Join David Allen for an in-depth discussion in this video How did you create the five steps?, part of Getting Things Done.
- The five steps didn't show up all at once, I didn't wake up and suddenly I have this model all, you know, encased and embedded. Really, it was a long developmental process, to get a piece here and a piece here. In a way the essence of this was something I sort of knew and related to internally and intuitively really from the beginning which is from my experience a lot of what we're here to experience on the planet is being accountable for where we've put our energy.
In other words, if I've created something I'm going to need to be accountable for what I have created and where I've put my energy. Well the whole idea of capturing things that are incomplete, things are only incomplete because I have some agreement with myself that's not fulfilled yet. So understanding the power and the nature of agreeing with ourselves about things and then getting attached to them. So if I had one thing I knew from the very beginning, just from a lot of my experience and some of the training I had, that making sure that I kept my own agreements with myself.
Very very powerful. Well, a lot of what Getting Things Done is about actually is about identifying what are all of your agreements with yourself so that you can either finish them, undo those agreements, stop doing it, or renegotiate those agreements regularly. So in a way, being able to get clear was really a mechanical process that I really had the essence of it way back but learning to put that into a model so that people could get it and I could train people with it and didn't have to confront them with, "Okay, now you're going to have to be accountable "for your life," I don't even use the word, but it actually is what happens, you know, I don't have to sort of force people to transform themselves all I have to do is pick up a piece of paper on their desk and say, "What is this, and why is this here? "What are you going to do about it?" and just marvelous things start to happen.
So I had the underpinnings of some of the underlying principles were really core and very powerful and very important principles about how do we manage ourselves, how do we manage our focus? But then being able to put that into a model and a context that people could take as much of it as they wanted but they could apply it immediately to everything that was right in front of them and actually improve the situation right there, immediately. So that was one of the key elements that I wanted to make sure I got to people was, "Okay, I'm going to give you a technique "to get your current reality about "where your commitments are "and let's get those under control." The other thing is what are you doing with your creative energy? Where are you putting it now? So those two things go to build up the rear-guard for where you've put your energy and, by the way, you can't stop being creative so how are you pointing your energy? Another way to think of Getting Things Done is it's really all about focus and attention, so, I need to handle the things that are distracting me so that I can free up my attention.
Once you have freed attention, where do you point it? So that I've known from the very beginning but how to put that into a simple form that people could relate to that also addressed things that people thought they had as issues, overwhelmed, you know, too much to do, how do I set priorities? Essentially all of those things, any reason anybody would think they need better time management or better organization or better productivity or prioritization is really because one of two things is sub-optimal.
Either they're not feeling as in control as they could or they're not feeling as appropriately focused as they should. So, you know, it took me 30 years to bake it down to that level of simplicity was those are the really two key elements and those are the two key elements that the Getting Things Done model actually addresses. How do I get something under control? And I don't use the word control like control of your boss or your kids or the weather, good luck, it's like having something under control like my car is under control or the meeting is under control or my kitchen is under control.
So it's that sense of having the stability there and that's where the five steps really came in, was really understanding that's actually what we do. So Getting Things Done was not like making something up theoretically, it was really uncovering what is it that we do when things work. When something is out of control and we get it under control, I just started to notice what were those different things and they are different things, they're different things and different behaviors. There's capture, there's clarify, there's organize, there's step back and see the whole bigger picture and then engage.
That's actually how you clean your kitchen, that's how you get a meeting under control, that's how you get your life under control. So I just took that and applied that to the more probably subtle area of the cognitive world we're all living in, you know. The late great Peter Drucker called this "knowledge work". Well that means you actually have to think to figure out what to do and thinking is not a natural process by the way, you don't do it naturally, it's actually something you have to direct yourself to do.
There's a lot of things your brain does naturally, it, for instance, it recognizes patterns and it uses long-term memory. So when you walk into the room it goes "Oh, that's a that, that's a that, that's a that," you can't help that, your brain does that automatically better than any computer can even come close to yet in terms of pattern recognition and long-term memory. What your brain can't do is remember anything, it's not designed for that, truly. Interestingly, that's something that's happened in the last ten years is a lot of cognitive science has now validated a lot of the principles inherent in Getting Things Done.
That your head is for having ideas not for holding them, it's not designed that way, it has not evolved to do that. It didn't actually evolve to think either. It responds and it course corrects and it's an agile programmer, it says, "I have an intention, I need to get away from the tiger," or, "I need to eat those berries," or whatever, and then it starts to move toward it and then it recognizes patterns and then it course corrects so it's really hard-working all the time. But what it doesn't do is... It's a terrible office, (laughs) it's a terrible place to try to park things that I need to remember, remind, and I need to see in context against each other.
Your brain just is not designed for that. So I just, over the years... it would have been fun to have 30 years ago just to have understood what I understand about it now. As I said, the basic principles have been there and I got that to begin with and a lot of this was just my own maturity and experience with watching how this works and a better way to explain the nature of it so that people could buy into it as a behavior set.
Skill Level Beginner
Q: This course was updated on 1/02/2015. What changed?
A: We added 45 minutes of new content in the Bonus Interview chapter. Learn why Getting Things Done is different from other productivity improvement methods, and how it can work for you, your family, and your team.