Friday, March 24, 2006

Getting Things Done

Sometime before this series ends, the Inquirer will be running a Q&A interview with David Allen, author of "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity." We'll also have a longer online interview that you can listen to through our website and hopefully through this blog. His book is number one on Business Week's paperback bestseller list, but it's been on the top 10 list for 22 months.

There are snippets of the interview that probably won't make it into the paper or on line, like this section on the management of ideas. Since I worry so much about handling my story ideas, I asked him how he handles his:

Jane: One thing that gets on my desk in terms of piles are ideas for stories and one reason they stay on my desk — of course, I don’t get to all the story ideas that I have -- is that I really develop a fondness for them.

David: Old friends.

Jane: Yes. Even though, I don’t do them, they are exciting to me. Then, if I don’t do them, I feel guilty about them and I try to think how I could resurrect the story idea for another story later.

The piles on my desk represent both possibilities — a forward exciting possibility — and also the possibility for redemption for these ideas. What do you think? What does that mean?

David: The best way to have ideas is to get a lot of good ideas, according to Linus Pauling, and that’s really true. There’s nothing wrong with having lots of ideas, it’s just you have to agree with yourself that it’s a someday/maybe, it’s not a commitment.

(Note: Someday/Maybe is one of David's filing categories. Among the others are "Next Action" and "Reference." Someday/Maybe can include work ideas or even life goals, such as "Learn Spanish." When a Someday/Maybe moves into the takeoff zone, it is called a "Project" if it involves several steps.)

Jane: Right.

David: I have a much bigger list of someday/maybe projects than I have active projects, but I rethink both of them every week.

Jane: Your Someday/Maybe list in your book didn’t seem similar to what mine would be like.

David: Well I have a lot of sub-categories. I have a sub-category of ideas I don’t know what the heck to do with. These are creative ideas that would be interesting in some point and I just have a category. I have a category called "Ideas???" and I just throw those things in there.

Jane: And you look at them?

David: Every few weeks. If I need a creative idea, if it is time to write an essay for my newsletter, I go look at all the ideas I’ve had before. Now seldom do I actually write any of those, but it’s nice to go back and look at them. Going back to look at them surfaces the creative process where I’ll often come up with some configuration of it.

So, it’s subtle in there between what you keep around and what’s fine with you to keep around, because of the creative incubation process, and what you keep around and create guilt because of it. You have to know yourself really, really well, to know the difference.

Jane: And that, of course, is the hard part.

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