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Book Review: David Allen’s “Making It All Work” (Part 2 of 3)

Book Review: David Allen’s “Making It All Work” (Part 2 of 3)

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    Note: I decided that I’d better make this three parts instead of the originally-planned two. Allen’s work is, of course, central to the whole field of personal productivity, so it’s worth really diving into it. Don’t miss Part 1 here.

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    At the center of Making It All Work is a renewed emphasis on control — effectively managing the work in your life — and perspective — aligning your work with your greater life goals and purpose. Allen lays these out along two axes, control and perspective, developing a set of four quadrants that are surprisingly resonant with Stephen Covey’s urgent/important quadrants (urgent = low control, important = high perspective). For Allen, the ideal place to be is one where you have a great deal of control and a great deal of perspective — that is, where you’re working as efficiently as possible on tasks of great importance and with minimal stress.

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    Getting Control

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      The control axis in Making It All Work essentially rehashes and expands the core GTD methodology from Allen’s earlier work, with some slight changes in terminology” Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect, and Engage. Considering that this territory is already well covered in his earlier work, it might be surprising that Allen devotes 125 pages to it here — but as it is the main doable part of GTD, the part that you can set the book down and apply immediately, it seems worthwhile to revisit it. And Allen’s thinking has evolved somewhat, especially in the “Do” (“Engage”) part, where he devotes much more attention (thus addressing a big criticism of GTD, that it spends a lot of time helping us prepare to do stuff but stops just at the point where we actually do do stuff).

      GTD is noted for its simplicity, and it’s the simplicity of this part of it that earns it the most adherents and yields the greatest tangible benefit. To start GTD, you walk through the 5 steps: capture, clarify, organize, reflect, engage. To maintain your system, you do the same: capture, clarify, organize, reflect, engage. To get back on track after the inevitable slip-ups: capture, clarify, organize, reflect, engage.

      • Capture: GTD is all about attention, and capture is all about, in Allen’s words, “paying attention to whatever has your attention.” Our minds are imperfect, and unfortunately not in predictable ways. We will forget things that are of utmost importance (like our wedding anniversary), and obsess over trivial matters (like remembering to pick up milk on the way home). Capture functions at two levels — both the thorough “mindsweep” when we get started with GTD and again during each weekly review, where we inventory every possible thing that has our attention, no matter how significant or minor, and the incidental capture of fleeting thoughts so that we can get them into our system without seriously interrupting whatever task we’re currently focusing on.
      • Clarify: Capture is meant to be indiscriminatory — if it has your attention, you capture it. Calrification is the process of deciding what to do with the “stuff” you’ve captured. This is the stage of processing your inbox, going over meeting notes and letters, sorting all the notes in your Moleskine. The first question to ask is, “Is it actionable?” If it is, then you determine what action needs to be taken (create a next action, start a new project, defer to someone else) and add that to the relevant list or your calendar. If it isn’t actionable, you need to decide if it’s reference material to be filed away, something to mull over and defer until later (which means it goes into your tickler file), or nothing at all (and can be tossed).
      • Organize: Organization is at the heart of the “system” part of GTD — it’s where all your next actions, projects, goals, reference materials, and so on are kept and made available. Allen outlines 6 categories of “things” that need organizing:
        1. Outcomes: High-level personal statements like your vision of yourself in 5-10 years, your principles, a list of your areas of focus, and low-level functional material like your projects list.
        2. Actions: The lists and other material that drive your daily activities, including your next actions sorted by context (e.g. @home, @office), your “waiting for” list to remind you of work deferred to others, and your calendar detailing what needs to get done when.
        3. Incubating: Projects and actions that you aren’t ready or willing to take on at the moment, or that you’re not sure you want to take on at all. These go on your “someday/maybe” list.
        4. Support: All your planning documents and collateral material that are needed to work on your active projects.
        5. Reference: All documents, research material, articles, and other stuff that is not needed for current projects but which may prove useful for future projects.
        6. Trash: Everything that doesn’t have a place in your life right now.
      • Reflect: Called “Review” in Allen’s earlier books, the new term reflects a more active and creative approach to looking over existing commitments and generating new project and ideas. The key is still the Weekly Review, a regular “time out” from the hustle of day-to-day work in order to bring your system up to date and look forward into the future.
      • Engaging: The selection and execution of tasks from your next action lists in the appropriate context. What’s new here is Allen’s head-on approach to priorities. For Allen, the entire purpose of all the other stages is so that at any given moment, you can focus fully on the one task that, given where you’re at and the time available to you, is the single most important thing you could be doing right now. The work of defining, scheduling, assessing, and preparing for the actual action is already taken care of — leaving you free from moment to moment to pursue the particular action that is most appropriate for that moment.

      In the next and (hopefully) last part of this review, we’ll look at the other axis, perspective. Allen’s take on perspective is centered around the Horizons of Focus (10,000 feet, 20,000 feet, etc.) that he introduced in Getting Things Done, but which here are described in far greater depth than before. We’ll begin in the next post where we end in this one, with action, the “runway” level where doing occurs. See you then!

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      Last Updated on October 14, 2020

      How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic

      How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic

      When you become an early riser, you’ll experience a lot of benefits, including feeling more energized and having more time to do what you want.

