Feb 23, 2011

David Allen's "Getting Things Done," as Integration

I recommend David Allen's book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, New York, Penguin, 2001, 267 pages.

Amy Peikoff has fully reviewed the book in The Objective Standard, here. The special point I am focusing on in this post is that the Getting Things Done system is a tool of integration, at multiple levels.

"Teaching you how to be maximally efficient and relaxed, whenever you need or want to be, was my main purpose in writing this book," says Allen (p. xi, emphasis added). That is what Allen does. As the subtitle says, he presents an art, that is, a general method that employs judgment, which uses free will and a growing body of knowledge.[1] He applies that art, which requires an investment of time to learn and automatize, to achieve both higher productivity and greater relaxation at the same time. No one needs to postpone a relaxed attitude until after work hours. That is an example of integration.

One element of Allen's system of Getting Things Done is what I call The Total Inbox. The idea is to place everything that enters your world and demands your attention into a single depository. This is the collection phase, and it too is an instance of integration. It brings together the many channels that affect us daily: phone calls, emails, letters, requests made at meetings, and nagging demands from one's own subconscious ("I really should do something about ...").

The next phase, processing, performs a cognitive integration. For each input (such as a bill received in the mail) that goes into the Getting Things Done system, one must identify its nature (a legitimate request for payment), categorize it (deserves prompt but not immediate payment), and state an action that will move one a step closer to a solution (write a check on the 14th of the month). The thinking required here is a form of integration in that it identifies facts and connects them to one's values and actions.

After the inputs are collected and initially processed, they can be organized into a systematic way of dealing with them. For me, that means a short interconnected set of lists of projects and the next-action to take for each one. Lists, however, are useless unless one reviews them regularly and then acts on them.

Those are the four stages: Collecting, Processing, Organizing, and Reviewing. This personal management system connects the philosophical (one's hierarchy of values) to the psychological (both the random flashes of insight and the ill-timed naggings issued by the subconscious) to the existential (action in the world as it is and as one wants to make it).

For me, David Allen's book, Getting Things Done, required several days to read and annotate and then another day to implement. The result has been a higher quality life, one in which I have peace of mind in knowing that I have accounted for everything within my control.

Burgess Laughlin
Author of The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described here.

[1] I learned this from Harry Binswanger: hblist.com.