Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Reading :: Getting Things Done (supplemental notes)

Originally posted: Tue, 29 Mar 2005 20:53:59

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

by David Allen

I've reviewed this book before. But during my flight to CCCC, I was able to reread it in the context of the last year. Really interesting, again. What Allen has done is to set up a system of practices that can be implemented in a variety of ways, as long as the basic principles cohere. Those principles include:

- delegate your remembering to artifacts

- trust your artifacts

- scan your artifacts regularly

Those don't seem to constitute much of a sea change, but in the implementation, they do. Rather than carrying tasks and projects around "in the head," readers are encouraged to have a "mind like water" -- that is, to put their many projects out of mind, trusting that those projects are being handled artifactually, and to concentrate on whatever project is at hand. If the support artifacts are well adapted and the practices are in sync, the person can theoretically pick up any project and easily get to speed on it.

Part of what makes this work is basic task definition -- not surprisingly, something that comes quite easily to someone who is trained in writing instructions. Once you've planned a project in terms of concrete steps, all you have to worry about is the next step. Unfortunately, the book doesn't give enough instruction on what constitutes a concrete step -- and I'm not sure that it or any other book really can. Again, principles are everything; it depends on how much definition you can tolerate.

From a research standpoint, I'm intrigued by the mediational aspect of the methodology (because that's what we're really talking about here). Allen makes a vague reference to distributed cognition here, but it's so vague that I can't tell whether he really understands the concept. I don't think he does; the treatment is quite asymmetrical, more Vygotskian.

In any case, rereading the book has been helpful, and it inspired me to throw away most of my unused files when I got back to Austin (always a good thing). I'm going to have my assistant directors at the CWRL read GTD this summer -- the folks at Penguin were nice enough to send copies -- and we'll discuss how to adapt the methodology for our work.

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