The Way We Work
April 27, 2010 by Tamara Rice

Are You Ready for Anything?

Popular executive coach David Allen shared his life and work organization tips in Getting Things Done, but in Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life (Penguin Books) he delves into the important theories of productivity and creativity that inspired his methods.

Exploring the negative psychological impact of procrastination and the mental freedom of being productive, Allen teaches readers the value of methodically staying on top of projects and tasks. He operates under the insightful premise that one's ability to be productive is directly proportioned to one's ability to relax. In other words, the way you feel during your downtime -- if you have it -- is a really good indicator of how in control of your work flow you are and how efficient and productive you really are.

For those of us who work from home, this ability to be relaxed one day and productive the next, in an environment that doesn't change between days off or on, is really important. While some of the 58 principles might seem a bit cerebral at a glance (No. 36: "Prime your principles instead of policing your policies."), as the reader dives deeper into Allen's ideas, a lot of truth emerges.

Truths like No. 8 "Closing open loops releases energy." Or, in simpler terms, the multiple unfulfilled commitments hanging around in your subconcious (like your late tax return, your past-deadline assignment, etc.) are zapping you of energy. It leads directly into No. 10 "Creativity shows up when there's space."

Much of Allen's advice is for those of us who procrastinate -- though he's the first to say that those who need this book the most are the least likely to read it or incorporate its ideas. He tackles procrastination head on, pointing out that when you live by the tyranny of the urgent, constantly prioritizing and only getting done what is immediately needed, all low-priority tasks will be ignored until eventually they become those fires that have to be put out. It's a self-perpetuating problem.

Allen also points out that seemingly overwhelming projects are accomplished by small action steps -- action steps that it's up to you to identify and get done. He covers this in No. 48, where he states:

Many a mission-critical project is hung up right now that has a next action that could be done in less than two minutes, were it identified ... "Land on Mars" as a project still comes down to something like "Call Fred about the Mars budget proposal" that can be accomplished as soon and as easily as any other activity in our inventory of work at hand.

It's an inspiring book, and Allen's basic and practical methods for "workflow mastery" from Getting Things Done (Collect, Process, Organize, Review, Do) are described briefly in the appendix.

Tell us, what book has most inspired your work habits and life management?

Tamara Rice

Freelance Writer and Editor

Tamara Rice is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. She joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, after more than six years on staff at an award-winning national magazine.