Friday, December 11, 2009

Taking David Allen's Advice: aka Happy Birthday, Pragmatic Alternative!

52 weeks ago I began this blog.

Tonight, to celebrate the first anniversary of this blog, I’m starting a series entitled, “Taking David Allen’s Advice.”

In case you don't know, David Allen is the world's leading personal productivity expert. His book, Ready for Anything, has 52 chapters, just enough to provide a prompt for the next 52 weeks.

And I turned 52 in ’09.

And now you know . . . the rest of the story.

Page 2!

Although these 52 chapters started out as random observations, they’ve been re- arranged by Allen himself, and ORGANIZED into four parts:

1) Clear Your Head for Creativity

2) Focus Productively

3) Create Structures That Work, and

4) Relax and Get in Motion.

Chapter 1, “Cleaning Up Creates New Directions,” begins with the admonition to get your house in order.

Does he know me or something? I’ve been called everything from a hoarder to a clutterbug. Neither of these quite captures the truth, and I do own many valuable forms of media: from books to magazines, to old copies of the Washington Post. From CDs to cassettes to LPs. I’ve probably got a few old 78s lying around somewhere. OK, maybe not, but you know I’ve got 45s.

Keeping a house--or car, or desk, or any open space, really—free of extranea or “stuff” just isn’t my thing. I see open space, I see a place to put something.

Now I like the look of open space. I really do. And I like having open space--I really do. But keeping a space clear and open has long been a challenge. Realistically, it always will be. There’s always something more interesting to do than tidying up. And really the problem is much deeper than that for me: I can draw a connection from one thing to any other thing. The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, but that doesn’t mean a more circuitous path doesn’t connect the two points.

We call it the scenic route.

And while I understand the organizing principle of “like with like,” thanks to my investment in Organizing for Dummies, it is never going to be a primary skill.

Yet, Allen insists that clearing the way, literally, opens the path to creativity. With the physical clearing of space comes clarity of vision, says Allen, so when you see various paths, he argues, you can quickly decide which one is best. “The more you sweat in peace,” he quotes an ancient Asian proverb, “the less you bleed in war.”

Allen suggests “cleaning up, closing up, and renegotiating all [our] agreements with [our]selves and others . . . weekly.”

Or, as I put it, “It’s not enough to think outside the box. You still need to know where the box is.”

To this end, Allen suggests using some sort of idea catching device, whether Blackberry or 3 x 5 cards (my preference).

Whatever. When ideas hit, be prepared to catch them and cage them in your idea storage device, so you can harness their power when you have more time.

Allen’s chart for information/time management is at the top of this post. Well worth printing out and keeping in front of you until it becomes second nature. Even following his guidelines 4 days out of 7 will be a big improvement for lots of people.

Or maybe that’s just me.

What about you? Are you organized to the point of anal retentiveness? Or is your style laissez-faire to the point of, “Don’t clean my space! You’ll ruin my organization!”

Whaddya think? Speak up! Weigh in! Come on, don’t be shy.

And, if I do say so myself, Happy Birthday to The Pragmatic Alternative: All of One / And we’re still not done!

PS Special birthday shout out to Penelope Trunk!


  1. Happy Birthday! I agree about clearing away for getting things done and I love the Asian proverb “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” I haven't heard it before and it terrifies me a bit because I've been setting myself up for a haemmorhage!

  2. Heather! Thanks for the comment. Was out all day, Friday, and got home late enough to post this, but but not respond.

    Thanks for the greetings!