It took a couple tries before this one stuck. At my first read, years ago, I agreed in principle with David Allen’s concepts but I never put them into practice. Honestly, it seemed like too much bother. My life was pretty simple at the time. Fast forward several years and I was juggling a family with two young children, a business and acting as full-time caregiver for my mother. Out of desperation I reached for this book again. There were simply too many details in my head and everything was starting to suffer — not the least of which was my ability to relax or get a good night’s sleep.
With the simple premise that “the mind is for having ideas, not holding them” David lays out a system to move the ideas and details out of our head so we can free our mind to do what it does best — think.
MY TOP TAKEAWAYS
You have to commit
This is not an easy 3 step process you can implement on a Wednesday afternoon. Yes, it’s a system, but in order to actually implement that system I needed to fully grasp the concepts. It wasn’t easy for me. I had to re-read entire sections of the book multiple times. And during the implementation phase I listened to some chapters on repeat as I was doing laundry.
The 5 Steps to Mastering Workflow
Whether we’re cooking dinner or running a business, there are 5 discrete stages we go through when dealing with our life. The best practices, tools and actions for each of these stages form the core of Allen’s system.
1. Capture what has our attention
2. Clarify what each item means and what to do about it
3. Organize the results
The Very Next Right Step
The powerfully simple clarifying question for me is “What’s the very next right step?” It can be tedious and obvious — find my keys, lock the front door, unlock car, etc. — but if you get in the practice of thinking this way for the simple things it then comes naturally for complex projects. You also become a master at identifying flawed To Dos like “Order fencing.” You can’t order the fencing until Bob tells you how many pickets you need. So, the very next right step for your To Do list is “Call Bob.”
Allen’s overall concept: The key to productivity is clearing the mental clutter. To clear the clutter you have to build a system you trust.
The two most important practices for me are: 1. Creating a system to park and review my stack of reference materials and random ideas. 2. A methodology for breaking everything down into micro steps and next actions. This methodology gets the endless details out of my head and onto paper, electronic calendar, etc. in a way that ensures nothing falls through the cracks.
Allen doesn’t advocate for any particular physical or electronic system. What works best for me is a three-ring binder and a couple file folders and my digital calendar. I have one binder for my family and one for my business.