5 Nuggets of Productivity Wisdom from David Allen

by | May 7, 2019 | Interviews, Podcast

Takeaway:For this week’s episode of Becoming Better, I interviewed David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done. A few of my favorite nuggets from our interview (expanded upon below): our heads are for having ideas (not holding them); mental clarity comes when we store fewer commitments in our head; we should capture every single commitment we have on our plate; that we need mental space as much as we need more time; and that we should be listening to the “still small voice” in our mind throughout the day.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 32s.

Podcast length:30 minutes, 48s.

In this week’s episode of Becoming Better, I sit down with the one and only David Allen. David is the author of the mega-bestselling book Getting Things Done, which sparked a personal productivity revolution in 2001. Since then, the book has gone on to sell millions of copies around the world, and has been published in nearly 30 languages. David’s also hosting a massive summit on GTD which he calls the “grand finale” of his career (in Amsterdam; June 20-21; tickets are still available).

I think you’ll dig this episode! As always, in case you don’t have the time or inclination to listen, I’ve included a few of my favorite ideas from our chat below, but there are, of course, a lot of ideas that a simple article like this can’t capture.

A few nuggets we talked about:

  1. Your head is for having ideas, not holding them. This is the central tenant of David’s system, and in my opinion, this sticky idea is why his ideas have amassed such a large and loyal following. We have a limited amount of mental bandwidth to give to whatever we’re doing—and we shouldn’t waste any amount of this bandwidth on storing information and unresolved commitments in our head. We need to externalize those into some sort of system.
  2. Mental clarity comes from storing fewer commitments in your mind. There’s a reason why keeping a calendar helps you focus: you no longer have to remember where you have to be, and when you have to be there. That’s stored in your calendar, which you review regularly and get notifications from, and by keeping a calendar you free up mental room for other things. This is why to-do lists are also so powerful: they help clear up even more mental space. The fewer tasks, projects, and unresolved commitments you keep in your mind, the more clearly you’re able to think.
  3. For greater mental clarity, make a list of every single commitment you have on your plate. One great way to clear up mental space is to make a list of all of the tasks and projects you have going on. In our interview, David mentioned that this process may take anywhere from one to six hours, depending on how much you’re juggling. The simple act of capturing these commitments onto a sheet of paper—getting them out of your head—is freeing in and of itself. You’re then able to create a plan for how to follow through on them all, and even create a master list of all of your projects.
  4. You need more mental space as much as you need more time. Our tasks, projects, and commitments will always consume time. But they also consume more mental space than is necessary; we’re constantly recalling what we have to get done when we’re in the middle of something else. As David put it in our conversation: “You don’t need time to have a good idea, or be creative, or innovative, or loving, or present, or strategic—you just need room.”
  5. Listen to the “still small voice” in your head throughout the day. Sometimes when we’re working, there’s a little voice inside our head we ignore, that tells us to take a break—to take a walk around the park when we’ve got 300 emails that have built up, or to have a glass of wine when we haven’t treated ourselves to one in a while. Or to cram for a project, because we have a sudden burst of energy then we can take advantage of. Instead of blindly following your to-do list, or using your email inbox as your to-do list, David recommends listening to what this “still small voice” has to say.

In a couple of weeks, my cohost Ardyn and I will be back, chatting about the systems we both use to manage our lives—including what we’ve found that works, and what we still struggle with.

Enjoy the conversation with David! And have a wonderful week.

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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