Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Walking Around with Nothing in Your Head: Getting Things Done

This was the goal set forth by David Allen at his seminar in London last Friday, addressing the 120 knowledge workers in the room (from IT companies, banks, company HR departments, and so on - mostly men, by the way) - how can you get all your tasks and projects out of your head and into a trusted system, and walk around with nothing in your head. He described this state as "Mind like water" (and showed us some martial arts moves to demonstrate his point) where you are able to make a perfectly appropriate response to and engagement with what is present.

Several things surprised me about the day long seminar on Getting Things Done (or GTD as the adherents call it). First was how incredibly popular it is among the private sector, especially in IT companies. I knew that David Allen was a consultant to many silicon valley enterprises, but I had no idea that Belgian companies would have GTD support staff, and software engineers worldwide were developing GTD compliant add-ons to various office packages. There are bloggers devoted to making GTD work, even Microsoft Office 2007 has functions that were designed to work with GTD organizing systems. Who would have known?

The second, related thing that surprised me was how completely absorbed the audience was. This was a full day, 8 hour seminar with a packed ballroom, and David Allen spoke for the whole time. There was very limited interactivity (he said at one point, "I don't do interactive stuff, this seminar is basically me talking to you." (only slightly paraphrased)) And the audience was rapt, the questions were incredibly detailed, "what is the average time to spend on your weekly review?" And this predominantly male, corporate British audience didn't even flinch when he stated that appropriately managing your commitments frees up attention for higher-level thinking and creativity and opens up psychic space.

The final thing that surprised me is how excited I got about this approach. I have already used it for about a year, and I learned many new ways to make it more efficient. Many of the tips and tools are very familiar, but the way to put them together, from the "runway" or day-today tasks to those which sit at the visionary "50,000 feet" level, this method aims to take in it all, organize it, and engage with it when the time is right - not all the time- so that most of the time you can walk around with absolutely nothing on your mind - open and ready for that next great idea.