David Allen’s Productivity Tips

Weekly Reviews

At the heart of David Allen’s productivity coaching is the discipline of a weekly review. “That is critical to making personal organization a vital, dynamic reality,” he says. Here, adapted from Allen’s Web site, is a list of steps that you should work your way through every Friday afternoon.

  1. Sort your loose papers. Gather all scraps of paper—business cards, receipts, miscellaneous notes—and put them into your in-basket to process.
  2. Process your notes. Review journal entries, meeting notes, and miscellaneous scribblings. Turn them into appropriate action items, projects, and so on.
  3. Review previous calendar data. Look through expired daily calendar pages for remaining action items, and move those items forward.
  4. Download your data. Write down any new projects, action items, “waiting-for” items, and so on.
  5. Review outcome lists. One by one, evaluate the status of each project, goal, and outcome.
  6. Review “next action” lists. Check off all completed actions. Look for reminders of further action steps.
  7. Review “pending” and “support” files. Browse through work-in-progress materials and update lists of new actions, completions, and “waiting-for” items.
  8. Review “reminders” lists. Make sure that there isn’t anything that you haven’t done that you need to do. Also, make sure that there aren’t any checklists that you need to review.
  9. Review “someday” and “maybe” lists. Look for any projects that may have become active, and transfer them to your “projects” list. Delete any dead items.
  10. Review “waiting-for” lists. Record appropriate follow-up actions. Check them off as you complete them.
  11. Be creative and courageous. Add to your system any new, wonderful, harebrained, thought-provoking, risk-taking ideas that have occurred to you.

Little Tricks

David Allen’s productivity principles are rooted in big ideas—in a continuous search for personal growth and self-understanding. But they’re also eminently practical. Here are some of his tips for confronting life in the fast lane.

  • If you travel regularly, dedicate a separate drawer in your dresser to the items that you take on most trips. Keep duplicates of things that you always take—toilet kits, power cords for your laptop, chargers for phones.
  • Create an “action support” file in your briefcase or on your desk. Use it for one-off paper items—airline tickets, fax confirmations, and so on—that don’t warrant their own file but that you need to have at hand for certain situations.
  • Keep your email inbox empty. Discipline yourself to dump as many messages as you can right away, to address immediately any action that will take less than two minutes, and to group actions that will take more than two minutes into an “Action” folder.
  • If you travel with extra batteries for your laptop or cell-phone, put a rubber band around all charged batteries. That way, you’ll always know which batteries are live and which are dead.
  • Increase your ease at the keyboard. If you don’t type at least 50 words per minute, install a typing program (such as “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing”), and then practice. Also, learn the seven most common speed-key combinations for navigating Windows.
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