David Allen is the bestselling author, most famously known for one of the most famous books on the subject of productivity ever published, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana, David Allen was a state championship winning debater. He went on to study at New College of Florida, and went on to graduate work in American History at the University of California, Berkeley. Remarkably, David Allen claims to have had different professions before the age of 35; including that of a magician, waiter, glass-blowing lathe operator, landscaper and karate teacher, to name but a few. In the 1980s, David Allen began applying his methods of productivity to the business world; specifically when he won the contract to design a program for executives and managers at Lockheed. These days, David Allen is recognised as on the world’s leading thinkers on the subject of productivity and time management; so it was a real pleasure to be able to talk books with him. Please enjoy my interview with David Allen…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I educate, train and coach people about the best practices for achieving a clear head and more space to engage in meaningful things.
I just finished The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan – a fascinating history of a part of the world I’m traveling to now but I’ve never really known much about, but which has great significance. Haven’t picked my next one yet.
When you think about your childhood, what book comes to mind?
In the very early years, Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a comedian or a horticulturist.
What do you think your school aged self would think of the present day you?
Quite curiously surprised that my talents and interests would lead me in this direction.
If you could wrap up a single book and gift it to yourself as you left education – which book would it be?
I would gift myself Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt.
Does your reading have routine? Is there a particular time or place that you like to read?
No routine at all, other than reading a lot on airplanes.
Which book has had the biggest impact on your career so far? How did it impact it?
Honestly, writing my own. It let me know what I really knew, gave me the courage to express it, and then to experience its validation through the success of the book, globally.
Do you have any books that you strongly associate with someone important in your life?
Sure, my spiritual coach for forty-five years was John-Roger—perhaps Spiritual Warrior: The Art of Spiritual Living was one of his best.
Usually whatever I have just finished that I really enjoyed. Because I now live in Amsterdam, with which I’m still enthralled, I recommend often Russell Shorto’s two books: Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City and The Island at the Center of the World.
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
I love good fiction, but haven’t had the time to explore it as much as non-fiction that was somehow relevant to my career and lifestyle.
Do you think reading is important?
It’s the way to have an on-going great movie that you can enjoy over many hours in you’re your own time, embellishing with your own creative imagination. How cool is that?
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
Do you prefer real books or digital books?
Real ones. Nothing like the touch and feel, and ability to overview and review.
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben – it’s fascinating, gets you to see part of your everyday world in a new and enriching way, and it’s a fun and easy read.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact did it have?
The I Ching. I used it to guide me through my most tumultuous changes in my twenties and enhance a Tao-esque perspective on life.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
I would also include:
The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler;
In Search of the Miraculous by P.D. Ouspensky;
At the Gates of Spiritual Science by Rudolf Steiner;
The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin;
Brain Chains by Theo Compernolle;
The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly;
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig and
Post-Capitalist Society by Peter Drucker.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
In Search of Clear Space, or Confessions of a God-Seeking Baby Boomer.