David Allen is a 71-year-old productivity consultant and the author of the 2001 book “Getting Things Done.” Until his 30s he dreamt about becoming the president of the United States.
That’s what Allen shared in an interview with Caitlin Schiller on Blinkist’s Simplify podcast. Allen told Schiller he’d “agonized for at least 30 years” over what to do with his life — and this paralysis might have continued had he not gotten a wake-up call from a conversation with a close friend.
The friend asked Allen what experience becoming the US president would give him; Allen said he would get the “opportunity to have people’s attention so that I could communicate what I thought was valuable.”
The friend asked: “What do you think could you do right now that would start to give you more of that?”
Everyone should be asking themselves a version of this question, Allen told Schiller: “Have as big a fantasy as you can. Say, ‘If I were going to start to move on that right now, what would that look like?’ And then get going.”
As for Allen, when his friend asked him what he could do right now to make progress toward his goals, “a lightbulb went off. As opposed to trying to agonize about the perfect thing to do, I thought about what was the essence of what I wanted to experience and what could I do right now to start to move forward on it. And I’ve never looked back.”
Somewhat strangely, Allen told Schiller he doesn’t remember the first thing he did to make progress on his goals. What he does remember is the relief he felt when he finally stopped analysing and waiting for the perfect moment to act.
“Half my life was trying to avoid engaging in anything until it was right,” Allen said.
Today, he said, he lives his life like a Silicon-Valley startup. “Get frigging going and then course correct,” he said. It’s not always easy, but you “make the best judgment call you can.”
Allen’s philosophy sounds a lot like “design thinking,” a process developed by Stanford engineers that prizes doing over thinking. A key part of design thinking is prototyping — building your project or developing a plan, even if it’s not perfect right away.
Ultimately, Allen said, it’s about streamlining your life — minimising anxiety and uncertainty. “Sometimes,” he said, “I think people need to get their life much more to that simplicity.”
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