Updated on 11.29.10

Making It All Work – In Closing…

Trent Hamm

This is the final entry in a twenty part series discussing the wonderful time and priority management book Making It All Work by David Allen.

making it all workI’ve really enjoyed writing this series. It’s given me an opportunity to think deeply about this book and about some of the ongoing concerns and areas of focus in my own life from a bit of a different perspective than before.

Before I give my final thoughts on this book, though, let’s start off with the reason many of you will bookmark this post.

Everything That Came Before
Here are links to the previous nineteen entries in this series so you can go back through the series at your own convenience.

From Getting Things Done to Making It All Work
The GTD Phenomenon
The Process
The Fundamentals of Self-Management
Getting Control: Capturing
Getting Control: Clarifying
Getting Control: Organizing
Getting Control: Reflecting
Getting Control: Engaging
Getting Control: Applying This to Life and Work
Getting Perspective
Getting Perspective on the Runway: Next Actions
Getting Perspective at Ten Thousand Feet: Projects
Getting Perspective at Twenty Thousand Feet: Areas of Focus and Responsibility
Getting Perspective at Thirty Thousand Feet: Goals and Objectives
Getting Perspective at Forty Thousand Feet: Vision
Getting Perspective at Fifty Thousand Feet: Purpose and Principles
Getting Perspective: Gracie’s Gardens Revisited
In the Real World

Some Final Thoughts
I’ve now read the entirety of Making It All Work four times, on top of several readings of Allen’s other books. What have I taken away from all of that reading?

For me, five key things float to the top of all of this detail.

A good life connects the generic “meaning of life” to the little things you do every day
There was a time in my adult life where there was a great disconnect between the things I did every day and the bigger picture I had of my life. I went through the day spending money on unimportant objects and experiences, doing unimportant things, and filling my hours with unimportant activities. At the end of the day, I’d feel completely unfulfilled, but I’d wake up and repeat that day. I kept believing that all of my big dreams would be fulfilled by my “future self,” but that “future self” was a figment of my imagination.

The biggest thing I’ve learned over the lifetime of The Simple Dollar is the more you can connect your daily life to the big picture of what you want out of life, the more fulfilled you are, the more direction your life seems to have, and the easier it becomes to make the “right” choices in terms of money management, time management, and so on.

If you can’t make that connection, you’ve found something in your life that needs a change
For most of us, this means cutting back. Almost everyone is committed to things to the limit of their time, energy, and abilities – and often beyond it. We get worn out, we get frustrated with having too much on our plate, and we begin to make bad moves like letting people down or spending our financial resources on unnecessary things as a stress reliever.

The solution is to start looking at every thing you do in your daily life and start filtering it through the bigger things you want in life. If you’re having difficulty making that connection, then you’ve discovered something that you should be trimming from your life. If you’re having difficulty finding anything without a connection, then you should step back and start thinking about the big picture, figuring out what’s really important to you.

The more you do this, the more powerful it gets. You begin to find a deep connection between your day-to-day activities and your big goals in life and your ordinary days begin to feel filled with purpose.

You can be ten times more productive if you can get “into the zone,” so it’s worth spending time to make it easier to get there
I would rather spend two hours of my workday “in the zone” and six hours doing nothing at all than spending eight hours trying to make something happen. That’s how productive a zone state is for me, and thus it’s well worth it for me to find ways to get into that zone.

I will sometimes spend two or three hours of a given day doing only things that set the stage for such intense focus. I’ll clear my desk, remove distractions, make sure my inbox is processed, keep tools around me for whatever I might need in a pinch, and cut off access to distracting sites. The big one, however, is…

Getting stuff out of your head is the best way to increase “zone” time
The fewer things I have floating in my head at any given time, the easier it is for me to slip right into the zone when I need to. Thus, I put substantial effort into recording the thoughts in my head and making sure that they’re recorded in a trusted place where I can easily retrieve them.

At first, this means getting them down in my pocket notebook or in Evernote, but that’s not quite sufficient…

You’ve got to do something with the stuff when it gets out of your head
You absolutely have to get all of that stuff that you pulled out of your head into some sort of system where you can easily retrieve it. That means having a number of things around you that you rely on for managing the things you need to remember and do.

For me, these tools are several. I keep a detailed calendar, an ongoing to-do list, notes on all of my ongoing projects, a collection of additional lists (books to read, etc.), and a filing cabinet with documents that need to be stored for later. Nearly every piece of information that’s floating in my head winds up in one of these destinations, which I can then review at my own leisure, knowing that the specific information I need is always in the right place.

This takes time, but it also ensures that I can get into a “zone” state much more easily, and it’s thanks to that “zone” state that I can be highly productive and move forward on the myriad of things that are important in my life.

It all ties together in the end.

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  1. brad says:

    i shed a tear of joy.

  2. Shannon says:

    Seriously. Most BORING series ever. I’m glad Trent you enjoyed writing this because very few would have enjoyed reading this.

  3. valleycat1 says:

    Ditto, although I did glean one tiny tidbit. I suggest sticking to the 1-shot overall book reports in the future – if people want the level of detail Trent went in to for all these posts, they should buy the book [or check it out from the library] so they’re getting it from the source rather than taking someone else’s interpretation.

  4. Dena Shunra says:

    Trent, thanks so much for this.

    I’ve loved the series and it has inspired me to rethink my life and goals. Sharing this is an act of generosity, and I am grateful to you for it.

  5. Paula says:

    I agree with the first two commentators. I ended up skimming over most of these posts…

  6. J.O. says:

    Thank you for the series and this final overview of the key points. Don’t be fooled by the naysayers. This kind of series is of great use to those of us who don’t have the time to read the book and don’t need the details, but can “get” and use the principles from your summary. This particular series has been my favorite.

  7. deRuiter says:

    Thank goodness the author of the book, whose name I’ve mercifully blanked out, didn’t write 30 chapters! The unread agony of these 20 columns is at an end. Easy work for you Trent, rewriting somone else’s 20 chapters into 20 dull, over long, superfluouscolumns, 19 too many for my taste. Please don’t ever do this again. People unable to read this book could get it on tape and have it read to them. It’s hard work to think of fresh material for 19 columns, but they would have been read. I gave up, this stuff was tedious.

  8. Mary says:

    Thanks for your series- I have read the books and I appreciated your reviews. To all the complainers. GEEEEEEEEZ
    Don’t like it don’t read it!

  9. Trent,

    I personally think this and the GTD stuff is some of your most useful content. It is so helpful and interesting to see someone not just give technical overview of material but to share in detail how it applies specifically to their life. It is often information that books don’t have the time to get delve into, but really helps readers connect and apply the materials to their day to day lives.

    This overview alone really helped my find the right framework with which I can really help pair down my commitments.

    Awesome series.

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