Do it now

Listen, I don’t know what you’re working on – you could tell me, I’d so much like to know – but because it’s you, I can guess that you’re taking some chances here. You’re trying to write something you’re not quite sure about yet, you’re feeling your way, you’d exploring. And it’s a lot safer to not do any of those things. It’s a lot easier to just fire-fight the current job, the current problem. We all have current work problems and they are always urgent, nothing will change that. However.

Try that new thing and try it now. No waiting. Definitely no waiting for other people. You’re a writer, you’re a creator, go create, go write, go make. I’m all for being productive but there has to be a point: being productive just to get the cash in the door today is maybe enough for now, but you need more and unlike a giant number of people, you have the talent to get more. Hopefully to get more money: I’d like you to have enough that money isn’t a worry any more. But definitely to get more created, to grow in your field and in your heart.

That’s a bit arty-farty. Try this instead for harsh pragmatism: that thing you write is likely to be rubbish, that risk you take is likely to fail. If it is rubbish, if you do fail, you are still pretty close to infinitely further ahead than you were. You’re not still sitting there thinking next summer I’ll do this great thing, you’re standing there having done it. That’s even if it went wrong. Even then. Still ahead, still better, still taller.

Just fail fast so that you can get on to the next version or you get on to the new things you can only see from having gone through this process. Pixar got this “fail fast” rule for the same reason: they’re experimenting and they are rejecting. Samuel Beckett nailed it: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Mary Pickford nailed it better: “Supposing you have tried and failed again and again. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call “failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

“Getting Things Done” in 500 words

Davide Magrin, a blogger, has much the same opinion I do of Getting Things Done by David Allen, specifically:

Getting Things Done by David Allen is a book that I found tedious, excessively long and filled with corporate buzzwords. Fortunately, it also contains extremely interesting and actionable ideas for personal organization and productivity. Even when isolated from the context, these principles apply very well and can be useful in everyday life.

Getting Things Done in 500 words or less – David Magrin (2 July 2015)

But Magrin has gone further than I have and summarised the book, saying:

I believe that if you get a sense of the main ideas of the book and experiment with them on your own a little bit, you can get the same results you would reach reading the whole book. The only differences would be in your life duration (5 hours longer) and in your wallet’s weight (15 bucks heavier).

I don’t mind the bucks as it’s worth it to me to spend a little cash on these things plus of course Allen should be rewarded for the good bits of his works. I do mind the time, though I seemingly read faster than Magrin.

Still, he has got the book down to 500 words – actually, 389. Read the full piece.

David Allen: You’re Doing it Wrong

Previously… David Allen is the author of Getting Things Done, easily one of the cleverest books I’ve read, certainly one of the most very useful, but also unfortunately just a bit irritatingly with corporate-speak. I mean, come on. Genuinely tremendous ideas explained in ways that don’t explain and do make you wish you’d never started his book.

Fast Company has a new interview with him which they summarise with this headline: “The father of Getting Things Done: You’re Getting Me All Wrong”. And I just find that so aggravating. Read the actual interview, though, and the worst you can say that he comes across as smug. There’s more about his belief we need six “horizons of focus” and I just gesticulated at Fast Company for letting him say that without following him up with “Eh?”.

Bringing those horizons into balance requires reflection, he says. “If you want to say, ‘Am I focused on the right thing?’ I would say, which one of those conversations has not been matured sufficiently or lined up with the other ones appropriately? Some people need to focus more on their goals. Some people need to stop focusing on their goals and actually get shit done.”

The Father of ‘Getting Things Done’: You’re Getting Me All Wrong – Ciara Byrne, Fast Company (16 June 2015)

If you got through that quote, you got to a good bit. Who could disagree with the need to get shit done? That’s GTD in a nutshell: not the shit, at least not in that way, not the ideas, but the amount you have to get through to find the good bits. It’s just that the good bits are clever and immensely useful. Read the full piece.

