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Ready For Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life by David Allen


Rating: DNR (Do Not Read)


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For the past few years, I’ve received David Allen’s monthly e-mail with a productivity principle. I read them quickly, and trash them. When I picked up his new book, Ready for Anything, I did the same thing. My advice: don’t even bother. Allen barely bothered, and that inclined me toward the DNR rating from page one. That’s when Allen said he “tasked” someone to organize his productivity principles into themes. He couldn’t be bothered to do that himself, proving what I long suspected: his principles are fleeting and random, not based on any factual data, and certainly not based on any overall pattern for success.

Here’s an excerpt, Chapter 5, “Infinite opportunity is utilized by finite possibility” (pp. 15-17):

Trying to do it all, have it all, and be it all will exhaust the human mechanism. "More and better" will always stretch out in front of you, as you attain it. To surf on top of the game instead of drowning, infinite "everything you could ever want" must be corralled into doable, physical chunks. Expansive expressiveness requires intelligence and conscious limitation to be sustainable.


The One-Minute Workflow Manager


I've given numerous "drive-by" radio and TV interviews, the type that give you about fifty-three seconds to deliver the keys to health, wealth, and happiness. They've forced me to distill my message to the bare essentials. A typical question is, "David, what's the one thing we do that gets in the way of being productive?"

Here's my answer:

"It's not one thing but five things all wrapped together: People keep stuff in their head. They don't decide what they need to do about stuff they know they need to do something about. They don't organize action reminders and support materials in functional categories. They don't maintain and review a complete and objective inventory of their commitments. Then they waste energy and burn out, allowing their busyness to be driven by what's latest and loudest, hoping it's the right thing to do but never feeling the relief that it is."

How'd I do?

I merely bottom-lined the worst practices for the five stages of managing workflow: collect, process, organize, review, and do. I can't give an interviewer any one of these as the problem. You could do four of these workflow steps really well, but let one slip and the whole thing slips with it. The process is only as good as the weakest link in that chain.

Most people keep stuff only in their head, which short-circuits the process to begin with. Plenty of people write lots of things down, but they don't decide the next actions on them. And even when people actually think about the actions required (before it's in crisis mode), they don't organize the reminders so that they'll be seen when they are in the contexts where the action is possible. And even most of those people who do get these lists together in a burst of inspired productivity let their systems quickly become out of date and inconsistent. As a consequence, without the care and feeding of their thinking tools, life and work become reactive responses instead of dearly directed action choices.

"So, David, what do we need to do instead?" (Some interviewers actually allow another fifty-three seconds for this follow-up question!)

"It's a combined set of the five best-practice behaviors," I tell them. "Get everything out of your head. Make decisions about actions required on stuff when it shows up—not when it blows up. Organize reminders of your projects and the next actions on them in appropriate categories. Keep your system current, complete, and reviewed sufficiently to trust your intuitive choices about what you're doing (and not doing) at any time."

I suppose I could have made it even simpler: “Focus on positive outcomes and continuously take the next action on the most important thing.” But who doesn’t know that? Consistent implementation of that principal, fully integrating every aspect of our life, is the biggest challenge – and not so simple.


Each chapter has quotes from a variety of sources. Here are the ones from the Chapter 5:


If not controlled, work will flow to the competent man until he submerges.


When life demands more of people than they demand of life—as is ordinarily the case—what results is a resentment of life almost as deep-seated as the fear of death.


It's possible to own too much. A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never quite sure.



Each chapter ends with a box titled “By the way…”. Here’s what was in that box for chapter 5:

q       Have you lately gone over your checklist of your job descriptions (for to seven key areas of focus and responsibility)?

q       Have you reviewed the five to ten areas of focus in your personal life (health, finances, career, relationships, etc.) to ensure that you have all the needed projects defined and keep all those intact and up to standard?

The title of Chapter 5, like most of what Allen writes, sounds like it makes sense on first reading, but really doesn’t mean anything when you look closer. After my initial irritation at Allen “tasking” someone else to figure out what he’s been writing, I became more convinced as I turned the pages of Ready for Anything, that the wizard of productivity doesn’t have much behind the curtain. Take a pass and do something productive instead.

Steve Hopkins, October 28, 2003


ă 2003 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the November 2003 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: for Anything.htm


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