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Getting Things Done Undone

You know how it is — after doing all the really unimportant things you don’t have to do, there’s never enough time for the really important things you do have to do.

That’s why you need to become a master of GTD, or “Getting Things Done.” GTD is the philosophy of David Allen, a productivity consultant, trainer, and the author of a book called, surprisingly, “Getting Things Done.”

In “When Office Technology Overwhelms, Get Organized,” a recent article in The New York Times, the GTD guru lays out strategies for those of us who are easily distracted by bright shiny objects — such as iPads and iPhones and all the other iTimeWasters.


As Allen writes, “even as workplace technology and processes steadily improve, professionals feel less productive than ever. It may seem a paradox, but these very tools are undermining our ability to get work done.”

Of course, for people like you, undermining your ability to get work done is exactly the reason you need all this snazzy technology. How you could ever survive an 8-hour day without the distraction of Angry Birds or the titillation of the Paris Hilton’s twitter feed?

Apparently, not everyone shares your passion for unproductivity. In David Allen’s world, the inability to get things done “results in unclear, distracted and disorganized thinking, and leaves frustration, stress and undermined self-confidence in its wake.” Frankly, this surprises me. If it weren’t for unclear, distracted and disorganized thinking, working people would have a crystal clear view of their horrible jobs and their punishing bosses. The shock from developing that kind of insight could send any sentient individual running out of the office and into the streets, screaming in terror.

We must learn to control our technology jones because we can’t go back to the old ways of working. “Imagine if you didn’t have a spreadsheet on your computer,” Allen writes. “How much effort would you need to produce the computations you can now perform in minutes?”

It is true that working with pencil and paper is time consuming, but when your pencil breaks, you usually can remedy the situation without having to wait three days for an IT professional. Nor do you have to listen to an hour or three of mindless chitchat about the chronic lameness of the new season of “The Walking Dead.”

Still, if you absolutely insist on getting things done, here’s what you have to do.

First, “capture everything that has your attention, in your work and your personal life, in writing.” Since you want to stay away from technology, I’d suggest you do this by writing on the back of shovel with a lump of coal. It worked for Abraham Lincoln, and you know how productive he was.

Then, “clarify what each item means to you.” Allen suggests you use the “magic two-minute rule — that any action that can be finished in two minutes should be done in the moment.” (I don’t think he is talking about sex, but I do love the way your mind works.)

“Organize reminders of your resulting to-do lists,” is your next step. May I also suggest that making a list of your to-do lists is a good idea, after which you’ll want to make a list of the lists of your to-do lists. See how much you’re getting done!

At least once a week, you’ll want to schedule a two-hour operational review, “allowing space to clean up, catch up, and do some reflective overseeing of the landscape.” Buffalo wings Monday at the Kit Kat Klub is an excellent time to schedule your weekly review, though the only cleaning up you’re likely to do will involve wiping the blue cheese salad dressing off your Ferragamos.

“Finally, deploy your attention and your resources appropriately,” Mr. GTD concludes. I say — if that means moving your mid-morning nap to mid-afternoon, so be it.

If the GTD system doesn’t work for you, Allen suggests you “find work that requires little if any thinking.” No, he is not advising that everyone go after your job. The example he gives is of a senior VP who found happiness when he “became a duck at Disney World.”

Not everyone has the qualifications to be a duck at Disney World, but why couldn’t you be a chicken — a very productive chicken— at your present job? Sure, it’s a big jump in prestige and salary, but it’s a job you could do really well. And if you’re lucky, management might even let you keep the eggs!

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at


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