This month's Wired has a long profile on David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, a productivity book whose cultlike adherents (myself included) are incredibly passionate about. Since reading GTD two or three years ago, I've modelled my whole productivity regime around its advice, particularly the list of pending actions from other people, which has saved me more time and money than anything I've done before — I've stopped losing projects and gigs because I thought someone else was looking after it and they thought I was.
The profile gets into depth on Allen's background — junkie, mental patient, trainer, consultant, bestselling author; stuff I'd never known.
Allen's practical suggestions on how to turn thoughts into reality sharply distinguish him from his predecessors. His advice is so simple as to appear simpleminded. He insists that nothing should ever appear on a to-do list that is not a specific, concrete action expressed at the most practical level of detail. Do not write "set up a meeting," for instance. Instead, write "call to set up a meeting." "If you just say you are going to set up the meeting," he says, "then that leaves a question open: How are you going to do it? Are you going to call? Are you going to email? It's like having a monkey on your back that won't shut up." Allen's voice shifts into a more taunting register. "How are you going to do it? How are you going to do it? Somebody shut up the monkey!"
The difference between issuing an invitation by email and issuing it over the phone seems perversely minuscule. But in practice, as Allen points out, the question of how to communicate is often freighted with unarticulated anxieties. His mandate to resolve apparently trivial issues serves as a kind of research tool, bringing to light aspects of work that are otherwise felt only as vague concerns. And when it is difficult to find a simple physical action that can advance a project, it is a sign that the project may be unrealistic or even impossible. This is an excellent thing to know in advance.