Unfair review of “Getting Things Done” 2nd edition

Look, you should probably get this book. How’s that for an unfair review? Also, much of what started me off doing The Blank Screen can be traced back to David Allen and Getting Things Done so, you know, I do entirely believe that the man is smart and that this GTD is clever.


After more than a decade, he’s released an updated version of the Getting Things Done book and I can’t get through it. I got the opening 30 pages or so from iBooks as a sample and the book is only £6.99 but I can’t do it, I can’t buy it because I just know I won’t be able to press on

I just don’t think Allen is a writer. Brilliant ideas and such great, great experience, but not a writer. For instance, I don’t think he always knows what he’s conveying. Follow. This new book is a complete rewrite except that he admits it’s more a complete re-type: he did retype the entire book and he added and changed bits along the way. I can’t tell how much is new but the core ideas are the same and that’s how it should be.


For this edition I grappled with how much attention to continue to devote to paper-based tools and materials… as many in the younger generations have come to believe they don’t have to deal with paper at all.

Tell me I’m wrong, do, but I can see him tussling over the phrasing of this and trying to not sound like paper is best and we’re all eejits for not seeing it. I’m fine that he believes in paper but he doesn’t sound like anyone else’s belief could be valid. This is about paper and whether you make scribbles instead of typing into your phone yet it’s rankling like a religious issue.

Maybe that’s partly because in the run up to this passage I’ve been finding the writing a slog. Maybe it’s because a sentence or three later he can’t resist going “so there” on us with:

Ironically, there is a growing resurgence of interest in the use of paper among is the most sophisticatedly digital.

Is there? To give the man credit, he may write that line like a defensive drinker in a pub argument but he pops a footnote asterisk next to it. There’s no answering footnote in the sample so let’s give him credit and the benefit of the doubt too.

But even if this is correct, it isn’t me. So he’s not writing about my world and he isn’t writing well; he doesn’t have to do the former but he does the latter and that’s why I’ve got to skip the rest of the book.

New edition of Getting Things Done out this month

Just a provisional heads-up, a wary recommendation: a new edition of this productivity book is due out on 17 March. Getting Things Done was a giant success of a book that fostered a near-cult of GTD fans as they call themselves. It’s also directly helped me and I talk about it a lot in my own The Blank Screen. But in some ways it was rubbish.

Chiefly two ways. First, it was sometimes hard to get through the corporate-speak writing style. But, second, it was severely out of date. It was only written in 2001 but it’s Victorian with how it believes you can only do work emails at work. Was it ever thus? Really?

So I was excited when I heard a new edition is coming. That excitement has been tempered a bit by an interview I heard with author David Allen. I don’t know, but if he’s updated anything, it doesn’t sound like they are the core ideas. He spoke of a Palm Pilot as the ideal device for us, for instance. If you haven’t heard of that, take this as a sign that he’s talking rubbish. If you have heard of it, you know you’re not trading in your iPhone just yet.

However, a fuller blurb has been released on Amazon that says encouraging things like a claim that this is a total rewrite.

So fingers crossed I’ll be recommending the new Getting Things Done book. Right now the Kindle edition has been made available for pre-order at £6.99. Don’t accidentally order the paperback: the version of that online now is still the ancient first version.

In the meantime, here’s that Amazon publishers’ blurb:

Since it was first published in David Allen’s Getting Things Done has become one of the most influential business titles of its era, and the book on personal organisation. ‘GTD’ has become shorthand for an entire way of approaching the professional and personal tasks everyone faces in life, and has spawned an entire culture of websites, organisational tools, seminars, and offshoots.

