The Getting Things Done Phenomenon

A single Google of the phrase “Getting Things Done” (GTD) turned up 1,060,000,000 results and counting at the moment of this writing and a single sponsored article link headline kept taunting me, “What is Wrong with GTD?” which necessarily resulted in the delay of this posting. This senseless Ad Sense Pay-Per-Click title taunted my sensibilities, making me question Allen’s purposes and his models. Allen’s simple mission to help people corral all their stuff (open loops) and break it down into doable chunks (Next Actions) can best be summarized in his definition of effectiveness and success in life: “To lead an effective life we need to be able to make things happen — to engage with our world so it will provide us with the experiences we all seek. Making the right choices and ensuring their efficient execution have always been key elements of success,” David Allen writes poignantly in Making It All Work. “What is missing is a fundamental understanding of and effective model for, the dynamics for the process as a whole… a way to make it all work.” His first book Getting Things Done: the Art of Stress Free Productivity offered a primer and a simple manual for enhanced efficiency and effectiveness, while Making It All Work is intended to provide his readers with a roadmap to keep on course and to help them reach their goals. Again, none of this inherently sounds nefarious at its core foundations.  After nearly two weeks of silent deliberation over the article’s question, this resultant work is my perspective to another’s well crafted overture.

“David Allen made quite a breakthrough in the field of productivity when he proposed a system that started with the simple act of collecting all of your outstanding items, everyone, “Australian journalist Fran Molloy, author of What is Wrong With GTD? Responded in an interview. “Stating what seems, with hindsight, to be the bleeding obvious has long been a hallmark of success for innovations and inventions worldwide and David’s basic first step in establishing GTD is no exception. GTD is great, a really good system for many people. I think the key is – ‘for many people.’”

Many people, however, often claim to experience a Zen like reduction in stress and a greater feeling of mastery of their life situation when they go through a complete capturing and corralling of all their commitments into what Allen calls a “trusted system.”  Similarly followers who create an all out implementation claim to experience even greater benefits: more relaxed control, greater flexibility and heightened focus.  Statistics even suggest this. Allen’s book Getting Things Done has sold over 1-million copies in nearly 28 countries and inspired over 70 software applications, catapulting Allen into productivity Guru Stardom. Why has GTD been so successful, many have wondered?

“GTD has struck a nerve with individuals and companies around the world. As the pace of information, inputs and change increases, so does an individual’s stress in capturing and processing the commitments that they and others make,” Dave Patrick, chief Marketing Officer of The David Allen Company, reported to me. ”A systematic approach to managing this information is critical, and GTD provides that in a powerful and elegant way. “ Arguably the power of this nonlinear approach comes from the ability to apply the central skills of focus and control – two cornerstones of the GTD productivity methodologies that have universal appeal to its adherents.

Despite the fanfare and cult like following that he has attracted – some detractors – the ghostly conspirators of blog and message board conspiracies have spun webs of half-truth and misinformation questioning the true intentions behind his methodologies’ intentions.  Let us all for once and all debunk this blog gaggle bunk as just that mere bunk.  The life planning paradigms of GTD are not some existentialist theory or some dark shadowy conspiracy originating from a sinister new age cult but rather they are shrewdly far more benevolent. It’s the clear headed work of careful soul searching and quiet deliberation etched over time in the psyche of an innovator. An article often cited as at once unabashedly unapologetic is yet somehow seen by others as glossing over a more serious matter – the questions of Allen’s motives. An article by Gary Wolf in September 2007 sheds more light on the facts. Gary Wolf’s thoughtful exploration into Allen’s biography in this author’s opinion frames it in a perspective that is worthy of the content of the subject’s character.  The original unedited email interview conversation appears on Allen’s web site here. A person’s credo, ideology or religion often shapes and forms their character as does their life experiences. Allen’s character was clearly chiseled in a great time of tumultuous life experiences and I firmly believe that what he has taken from his life experiences has helped shape and form a mild mannered man of wit and integrity.

What I have in my relentless search to the author’s question found was not an inherent flaw either in his paradigm or in his character but rather a sophisticated system tapping into the universal principles of productivity.    David Allen masterfully describes the peeling away of the multi-levels of the GTD onion in Making It All Work.  Thus, Allen’s character and biography resulted in not the blossoming of an onion but rather in the crystallization of a multifaceted diamond of a paradigm of perspectives in which Allen traces guide posts for a comprehensive life management system. What will follow in the coming weeks will be a look at the many levels of the GTD and the many paradigms of time and life management that it has inspired, as well as a survey of the other powerful time management systems available to people to help improve their effectiveness, leaving it up to you the reader to define your own paradigms and to pick and choose your own methodologies at the buffet of time management.


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