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Interview with David Allen about Productivity

David Allen is an international author, lecturer and founder and Chairman of the David Allen Company, a management consulting, coaching and training company. In the last twenty years he has developed and implemented productivity improvement programs for over a million professionals in hundreds of organizations worldwide, including many Fortune 500 corporations and U.S. Government agencies. He delivers public and in-house seminars, executive work-flow coaching and consulting programs that address interactive and organizational productivity and alignment issues. In short, he is the godfather of the Getting Things DONE movement.


Here are my 5 questions with David and his answers:

1) What is your rebuttal to authors such as David H. Freedman and Michael Penn that claim in their respective books A Perfect Mess and Microtrends that people who appear to be messy and unorganized have been shown statistically on a variety of criteria to have an advantage and/or outperform their organized counterparts?

These labels mean many things to many people. When one thinks of “stuff” and/or “clutter” the question becomes where is it and what does it mean to that person. Is someone naturally organized or is their life filled with psychological clutter? One possible explanation for these findings could be that other studies have show that the people who believe they are disorganized are actually some of the most organized. They are cognitive of the fact that the better you get, the better you’d better get. They have learned to adapt but for one reason or another they identify themselves as unorganized when in fact, compared to their peers, they fall high on the scale for being organized.

2) You and Tony Robbins are both proponents of the Reticular Activating System, has there been any recent research that has caught your attention on how a person can better leverage their RAS?

There has been some recent research on RAS and improving ADD and ADHD but the Reticular Activating System is fairly common and well-known. A better way to look at it is that there hasn’t been any research to discredit its importance. It is really just common sense. If you are aware and present, then you can pick up on patterns and improve your pattern recognition. Using science, researchers can actually trace the nerve signals pattern when you are aware of something. People can use “assumed affirmations” and eventually these affirmations will become self-fulfilling, which means it is important to keep these affirmations positive.

3) What is the most exciting idea that you have had (or know about) that has happened on the back of an envelope?

My whole life has been the back of an envelope. It has all been the back of the envelope thinking because that is the way the brain works. Brain storming is brain relaxing and my life’s work has come out of this process.

4) One of the areas of weakness commonly identified in aspiring entrepreneurs is that they try to do too many things and do not allow themselves enough bandwidth for activities that generate the highest return. In your opinion, is there some inherent risk in horizontal thinkers/multi-taskers/entrepreneurs taking actions on a someday/maybe list, especially if they are using it as a distraction?

One tool to counteract this would be to tier or segment your someday/maybe lists. Maybe you have a somday/maybe list and a someday/never list, whatever works for you. First you need to make an agreement with yourself that you will stick to and decide what you want and/or need to keep. People often mistakenly think Getting Things DONE is about getting rid of stuff. That has not ever been explicitly stated; rather one just needs to be conscious of the things that are pulling at their psyche. Have as much stuff as you would like as long as it is not a distraction. It is about being honest with yourself and learning that it is okay to tell yourself and others “no” once in awhile.

5) In Getting Things DONE you steer away from endorsing a specific filing system/model, do you have any recommendations on where to start for someone looking for a good system beyond the general filing system, particularly a system that would also apply for organizing computer files since storage of electronic information is so readily available these days and its accumulation voluminous?

No, the advice here is to just make sure that on some periodic basis you need to go through your files and ask yourself what is relevant. Have confidence in your archived files. If the information is stored properly you can’t really have too much. If it gets in the way, then there is a problem and you need to adjust your system.