For this revised and updated edition, David Allen has rewritten the book from start to finish, tweaking his classic text with new tools and technologies, and adding material that will make the book evergreen for the coming decades. Also new is a glossary of GTD terms; The GTD Path of Mastership – a description of what Allen has learned and is now teaching regarding the lifelong craft of integrating these practices, to the end-game of the capability of dealing with anything in life, by getting control and focus; and a section on the cognitive science research that validates GTD principles

New edition of Getting Things Done – publishers’ blurb (2015)

Coincidence: more on using OmniFocus

It’s the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon: when you hear about something, you then seem to hear about it a lot. (I know. It’s weird that a psychology idea is named after a terrorist organisation but it is, so.) With my own need to restart how I use OmniFocus pressing on my head, I just found this via the excellent As with so many things to do with software, I don’t think every detail of it is right for me but there’s a lot of good ideas in here.

And that’s especially true if you have or are considering OmniFocus but don’t know or don’t want to know the Getting Things Done (GTD) system that it follows:

do not use OmniFocus the GTD way (at least I do not think I do given that I have not read the book). I do use OmniFocus the way that works best for me.

OmniFocus and this my way workflow ensures that I never forget a task, a commitment or an action, mine and others. It keeps me focussed on what I need to be doing now. It reminds me what to do next. It helps build an agenda for what to discuss with people, and what was talked about before. It helps me know what was done and why.

Without it, I could not manage the myriad of projects, tasks, actions, commitments and reminders I deal with every day. And to make things even better, OmniFocus 2 evolved towards my way and added ease of use and features where my way needed it the most. I am sure that for many of you of you, the GTD way works well. For others, you have your own ways to use OmniFocus. This was mine.

Omnifocus My Way – Hilton Lipschitz, The Hiltmon (26 May 2014)

Read the full piece.

We are obsessed with productivity.

Not me. Nooooo.

Even for those who are not constantly bombarded with work demands outside the office, the ubiquity of information processing presents a temptation to be on call at all times. Our world has become an ambient factory from which there is no visible exit and there exists an industry of self-help technologies devoted to teaching us how to be happy workers. “Is information overload killing your productivity?” asks a representative business story. The answer is to adopt yet more productivity strategies. The labour of work is thus extended to encompass the labour of learning how to keep up with your work (specialised techniques, such as “Inbox Zero”, to manage the email tsunami) as well as the labour of recovering from your work in approved ways.

“Exercise,” advises one business magazine feature. “It makes you more productive.” In a perfect world, you would be getting exercise while you work—standing desks and even treadmill desks are sold as magical productivity enhancers. In the future, we’ll enjoy the happy possibility of carrying on with our work while out running, thanks to “wearable computing” devices such as Google Glass, which has the potential to become the corporate equivalent of the electronic tags that record the movements of criminals.

Productivity is Taking Over Our Lives – Steven Poole, New Republic (13 December 2013)

Notice the title there: “Productivity is taking over our lives”. That’s the title as billed by the website New Republic but if you go to that site and to that article, the title you see is different. It’s “Against the Insufferable Cult of Productivity”. More, New Republic is actually reprinting an article that first appeared in The New Statesman where it was called “Why the cult of hard work is counter-productive”.

Are headline writers paid on an hourly rate?

Could the time you spend writing so many headlines be more productively spent on – um, well, okay, maybe the article has a teeny point. Little bit. Read the full piece.

The Sweet Setup picks OmniFocus 2 as best To Do manager

Quite right, too. But where I took some years to find OmniFocus for myself, The Sweet Setup has done the same in a compressed way. Plus, it shows you its working out. So there’s a lot in this long article even if you don’t or can’t run OmniFocus: it includes much To Do software that is very good and says why each didn’t come top so that you can decide what’s important to you or not.

After much deliberation, soul searching, and not a little stress, I have come to the conclusion that the best productivity and GTD application suite for Mac and iOS users is OmniFocus.

This is no small decision. 5–6 years ago, this was an almost non-existent category of software. Today, solid options abound — from simple list-keeping to complex project management, GTD apps cover a wide spectrum of styles, workflows, and processes.

