Free the mind to get things done
You arrive at your desk in the morning and switch on your computer to start the day. Then the nagging thought starts to creep in – “I need to tell my boss something before tomorrow. What was that idea I had in the car this morning? I need to get around to tidying up this desk.”
“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding [on to] them”, says motivational speaker David Allen, who is in Dubai on Wednesday to hold a seminar on how we can tidy up our mental clutter.
“A key element to the creative process is to let your mind wander. But that’s disturbed when you’re trying to keep stuff in your head – our minds need space.”
Mr Allen’s 2001 book Getting Things Done sold over 2 million copies in 30 languages. It prescribes a method of moving planned tasks out of the mind by recording them externally and breaking them into actionable items, enabling you to focus on your project at hand without being distracted.
The Getting Things Done model did not come to Mr Allen, an American, overnight. “It was more like a long string of epiphanettes, and it took me 25 years to actually figure it all out.”
Before then, Mr Allen, 68, dabbled in 35 different jobs by the time he was 35, including stints as a magician, karate instructor, glass-blowing lathe operator, and petrol station manager.
“I’d get bored, then I’d move on,” he says. “What I really liked to do was look at a situation and help improve it in whatever way I could to help people do things easier. Then one day I realised they actually pay people to do that – they call them consultants.
“I hadn’t grow up in a world where consulting was even a recognised profession. So I hung out my shingle, rapidly met as many consultants as I could, and started researching effective life skill models. I wanted to find something new that would work for anybody, no matter what level they were or what business they were in.”
Mr Allen admits he’s never been a natural organiser and one reason he developed the Getting Things Done model was to streamline his own life.
“I’ve always been a naturally lazy guy,” he says. “I’m a student of my own advice, because you teach what you need to learn the most. I’ll always think, “What’s the easiest way to do what I’m doing? ... which sometimes looks like organising because the easiest way to do stuff is to create a checklist.
He adds: “But that’s about being smart, not about being naturally organised.”
He claims to hear back from at least one person a week who has enhanced their mental clarity by following his techniques. He says his fans include the comedian Drew Carey and the DJ Howard Stern – who even hired one of Mr Allen’s coaches to be his chief operating officer.
But Mr Allen concedes that although many people read his book, they don’t always heed his advice.
“The process is bullet proof. Nobody has ever written to me and said, ‘gee, something’s wrong in there’. Everybody just goes ‘oh yeah, this is probably right. I just don’t do it.’ That’s the biggest issue we have, is getting people to follow it. How do you market a simple piece of intellectual property like this, and get it to stick?”
Mr Allen is attempting to answer his own question by equipping master trainers in 40 countries to conduct in-house training sessions in local languages. A master trainer based in Egypt will conduct the Getting Things Done programme in the Middle East region.
The time management model itself has also had to adapt to changes since Mr Allen first wrote his landmark book 13 years ago, before smartphone technology had taken off. He’s just finished the final edits on a revised version, which will arrive in book shops in March.
“These days, there are more distractions. You probably got more input in the last 72 hours than your parents got in a month. All that ubiquity of access has upped the game, and it has made it more obvious when people are not sure what they’re doing with their lives.
“But the principles of the book are still the same. When we land on Jupiter, people will still need an in-basket and they still need to decide their ‘next action’ on things. This is eternal.”
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