Book Review: David Allen, “Making It All Work”

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Fortunately, as planned, my copy of MIAW arrived during my Jan holiday, allowing me to spend some quality time reflecting on my own leadership, control and perspective. This book is David Allen‘s long awaited follow up to “Getting Things Done“. (I’ve also read his smaller release “Ready for Anything”).

This book is really GTD without the nuts and bolts specifics, but goes into much more depth as to why GTD works, and why you need to work on the “horizons of focus” to gain perspective. Many GTD organised people, such as myself, love the system for the control it gives, but haven’t yet moved into the higher horizons of focus part of the model.

GTD is huge because it gives people control over their stuff, their inboxes, their commitments. For example, for 2 years now I’ve regularly had my email inbox at zero, and physical inboxes not far behind. All my committments go into a trusted system, I never leave stuff in my head. This feels great and works for me. But Allen argues that you need to take the next step and make sure you work on your areas of responsibility, 2-3 year goals, 5 year goals, and life vision and purpose.

It is a great refresher to the GTD principles, going into more depth as to why they work. If you are more a idealistic person, then you might like to read MIAW before the GTD book.

I’ve read somewhat widely in the area of personal organisation, of which for many years Stephen Covey has been king.  But something I loved in MIAW were David’s very humble observations as to why the traditional “top down” time organisation does not work. You simply cannot do a Covey top down, set life goals and roles (“big rocks”) and work to them weekly – if your inbox and diary and personal commitments are in chaos. The runway needs to be cleared. Allen does not gloat about this, but in my mind it is a huge breakthrough in this “science of productivity”. The (organisational) king is dead, long live the king.

As a Christian, I’ve always been a bit suspicious about the whole business vision/mission jargon religion, especially when it’s been imported into church life. But Allen has won me over, to an extent, that pastors and churches should not only be organised an in control of all their commitments, paper, inboxes, and so forth – they should also be constantly pushing their perspective to think ahead as to what God could and might be doing.

Prayer itself is a great perspective maker. As we pray we allow ourselves to implore God to do great things through our service of him, both now and in the future. And as we pray and read the Scriptures, God impresses on our hearts his sovereign power to do more than we can ask or imagine. And we are humbled as sinful people, that we need our Saviour’s blood to atone for our failures and omissions, as well as empower new service – John 15:4.

David Allen is not really pushing a worldview, as much as best practices. They are technologies he has built up through years of 1-1 helping executives get organised. They could be used by Nazi’s as well as CEO’s. I know some very organised Christian leaders who do GTD-type workflow management without ever having read the book, they don’t need it. Other Christian leaders are naturally driven, and therefore productive. But if you are naturally disorganised and lazy, like me, then it is well worth plundering this wisdom.

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