I’m about a fourth of the way through David Allen’s outstanding book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.” I mentioned this book to a friend yesterday with the comment, “This book is going to change my life by helping me really get more organized and efficient with my use of time,” and I wasn’t kidding.stress definitionOn page 23 of the book, David shares the following paragraph which I think really defines “stress” for me and perhaps many others today, and also provides good insights into how that stress can be best managed. I don’t say “eliminated” because although we often use the word “stress” in negative references, we all do need a basic level of stress in our lives to keep our lives interesting and ourselves challenged. It’s only when perceived levels of stress get out of balance (or even out of control) that problems set in. Here’s what David writes:

The big problem is that your mind keeps reminding you of things when you can’t do anything about them. It has no sense of past or future. That means that as soon as you tell yourself that you need to do something, and store it in your RAM, there’s a part of you that thinks you should be doing that something all the time. Everything you’ve told yourself you ought to do, it thinks you should be doing right now. Frankly, as soon as you have two things to do stored in your RAM, you’ve generated potential failure, because you can’t do them both at the same time. This produces an all-pervasive stress factor whose source can’t be pinpointed.

As I’ve noted before, I think we often over-estimate the ability of young people to multi-task cognitive challenges and accomplish them with high levels of quality. Just because a young person is carrying on instant message conversations with six different people, watching the television, listening to an iPod, playing a GameBoy, and attempting to read a chapter in a school textbook does not mean that s/he is accomplishing anything which is cognitively challenging with a high degree of intellectual quality. The fact that a clown can juggle three balls while spinning a hula hoop around his/her waist and another one around his/her foot does not mean s/he is capable of simultaneously thinking original thoughts that might win them the Nobel Prize, or composing an original musical composition that will win a Grammy award next year. I think at many educational technology conferences, the apparent “awe” with which attendees are invited to regard the young for their abilities at multi-tasking is misplaced. Being able to be simultaneously distracted by six different sensory inputs does not necessarily mean thoughts or ideas of quality or lasting value have been conceived or communicated.Those thoughts on multi-tasking aside, I think David Allen’s point about stress being related to the number of “open loops” which your brain is trying to track at once is an excellent one. The solution he proposes to this challenge is a system which permits people to “take control of their lives” with a five-stage workflow model: collecting, processing, organizing, reviewing, and doing. I’m really enjoying his book, and think his ideas may have a great impact on my immediate as well as future “productivity” both professionally and personally. The July 2007 issue of MacWorld included a favorable review (on page 42) of the software program Midnight Inbox, a software implementation of David’s GTD (Getting Things Done) principles. I’ve downloaded a copy and will give it a spin.If you know of other GTD-based software programs you’d recommend, please let me (and others) know about them by commenting here and sharing a link.Technorati Tags:, , , , , , , ,

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3 Responses to Understanding stress

  1. Scott Elias says:

    Welcome to the GTD obsession… 😉

    Midnight Inbox is very cool. You might also Google for iGTD and kGTD. I’m anxiously awaiting Omni Group’s OmniFocus now that I’ll be sporting a Mac at work as well as at home.

    I’ve posted a blurb about my (surprisingly analog) GTD implementation on my blog here (http://tinyurl.com/2du5cs). It’s still a work in process.

    Additionally, if you haven’t already, there a couple of good GTD-centric blogs in my blogroll. Check out Cranking Widgets, 43Folders, and Black Belt Productivity.

    Not sure if I can embed a link in your comments, so…


  2. Scott beat me to it with two of those, I have been using Vitalist for quite a while to keep my lists going. I would also add Lifehacker to the list of GTD centric blogs (although it also covers a variety of other topics).


  3. Robert says:

    I’m currently using the alpha version of OmniFocus, a GTD app from the famous OmniGroup (makers of OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner, etc.). Yes, I said that right — it’s alpha, so rough it’s not even in beta yet. But it’s very good, probably the best GTD setup I’ve used in the year or so since I joined the GTD cult. The alpha version is free, although eventually it won’t be.

    There’s another app called iGTD that is getting a lot of good reviews. I used it once before and thought it was… OK. It was better in its earlier incarnations. But it’s free, for now at least.

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