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Book Review: David Allen’s “Making It All Work” (Part 1 of 3)

Book Review: David Allen’s “Making It All Work” (Part 1 of 3)

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    December saw the release of David Allen’s Making It All Work:Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life, Allen’s long-awaited follow-up to his classic Getting Things Done (Ready for Anything, published in 2004, acts more as a companion to Getting Things Done than a sequel). Making It All Work seems to have been written with the primary goal of addressing some of the the most common criticisms of Allen’s GTD methodology, and clarifying its role outside of the workplace.

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      To that end, Making It All Work focuses much more extensively on the most glaringly underdeveloped part of GTD: actually doing things. For most people, the biggest stumbling block in GTD is its lack of prioritization, which leaves GTD’ers often at a loss about what item from their extensive next action lists they should be working on at any given moment.

      Allen thankfully avoids adding a simplistic prioritization scheme to his method; instead, he spends a considerable amount of time expanding on the horizons of focus – woefully short-shrifted in Getting Things Done – and integrating the different levels of awareness with his original process. For Allen, the clarity that comes of working from a trusted system rather than in our heads frees us up to more effectively trust our intuitions about what we should be working on in the heat of the moment.

      Add to this a renewed attention to focus and perspective, and Making It All Work provides a valuable addition to Getting Things Done. It’s not by any means a replacement for the earlier book – and, unfortunately, it lacks the earlier works plain-spokenness and simplicity – but anyone looking to deepen their understanding of and comfort with GTD will find a lot to think about in Making It All Work.

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      In this two-part review, I will highlight some of the main features of Making It All Work, beginning with the foundations of GTD as a framework for effective action in today’s post, and continuing with an in-depth look at the work’s major new contributions to GTD in part 2.

      Making it all work

      As the subtitle, “Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life” suggests, Making It All Work is committed to escaping the bounds of the business world and bringing GTD into our non-work lives. The title’s double play suggests Allen’s core message: extend the principles of GTD throughout your life, treating all your tasks, projects, and goals as part of the vocation of living.

      Allen is relying heavily on the assumption that we won’t read too much into the idea of “work” – that is,that we’ll avoid the word’s unpleasant connotations of sacrifice, labor, and hardship. Clearly he doesn’t intend for us to consider taking our significant other out for a romantic evening on the town as the same kind of task as, say, arranging a construction crew to repair your office building’s sewage lines.

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      What he does intend is for GTD’ers to apply the same principles they apply to their least appealing tasks throughout their life – that is, that we should consider every action as part of our steady march towards some greater life purpose and, on a practical level, rely on our physical system of lists, calendars, and weekly reviews to assure we make the most of all our tasks no matter how emotionally significant.

      Pay attention to what has your attention

      Allen has argued repeatedly that GTD is not a time management system but an attention management system, and he hammers on this theme repeatedly in Making It All Work. GTD is, Allen insists, a framework for helping us focus our attention where it belongs at any particular moment – and once we’ve achieved the clarity that a trusted system allows, we can trust our instincts to guide us to the best and most important thing to be paying attention to.

      The alternative is scattered attention, lost focus, and ultimately minimal productivity. When our attention is misplaced, all the things we should be doing or might be doing or want to think about doing or aren’t doing but wonder if we ought to be doing – and on and on – conspire to steal our attention away from the task at hand.

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      With a solid set of lists and triggers, and strong habits for capturing and processing thoughts as they occur to you for review later when you can give them the attention they deserve, we can release the hold over us that everything we’re not doing can exercise, knowing that we’ll give it its due at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way.

      Where the rubber meets the road

      Although “mind like water” references are less common in Making It All Work than in Allen’s earlier books, that is still the ultimate goal – to establish a set of habits and practices that allow one to respond gracefully to new inputs and to instinctively place one’s attention where it will do the most good. With that kind of trust and clarity, priorities become irrelevant – we will naturally work on whatever task is most meaningful for us right now, and know that other tasks will get their turn at the moment when it’s best to tackle them.

      These are not new ideas for followers of Allen’s work, but they are given new context and new importance in Making It All Work. In part 2 of this review, we’ll look at some of the most significant departures from or additions to the GTD methodology.

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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

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