      If you’d like to join the ranks of those waking up with the sun, there are some things you should know before you run off to set your alarm.

      What exactly do you need to do to learn how to become an early riser?

      Here are 5 tips I’ve discovered to be most helpful in making the transition from erratic sleeper or night owl to early morning wizard.

      1. Choose to Get up Before You Go to Sleep

      You’re not very good at making decisions when you’ve just woken up. You were in the middle of a dream in which [insert celebrity crush of choice here] is serving you breakfast in bed, only to be rudely awakened by the harsh tones of your alarm clock.

      You’re frustrated, confused, and surprised. This is not the time to be making decisions about whether or not you should stay in bed! And yet, most of us leave the first decision of our day to be made in a blur of partial wakefulness.

      No more!

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      If you want to learn how to be an early riser, try making your decision to rise at a specific time before you go to sleep the night before. This frees you from making the decision in the morning when you’ve just woken up. Instead of making a decision, you only have to follow through on your decision from the night before.

      Easier said than done? Of course. But only for the first few times. Eventually, your need for raw willpower to get out of bed will diminish, and you’ll be the proud parent of a new habit!

      Steve Pavlina suggests you practice getting out of bed during the day[1] to get a few of the “practice sessions” out of the way without the early morning fog in your head.

      2. Have a Plan for Your Extra Time

      Let’s say you’ve actually made it out of bed 2 hours before you normally would. Now what? What are you going to do with all this time you’ve discovered in your day?

      If you don’t have something planned to do with your extra time, you risk falling for the temptation of a “morning nap” that wipes out all the work you put into getting up.

      To become an early riser, plan a great morning routine.

        Before you fall asleep, make a quick note of what you’d like to get done during your extra hours the following day. You could read a book, clean the garage, or write up that work report you’ve been putting off. Make a plan for when you wake up earlier, and you’ll do more than protect yourself from backsliding into bed.

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        You’ll get things done, and those results will fuel your desire to build rising early into a habit!

        3. Make Rising Early a Social Activity

        Your internet or social media buddies just don’t have enough pull to make your new habit stick in the long term. The same cannot be said for the people you spend time with as part of your early morning routine.

        Sure, you could choose to read blogs for two hours every morning, but wouldn’t it be great to join an early breakfast club, running group, or play chess in the park at 5am?

        The more people you get involved in making your new habit a daily part of your life, the easier it’ll be to succeed.

        Consider finding an accountability partner who is also interested in becoming an early riser. Perhaps it’s a neighbor who you plan to go for a run with at 6 am. Or it could be your husband or wife, and you decide to get up earlier to spend more time together before the kids wake up.

        Learn more about finding the perfect accountability partner in this article.

        4. Don’t Use an Alarm That Makes You Angry

        If we’re all wired differently, why do we all insist on torturing ourselves with the same sort of alarm each morning?

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        I spent years trying to wake up before my alarm went off so I wouldn’t have to hear it. I got pretty good, too. Then, I started using a cellphone as my alarm clock and quickly realized that different ring tones irritated me less but worked just as well to wake me up. I now use the ringtone alarm as a back-up for my bedside lamp, which I’ve plugged in to a timer.

        When the bright light doesn’t work, the cellphone picks up the slack, and I wake up on time. The lesson learned? Experiment a bit and see what works best for you as you try to become an early riser.

        Light, sound, smells, temperature, or even some contraption that dumps water on you might be more pleasant than your old alarm clock. Give something new a try!

        One final thing you can do is put your alarm at least several feet from your bed. If it’s within arm’s reach, you’ll be tempted to hit the snooze button. However, if you have to get out of bed to turn it off, you’ll be more likely to resist going back to sleep.

        5. Get Your Blood Flowing Right After Waking

        If you don’t have a neighbor you can pick fights with at 5 am, you’ll have to settle with a more mundane exercise. It doesn’t take much to get your blood flowing and chase the sleep from your head.

        Just pick something you don’t mind doing and go through the motions until your heart rate is up. Jumping rope, push-ups, crunches, or a few minutes of yoga are typically enough to do the trick. Here are 10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day. (Just don’t do anything your doctor hasn’t approved.)

        If you’re going to go for a full-on morning workout, remember to give your body at least 15 minutes to get moving before you start[2]. Have a glass of water, stretch a bit, and then get into your workout.

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        If you live in a beautiful part of the world like me, you might want to use a bit of your early morning to go for a walk and enjoy the beauty of the world around you.

        If you have a coffee shop open within walking distance, dragging yourself out of bed for a cup of coffee to savor on your walk home as the world wakes around you is a wonderful experience. Try it, and you’ll enjoy becoming an early riser!

        Final Thoughts

        Creating a new habit is always a challenge, especially if that habit is forcing you out of the comfort of your bed before the sun is even up. However, early risers enjoy increased productivity, higher levels of concentration, and even healthier eating habits[3]!

        Those are all great reasons to give it a try and get up a few minutes earlier. Try getting to bed a bit earlier and learn how to become an early riser with the above tips and conquer your days.

        More on How to Become an Early Riser

        Featured photo credit: Nomadic Julien via unsplash.com

        Reference

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