Charles Simonyi, David Allen Team Up To Get Things Done on Mobile

Getting Things Done author David Allen, inventor of a technique used by hundreds of thousands of professionals to manage their workloads, isn’t a big technology booster. Arguing that his method is mainly a habit of thought, he’s never released or endorsed an official “GTD” app or service. In fact, he’s often said that gadgets and software tools can be impediments to personal productivity, if used improperly.

Meanwhile, Charles Simonyi’s Intentional Software Corporation isn’t known for building consumer-facing technologies. In the past, the Bellevue, WA-based company has pursued its “intentional programming” approach, which emphasizes working with domain experts to encode their “meta” knowledge in flexible software, mainly in areas like financial services, electronics, and manufacturing.

So an announcement today that Allen’s company has struck an exclusive agreement with Intentional Software to create mobile tools to help GTD disciples is a bit out of character for both parties.

But there’s a logical story behind the collaboration. Intentional Software CEO Eric Anderson is a longtime GTD follower who says the methodology has “fundamentally changed my life.” And Allen says Intentional Software is the first company that’s come to him with a plausible proposal for how to transform the GTD methodology into a helpful software application.

The end result, according to this morning’s announcement, won’t be a replacement for e-mail, voicemail, or other collaboration tools, but rather “a ‘meta’ application that integrates with leading applications individuals already use” to make work easier to conquer.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, By David Allen

"Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity" was Allen's breakout 2001 book on his time-management technique.

In an interview last month (see the full Q&A), Allen told me that most software tools intended to help with time management and personal productivity are “dispersive rather than integrative”; they offer “just another, slicker way to slice and dice static information.” But the GTD approach, he says, isn’t just about filing away information and to-do items for future action. It’s also about bringing the pieces back together at the appropriate moment—which means having them at your fingertips.

“The reason I hadn’t picked anybody [to build a GTD app] is that everybody who came to me already had a product, and they just wanted me to endorse it,” Allen says. “These guys [at Intentional Software] came to me tabula rasa and said ‘we don’t know what’s needed, but we think we have a technology that could be utilized to help knit together a lot of this stuff.’”

The financial terms of the agreement haven’t been disclosed, and the two companies haven’t said yet how their GTD software will work, when it will be available, or exactly what platforms it will run on. They’re not even promising that a product will result. “What we’re doing is saying, okay, we need to have a deep-bench collaboration about what’s missing,” Allen says. “What pain needs to be solved that’s not being solved by what’s out there?”

At a high level, the pain that Allen has been seeking to ease for more than a decade through his books and seminars is the chronic sense of overwork—of not having enough time to do all the things other people have asked of us, or even to read all of the incoming requests (which usually arrive, these days, in the form of e-mail). It’s a pain shared by almost every ambitious professional, which is why Allen’s original 2001 book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity became a cult hit, passed around offices by hundreds of thousands of frazzled knowledge workers.

The first step in Allen’s system for getting things done is to collect all of the unfinished tasks or “open loops” in your world into buckets of some sort. These can be sticky notes, items on a computerized to-do list, or whatever—it doesn’t matter, as long as you get the items out of your head, where they just add to your anxiety. The subsequent steps are about emptying the buckets: either completing the tasks (if they won’t take too long), delegating them to someone else, or deferring them to a definite time in the future.

Software engineers, who seem to have a natural affinity for Allen’s system, have made many attempts to translate the procedure into code. Herndon, VA-based Netcentrics, for example, has long offered … 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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One response to “Charles Simonyi, David Allen Team Up To Get Things Done on Mobile”

  1. Neil Hunter says:

    Interesting. I hope that will work with this new “meta” system they talk about here. It seems to be the newest, most GTD of the all the players out there.