I cannot overstate the importance of David Allen’s Getting Things Done in my life. David Allen is a former management consultant who created a methodology for personal productivity. People who follow David Allen and his “GTD” method are sort of like other cultists: glassy eyed, but extremely focused. If you have never heard of GTD or doubt David Allen’s throng of worshipers, google it – there are outlines, books, software programs, blogs, database-driven sites and campfire songs created by followers of GTD to help them follow GTD. When I stumbled onto GTD, I consumed it with skepticism. Then, like all followers of messianic leaders, I plunked down my cash and gave my life to his methods.
What GTD did for me
Getting organized has been a life changer. GTD gave me a road map to get control of my commitments and to return when I lose my way. I stopped hyperventilating. I slept better. I had more SPACE.
I had marched lockstep from college to law school to Big Law, because that’s what I wanted. Once I got there, I realized I needed to come up with new destinations. The legal profession I met in 1997 was a treadmill that keeps getting steeper. Lawyers younger than 60 are not entitled to design their lives. That means that plans, civic projects, outside entrepreneurial activities, rest, family and reflection sit, not in the back seat, but in the way-back, behind a dog’s screen. Which was fine for me for awhile, but then it just got depressing and dull.
But, only when I got control of my brain was I able to even contemplate what I wanted the next 15 years to look like. Once I was able to take a breath, I realized I wanted a consequential career, through which I could help people I respect make things, make money and make themselves free. Having goals based on doing good, rather than racking up hours and collections is much more fun and nearly as lucrative. It also liberates me from taking the sociopath or asshat as a client. I don’t work for bad people and when people ask me to do things I think are wrong, I don’t mince words. But, I also commit to helping my clients achieve their goals; I try to be transparent, and I try to give my clients practical, clear-eyed, efficient counsel.
All of this opened up huge doors. I got involved in politics. Got elected chair of a Board supporting the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Went Of Counsel at my Firm. Wrote Birth to Buyout: Law For the Life Cycle of Your Business with my partner, Roxanne Saylor. Created www.profitandlaws.com, my business, law and life blog. Started working with Hank and Steve, who put me on the radio with my own show. Created and launched Birth to Buyout: Business Law Boot Camps. With Roxanne, built a lake house. Most importantly, these experiences make me a much better, smarter, quicker lawyer. I’m optimistic and more secure. But, if I had continued my ways, scraping and scrapping for time and control, I would be on the same path I was before. I’d be a law firm partner, I’d represent anyone who came in the door, I’d be duller and sadder and have less to say.
There are three reasons why David Allen’s system is so effective. First, he takes a pragmatic and empathetic assessment of the pressures and realities of modern business life. Second, his solutions accept the pressures and realities and work with them. Third, he gives comprehensive advice about how to go step by step through time and achievement. When I learned the fundamentals of GTD, I understood my years of interrupted sleep and internal stress. Here are the ones that gave me peace.
GTD is complex and richly detailed. Here are the lessons I took from the book.
- Collect, in writing, all, all, all tasks, ideas, goals, dreams, problems, issues, short term and long term goals, books to read, plays to see, discs to buy, places to visit, etc.
- Envision each project or task as a set of steps, called next actions, and trigger those next actions due when the prior one is complete.
- Do weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly reviews to keep current.
- Do one thing at a time, because multitasking is both innefficient and inneffective.
- Get control of email inboxes.
- Say no to time commitments that are not worthy.
- If possible, have one place where all tasks, projects and committments are located.
- Keep tickler files dedicated to each day of the month and each month.
- Try and represent ideas and commitments graphically, rather than lists.
- Mindmaps rock.
I am an imperfect GTDer. There are things I rejected, parts of GTD that I was never able to make work for me. I also frequently try and improve my system, which is now a bastardized version of GTD. I have pledged fidelity to my system, but sometimes temptation leads me astray. But, because it’s a system, I always know how to get back home. I’ll write more about my personal system in the future – mostly to show off my extensive collection of mindmaps.
PS: I get no money at all from David Allen. I’ve never met him. I’m not shilling for him. When I read or see interviews with him, I find him a little Bundy-lite. But, I’d still sell his flowers at the airport.
Problem. Most people keep some or all of their commitments in their head. This makes the brain work hard to keep track of all of the “open loops” or stuff that is not in some way categorized, prioritized and/or filed. This drains our emotional and intellectual energy, keeps us from focusing on one thing at a time, bottles up creativity, and makes us feel at loose ends. Solution. Identify and put all commitments of every kind and nature into one big collection bucket.
Problem. Modern life has enormous distractions and impediments to getting to all of the spheres of our lives. Solution: Create a workflow process that is as routinized as possible, that groups related things to do into “projects,” and focus only on the next action.