Life & Style

David Allen on The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (Full Transcript)

You actually don’t have to finish those things, folks, to be appropriately engaged and to get them off your mind, but there are very specific things that you do need to do about that.

So there’s a number of paradoxes, by the way, that happen about all this material; there some counter-intuitive things about what I’m going to be sharing with you in the next few minutes. You are going to need to get comfortable with that if you want to get to this place of productive engagement without a crisis forcing you to do that.

The big paradox is that all the complexities of all the stuff of your life in order to manage that you just need three core principles that you understand and apply. It’s not about a new smartphone. It’s not about a new elegant planner. It’s not about a new piece of software. Those are cool tools, but only insofar as you use them to apply those key principles. Once you get those principles, you make your own system.

A second paradox here is that the initial moves, and behaviors, and best practice of this may very likely, for many of you, initially, feel very awkward, very unnatural, and even unnecessary. It’s exactly like learning moves in a martial art, which I did years ago.

If you want to learn how to maximally produce power with the karate punch, you’re going to have to spend hundreds of hours doing something that feels very awkward and very unnatural as a movement. Hundreds of hours doing that! Once you do that, by the way, you’ll never go back to anything less, in terms of producing power.


Some of the things I’ll be recommending will be just like that. For instance, don’t keep anything in your head the rest of your life. That’s going to feel unnatural, awkward, and unnecessary.

Every single thing you’re committed to finish that takes more than one step to finish it, you need to clarify exactly what that outcome and project is and put that on a project list that you look at, at least once a week. Every single next action you need to take about any of your commitments that you are involved in, you need to clarify those and park those in appropriate places that you’ll see those actions on a regular basis. That’s going to feel awkward, unnatural, and unnecessary.


But the final paradox about all this that wraps all that together is that some very specific but seemingly mundane behaviors when applied, produce the capacity for you to exist in a kind of sophisticated spontaneity which, in my experience, is a key element to a successful life.

Now, I’m going to reinforce why I think this is critical, what it would look like if you were wildly successful doing this? And I’m going to give some hows, how to do that.


But what’s the problem? The problem is when you’re not in crisis, there’s a more subliminal crisis that happens. Why? The whole world now is allowed into your psyche. Boom! You now get to experience all the stuff that you would/could/should/ need to/might/ought to, all the stuff piling up in your in-baskets and emails while I am speaking right now. All of that now floods into your psyche, and that could easily create a sense of overwhelm, a sense of confusion, a sense of conflict. Every single thing seems to demand equal kind of attention from you.

And then, you usually respond to that by either numbing out or getting in the crazy busy. And then you blame that stress on the lack of time, “Oh! I just have… Oh! God! All I need is more time!”


Well, I’m sorry. Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Einstein, Mother Teresa, they only had 24 hours. Johann Sebastian Bach only had 24 hours. I know he didn’t have email but he had 20 kids.

And you say, “Just give me two more hours! David, two more hours, please!”


You know what you’d do with two more hours? You’d have two more hours of overwhelming stickiness. Actually, for most of you, it’d be a good thing you don’t get two more hours. Because the issue is not time.

How long does it take to have a creative idea? Zero time.


How long does it take to be inspired? Zero time.

How long does it take to recognize an opportunity you could leverage and take advantage of? Zero time.


Time is not the issue for those things. There is something required for those things. What’s that? Psychic bandwidth. You need space to think. Believe me. Every executive I coach, once I put those words on, “Oh yes! I need room to think. I need space to be able to be creative, be innovative, all that stuff I am being tasked to do, to be a leader, all that stuff. I just need a room!”

And if you don’t have psychological space you could have two hours of free time and waste it. If you do have psychic bandwidth, two minutes on an elevator, you can have a cool idea and have a fabulous relationship with somebody that moves the needle.

So this is the real key issue here – is the lack of the bandwidth to be able to engage with that appropriately. Even worse than that is that our creative energy is then not available to be creative. Our creative energy is being used to try to patch up, and handle, and try to remember, and remind, and try to do all that stuff that most people are trying to manage: all the details and stuff of their life in their psyche instead of in a system.

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By Pangambam S

I have been a Transcriber and Editor in the transcription industry for the past 15 years. Now I transcribe and edit at If you have any questions or suggestions, please do let me know. And please do share this post if you liked it and help you in any way.