With a career spanning over 35 years in the fields of business and consulting, and shrouded in pioneering research, David Allen is well-seasoned to provide his top tips for achieving more than you ever thought possible. – By Farah khalfe
As the inventor of Getting Things Done (GTD), a methodology for achieving optimal work-life balance, David Allen is a maestro of productivity and effective time management. His early career journey was ambiguous – “I had 35 jobs before I was 35,” he exclaims – yet today, he is a leading authority as an author, consultant, executive coach and international lecturer. He is also the Founder of the David Allen Company which provides services to increase performance, capacity and aligned execution.
GTD, which is published as a book and also takes the form of annual global summits around the world, was not a calculated methodology. Instead, David attributes to it an organic process of trial and error while navigating his role as a business consultant.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up. I did have friends who had their own small businesses so (because I had to pay my rent) I got work helping several of them. I was a good number two guy – I would see how they were doing what they were doing and I seemed to have a knack for advising on how they could improve it. Once we improved it, I got bored and moved on to another job. I discovered they pay people to do that and they call them something – consultants. So I started my own consulting practice in 1981. I began researching models I could use that would provide value to any client ad began constructing a methodology of best practices for developing a clear, focused mindset and creating more room to think about the most meaningful things, amidst a complex and busy environment. A senior HR executive in a large corporation saw what I was doing and asked me to design a training programme. That forced me to hone the methodology even further and its success in his company thrust me into the corporate training world, as well as moving me more into executive coaching than individual consulting.”
While working in the corporate realm, he cultivated a mindset of self-improvement. “I’ve always liked being clear in my consciousness and not being constrained by worries or distractions. I found techniques over time that worked to achieve and maintain that freedom of mind. I didn’t even conceptualise a strategy. After the fact, I described what I discovered in a way that other people could understand and do the same thing,” he says.
Encompassed in his strategy is the notion of five steps to gaining control of your life or situation – and enabling productivity. This is an overarching approach that can be applied to any scenario with the same effective results.
This is essentially a filtering system, whereby you scan a situation and capture what grabs your attention. This is usually the most prominent thing that needs to be changed about the situation. In the event of an unruly kitchen, for example, this could be the site of overflowing and untidy work surfaces that need to be cleared.
The next step is to clarify exactly what each thing means to you – is there garbage you need to throw out or dirty cutlery that needs a wash?
Thirdly, it’s important to be organised. “Organise the results of that decision-making into a trusted system of content and reminders.” Now that you have compartmentalised your problem areas, think of the steps you need to take. Do you need to put the garbage out or fill the dishwasher for the dishes to be cleaned? This is essentially a prioritised to-do list.
Thereafter, one needs to step back and reflect. “Review the inventory,” and results of your organisational decisions. Does it make sense and are the steps you have developed bringing you closer to your goal(s)?
Once this has been established, the final step is to execute the plan. Take the necessary actionable steps in order to achieve your desired outcome of a clean kitchen.
While this sounds simple and obvious enough, it is not a method that most people employ autonomously to all aspects of their lives. This becomes a particular problem when dealing with an influx of emails or overwhelming work responsibilities.
A constant sentiment in David’s work is to tackle projects or problems by breaking them down into smaller fragments that are easier to handle. It’s all about making trusted choices about what you do, “moment to moment,” he says.
According to David, GTD has proven to be bulletproof in some of the most demanding and professional environments. It is an approach that seeks to solve an entrepreneur’s biggest constraint: Lack of time to complete all their tasks. And, through the “art of stress-free productivity” it creates, there are various other knock-on benefits.
These include increased self-confidence, creativity, communication and confidence between the team.
Being productive and seeing regular tangible results of your labour also bolsters personal and team morale.
Hailed as, “the most influential thinker of his generation,” David’s pathway to self-improvement continues to inspire people from generation to generation. David’s visit to South African shores in late 2018 is a testament to the growing relevance and necessity of his message amidst our increasingly, fast-paced and demanding lifestyles.