Making it All Work | Book Review

David Allen’s Making it All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life is the ultimate supplement to his most popular work, Getting Things Done. While he teaches and instructs us how to actually get things done, in his other texts, this one takes a step back and forces us to look at the bigger picture. We’re not granularly checking off tasks anymore – we’re building a working and reliable system that’ll last an entire lifetime.

The Game of Work

Work, life, and success are simply games – you just have to know how to play it. Accomplishing your tasks and being productive are not always easy. You may even look at some people who accomplish many things and ask yourself how you can be that proactive. The secret is to understand it as a game and figure out the best ways to win. Hack it if you have to. Fool your mind into thinking you’re enjoying something you actually aren’t just so it gets done faster and more effectively.

cover art for making it all work by david allen

Little tips like choosing to do the most daunting and complicated task first thing in the morning is a big trick that can help you win. You’re smart enough to know yourself and how you may prefer to defer a certain task so by putting it in front of you as soon as you sit at the desk once you enter the office without the opportunity to even see anything else is merely falling into your own trap and for your own good. Perhaps creating arbitrary due dates for tasks that are open-ended but need to get done sometime is another way of trapping yourself into doing something. If you see it doesn’t need to be done by this week, you’ll just take care of it next week — the problem is that once next week comes around you’ll fall back into your deferment cycle. Something as simple as a due date next to the item on your task manager can put just enough pressure on you to get the task done.

The text talks a great deal about distractions and setting priorities as well. As we talked about from Cal Newport’s Deep Work, notifications and email are some of the leading causes of slacking. The text paints painfully true pictures of how we’ll drop the most important thing for a measly email because the excitement and anticipation force you to learn whether it’s spam, a coupon, or even a job offer.

Behavior like this leads to employees working extra long hours and even taking their work home with them. It’s a self-sabotaging prophecy when you wish to build a business on the side because you hate your day job but spend too much time dreaming about your side-business during working hours that you’re forced to do some work in the evening preventing you from accomplishing your true dreams. Another cycle that you put yourself through just because you’re losing focus on the bigger picture and neglecting to fool yourself into being productive.

Perspective + Control

The text does a great job of forcing you to desire both perspective and control in everything that you do.

Perspective is the ability to see the big picture. Where do you want to be in five, ten, thirty years? What are the chapters that are going to enable you to accomplish the projects you wish to achieve? How long and how much energy is going to be needed to get from point A to point B?

Control is the ability to organize everything in the framework of those big pictures. If you’re working two jobs, parenting, and starting a business, define what each of those projects requires of you. Write down what your responsibilities are for each facet of your life and consistently review them so nothing falls through the cracks and you don’t end up scheduling a meeting with a client for your side-business while you’re supposed to be giving a presentation at work or picking up the kids.

Lack of one of these things may make you sufficient when you’re striving to be proficient. Think of the difference between the editor and the novelist. One of them goes on book tours and gets book deals while the other reads tens of texts a week to makes edits here and there. Both are fine professions and happiness can be found in either. The novelist is required to sit down, plan an entire book, write chapters, paragraphs, and maybe even footnotes. The editor is required to look at the book at a much more granular level and doesn’t need the higher level view of the entire story sometimes. One of these roles requires perspective and control while the other requires only control.

The Business of Life

Consider your life as a business & you’re the CEO. If you’re building a business you have to manage your executive staff, possibly investors, developers, and so much more — your life entails the same management. There’s no reason why the lifetime of your business should be planned out for the next five years with monthly and quarterly goals but your life shouldn’t. Building a business plan for your life is essential.

Understanding your life can have the same kind of management as your business is one step. Understanding your life can be managed and backed up by software is the next. Dumping your ideas, thoughts, aspirations, and goals into your notebook so nothing falls through the cracks will ensure you’re able to properly assess and take action on your hopes and dreams. We learned a lot of this from Getting Things Done but now relate it to the bigger picture of life.

Making decisions becomes easier once this is all implemented as well. You should have no trouble deciding something if you have your life’s business plan completed. It’s as simple as asking yourself, "does this get us closer to where we want to be by the end of the period?" — if not, the decision is made for you. There’s no guesswork once you’ve already concluded what is best for you.

This is merely creating the path for yourself. If you’re driving across the country for the first time and have no idea where to go, getting there the first time is going to be the hardest. You have to keep in mind all the forks in the roads, the landmarks, the busy streets, and such. Only that first time will be challenging. The rest of the trip won’t be as meandering because then it’s just a question of driving rather than driving and figuring out where to go.

Making it All Work is, in some regards, better than Getting Things Done. It’s not as definitive but adds so much value in regard to why we’re even trying to get things done in the first place. Create a system, trust the system, and utilize the system is making it work for your enjoyment and your dreams.

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