Productive Living
David Allen

Hi Folks,

The major complaint about our Getting Things Done methodology is not that it doesn't work or that the principles aren't sound—it's that people don't work the system. I've learned that many times the problem is not lack of motivation or discipline, but instead some rather mundane and practical behaviors that can be easily changed to make things work much better. I've identified three in this essay. If you do a quality check on your own system and where you notice you have cracks and stress fractures, it could likely include at least one of them.

To kick start 2013, one of my senior coaches and I will be doing a webinar in early January around creating wild success. I'll share what I do to complete the past, look forward to the future, and what GTD tools and behaviors support all of that. Should be a fun and engaging event. Hop on and hop in with us.

All the best,




There are three common reasons why most people seem to flounder with their personal workflow. At least part of their systems lack one or more of three essential variables: consistent, current, and contextually available. This was reaffirmed for me in a coaching session I did with a senior executive. Here's what showed up:

Consistency: She had some phone call reminders on pieces of paper, some in her head, some on sticky notes stuck to the phone. Keeping the same kind of reminders about the same kinds of to-do's in different media in different places is hugely inefficient and confusing. Information or reminder triggers of a specific type must be kept in the same place, the same way, all the time. Otherwise we have to make the "what do I do with this?" decision with every such particle, and that throws up a quick barrier to engagement. She decided to go with simple file folders labeled "Calls - Work" and "Calls - Personal", as the best way to manage those, and sanity began to prevail.

Currency: No matter how consistent the system is, if it is not current (i.e. completely up to date with all items in a category) it still can't be trusted in a way that relieves the psyche of the job of remembering and sorting. You'll look at a list and some part of you knows it's not the whole list, so (a) you won't totally trust your choices and (b) you'll still try to use your head to keep track. And if your brain still has that job, instead of trusting your lists, you won't be motivated to keep your external system going (it will be too much work for the value received.) You'll feel like it's hard work to keep the list and will resist looking at it anyway because you'll know it's only partial and it will remind you that you're "behind."

Contextually available: She had been trying to organize action reminders by project or by topic, instead of by where the reminder needs to be seen in order to get it done. Project thinking and planning need to be seen by the title or topic, because that's when we need to see that information (when we're meeting or thinking about it). But reminders of the next actions required need to be seen where those actions can occur--phone calls when we're at a phone; errands to do when we're about to go out in our car; emails to send when we're at our computer; etc. Information and action reminders should always be stored in such a way that we are likely to see them when we need to see them, and can use or move on the data. If you store your Next Action reminders by what or who they're about, every time you're in a place where you can do work (at a phone, at your desk, in your car, at home) you'd have to look through dozens of folders or files to find reminders of all your options. And when you're running fast and only have a short window of time, you won't really check the whole inventory and you're likely to make choices from latest-and-loudest instead of objective overview.



To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.—Samuel Beckett



Question: At what point did answering e-mail become my job?

David's answer: Well, at what point did answering anything—your mail, having conversations in your hallway—become your job? It's all your job. You just have to decide what your work is. As the late, great Peter Drucker said, that's your biggest job, to define what your work is.

So how do you define what your work is, and therefore should you be doing that? The good news about this overwhelm is that it's forcing people to make executive decisions that they never felt like they had to make before. "I need to do everything that comes my way." No, you can't anymore, sorry. You are going to have to do triage. That means you are going to have to have a conversation with your boss. You are going to have to show up with a list of everything he or she has given you and have a conversation. "Gee, thanks for these new things, can we talk? Because I am not going to be able to do them all." It's forcing those kinds of conversations.

That's why people have this attraction/repulsion to GTD. It ain't lightweight stuff. If you are really going to work this, that's what's going to start to show up.

Excerpted from David's interview with

GTD Workplace

David Allen's TEDx Talk. "The art of stress-free productivity is a martial art." Watch now (22 min)

David Allen talks with Fast Company about the new partnership with David Allen Company and Intentional Software.

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As the Chief Learning Officer, I am looking at our talent and what's needed to achieve our strategies. Talent is under stress, resources are as constrained as ever, and the individual is balancing their work and home life. Giving people tools, resources -- hope, if you will -- to handle this craziness is how GTD has helped us.

Staying clear on commitments and goals is very important and it's something that we stress at General Mills, Inc. Knowing what's most important now is a competitive advantage. You need to be tuned in to what capacities and capabilities are critical to win in the marketplace. The GTD tools help individuals and those at the departmental level know that they are able to adapt. GTD enables people to pick up new challenges and new opportunities, as well as execute the current set of commitments.

David Allen Company helps us continue to deliver top-notch development in both individual and group settings. One of the team effects I've seen is the notion of having a common language of productivity. While people might pick up different parts of the system or different parts of the approach, the team works better because they have the right sense of a project plan. That strong sense of trust and communication helps our teams perform better.

David Allen Company seminars have been featured in our General Mills Institute for over seven years. I've got people lined up to take the training. I remember years ago, sitting in the back of a GTD course and having about 85 people in the class with an amazing span -- everyone from secretaries, technicians, to one of our divisional presidents. GTD isn't a fad or something fashionable for a year or two, and then it just fades. It has stick-ability or sustainability and people know it matters to them.

—Kevin Wilde, Chief Learning Officer, General Mills, Inc.

Watch three short videos with Kevin Wilde discussing GTD. To learn how the David Allen Company can assist your organization, contact

GTD Events


Creating Wild Success in 2013 | Learn more
David Allen will share about completing and acknowledging your wins, creating more of what you want to be doing and experiencing, and the essential GTD tools and behaviors that can support you.

January 11, 11am-12pm Pacific Time

Keys to Getting Things Done | Learn more
A fantastic overview of the best practices of GTD, including the essential questions to ask to get "In" to zero and the 7 key buckets for organizing your work.

December 7, 10am-11am Pacific Time
December 13, 3pm-4pm Pacific Time (Ideal for those of you in Australia who have been asking for webinars!)


Mastering Workflow | Learn more
Our popular seminar for understanding the fundamentals of GTD and getting the tools in place to be setup for success.

December 6 | Austin, TX
December 13 | San Diego, CA
January 17 | San Jose, CA
January 22 | Seattle, WA
January 24 | New York City

Save 10% on your public seminar tuition with discount coupon GTDSeminar. May not be combined with other offers or applied retroactively.



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.

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