How a Former Hippie Is Helping Me Write My PhD Thesis

Who is David Allen?

Allen seems to have spent much of his early years floating through life with little purpose. He started a PhD at UC Berkley but did not finish. He held 35 different jobs before he reached the age of 35. He has even stated openly that during that time he struggled with drug abuse.


David Allen, the man Wired Magazine labeled the leader of the “Cult of Hyperefficiency” (Photo Credit: The Art Of)

After he sorted himself out, Allen was hired to advise employees at Lockheed on productivity and efficiency. The training program he devised there was revolutionary. Allen entitled his system Getting Things Done (GTD), and he went on to market it through a very successful book and later a consulting company.

Context is King: How Getting Things Done Helps Me to Get Things Done

Allen saw the value in organizing tasks not just according to their priority or their due date but also according to the context in which one must complete them. Following his method, I have created context categories such as St Andrews, Office, Home, and Internet. My St Andrews list comprises all of the tasks I need to perform whilst in the center of town: pick up toothpaste, buy a present for someone from the gift shop, and meet such and such person for coffee, for example. My office list features tasks I wish to complete at my desk in the coming days: write a book report, edit a section of a chapter, print out certain papers, etc. My Internet list, the list that I actually use the most, contains any actions that I can perform with an Internet connection. I include in it such items as responding to emails, writing a blog post, and reading a small section of an e-book.


Action Shot of Me “Getting Things Done” (Photo Credit: Online Health)

I realize this all sounds boring and mundane, but it is actually tremendously helpful. While I am waiting for a haircut at the barber, for example, I can pull up my Internet list on my iPhone and receive a reminder of all of the emails to which I need to respond. I can quickly type out responses whilst waiting for my haircut, freeing up valuable time later at my desk for thesis work. I can pull up my St Andrews list before I leave for home to see all of the errands that I need to run that day. Doing so helps me not to forget the small tasks that need attention in the midst of my busy schedule. I can even easily bifurcate my home and office life. Separating Office and Home lists keeps office life at the office and my time at home devoted to my family.

I have also noticed that I procrastinate much less when I make use of Allen’s focus on context. I once avoided mundane tasks because I perceived them as not as important as the pressing, immediate jobs in front of me. The problem, of course, is that seemingly mundane tasks can quickly become important when they are neglected. Now that I am on GTD, though, when we are sitting at home and there is little going on I can pull up my Home list and complete such seemingly small jobs as fixing the rattle in the dryer, cleaning out the family car, and washing and storing my hiking boots. Whereas before I would simply relax at home in front of the Internet and leave such things undone, now I have a clear reminder to do them. Our house is so much more organized now, and I am much more on top of things! In the end, that makes me a researcher with more focus and less stress.


There is of course much more to the GTD than I describe here. I might in the future describe the program in more detail. For now, though, if you are interested you can consult the following resources:

  • Matt Perman’s book published by Zondervan combines much of the GTD methodology with Perman’s theological reflections on busyness and productivity: (link to Perman’s site which features the book)
  • Michael Hyatt’s website is always interesting. Hyatt was once in the publishing industry. He now writes on productivity and a range of other helpful issues. He is a big fan of Allen’s GTD:


About David Rathel

Husband to April; Baptist Minister; Student at St. Mary's Divinity School at the University of St. Andrews
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1 Response to How a Former Hippie Is Helping Me Write My PhD Thesis

  1. Pingback: Back to School: Apps to Help Us Work Well and Play Well  | David Rathel's Research Page

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