Getting Things Done

by margaret turner

Getting Things Done is the title of a book by David Allen.  Allen’s big idea is that we need to be able to relax in order to be productive.  By relaxed, he means having a clear, uncluttered mind.

Which may seem a bit daunting—how many emails do you get in a day?  Voicemails?  Paper documents?  Electronic or paper notes?  Is your brain getting as cluttered as your inbox?

That’s where Allen’s concept of outcome thinking comes in.  Allen says that we have too many things on our minds—a cluttered inbox in our head—because we haven’t thought through what the intended outcome is, or what we can do next to move toward tat outcome.  His analogy is that the short-term memory part of our minds that holds the undecided and unorganized stuff is like RAM on our computers.  And as with RAM, there’s limited capacity.  When there’s too much stuff in there distracting us, we reach overload.  And with overload comes stress, not to mention a possible systems failure.  Allen says that if we practice outcome thinking we can keep our mental RAM functioning. 

So you know that task that’s floated through your head at least twice while you’ve been reading this?  The one that you keep thinking you have to get done, but haven’t yet?

1.      Write it down. 

2.      Now write down in one sentence what your intended
         successful  outcome for this task would be—what would need to 
         happen for you to be able to check this off as done.

3.      Now write down the very next physical action required to move
         this forward.  If you had nothing else to do in your life, what
         would you do right now to get this moving?

Do you understand what just happened?  You haven’t completed that task, but now you know what you want the outcome to be, and what you need to do next.  The few—two?—minutes you just spent thinking about the task have made your mind clearer, more focussed, and more ready to take action.  And that means you’re feeling more in control, and thus more relaxed.  And more productive.

There’s more to Allen’s ideas than this, but I have to admit that his image of the cluttered inbox in my head has caught my attention.  And I certainly know that unfinished tasks have a way of floating through my head and making me feel pressured.  What I didn’t realize is that the more that happens, the less effective and productive I am.   If this image has also struck a chord with you, and you want to go a little deeper into Allen's work, take a look at this TED Talk.


As for me, I’m going to spend a little more time with Allen’s book, and try some outcome thinking.  Maybe you will too—let me know how it goes.