Thinking Your Way to Productivity

The popularity of Getting Things Done (GTD) system may have as much to do with its focus on efficient thinking as anything else.   The breakdown of conscious, slow, deliberate thinking is paired with subconcious, fast, inspirational thinking such that each process is performed at diffferent times and with different goals.  But when done in the proper order, leads to effective results.  The steps in GTD bare a striking resemblance to how Ayn Rand described the most efficient writing process in The Art of Nonfiction.  She broke up the steps to writing into clear functional processes that best utilize your conscious and subconscious thinking. Brainstorming what to write about is largely a subconscious and emotionally driven process.  Once a topic is decided, the conscious process begins with writing the outline.  Once the outline is completely thought out, Rand recommends letting the subconscious process take over while writing the content of the article, letting words flow from your mind on to the page without limiting yourself.  Lastly, Rand recommends a thorough edit, reverting back to a fully conscious process.

In many ways, the steps in GTD are similar.  David Allen recommends breaking your thinking up into descrete steps such that conscious and subconscious processes are in full effect at appropriate times.
While filling your inbox throughout the day, you are letting any brainstorm or inspirational idea that strikes you be saved for further review.  This process is subconcious oriented.  In fact, Allen strongly suggests spending zero time consciously thinking about the ideas - at that time.  Then, once or twice a day, Allen recommends you clear your inbox by engaging your conscious thinking - considering what to do each and every item in the inbox, identifying how to classify each item, breaking down projects into sub-tasks, and evaluating next action items.  The rest of the day is then spent performing tasks, which if fully thought through, should become more subconscious oriented where inspiration and flow drive your actions.  That's not to say all of your actions should be fully subconscious or emotionally driven, as there will likely be many times when completing tasks will require thoughtful, conscious engagement.  But by breaking projects into next action items, it is possible to fly through each action item with less deep concentration and fewer distractions because some of that thought has already been accomplished.  Lastly, Allen recommends a periodic review, which again engages the conscious process to evaluate whether you are still on track (or not) with your long term goals.

It would be interesting to discover if there are more similiarities between productive achievement and the deliberate usage of different thinking processes that best take advantage of each process's strengths and avoid each process's weaknesses.


  1. Anonymous11:21 AM

    Great thoughts on how our conscious/subconscious thinking orientation drives the different aspect of GTD methodology. You might be interested in "Your Brain at Work" for more analysis from another perspective on how to separate and optimize our thinking in both areas: http://www.amazon.com/Your-Brain-Work-Strategies-Distraction/dp/0061771295

  2. That does look like a good book. I've added it to my wish list. Thank you!