Getting Things Done

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

For the past week I've been reading an excellent book called Getting Things Done by a very interesting guy named David Allen. The book's title sort of gives it all away: it's a book about, well, Getting Things Done, and it's a pretty thorough, compelling system for organizing your life and work for maximum productivity.

There's a fair amount of work on my plate for the next three weeks, so the fact that I spent the past week reading Getting Things Done rather than, say, getting anything done, has a certain cheap irony to it. Like all really really lazy people, everything I do during the day that isn't what I'm supposed to be doing during the day -- like staring at the ceiling, checking in with TiVo, clicking around the net, updating my list of enemies -- all of it packs a specific sting.

Put it this way: spending your days clicking on Defamer instead of, say, writing that script, means you'd rather read about people in show business more than be a person in show business. And let's be really honest -- for writers, anyway, an enemy is just someone who does exactly what you do, but more successfully.

Where a book like Getting Things Done breaks down, however, for me, anyway, is that it assumes that the reader isn't catastrophically lazy. Which this particular reader totally, totally is. The book does a great job helping people who have a normal work ethic, and it probably does an enormous service to people who are run-of-the-mill lazy -- but for the laziest among us -- and here I'm referring mostly to the dues-paying membership of the Writers Guild of America, west, it kind of misses out. It's not written for the person who can sit down at 11 in the morning with a laptop and a ton of good intentions and then look up and it's suddenly 4 in the afternoon and and all you've really done is google yourself, in various permutations, and compile more and more elliptical to-do lists:

To do:

  • Shirts
  • Lightbulbs re kitchen
  • Fax for thing
  • Emails do and return
  • Novel begin
  • Script notes
  • Plan re career

Not a recipe for success. A few years ago, I went to Costa Rica with a friend of mine, a lawyer who wanted to write a novel. (Are there any other kind?) We met in San Jose, drove a few hours west, and parked ourselves at a small beach hotel for ten straight days of writing. On the first day, he woke up and grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down at his computer and started writing. I went swimming and ate Fig Newtons. On the second day, he started early again, and would have worked straight through the day if I hadn't dragged him to town with me to sit in the shade and drink beer. On the third day, we sort of repeated the first day, except that I added cashews to the Fig Newtons and my friend sat farther away from me. On the fourth day, I turned on the computer. On the fifth day I met some Australian backpackers and bummed around with them. On the sixth day I searched everywhere for an internet café to send emails. On the seventh day, I organized the Final Draft document on my computer, ate cashews, and sat quietly staring at a lizard on the wall. On the eight, virtuouso day, I ate cashews and Fig Newtons and drank beer and talked to the Australians and drove into town and went to the internet café and went swimming. I was too exhausted on the ninth day to do anything but pack. On the tenth day, as we waited for our plane, I read my friend's novel. The one that he wrote. I explained to him that the only reason he could actually sit down and write a novel in 10 days was because he wasn't a professional writer.

For me, as good as it is, Getting Things Done is sort of like a terrific war novel. It's something I'd rather read about than do.

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll diversify. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long