Why Getting Organized Usually Hasn’t Worked

I had another BFO the other day (that’s a Blinding Flash of the Obvious): one of the reasons most people are to some degree allergic to “getting organized” is the consistent lack of success they have experienced over the years with how they’ve approached the whole process of to-do lists.

The reason those lists have not worked is because they were an attempt to compress very different and relatively sophisticated and discrete functions into one event and context. If you try to make something too simple, it will make it seem even more complex and difficult. Yes, we’ve all been up against the wall from time to time of too many things screaming at us in our head, and we got temporary relief from “making a list.” But we’re in a very different and more multifaceted world than that band-aid can manage as an on-going procedure.

When most people sit down to write one of those lists, they are actually trying to combine at one time all five of the phases we have defined for mastering workflow: collect, process, organize, review, and do. They are simultaneously attempting to grab things out of their mind, decide what they mean, arrange them in some logical or meaningful fashion, jumping immediately to an evaluation of each against each other and deciding what they need to do “most importantly.” One is usually rewarded with a short-term payoff of the crisis of confusion relieved, but left with still a vague sense of gnawing vulnerability to what’s uncaptured, unprocessed, unorganized, unseen, and underestimated.

We have discovered over many years of research and coaching that these phased aspects of workflow management are optimally done as separate activities. You need to collect everything on your mind first, little or big. Then you need to assess each individual particle of that inventory: is it actionable? If so,what’s the outcome? What’s the next action? You then need to organize all the results of that thinking into appropriate categories. At that point you can clearly review all your options of what to do, and make the best choices, given all the criteria for making those decisions (time, energy, context, priorities, etc.) Managing yourself is simple, but it is not simplistic.

–David Allen

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1 Comment

  1. So in order to break my inertia I need to dispense with to-do lists and instead implement phased aspects of workflow management done as separate activities. Well that’s cleared that up. I’ll start tomorrow …

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