David Allen begins Getting Things Done (GTD) with a bold promise:
It’s possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control. That’s a great way to live and work, at elevated levels of effectiveness and efficiency. It’s also becoming a critical operational style required of successful and high-performing professionals. You already know how to do everything necessary to achieve this high-performance state. If you’re like most people, however, you need to apply these skills in a more timely, complete and systematic way so you can get on top of it all instead of feeling buried.
In the remaining pages, David fulfills his promise by laying out a systematic approach that he has developed and refined over about two decades of organizational coaching. And unlike many other books on organization that introduce readers to broad concepts and principles, David offers concrete, step-by-step instructions on ways of organizing that he has repeatedly found effective in hundreds if not thousands of real-world situations.
That’s the essence of coaching: it’s not “introduce the concept, let the students figure out the details for themselves.” A good basketball coach, for example, teaches sound shooting technique by instructing players on effective form. It’s possible to be a good shooter with bad form, but it’s a lot less likely and takes a lot more work. Likewise, it’s possible to be effective at organizing your life and work by developing your own system from scratch. But if someone has taken the time to distill decades of experience into one book that has not only strategies for success, but also the nitty gritty tactics, why go out of your way to invent your own methods?
David Allen is the John Wooden of personal organization trainers. And just as Bill Walton and Lewis Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) bought into Coach Wooden’s system to win 10 NCAA basketball titles (including seven in a row) for UCLA, you would do well, no matter your natural personal organization talents, to apply David Allen’s system to your life.
When I arrived home after my plane ride, I decided to just take David’s advice. He suggested getting an electronic label maker so filing would be fun and easy, so I did it. He made other office-supply suggestions for maximum efficiency, so I spent about $100 (including the label maker) to get what he said would be useful. He said it would be good to clear a couple of days to do an initial organization and to clear out the underbrush, so instead of taking the day after Thanksgiving off as I had previously planned, I used it dive in.
In the next few days I’ll be writing more about that experience, what I learned then, what I’ve learned in the year since then and how much more I’ve yet to really learn.
If you’re like many people, you’re probably coming into a weekend that will give you some free time. I think one of the best things you could do to get more out of your coming work week, and work weeks yet to come, would be to get a copy of GTD and read it straight through, and then resolve to apply what you learn. Or, as David says, to apply in a more systematic way what you already know, but perhaps haven’t taken time to consciously consider.
And while you’re at it, pick up one of Coach Wooden’s books, too. I especially recommend Wooden on Leadership.