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David Allen Interview: Getting Things Done with Email

Productive Talk #05: Email

43 Folders and The David Allen Company present the fifth in a series of conversations that David and Merlin recently had about Getting Things Done.


In this episode, David and Merlin talk about email. We learn that David coaches people to deal with a high volume of messages by treating them like you would any other input.

(Running time: 17:53)

Grab the MP3, learn more at Odeo.com, or just listen here (after the cut).

Merlin's comments

Email was one of the topics that I was most interested in talking to David about, and I found his responses to my questions thought-provoking.

David makes the case that email is basically just another input -- like voice mail, for example -- that needs to be emptied and processed every day. That it's not substantially different (apart from how badly mostly people do it right now).

While I absolutely agree on processing to zero, I think opinions may differ on the significance of email's impact on the life of the average knowledge worker.

I think David's approach and advice are tactically quite sound in terms of fixing your own half-acre of the problem, but I'm still ambivalent about a prevailing culture of email in which the implied expectation is that we always need to be on_, for example, responding to business-day messages within minutes of their arrival. My friends working down in the Valley (you know who you are) tell me this is the elephant in the room in terms of trying to get _anything accomplished between 8 and 6.

While email has matured in terms of adoption, I think we're still in the very early days of understanding how to use it responsibly across teams and organizations -- we're still a long way from seeing a standard for sound email usage that acknowledges that most "real work" can and should take place outside of an inbox. I really look forward to seeing how we can each help to initiate these conversations in our own circles.

In the mean time, you'll love hearing David's advice on Getting Things Done in email. He has a way of cutting to the point that I find really refreshing. Also watch for his prediction on the Blackberry's inevitable progeny: _The Watermelon!_

Listen to Episode #05 of Productive Talk

Grab the MP3, learn more at Odeo.com, or just listen from here:

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Derrick Bostrom's picture

This was an interesting discussion....

This was an interesting discussion. DA is clearly concerned that his theories not be used to further the culture of finger-pointing. MM couldn't get him to budge off point. It's a fine point, but an obvious one: my company makes money off sales not me keeping my in-box empty. However I can increase sales, that's up to me.

After a year and a half at my current job, I can finally and consistently keep my in-box at zero, but only becaue I've spent a lot of time figuring out what they all mean. I've had to go through several systems, each progressing from the previous, designed to increase my understanding of both the inputs and my relationship to them. My current process wouldn't have worked for me a year ago.

It seems to me that David squarely focuses on that relationship, rather than on process. His previous statement, that administrators are basically people who hold buckets and run after other people, hit me square between the eyes. It helped me to understand that I do GTD because others can't or won't. I don't dare pay too much attention to processes; I have to pay close attention so that I don't break my ankle tripping over my co-workers piles of stuff.

You have to be able to view your circumstance from a half-dozen altitudes at once, and you have to come to terms with the fact that it'll never look good from all altitutes at once. When too many views look bad, it's time to move on.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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