A few years ago, David Allen, personal productivity expert and creator of Getting Things Done ( GTD), gave an extensive interview to The Atlantic that was published under the title David Allen on How to Fix Your Life. This is a compendium of his most valuable insights on how to tackle a variety of common problems in our current world.
In a crisis situation, you tend to gather all the information that is potentially relevant and make decisions quickly. It’s essential that you trust your judgment and intuition at the moment. You have to act. You have to constantly course-correct your decisions based on the new data that comes in. You have to be very focused on the outcome.
But as soon as you stop being on the verge of a crisis, the whole rest of the world falls on your head. Now you worry about your taxes and your car and “I’m catching a bad cold” and “this printer doesn’t work anymore.”
Today, this flood of worries comes at us electronically, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. And it can be really overwhelming if you don’t have a clear picture of how to discriminate between what’s important in your world and what’s not.
How do you prioritize all these things? You need maps to orient yourself. A map can be any list you have that can guide you.
First you need to be able to decide what should be in each map and then establish ways of proceeding that allow you to be sure that you’re dealing with those maps in the right way.
Your mind is not your system, in terms of remembering things. And as soon as you have more than seven important things and you try to negotiate, manage and juggle them and their relationships in your head, you’re dead.
I have a paper-based tool that is omnipresent. I take notes, usually on paper, just because it’s the easiest way to do it.
My physical inbox is my salvation because capturing is a very different process than making decisions and organizing.
Ideally, all new things should end up in the same place, a sort of universal inbox. It’s a problem to have multiple digital tools scattered around, because “out of sight, out of mind”.
Information overload is not the problem. The problem with email is that it’s not just information; it’s the potential need for action. In addition, email has a feature that is typical of addictive behaviors, which is random positive reinforcement. The thought that there might be something out there more important than what we’re doing gives us a stabbing sense of anxiety, so we’re not fully present in what we’re doing.
Companies are becoming less and less hierarchical, so you find that there is greater executive responsibility at all levels.
In reality, it’s about managing the intersections of everything you allow to be part of your life. You have more information at hand. What you do with it depends on your intelligence and your ability to integrate it and combine it with other things.
Digital tools allow you to empower your mind. Now I have a place to capture information and put it on the appropriate map. So I only need to come up with ideas once.
All the things that enter your mind need to be externalized. Either you say “This is what I need to do” or you say “Shit, I’m not sure if this is what I need to do.” The former is stress-free productivity; the latter is an ulcer.
What do you need to feel comfortable with what you are doing and, perhaps more importantly, to feel comfortable with what you are not doing? Well, you need to have a map of all the possibilities.
Stop using your mind as a place where you try to capture and organize the things that matter to you.