Why David Allen Seems to be Changing His Mind About Time Blocking

Perhaps you have also detected a shift over at GTD… it appears that David Allen (the author of Getting Things Done) has changed his thinking about the use of a calendar for “time-blocking” (the act of scheduling personal tasks in your calendar.)

Here’s why I believe he’s changing his mind.
Back in 2001 Allen wrote in Getting Things Done:

“Three things go on your calendar:

* time-specific actions;

* day-specific actions; and

* day-specific information.”

“Day-Specific Information: The calendar is also the place to keep track of things you want to know about on specific days — not necessarily actions you’ll have to take but rather information that maybe useful on a certain date.”

He also goes on to say, on page 41,

“The way I look at it, the calendar should be sacred territory. If you write something there, it must get done that day or not at all.”
And he also added:
“You need to trust your calendar as sacred territory, reflecting the hard edges of your day’s commitments, which should be noticeable at a glance when you’re on the run…those that you absolutely have to get done on that day.”

When it was written, it seemed quite clear – only fixed appointments deserve a place in your calendar. These are time demands which produce a great deal of unwanted consequences if they are changed. Together, they make up your “hard landscape.”

Over the years, many have interpreted his words literally. They advise others not to break the rule.

But when I read GTD more closely, I noticed this quote from p87:

“I recommend that you create a block of time to initiate this process…”

This appears to be a clear contradiction. Later on, a podcast interview on the GTD website by Kelly Forrester also seems to differ from the core message in the book:

Question: Is it acceptable to schedule doing time to work on action lists and are there any downsides to this? (Quoted in the Daily Grind webinar, 41 min into it)

“I would say absolutely and even particular items – yesterday I blocked my calendar for two different time slots to work on a project. So I will do that especially you know so it’s not the Wild Wild West so people say “hey, people, she is here back from her vacation… look her schedule is pretty free, lets grab some time”, and I block it out so the time is available to me, my time is as important as if anybody else is gonna book a meeting with me, so I wanna make time that that time is guarded.”
And then came this quote from Allen’s 2008 book, Making It All Work…
“Realizing, as you look through your calendar while considering what’s changed in the last few days, that you had now better block out two hours for yourself in the coming week so that you can finish drafting a document on time, is the kind of “aha!” moment that can help prevent the loss of control.”

For those who interpret his 2001 words in GTD literally, (and defended them to other) there is an inconsistency. The debate shows up clearly in this discussion I participated in from the public GTD Forum on his website.

Allen responded with a comment on this thread   stating that whatever works should be taken to be “canonical GTD.” Also, he’s also apparently supported the idea of time blocking, calling them a method of using “false deadlines” in this thread. Also, someone quotes him from the forums:

Hey folks, if you’ve ever committed to a meeting on your calendar, you’ve already acknowledged the value of a time block for some resulting outcome. Time-blocking with yourself is simply recognizing that you have an inner committee that needs corralling, in the same way, for the same kind of outcome. Block away! – David Allen, 2016-02-05, 11:44

Finally, the YouTube link below shows an interview with David Allen from 2021 where he clearly permits the practice. However, he doesn’t use it much himself. https://youtube.com/clip/Ugkxf_r2kwQxtbMhQy7Vo1saSW0ACFgpXGfo

In this 2022 video he seems to have come as far away from the words in his book as you can imagine.

My thought is that he is merely evolving with the times. After all, we have come a long way since 2001 when the mobile internet was not widely available, let alone cloud computing and AI applications. In a Lifehack article, I speculated that David Allen was heavily influenced by his decades of experience using paper calendars. As a 60-something year old he only had a few years of practice using a digital calendar before writing his famous book.

Like many others, he probably tried to use paper and digital calendars to schedule everything and failed. Today, it’s hard to imagine a Millennial reaching for a paper calendar, but the challenge of scheduling tasks in your calendar remains formidable.

I’m sure he’ll continue to evolve his thinking and even join the push for better tools to make time blocking easier.

However, in the latest video, he doesn’t seem to connect the dots from the pages of his book. I have met many avid GTD’ers who take the written words of the book literally. Some defend them wholeheartedly. They probably would be discouraged to see the direct contradiction Allen makes, without any attempt to account for the discrepancy.

Their one-size-fits-all tendencies would have unwittingly created a problem.

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