Punching the “Clear Your Head” Button: The Xconomy Q&A with David Allen

10/16/12Follow @wroush

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word processing and spreadsheets were game changing. Like relational databases. Those things truly changed the games, in terms of, Wow, we can now do and think about things differently than before we had that tool.

X: And are you thinking about this new collaboration in that way?

DA: Yes. I’m hoping that. That’s their dream, to figure out how can they do that.

Q: I want to read you a quote from our last interview in 2006, for Technology Review. You said, “If I had a billion dollars I would build a thing that could do a customized weekly review. It would trigger the right questions and make me think about the results. For instance, it would say ‘You’re going to New York. Would you like me to get theater tickets?’” That sounded interesting to me because you’ve often said that the weekly review is one of the trickiest, most difficult things to carry out. Do you see anything happening in that area?

DA: All of that is part of the blueprint of what would a real thing look like. I need the map of “what do I need to look at once a week,” and here’s your map. “I’m now going to talk to my boss.” Here’s your boss map. What are the questions you need to ask so that you’re appropriately engaged with whatever you’re engaged in? So if you’ve just been to a meeting and you need to clear your head, punch the Clear Your Head button and boom. By the way, after I come back from the meeting you’re going to want to say, “Here are the questions I want to ask myself.”

So you’re going to be able to template in, how do I most appropriately engage with X, Y, and Z. You’ll be able to template that yourself. You’re processing your e-mail. Is there a project tied to that, yes or no? Yes. Great. As soon as I’ve identified a project, I’ve set it up so that it instantly brings Mind Manager on to the screen and gives me two minutes with an alarm for me to just dump right then what’s on my mind about that project. And go longer if I want. And if not, stop, it goes ding, what’s the next action. And it will let me know which projects don’t have next actions tied to them. It will be very visual if you want to see it. Basically all the stuff you need to see if you want to be totally appropriately engaged with your world.

All these other guys have come up with their list managers, with bells and whistles. You need that—you do need a good list manager. But you don’t have an intelligent way to start to work those things that you could then program in. You want to be able to hit F12 and clear your head.

X: It sounds a little bit like taking the graphics and flowcharts you distribute for GTD and actually bringing them alive.

DA: Exactly. And not just alive, but personalized to you and the moment you’re in, with incredible depth and breadth. You can take this as deep as you want it. How much more do you want to think about this. Where would that go. How would it tie into X, Y, and Z. Every time I think I about these things, I want the ties to all of that.

X: So that’s the kind of thing that might also show up in the new collaboration?

A: Absolutely. That will be part of it. Obviously if we were going to build a real thing out there it will have to be an agile startup with a minimum viable product that is unique. How do we crowdsource this? We’re at the stage right now of trying to figure that out.

X: To circle back to where we started, I had an intuition that with the advances in thinking about software and interfaces, there must be an attempt underway to repackage everything you’ve done over the years and make it even more relevant and more powerful on our mobile devices. It sounds like the model and the basic process hasn’t changed, but the devices are so much more powerful in terms of the ability to move information around with the touch of a button, that you can finally think about getting a full GTD system onto a phone or a tablet.

DA: But that’s still just moving information around. That’s why I say no game changers have happened. It’s just finer ways to slice and dice your data. That’s all you’re talking about. The problem with technology is it’s seducing everyone into thinking you can actually fix this. It doesn’t. But it’s not because of the information. It’s because of the behavior. We are in the behavior change business. I can give you the model. I can help you install the model. You are going to have to implement the model and keep it going.

X: So if it turned out that a little paper notepad in your wallet was all you needed to keep track of your commitments, then that would be the place to stop your search for new technologies?

DA: Yeah, if you were just trying to maximize and optimize what you’re doing in terms of your own productivity, then you’d stop. But if you’re interested in what else is going on, you keep looking.

I’ve been trying to free myself up operationally from my business so that I could have time to spend with Charles and the Intentional group because this is really, really fun. What if we found a way to give you an intelligent system for what to see, when, and why, andmaybe build some education in that’s not Naziware, that is facilitating by its very structure. That would be the ideal. Not everybody just junking up their computer with all kinds of stuff that’s dispersive rather than integrative.

That’s why Dropbox and Evernote were so cool, they began to pull things back together. Instead of having things in multiple different places they began to bring things back together. That is the trend that’s going to win, and needs to win, and we’re just trying to do that with a little more intelligence. And with a larger “meta” scope of what that might look like. And we have no idea whether, or when, or in what way. First we just need to know where the holes are.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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