Getting Things Done with David Allen: Organize Your Stuff

The two most valuable tools for organizing your life, according to productivity guru David Allen, ring in at less than $50: a labeler and a box of file folders  

Credit: Flickr/jonathancohen

Fix or toss? According to productivity guru David Allen, only you can decide

The two main tools for organizing everything – yep, I said everything – in your life are as close as your nearest stationary store

That’s according to management consultant David Allen, whose bestselling business book Getting Things Done has been translated, so far, into 28 languages. Allen’s book recommends a simple labeler and box of file folders as the two tools to transform the flotsam and jetsam of an ordinary life – people to call, paper to sort, projects to start, and broken things to fix – into manageable chunks.

Get Organized on Paper First

No, you can’t stuff your pair of broken sandals – the summer ones you’ve been meaning to fix since June, only summer’s over now – into a filing cabinet. What you can do is create a paper reminder that automatically takes chaotic, undone piles of things – what Allen accurately if inelegantly labels “stuff” – and turns them into lists of what to do the next time you’re, say, on the street where the cobbler works.

The crux of Allen’s system is simple, valueless decision-making. What you do with your stuff, whether it’s throw it out (you never wanted to wear those sandals, anyway), get it done (hey, it’s only September!), or store it (maybe for next year?), is up to you.

Allen’s contention is that it’s the actual act of making that decision that takes “fix sandals” off your mind’s to-do list, thus freeing you up to have more valuable thoughts about your next big project, fun shoe-shopping trip or resolution to start wearing different shoes.

Two Days to Organize the Backlog of “Stuff”

It sounds simple, and it is. But there’s a radical shift in your life when you follow Allen’s injunction in Getting Things Done to set aside at least two full interruption-free days – that’s right, 16 hours – to work through every single bit of stuff in your life.

He recommends piling all of it that can be physically moved next to your clean desk, then working through each item, one at a time, determining not its ultimate destination but your next specific action. If that’s something you do, even if it’s merely hand it off to someone else, put the task on a list of, say, things to do at the office.

It may be hard to imagine how simply making decisions about those sandals, and everything else that’s circling your head, can promote quite such a radical change in your consciousness. Try it – this blogger did. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.