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43f Podcast: David Allen on interruptions

Productive Talk #06: Interruptions

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


In this episode David and I talked about interruptions. How you can minimize the bad interruptions and make the best of the good ones.

(Running time: 10:17)

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

Merlin's comments

In this episode, David makes the excellent point that if interruptions are a baked-in part of your job, they shouldn't necessarily be seen as a Bad Thing. It's just something you need to prepare for by "clearing the decks" in a way that opens you up for the opportunities and game-time input that new information can bring into your world.

Something not to miss -- David is just truly a whiz at changing gears based on his own system. If new stuff interrupts what he's currently working on, he scoops all the current work back into "pending," and basically says "Bring it on!"

As I mentioned in the interview, watching David work like this took me back to Martin Ternouth's paper-based system, which turns on a couple key, GTD-esque ideas: 1) you're only ever working on one thing at a time, and 2) everything current gets emptied and re-evaluated daily.

I think it's that jog between in-the-moment work and frequent review that really makes a system like GTD work. When (not if) interruptions arise, you trust the system to hold your work in situ, and then your reviews ensure you never miss a beat.

And, finally, although we didn't get into it as much as I'd like, I really think it's important to understand and distinguish between interruptions as opposed to distractions. In other words, there are those things that immediately need our attention in life (poopy babies, family emergencies, buildings on fire) versus those notifications, pings, and existential shovelware that we've chosen to accept (*waves at RSS feeds and AIM*).

So, if you're feeling overwhelmed by interruptions, make sure you've done everything you can to reduce the noise. In other words, consider clearing your own decks today for the serendipity and kismet that might be coming your way this week.

To paraphrase Thomas Edison, sometimes interesting opportunities arrive dressed as a huge pain in the ass.

Listen to Episode #06 of Productive Talk

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

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About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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