work | October 24, 2012

Busy Work: James Fallows Talks to Productivity Guru David Allen

Do you feel like you're being bombarded with what seems like an overwhelming number of tasks 24/7? James Fallows, National Correspondent for The Atlantic, talks with productivity expert David Allen in a recent article about what it takes to "get things done" in a time when emails and digital communication make it difficult—if not impossible—to disconnect. With the advent of digital technology, many theorists have proposed that we are now living in a state of information overload where we are inundated with snippets of content around-the-clock, making it much harder to be productive.

Allen disagrees, however, and says that "information overload is not the issue." He continues: "If it were, you’d walk into the library and die. As soon as you connected to the Web, you’d just explode." So, if the influx of information being thrown our way isn't attributing to our mounting stress levels, then what is? It's the constant call-to-action that digital technology creates, Allen tells Fallows, that causes this GSA (Gnawing Sense of Anxiety). The information itself is not the problem, but rather, the fact that we are constantly being handed tasks that need to be prioritized, leaving us feeling like there is always something to be done. When we are at work, we are thinking about home, he says, and vice versa. We constantly have to decide what's most important, and worry that what we are currently doing isn't as important as something else we could—or should—be doing.

When Fallows—who used to focus on technology writing in his early days with The Atlantic—questions whether technology will help or hurt us in the future, Allen says that more of us will feel busier as digital technology becomes more entrenched in our routines. Allen's advice? Externalize those pressures: write them down, save them online, whatever works—just get them out of your head so you can focus on one thing at a time. In the series, Fallows will  alternate moderating interviews with another Atlantic writer, and speak with people on the cutting edge of technological change. As a gifted writer with a knack for drawing out excellent stories (and for telling them on stage), it will undoubtedly be a column to watch.