Productive Living
David Allen

Hi Folks,

Well analyzed "stuff" is still "stuff." No matter how much you dissect why something landed in your world, until you decide what you want to do about it, it's stuck as stuff. This is what is choking inboxes and psyches around the world. And it's certainly not getting any easier with the increasing volume you are likely getting on a daily basis. At some point getting yourself physically engaged in something is the only way to get the best ideas about it, and make good progress. I continue to be amazed by the constructive perspectives that show up when I get my butt off the chair and start toward the door. My essay this month talks about the power of action that many times trumps the thinking process.

All the best,



The Deep Water of Doing

Thinking can be counterproductive—at least what people sometimes parade as thinking. REAL thinking is always a good thing, but many people pretend that replaying a tape in their head about something is actually thinking about it.

Many times our workflow coaching clients want to give us long involved stories about an e-mail sitting in their inbox. It's as if they're defending a doctoral thesis, going to great lengths to explain why it showed up, what it means, and why it's still sitting there. They want us to know their thinking. They seem to feel that if they tell us enough about it, it justifies the space it's taking up in their virtual and psychic world.

We listen attentively and then just ask, "What's the next action?" After a slight twitch ("Don't you care about all the reasons this is here?"), they swallow hard and engage in the executive decision-making that invariably ensues when they gear down to operational reality. Thinking is required, but at a different level. Continually thinking the same way about something (usually in frustration or irritation) is avoidance. Thinking about what has to happen to move something forward to resolution, clarity, or completion is highly functional. Well-analyzed "stuff" is still "stuff." It must yet be composted into the primary elements of the commitment you have about the result to be achieved and the next action required to fulfill that agreement with yourself. In other words, you need to figure out what it means and what you want to do about it.

But that kind of thinking generates a pledge to action, and that's risky business. When you start to move on making anything actually happen, you confront a subtle but significant angst—the project and the actions involved in it might never be as wonderful, as perfect, as solid, and as safe as in the sanctity of your imagination. It's like stepping off the end of the pier—and how deep is that water anyway?

But when you make that leap of faith and down shift into action, a weird thing happens. Real intelligence, creativity, and solidity show up—in a much greater way than ever it could, trying to be managed merely in your head. Putting the limitation of physicality onto what you're thinking about does not constrain the mind—it actually galvanizes it. The water's deep, but it's an ocean of possibility.



Vision is not enough. It must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs. —Vaclav Havel

Unless a capacity for thinking be accompanied by a capacity for action, a superior man exists in torture. —Benedetto Croce



Q: Any ideas or success stories with people who have two or three office locations?

David: Bilocated offices do present some unique challenges. Some things to consider:

  • Pick one as your "main" office. Then consider going to the other one like going on a trip—take what you need for that venue and time frame. Of course you can leave everything in any location that's not needed anywhere else. For instance, I don't take my tickler file with me when I travel—I simply use it for good purpose, in a way that I don't need it until I'm back to it, in my office.
  • If you still want to make them equally "home base," then you need a good couple of choices of briefcases and/or satchels which can serve as a virtual office, and you work as much out of the briefcase from each location as you do from your desk. (This is what I do, with my corporate office being a second office for me, after my office at home).
  • In terms of tracking next actions that need to be done in those locations, a small workable detail would be to have two categories instead of one — @Office A and @Office B.
  • Relax, there's no way to really try to conceptualize a solution that will work perfectly from the beginning. Get started and keep tweaking your system as you go along for what works best.
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