TR: What would a truly useful kind of personal-organizer technology look like to you?
DA: We could build in some reasonably savvy intelligence, much like Mitch Kapor [founder of Lotus] originally did with Agenda. [Agenda was a DOS-based personal information manager program marketed by Lotus in the late 1980s and early 1990s; it allowed free-form entry and categorization of small items into a database, and is still used by many of its devotees. -Eds.] If I were able to just jot down “Call Bill” on a PDA screen and it instantly appeared on my call list, and there it is when I’m in the airport and I have time to make a few calls, that’s going to make things a lot more convenient.
When the day comes that I’m sitting here talking to you, and I realize that I need batteries for my camera, and I just say that to my PDA, and then when I go out on errands it’s already on my list – if it’s quick and bullet-proof and seamless and shows you the data you want to see in whatever context your in – then computers will ultimately become useful tools, because they will get us the data we want quicker and quicker.
Tablet PCs [laptops with pen-based interfaces] are getting close. People on my technology team and other people I know are tablet PC freaks and they love them. They like the touch and feel of paper, but the tablet is a powerful way to digitize that. It’s kind of funny. As the computer gets really, really, really good and powerful and fast, then it will start to match paper.
But if you’ve gotten far enough into GTD [Getting Things Done], you know that your biggest challenge is doing the weekly review [time set aside for evaluating and winnowing lists and determining what the next action should be for each item]. If I had a billion dollars, I would design a thing that would do a customized weekly review. It would trigger the right questions and it would make me think about the results. For instance, it would say, “You’re going to New York. Would you like me to get theatre tickets like you did last time you were there?” There is a lot of cool stuff that one could build into a real personal manager.
WR: The ultimate goal of “getting things done” is to help people have, as you say, a “mind like water” – so they can actually offload things to their lists, and have some down time when their heads aren’t filled with all the things they have to do. Does technology get us any closer to that kind of nondoing?
DA: I want to do nothing as often as I can. That’s why I constantly get my e-mail inbox as close to zero as I can, and try to close all those loops. Most people spend the whole week before they go on vacation just trying to manage this stuff and not be managed by it. But 90 percent of the work of GTD is just being able to look up very quickly what I [should] be doing right now.
Home page image courtesy of the David Allen Company. (Photo is of David Allen.)