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Getting Things Done

Productivity and relaxation are just minutes away. Sort of.



If you live in the suburbs long enough, sooner or later you realize that you need to become productive. Get some chores done. Fix up the holes in the den ceiling, clean the yard, repair the dishwasher, reupholster some furniture. That sort of thing.

Recently, I looked at our house and decided that productivity was definitely in order. The linoleum in the kitchen is worn through, the appliances (in their original, auto-gag avocado green) are not working properly, the dog has ruined the carpet in every room (at least once), the roof needs replacing, the siding needs painting, and the storage room in the garage is so full of old street-hockey sticks, skateboards, bicycles, and gardening tools that you can't even get the door open.

So I went and found a copy of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen, who is dubbed "the personal productivity guru" right there on the cover. The book is tremendously popular with the business audience, but it's also finding a surprising following among those of us who have been slobs long enough and are intrigued by this notion of productivity and relaxation all rolled into one.

Allen's got a method which, he claims, will lead to productivity in even the most stubborn sluggard. Basically, you just need a big box -- or file folder, or desk drawer -- to serve as the repository for all your fleeting ideas, plans, goals, and dreams. Just write them down and toss them in.

Once a week or so you go through this repository and figure out the steps you need to take to accomplish these items. If something takes two minutes or less, you do it immediately. If it takes longer, you decide whether to delegate it (make the kids do it), defer it (my standard modus operandi), or toss it (my fallback M.O.).

If you don't believe it's this simple, Allen has a splendid Web site -- -- where you too can learn about setting up the various calendars, notebooks, and file folders you'll need to become productive and relaxed.

For my part, folders weren't enough. I went whole hog and complicated the equation by purchasing a Palm Vx (which Allen actually endorses). This ideal little organizer wasn't sufficient, though, because I soon needed to "sync" my Palm Vx to a Personal Information Management program on my computer. This entailed buying a new computer (Pentium IV, of course), a 17-inch LCD monitor, Klipsch THX-certified computer speakers (300 watts, with a subwoofer!), and -- well, let's just say I'm wired for action.

All the while, the ceiling remained unfixed, the bedrooms needed painting, the dog needed his shots, the dishwasher still made its typical belching noises, and the car still needed a brake job.

Then I happened upon the missing techno element: When I got to page 93 of Allen's book, I found that he advocates the use of a Brother P-Touch labeller, a device which I have wanted for years but for which I could never work up a good rationale for purchasing. I went and bought one right off, and it changed my life. The P-Touch is the high-tech spawn of the old Dymo punch labellers -- you remember, the spinning wheel of letters and the squeeze handle that embossed them on a piece of plastic tape. The new P-Touch labellers are much smoother -- there's a keyboard, and they'll produce laminated labels with five lines of type, and several different fonts -- and are capable of withstanding either freezer or microwave.

If you think I'm alone in my enthusiasm, hear what Allen has to say: "Thousands of executives and professionals and homemakers I have worked with now have their own automatic labellers, and my archives are full of their comments, like, 'Incredible -- I wouldn't have believed what a difference it makes!' The labeller will be used to label your file folders, binder spines, and numerous other things."

Thousands of executives and professionals and homemakers, just like me. Labelling everything. The sugar bowl: SUGAR. The pantry: FOOD. The fridge: CLOSE DOOR. The toilet in the kids' bathroom: FLUSH. It's endlessly useful, as you can see.

The trouble is, I got just a bit involved in the technological side of my system and sort of forgot the productivity part. I realized this when I found myself in the den with a dirt rake, scooting all the file folders and computer boxes and software manuals into a spare closet. There, in the heap, lay the tiny Palm Vx, forlorn and unused. Rather than let a labelling opportunity slide, I got out the P-Touch and printed a label -- DO WHAT? -- and stuck it on the screen so I'd know, next time, just what kind of trouble I was making for myself.

You can e-mail David Dawson at

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