David Allen talks to the San Francisco Chronicle on ways to stay productive amid the information overload - Next Action Associates

Q: Do you think that we’ve seen technology move our workforce in an unproductive direction?

A: The whole planet is unproductive; it’s just that technology is making it more obvious.

What’s important is knowing where are you and how do you allocate your resources to get where you want to go. That’s been true forever.

It’s true all this tech is totally distracting all kinds of people, but then again, they are letting themselves be distracted. How come? Because they’re not clear about what they’re doing.

Q: So being distracted by tech is the symptom of a problem, rather than the core of the problem?

A: Yeah. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do. If you don’t know where you’re going, any tech is fine. It’s like: Why not? Why not surf the Web? There are worse ways to waste time.

But it comes down to the situation: Who’s doing it, why are you doing it, and what are you avoiding by doing it?

Snacking on e-mail is actually sometimes exactly what you need to do if, say, you’ve been in five meetings all day and gotten beat up in four of them. Snacking on e-mail is fine a few times a day to let your brain relax. But if you’re spending all day snacking and never get it all finished and you’re just sitting there avoiding the tough thing you know you need to be doing, you’re toast.

Q: For people like me who want to hold on to the productive, useful aspects of information technology but want to avoid being overwhelmed or continually distracted by them, what are the concrete steps to achieve that balance?

A: The answer comes back to: You really need to focus on where you’re going and what you’re producing in your life. One of the hallmarks of our methodology is a two-hour review time a week. Step back and take a look, get an overview of all your commitments, all the woulds, coulds, shoulds. Take an inventory of all the goals you have for yourself.

Otherwise, if it wasn’t technology, you’d find all kinds of other things to distract you.

It’s not a simple answer, because it’s only as simple as figuring out what you want to do with your life.

Q: But are there practical ways to reduce the temptations? Should we think about the way we set up our devices or desktop windows to prevent ourselves from tripping over Twitter on the way to Microsoft Word?

A: (Laughing) What you want is a technology chastity belt – and you’ll probably have as much luck as those did.

This article appeared on page D – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle last week.

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