to have the virtue of courage, acting temperately to have the virtue of temperance), then acting virtuously is within our power, our ability–consequentially, so is vice, which opposes virtue. And if we have the power to act nobly (in virtue) or shamefully (in vice)–consequentially, again, we have the power to not do so–then we have the power to be good or bad.

It hearkened back to another reading of mine, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

So far, living well or living poorly is directly within my power, and that power of rational, voluntary, virtuous action is found in the space between stimulus and response.

And finally, way back, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen R. Covey told us:

As we look at those things within our Circle of Concern, it becomes apparent that there are some things over which we have no real control and others that we can do something about. We could identify those concerns in the latter group be circumscribing them within a smaller Circle of Influence.

Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their Circle of Influence to increase.

Okay, I’ll stop swamping you with quotes now. Probably.

Aristotle, Frankl, and Covey are all pulling towards the same idea:

You can be happy, or you can be sad, but you can’t act as if either of those are forced on you. Both of those are a choice.

And don’t get me wrong, the choice is difficult–sometimes, it’s unbelievably, monumentally, flabbergasting…ly?, so-tough-it’s-nearly-impossible DIFFICULT…but it’s still a choice.

I touched on this–just by virtue of proximity, I think–when I talked about how I never had bad days. We can easily fool ourselves into believing our days act on us, our circumstances inform our mood, and they do, but only to an extent–the rest of that space is up to our definition, our interpretation. I’ll never tell you that stepping in a puddle is a good thing–I will tell you can take it in a good way.

Covey puts it in terms of circles; Frankl, in a space; Aristotle, in very confusing terms–an analogy would have killed him?–but the prevalent concept is the same: there’s an opportunity to choose, and therein lies all of our power, and therein must lie our focus.

‘But I’m so tired’.

Who read that and kinda said to themselves, ‘Oh no…I say that all the time,’ cause without fail, the moment I consider doing work, that’s the first thing my brain tells me–even when I’m not tired, it’s just so easyPut the entire onus of decision on circumstances–without of our control, outside of our power–and oh! Fancy that! We don’t feel like working, so we won’t. Maybe we’ll do the bare minimum at the last second; maybe we’ll cut corners and settle for close enough–our environment, our mood, the weather told us it was okay…so it must be, right?

We love to relegate ourselves to a reactionary role–it’s so much easier, and like many easy things, it holds little value. We love to relegate ourselves to a reactionary role, when really, we are the generators. If you want a happy life (if you don’t want a happy life, let me know, and we’ll address that)–if you want a happy life, you can’t just sit there and wait for it to happen, cause guess what? It probably won’t.

And that’s a dang shame, but happy, joyous, bright, cheerful things don’t just happen to people–things happen, and they’re processed in a happy, joyous, bright, cheerful way. You are the generator. You may wake up feeling tired, feeling grumpy, feeling PISSED, but in the second second of that day, in the second moment of your consciousness, you have the responsibility for either the continuation or termination of that mood. You are the generator. You decide how things go.

Yes, even on days when you’re tired and don’t feel like doing jackdiddlysquat (days of which I have, oh, maybe 6/7ths of the week), you are the generator. Throw it on the notecard right now, so I don’t have to bold it anymore: I am the generator.

Don’t miss it–you’ll get tired. BUT! Would you rather be the generator, get tired, fail, and stand back up again…or be entrenched in that rut to which we so often and easily surrender? The rut wherein you never get to decide for yourself.

“In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

-B