Productive Living
David Allen

Hi Everyone!

When I share the details of my own personal system in my presentations, as I did in a webinar for our GTD Connect members recently, someone always says, "You've got so many LISTS!" with a tone of voice that really translates into, "How silly and stupid! There's no way keeping track of all that in that way could work for me." I understand their negative reactions. Most people don't have a reference point of success with lists. They are more repelled by their lists, in whatever form they are in, than attracted to utilize them.

This month's essay explores three reasons why "list" is often considered a dirty word and three things you can do to change that for yourself.

All the best,



Why "list" is a dirty word

What's wrong with lists? Most people haven't had a lot of success with lists, especially the ones they've tried to use to "get organized."

You are either attracted or repelled by your lists and everything on them. There is no neutral territory. When you look at any one item you will either be thinking to yourself, "Hey, when can I mark THAT off?" or "Yuck! Back away!" My educated guess is that 98 percent of people's responses are some version of the latter.

Why? Because 1) they're hard work and/or 2) they're scary and/or 3) they're disappointing.

1) Hard work

If you know your list of calls to make doesn't include every single call you have to make about any and everything in your life, you will feel that you still should be remembering things that aren't on the list. That's low-level and hard work for your psyche, so it's not really getting the relief from the list it is seeking. If you don't have everything out of your head, it hardly feels worth trying to keep ANYthing out of your head. Also, most big to-do lists have things grouped together on them that cannot be done in the context you are in at the time, and a lot of repetitive re-thinking (wasteful mental effort) is required to figure out what you actually have the opportunity to do in the moment versus what can't be done until another place and time.

2) Scary

If a to-do on your list is not the very next physical visible action to be done, there is a gap between current reality and what you are looking at, and it can trigger a subtle but very real sense of being out of control with what to do about it, every time you glance at it. Some part of you knows that there is more thinking and decision-making required, and you don't feel you have the energy or capability to do that well, in this moment. Simply having "Mom" on a to-do list reminds you that her birthday is coming and that you should think and decide about what you're going to do about it... but, oh my... I don't have the juice to deal with that right now!

3) Disappointing

Ever had to rewrite a list of things you didn't get done when you thought you should? People who try to work daily to-do lists usually have undone things at the end of the day that create guilt and the trouble of having to transfer them to the next day.

So, to change your relationship with "lists" to a more positive one:

1) Make them complete, so your brain gets to graduate from the job of remembering; and organize your action reminders by context (phone, computer, errands, at home, etc.) so you only need to review what you actually can do at the time.

2) Make sure every actionable item has the very next visible physical action identified along with it, so you don't freak out about unknown territory between here and there.

3) Only put items that cannot be done any other day on your calendar, and everything else hold in "as soon as I can get to them" lists.

I suppose "love your lists" could be a little too radical an admonition for some of you. But how about at least "be good friends" with them?



"If you aren't yet at the point of clarity, then make that your first goal. It's a big waste of time to go through life being unclear about what you want. Most people wallow way too long in the state of "I don't know what to do." They wait for some external force to provide them with clarity, never realizing that clarity is self-created. The universe is waiting on you, not the other way around, and it's going to keep waiting until you finally make up your mind. Waiting for clarity is like being a sculptor staring at a piece of marble, waiting for the statue within to cast off the unneeded pieces. Do not wait for clarity to spontaneously materialize—grab a chisel and get busy!"

-Steve Pavlina
GTD Tools
GTD Notetaker Wallet
GTD Events


Join us for an upcoming GTD public class! New GTD Mastering Workflow dates being added frequently. Register with the code APR2011 to receive 10% off any upcoming public seminar*.

For an inspiring and exciting day, led by David Allen himself, attend GTD Making It All Work in Boston, May 6.

* Register before Mar 25. Discount may not be combined with other discounts or applied retroactively.

GTD Online


Replay of the webinar showing David Allen's Lists.

Upcoming webinar with the coaches: "How productive are your meetings?" March 31st at 10am Pacific Time. Registration link on the home page of GTD Connect when you log in.

GTD Community


David's guest spot on MSNBC (4 min video)

GTD mentioned in the New Yorker


A member shares feeling completely stuck in overwhelm in getting back on track with GTD

Have a tool or software question related to GTD?

Scan the Community Discussions Forums

Read our FAQs about GTD


Take advantage of some of the terrific free resources we offer to stay connected:

Follow David Allen

Follow David Allen

Free Podcasts






GTD® is the popular shorthand for "Getting Things Done®", the groundbreaking work-life management system and book by David Allen that transforms personal overwhelm and overload into an integrated system of stress-free productivity. Read more...

GTD®, Getting Things Done®, and GTD Connect® are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company.

Outlook® is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation, Mac® is a registered trademark of Apple, Inc..

Make it up. Make it happen.


© 2011 David Allen Company. All Rights Reserved



If you received this message directly from the David Allen Company, you are already subscribed. If you received this message as a forward and would like to subscribe, please send a blank email to, or visit:


It's free!


To unsubscribe, send an email to or visit:


We apologize for any inconvenience.


To change your address, please unsubscribe the old address and subscribe the new address using this form:



Please feel free to forward this message to friends, family, and colleagues, keeping our contact and copyright information intact.


Please visit us on the web at <>, email us at, or call 805-646-8432.

David Allen Company
407-F Bryant Circle
Ojai, CA 93023
(805) 646-8432

Make it up. Make it happen.®