Making It All Work by David Allen

David Allen could rightfully be called a personal productivity guru. His 2002 bestseller Getting Things Done inaugurated a movement that spread amongst writers, bloggers, and techies. Luminaries brag about being “GTD blackbelts.” Allen reports that each day fifty new blog posts are written about GTD, and there has been a raft of software tools developed (and marketed) to help users implement his process.

In Allen’s world, mastering workflow allows the individual to achieve a zen-like state of focus. Allen theorizes that the mind operates like computer RAM and will freeze up if it has too many open loops running at once. The solution, though, is not to decrease your commitments but rather to capture and sort them all. If your tasks are organized in a system you can trust to remind you of them—well, then you can stop thinking about everything you need to do and just do it.

Allen suggests that his process should be applied both in the office and at home. (Thus the subtitle, Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life.) The only way to fully de-stress is to capture all of your open loops.

Making It All Work teaches the reader a thinking process without worrying about the specific tools he uses. Allen’s solution is not the latest tool or gadget hyped to “boost productivity,” but rather a fundamental way to grapple with the variety of inputs in a knowledge-era economy.

The Processing Flowchart


How to get information out of your head and into a GTD system:
  1. Capture—Write down everything on your mind, regardless of whether it’s a project, a to-do, a personal goal such as “get fit,” or something large and ambiguous like “Mom."
  2. Clarify—Is it actionable? If so, ask yourself:
    1. What’s the desired outcome?
    2. What’s the next action?
  3. Organize—Sort the action depending upon what it is:
  4. (Making It All Work 136)
    1. Actions, if they don’t have specific due dates, go into context-sorted lists. If they do have specific due dates or you don’t need to worry about them until certain dates, write them down on your calendar.
    2. Outcomes are larger goals. Keep track of them on lists sorted by horizon.
    3. Incubating items are items you’re not sure what to do with yet. Write them on a Someday/Maybe list—to be reviewed weekly—or write them on your calendar.
    4. Support or reference material goes into project-specific, labeled files folders or notebooks. For general thoughts, keep a journal.
  5. Reflect—Review all of your projects weekly. Information changes over time. Items that were important before may no longer be priorities, or you may need to take different next steps to keep your projects moving. If you don’t review your lists, you won’t keep them current and you won’t trust your system. And, as David Allen says, “you can only feel good about what you’re not doing when you know what you’re not doing.” Reviewing gives you a sense of perspective.
  6. Engage—With your lists you can objectively evaluate all of the possible next actions you can take. To remain productive, choose actions that most align with your values (Strategy) and that you can complete with the time, energy, and materials you have available (Limiting Factors).
(Making It All Work 179)