Last spring I read an article about Joss Whedon, the writer/producer/director of The Avengers, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Much Ado About Nothing. Whedon knows how to pump out the material quickly, yet still manages to have a life. When asked how he does it, Whedon pointed to David Allen’s classic book and organizational system, Getting Things Done.
Getting Things Done is nothing new. I’d been hearing about it for years, but at the prospect that it might help make me a more prolific writer, I bought the book and began making the transition to being more productive.
Unlike many systems, such as Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which takes a top down approach, Allen’s system looks at things from the bottom up. You ask yourself what you want to get done, then begin writing it down.
Of course, it’s impossible to distill the entirety of Getting Things Done into a few sentences, but at the heart of Allen’s system is the concept of consolidating everything you want to get done into a set of lists that you keep in one place and review regularly. And by everything, I mean everything: books you want to read, movies you want to see, music you want to buy, novels you want to write, household chores, work projects, etc. Everything.
Allen contends that a large percentage of our mental energy is spent reminding ourselves of the things we want or need to do. In other words, we’re thinking about the same shit, day after day, hour after hour. The idea is, if you have it all written down in a trusted system that you review regularly, you free up both time and mental energy.
Following this system requires a certain amount of OCD, but since I have a little of that myself, I decided to try it. (Perhaps OCD is a characteristic of all successful writers; how else could we pound the keys day after day unless we’re a little obsessed?)
In the almost ten years since Getting Things Done has come into being, a boat load of software has been created to automate Allen’s system of managing lists. Perhaps the best of it is OmniFocus by the OmniGroup. What I love about this software is that I can create tasks on my computer or iPad or iPhone and it synchronizes your lists at all of the sources. Thus, wherever I am, I have the latest information at my fingertips. You can even configure it so that when you ask Siri to remind you about something, the task appears in OmniFocus.
Thus, I went about creating the lists of everything I wanted to do, ever. It took weeks and weeks. I constantly found myself tweaking how I organized everything, but at last it was all in one place.
At first, the amount of everything I wanted to do was overwhelming, but because everything was in one place, I suddenly found I had choices. Because I was aware of everything I wanted to do, I could choose to write. There was no nagging sense of guilt that I should be doing something else. I knew what other things were on the list and had made a conscious decision that this is what I wanted to do.
What I came to understand is writing is all about making a choice. It’s perusing the menu of things you want or have to do and making the decision that writing is the most important. The power to choose is yours.
You can read the article about Joss Whedon entitled: “How to Be Prolific: Guidelines for Getting Things Done from Joss Whedon” here.
Brian Mercer is the author of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body Experience (Llewellyn, 2004) and the Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, he is the webmaster of and occasional contributor to Author Magazine. When he’s not working as a programmer analyst or exploring alternate dimensions out of body, he can be found writing novels. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara.