Making It All Work – The Process

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This is the third entry in a twenty part series discussing the wonderful time and priority management book Making It All Work by David Allen. New entries in this series will appear on Tuesday mornings and Friday mornings through December 10.

making it all workMaking It All Work opens with what I would call three “introductory” chapters that precede what I would call the main section of the book. This third “introductory” chapter is quite short and mostly just sets up a few key concepts for the rest of the book. I identified five of these concepts that really stuck out at me.

Losing Control and Direction
On page 49:

From time to time you will experience yourself either feeling out of control or lacking direction – or both. If you didn’t you’d probably be stale.

This could be true on a larger life scale, such as how you are experiencing your career, or, at a more mundane level, such as being disorganized in preparing a dinner for friends. This can (and will) happen in and with your project in the garage, your family, your team, your job, your company, your school committee, your life.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are times where I feel like my life is humming along wonderfully and everything seems to be in sync. I know what I’m doing. I know why I’m doing it. I’m really productive and full of energy.

Eventually, though, something happens that knocks this off of the rails. An emotional event. A crisis that eats a lot of time and energy. A slow change in my goals and directions.

I start to feel out of control. Sometimes, I start to wonder what exactly I’m working for.

The Two Keys
On page 51:

In the simplest terms, there are only two things you or your team or company needs to do to achieve positive and productive engagement with the commitments you face and to achieve all of the desired results [...]: get organized and get focused.

Again, that seems simple. Yet virtually every common problem a person or team boils down to one of those two problems: a lack of organization or a lack of focus.

Organization problems come from not having the right resources available for the task. People problems. Information management problems. Communication problems. They’re all signs of some form of disorganization.

On the other hand, focus problems include things like simply having too much to do or being bored without enough to do or not being engaged with what’s going on.

How do we solve them? The solution really comes from putting aside time to evaluate what you’re doing and why you’re doing it on a regular basis. So often, people and groups view that evaluation as “wasted time,” but I’ve found it to be the most valuable time that I spend.

The Price of Creativity and Productivity
On page 55:

Loss of control and perspective is the natural price you will pay for being creative and productive. The trick is not how to prevent this happening, but how to shorten the time you stay in an unsettled state.

Why are we worried about these things? Simply put, time spent out of control and without perspective is time lost.

I know that there are sometimes days when I just sit here spinning my wheels, trying to decide what to do next or not even being sure what I should be doing. I don’t have ideas. I don’t have direction. I just idle a bit.

That is pure wasted time. When I find myself in that situation, it’s time to back off and take a larger look at what I’m doing.

What Exactly Is Work?
On page 56:

The definition of work I will use in this book is quite universal: anything you want to get done that’s not done yet.

Allen’s material is interesting because it doesn’t make any distinction between the different types of things that a person needs to get done. A task to accomplish is a task to accomplish – you treat them all in the same way.

This is a really difficult bridge for many people to walk across. For many people, a work task stays at work and a home task stays at home.

The problem is that you often find yourself thinking about work at home and thinking about home at work during downtimes at each place. In those downtimes, you should be productive in those areas. If you have a great work idea at home, write it down. If you have a great home idea at work, write it down.

No “Personal” Versus “Work” Dichotomy
On page 58:

[...] there is an inherent fallacy in affirming that “life” and “work” are mutually exclusive spheres. The truth is, when you are “in your zone” – when time has disappeared and you’re simply “on” with whatever you’re doing – there is no distinction in your psyche at that moment between “work” and “personal.”

Allen goes so far with this as to suggest that there really is no difference between “work” and “personal” when you are “in the zone.” Regardless of whether you’re at home or at work, you should strive to get into that zone – and when you’re in that zone, the line between work and personal disappears. You just get stuff done.

For me, this line has completely vanished, but that’s partially because I work at home on projects that have a flexible time schedule. I find that when I do get really “productive” over a stretch of time, I intermingle “work” tasks and “personal” tasks without skipping a beat.

My enemy is idle downtime. I don’t mind taking a break or anything like that, but when I’m just sitting there doing nothing for the sake of doing nothing, I know there’s a problem, whether I’m active in my personal life or in my work.

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3 thoughts on “Making It All Work – The Process

  1. “Loss of control and perspective is the natural price you will pay for being creative and productive. The trick is not how to prevent this happening, but how to shorten the time you stay in an unsettled state.

    Why are we worried about these things? Simply put, time spent out of control and without perspective is time lost. ”

    Is it just me, or does this not make sense? Or did Trent edit this down too far? Even if it does make sense to everyone else, there’s a lot of need in the world for creativity and productivity.

    I think a “loss of control” (how the author puts it) and “being out of control” (per Trent) are two entirely different things, and creativity does require letting go of control to a large degree.

    Is the author saying that to be productive, you have to focus, so you lose perspective? If so, the trick is to make time to look at the big picture as well as to look at & take care of the details – which pretty much sums up my life as I live it.

  2. “Allen goes so far with this as to suggest that there really is no difference between “work” and “personal” when you are “in the zone.” Regardless of whether you’re at home or at work, you should strive to get into that zone – and when you’re in that zone, the line between work and personal disappears. You just get stuff done.”

    My employer would love for me to be “in the zone” all the time… after all, he only has to pay me for a 40 hour work week. He’d love for me to draw no distinctions between personal and private time. He gave me a blackberry so he can call me whenever he wants, get email responses from me on the weekends.

    My salary reflects a 40 hour work week, and so I’m only in “the zone” 40 hours per week.

  3. “I don’t mind taking a break or anything like that, but when I’m just sitting there doing nothing for the sake of doing nothing, I know there’s a problem, whether I’m active in my personal life or in my work.”

    Maybe you should try some meditation and I bet you’d feel differently about that. ;)

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