- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Eight years after it was published, David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” is still one of the top 100 best-sellers on Amazon.com.

The slim volume, subtitled “The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,” has become a self-help Bible in Silicon Valley and corporate boardrooms nationwide.

But as Allen stood before hundreds of followers at the first-ever “Getting Things Done” summit this past week, the stress was self-evident.

“I’m feeling the shudder of the world as we live in it now,” Allen said after telling the crowd he had just laid off 40 percent of his own business consulting firm’s staff as companies eviscerate their human resources budgets.

Getting things done was hard enough in a robust economy, when every day brought new possibilities for success.

Now this high priest of productivity is faced with figuring out what the gospel of planning means when every day brings fresh uncertainty, for his disciples and for himself.

The rise of “Getting Things Done” paralleled the reemergence of economic boomtimes out of the ashes of Sept. 11, 2001. Readers were drawn to the book’s deceptively simple insights tailored for a tech-ridden world that has an unprecedented ability to distract.

Everyone is inundated by “stuff,” Allen says, meaning anything physical or mental that nags at your attention. The only way to get stuff to stop bothering you, he says, is to do something with it.

And to really get free of your stuff _ to get free, period _ you have to do something with all of it.

According to “Getting Things Done,” or GTD as followers call it, stuff can be anything from an unanswered e-mail to starting a business to a serious medical problem. Minor distractions become major when they’re not attended to, Allen preaches.

“What you do with that piece of paper on your desk or that e-mail is a microcosmic view of how we live our lives on this planet,” Allen told the crowd.

The summit was billed as the “Macworld of Productivity,” a reference to the annual Apple Inc. gathering, also in San Francisco.

Techies were among the first to strongly embrace Allen’s productivity “hacks,” or techniques for turning demands and commitments into action and accomplishments.

These days, bloggers parse every GTD turn of phrase for new insight. So-called “lifehackers” post online treatises and photos showing off their latest ideas for using GTD. A cottage industry has sprung up to supply specialized notebooks, software and even index cards for GTD devotees.

Allen argues they’ll need them now more than ever, especially in the face of a full-blown personal crisis like getting laid off.

“When you most need to get organized is when you least feel like you can take time to do it,” he said.

That organization needs to be far more than just an appointment calendar, according to Allen. Workers uprooted by economic upheaval need a systematic approach to surf uncertainty, he says.

“It’s really about getting clear about how do I process change as it’s coming toward me.”

One-on-one, Allen speaks quickly and chooses his words easily, exuding a relaxed intensity that feels like a pure product of California business culture. The 64-year-old author started his coaching business more than a decade ago in a cottage behind the house he shares with his wife in Ojai, near Santa Barbara.

Allen’s ideas about personal productivity started taking shape in the 1970s as he delved into the personal growth movement sweeping the state. His most recent book, “Making It All Work,” is about applying GTD more deeply to all aspects of life.

While some bloggers have questioned whether GTD has a hidden quasi-spiritual agenda, enthusiasts point to its extreme practicality as a source of its appeal compared to other self-help methods.

“You don’t have to share at all his larger spiritual view,” said James Fallows, a veteran journalist and national correspondent for The Atlantic. Fallows profiled Allen in the magazine in 2004 and quickly became a GTD adherent. He flew from Beijing, where he is currently based, to speak at the GTD summit.

Fallows said a major part of GTD’s appeal for him was the way its seemingly simple, practical tips can make space for high-level creativity.

“That is what has really interested me since the beginning _ the sort of high-low mix,” Fallows said.

Fallows does not appear to be alone. Allen signed up for Twitter about two weeks ago. By this weekend, he had nearly 85,000 followers.


On the Net:

GTD Summit: https://www.gtdsummit.com/

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