Productive Living
David Allen

Hi Everyone!

You may be surprised when I say that you probably don't need more time organizing your projects. But in fact, most people are trying to organize a project and move into its next actions, when they haven't even finished their thinking about why they are even doing it or how its successful completion would actually look. In Getting Things Done®, the process I recommend for fleshing this out is the Natural Planning Model®. For a quick explanation, you'll get some direction in my essay below.

All the best,



What's needed and not needed for projects

Many professionals and their company cultures seem addicted to the organizing of projects and situations. Or at least addicted to feeling the need to organize them, and feeling guilty if they're not.

But organizing the structure and components is only one of the five levels of thinking that must be clear to make a project happen efficiently and effectively in the world. It is only half of the "How?" part of project planning (the prior half being creative brainstorming about all the things in the way and along the way that ought to be considered.)

Do we know why we are doing something? Have we fully opened to consider what the end result could/should look like, stretching ourselves appropriately into a vision of wild success? As we move to thinking about how we're going to do things, have we surfaced all the potentially relevant details and perspectives, stretching outside the box sufficiently to prevent the "whoops!" factor on the back end? Only then is organizing into structures, major components, sequences, and priorities effective.

And then, by the way, as the final and critical step to execution and forward motion, are we clear what needs to be done now as a next action on the project or the process?

Of the five stages of Natural Planning (purpose, vision, brainstorm, organization, next actions), the organizing piece invariably takes the most time. Laying out components and sub-components with required sequences and relative priorities is certainly critical to do, and in many cases can require lots of time and mental horsepower to surface and arrange huge amounts of detail. But though that third stage in good project thinking fills a lot of "psychic room," in my last 25 years of experience with lots of people in lots of projects, teams, and companies, I can safely say that the one thing people generally don't need to do more of with projects is organize. They do need to think more about the purpose, galvanize more the vision of how cool the outcome might really be, create and collect more potentially useful ideas and perspectives, and decide and distribute accountabilities for specific next actions more consistently. If those additional four levels of thinking are sufficient, you'll have the right organization when you get to it and the appropriate moving parts actually in motion as a result.



Question: Is A to Z filing necessarily better than chronological piles on a desk if you *know* your system and how your mind works? (For me, proper filing means ceding control—I no longer instinctively know where something is. How do you go about changing the habits of a lifetime?)

David Allen: GTD is not really about any "right" way to do something. It's only about what takes the least amount of effort to produce the result. For instance, the object of a filing system is to be able to access reference information when you need it. If it's easier to find it by when something happened vs. what it's about, so be it. If you're a pack-rat like me, though, it's a lot easier to find my stuff about Milan under "Milan" than by the three dates I've been there (and then I don't have all my "Milan" stuff in one spot).

I experience maximum creativity in clear space. If the lack of filing and admin disturbs that space, it's undermining of the creative process to avoid it.

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