In three decades as a writer, speaker, and consultant, David Allen has built a worldwide following for the approach to organization and “stress-free productivity” that he calls Getting Things Done, or GTD. His book Getting Things Done has sold 1.5 million copies since its publication in 2001, and his Twitter account (@gtdguy) has more than 1.2 million followers.
Eight years ago in The Atlantic, National Correspondent James Fallows described his attendance at an Allen seminar and subsequent attempt to apply GTD principles to his life. Allen’s approach is based on the idea that stress arises from trying to keep track of obligations in one’s head, rather than finding a trusted system to capture them, whether on paper or electronically, for frequent review. Here, Fallows asks Allen about today’s always-on lifestyle and his forecast for where productivity goes from here.
James Fallows: I bet most people reading this discussion feel they’ve hit a crisis point in “busyness,” with e-mail, text messages, and all-hours connectivity. Are today’s stresses something new?
David Allen: Everybody’s going to top out at some point, where your psyche just can’t manage any more. I was just reading that J. S. Bach had 20 kids. People complain now, “I’m so busy with the kids.” Okay, have 20 kids and see what happens. If you’re a musician or a writer, you could always be doing more work. So I don’t know that it’s ever been different for someone with an open-ended profession or interest.