Our favorite productivity and GTD app suite for Mac, iPhone, and iPad – Chris Bowler, The Sweet Setup (21 October 2014

Read the full piece. Highly recommended.

The way you work is not the way I work

I think that’s obvious. And I hope I’m aware of it all the time. For instance, I might well ram OmniFocus down your throat but I doubt there’s a time I’ve actually recommended it that I didn’t also give you the important reasons why you might not want it. (OmniFocus is astonishingly great and transforming but it doesn’t run on Windows or Android so if you do, it’s no use to you. Also, I think it’s more than worth the money but it does cost more than most so that is a factor.)

Similarly, I might ram iOS and Apple down your throat but I fully accept that there are reasons to like using Windows, even if I’ve yet to discover any.

But I’m worrying about this today because I’m listening to David Allen on Mac Power Users. That’s an interesting mix. Allen is a very clever guy whose Getting Things Done book has helped me greatly – I give him a lot of credit in my Blank Screen workshops and where I don’t promote my own books from the stage in those, I do promote his. Yet every time I listen to him, I feel he doesn’t get it for writers and creatives.

He’s very clear and strident and adamant about the thinking behind getting things done, which I think is fine, but he’s pretty clear and strident and adamant about the specific tools he uses. And where.

For some years I’ve wondered why he doesn’t update his book to reflect how much the world has moved on. Getting Things Done presumes, for instance, that you can only make business calls from your office and that you can only get emails from there or your home, not from your phone on the way. It is what it is, it was written back in the Victorian era of around 2001. And I was very alert to this MPU interview where he mentions that he is finally doing a new version.

It’s just that the more I heard, the more I suspect it’ll be pretty much the same thing with perhaps the odd nod to newer technology. I should and I will have to wait until early next year when it comes out, but amongst all the really excellent and clever ideas he mentioned on MPU, it was still that he is clear and strident and adamant. Maybe you can now email on your phone or your iPad as you go between work and home, but you shouldn’t.

He doesn’t. He won’t. He likes to do this stuff at his desk and that’s where he’ll do it. Fine. Whatever. But that’s not the mark of someone who’s grasped how much things have changed.

I was waiting for MPU’s David Sparks and Katie Floyd to press him on technology and they did. Floyd mentioned how there hadn’t been all this stuff back when Allen wrote the book and he disagreed. Said that there had been the Palm Pilot then and nothing has ever come close to how great that was.


Also, he writes his tasks down on paper he keeps in his wallet and says if you use electronic methods, well, good luck. Specifically, you’re going to end up with tasks in many places – which is precisely what I think of people who use scraps of paper.

He does use technology, though: he has a To Do manager built for him on top of Lotus Notes. I had to Google whether Lotus Notes still exists and, actually, no, not so much. It’s long been IBM Notes and I can’t tell if it’s radically improved from when I had to use it back in the 1990s, but even Allen says nobody’s going to go out and buy [Lotus] Notes to run a To Do manager.

He does swap back and forth between that and OmniFocus. And the reason he goes back to Notes is that someone in his company is developing their To Do app. I can easily, readily see that having a tool custom built is going to be good, just not on Notes.

I’m wrong to rant, I feel. The new version of the book may change my mind, it may address everything I feel needs translation and conversion in the original. But yet again during an interview with him, I went from oooooh to oh.

But I’m going to watch how clear and strident and adamant I get when I’m talking to you about how I work and how you could.

In the meantime, have a listen to this smart man on Mac Power Users.

Dip into the original Getting Things Done

David Allen’s book Getting Things Done spawned an industry which has taken to doing podcasts. Allen’s own site hasn’t quite got in on the act yet, perhaps it’s on his Someday/Maybe list, but it has collated some audio interviews.

They’re all Allen talking on various radio and podcast shows so there tends to be a lot of overlap of topics as GTD is introduced each time. And I’ve had some problems getting the audio to play reliably so that’s two things against it but have a go with one and see what you think.

David Allen podcast interviews on Getting Things Done