The Art of Stress-Free Productivity With David Allen


This week we are joined by David Allen, author of the international bestseller Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Do you ever feel like you have so many things to get done that you just don’t know where to start? Or maybe every night you wake up a dozen times with things that pop into your head and you just can’t get a good night of sleep.

These are the things that David set out to fix in his own life over 30 years ago, and since then he has helped tens of thousands of other people get things done using the methodology he came up with. 

We can all use help being more productive and focused in life and at work. Especially now when a lot of us are still working from home with our kids and life has become more complicated and chaotic. 

You can watch the video of our full discussion below or just listen to the audio version as a podcast. If you want more content like this you can subscribe to our Youtube channel.

The framework you can use for stress-free productivity

David’s Getting Things Done Methodology framework is made up of five key action items. They are:

  • Capture--identify what has your attention and write it down, record it, or gather everything into a collection tool
  • Clarify--Once you have identified what has your attention, process what it means. Are there any action items that they require? If yes, then write down all the actions you need to take. If not, figure out if it’s trash, something to just remember, or something to put on hold
  • Organize--Now that you know what has your attention and what you need to do about it, put reminders up where you will see them and organize the details in a place you will look at
  • Review--Frequently look back on all of your reminders and lists and make sure to keep it updated
  • Engage--Go and get things done

By using these steps you get all of the unnecessary things out of your head so you can focus on what needs to get done today, right now. As David shares, there are going to be times when life gets chaotic, there are going to be fires you have to put out occasionally. Having these steps in place in order to get everything else under control will help you to better address those issues when they come up because you can focus on the fire and know that when it is out you know exactly where to pick up and carry on. 

What is ambient anxiety and how can we overcome it?

When you don’t have a process in place to deal with all of your tasks, commitments, ideas, etc..that’s when you get stressed out and things feel out of control. These things wake you up at night and cause you a great deal of worry during the day. Ambient anxiety is the stress of infinite opportunity. 

This anxiety not only can affect your health and well-being, but it stops you from being present in the moment while you are trying to work on any one thing, because your mind is always racing and thinking of other things. 

Using David’s five-part framework can really get these things under control. Write things down, get them organized in one place, set reminders--just get these things out of your mind and in a reliable place that you will see when you need to. 

Most people have not yet identified that this is their problem and that this is what is keeping them from being productive. 

Why saying no is so important to productivity

A big part of the Getting Things Done process is your ability to say ‘no’ to commitments. Every time you commit to something you are saying no to other things you could be doing instead. So you have to make sure that what you say yes to lines up with your goals and priorities. 

But before you can start to say no to things, first you have to know what it is you are trying to accomplish. If you are not sure what it is you should be working on, how can you explain why you are saying no to something else? This is another reason why writing things down is so crucial. 

And saying no doesn’t have to sound mean or rude. If your boss comes to you and gives you more work you could go to them and say “You know, these are great projects that you just gave to me. Can I show you what I currently have on my plate and can we talk about the priority of them, because I can’t do them all. If these are more critical, I will need to let something else go.” 

You could also say something like, “If you can take a maybe on that, I’ll take a look at what I have and I’ll get back to you. If you have to have an answer now, it’s gotta be a no” or “Can you check in with me in a month”. 

So really think about the commitments you have already before committing to new things. Being overcommitted is a sure way to be less productive and stressed out. 

David’s advice for people who want to start being more productive TODAY

For anyone reading this or listening to the show who would like to start being more focused and productive today, here is what David recommends:

  1. Have a pen and paper around you at all times, and anytime something important pops into your head that requires action, write it down.
  2. Once you write those things down figure out what next step is required to address each item
  3. After you have action items figure out if you can complete any of those in that moment, and if not make sure you put a reminder where you or the appropriate person will see it so that you don’t have to keep that information in your head
  4. Review these on a regular basis

What to do if you don’t know where to start

After reading this or listening to the podcast you may be thinking to yourself, I’m just so overwhelmed, this all makes sense but I have no idea where to start. For those of you who feel this way, David says just take an hour to sit down and unload everything from your mind. Make a list of everything and get it out of your head. 

Having it out of your head can help you be more objective about the list of things. It will make you feel more comfortable. Anyone thing floating around in your head can stress you out, but by getting it out and on to paper can help that anxiety. 

As David shares, “Otherwise, it's spinning around subliminally in there. That's the source of the ambient anxiety is all that internal spinning about all the potential things you might, could, should you be doing. But you can't see what they all are. So you think it could be anything. And psychologically that's a great way to feel stressed.”

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