Punching the “Clear Your Head” Button: The Xconomy Q&A with David Allen

David Allen was in San Francisco on September 7, 2012, to lead a paid seminar on the principles in Making It Work, the sequel to his 2001 bestseller Getting Things Done. I interviewed him after the seminar.

Among other things, we talked about the nature of work and ways to think about e-mail overload. Allen also shared a preview of today’s news about an agreement between Allen’s company and Bellevue, WA-based Intentional Software to develop mobile software tools to help followers of the Getting Things Done methodology.

Here’s a transcript of our talk.

Xconomy: I’ve read Getting Things Done a couple of times, but that was right after it came out, which was more than 10 years ago now. Have you ever felt that times or technology have changed to the point that you might need to go back and start revising the model?

DA: No, it works just as well as it always did.

X: But isn’t the method tied to the ways people get and process information?

DA: It is, but I didn’t just suddenly one day make this up. This is 30 years of testing the model itself in terms of the principles.

I think the difference technology will make is in decision support. Not in the basic principles, but in terms of adding value so that technology is going to make it possible to say, “I just had a dream about my niece,” and suddenly a hologram will show up in my living room with a connected map about my niece—all of the things I want to see about “niece.” Anything of interest. It will be a combination of the brain and mind mapping, so that any thought that is potentially relevant, potentially meaningful, wil be tied in, so that I can create context for myself and generation actions I might not think about otherwise. The technology will allow much more creative, expansive thinking and the result will be, what do I want to get my niece for her birthday.

My smartphone will buzz when I walk by the store. But the smartphone is not where I will do my thinking.

X: I guess what I was really getting at is that the velocity of information is so much faster now, because of the Internet and email and these devices. As you wrote in the New York Times recently, we are all drowning in more information.

DA: That intensifies the need. It doesn’t change the principles. What it changes is moving [the method] from a nice-to-have to a must-have, if you want to survive. If you want to navigate in that world without turning to toast, and if you want to be optimized in terms of your energy and creativity, you’re going to have to do it faster, and you’re doing to have to do more of it.

Q: Have you seen an uptick in demand or outcry for the method?

DA: It’s not an overnight thing. It’s not a breakout piece of software that’s suddenly got a million users out there. I just spoke with Drew Houston [CEO of Dropbox] and with Phil Libin [CEO of Evernote]. They’re all GTDers. I’m thinking about, how come GTD is not really a breakout thing. Well, Phil doesn’t want to position Evernote as a productivity tool, because you don’t reach a billion people with a productivity tool. You reach it with something that just has a cool factor to it, that enables you to do stuff that is intuitive, and that is how stuff breaks out. [GTD] is not like that.

The strange paradox is that the people who need it the least are the people who are most attracted to it. If you don’t know what it is, you don’t want it. You don’t think about it, you don’t say intuitively, “Wow, that is something I need.” But everybody needs it. Everybody who has more than one thing that they can’t keep track of needs it to … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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