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Getting things done

National Mortgage Professional
Mar 24, 2014

Getting things doneJohn D. Svirskypersonal productivity coach

Tell me if you can relate to this: As my life gets more and more chaotic or, more accurately, as the mortgage market in which we operate is in chaos, transition and transformation, I strive for more order in my life. As things get more out of control, I find myself more controlling, as if I am compensating for how vulnerable and fragile I feel. Never in my 27 years as a Mortgage Broker, until now, have I come to the closing table only to find that the lender is out of business or doesn't have the money to fund its commitments. I have been through many down cycles in our business where I saw brokers leaving in droves. Never have I seen so many lenders leave. Yes, some might have left for good cause and some might be overreacting, but we just don't expect lenders and banks to have the same liquidity problems the rest of us might have. It is from this state of mind that I have chosen to write this month. I asked myself what I would like the result of this article to be for you, my friends and readers. The answer became apparent: I wanted to share what had been working for me, in hopes that it would for you too. (After all, that has been the premise of me writing these articles for the past 15 years.) My desired result is to introduce to you a wonderful master in his own right, David Allen. He wrote a book in 2001, and not only is it still active, but its sales are increasing 20 percent per year. Clear your mind and let go of any preconceptions you might have. Your total dollar investment can be as little as $15, the cost of the paperback book. My return on that investment has been awesome--a balanced life on all levels (spiritual, mental, physical, business and personal).

It starts by letting go. To do that, you need to create a system that your mind and your subconscious believe in and you will consciously follow. David makes some suggestions based on his 25 years as a personal productivity coach. Most will be very commonsense, but when they are integrated into your life, the change is beyond dramatic. Get ready for inspired living as you only dreamed was possible.

Three years ago, at a business conference, I was introduced to "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity" by David Allen. I took to the concept like a duck takes to water. I had never heard of David Allen before, yet Fast Company magazine listed him as one of the top five business coaches in the world. A major investment-banking house on Wall Street hired him to consult its top 200 partners on a regular basis. He consults with many of the Fortune 100 companies. I'd never heard of him or his book, but heck, I am only a lowly Mortgage Broker. Then, I had this wonderful brainstorm. What if I could buy the book (generally $15 paperback and $29 hardcover) and apply the same principles as the top guns, who were spending upward of $10,000 a day on them, and see if I could benefit too? So three years ago, I bought the book, and the concepts helped me change the way I do business.

First, let me share with you how it has helped my life, and then I'll share some of his recommended steps to achieve a balanced life. I don't think it will be helpful to go into too much detail here, so I highly recommend reading the book, going to the Web site,, reading the other literature and trying it for yourself. The only thing you have to lose is a cluttered mind and disorganized office.

If you walked into my office early Monday morning, the first thing that would become apparent would be that my desk was clear, with no extraneous papers. There are simply pictures, a computer, a telephone and an in-basket. If I were to open my e-mail program, the incoming mail folder would be empty (it would have been emptied after I opened the last new e-mail), and there would be several folders within the in-basket, each laden with things that needed attending to. You might also notice that in-basket on my desk, which acts as repository for various scraps of paper and notes that I have taken as thoughts have come into my mind--one thought per piece of paper. As soon as I have the thought, I write it down. You might also notice each of my file folders labeled either by a label machine or a computer printer, but none are handwritten. Hopefully, your first impression would be that there is a sense of balance and order to everything in my office. One thing you would not experience is clutter or things strewn all over the office. That would happen later during the day. You see, I tend to get very messy as I am working on a specific project, but even then, it is only with things relevant to that project. Everything else is either in a folder, in the in-basket or on my computerized list. For example, as I am writing this article, my desk and floor are strewn with various reference items to help me with the article, but there is nothing on the desk (save the glass of water) that does not relate to this article.

David Allen's teachings came from more than 25 years of his business coaching and applying the principles that helped him earn a black belt in Martial Arts in the business world (sort of like a New Age Sun Tzu's "The Art of War"). Most of what he teaches is commonsense, but applying each of the techniques together helps each of us accomplish more with less effort. Basically, the system helps you capture anything and everything that has your attention. Then, you define actionable outcomes and concrete next steps to be taken. Next, you organize the reminders and information in a streamlined manner based on your need to access them, and then review your plan weekly.

In life, we are either on purpose or off purpose. We are either balanced or we are out of balance. Once we allow ourselves to create and operate from an efficient organizational system and do one thing at a time consciously and fully, we can move on to the next item. "Getting Things Done" is not a to-do list (something that sounds good, but does not really work because, at some point, the list becomes unmanageable and the mind no longer trusts it). I know I have to-do lists, which, as they grew larger and larger, get less of my attention.

The beauty of the principles espoused in "Getting Things Done" is that the action plan is contextual. Each action to be taken fits into one category or another, determined by you. Items that require more than one action to complete become a project. Most of us will have between 50-150 projects ongoing at any given time (business and personal). The brilliance of this plan is not only to write down the project, but also clarify the desired result and what the next action is that needs to be taken.

David Allen learned from his years of training that when the brain is in the thinking mode, it is not in the action mode and vice versa. So, everything is listed by contextual actions: calls, computer work, waiting for material from others, errands, etc. When you have a free block of time, you can look at whichever category you choose--let's say calls--and take one call at a time until you need to go to the next action or appointment. This way, if you had put on your errands list "buy light bulbs" and you are driving from one place to another, it gets done and you don't wait until you don't have any light bulbs. I found that once I put it on the list, I just subconsciously would take care of it. So, if I am going by a hardware store, a thought would pop into my head to stop for light bulbs, even if I didn't have my list with me. The odds are good I review the list first thing in the morning, even before I do my e-mails, to prepare me consciously and subconsciously for all that I have chosen to do in a day.

This system takes practice and consistency for it to work. It is simplicity, itself. If you have a pen, paper and an in-basket, you can work this system, because it's nothing fancy. Sure, you can use your computer and PDA, but it is not a requirement. Every time your mind has a thought that you want to act upon, write it down immediately onto a piece of paper (I carry 3x5 cards with me all the time, while others prefer yellow legal pads). Put the note in your inbox. Have several inboxes at various locations. I have three at the house, one in my car and one in the office. Just make sure you collect them all in a central repository, and then, when you have time, there is a recommended system for reviewing the inbox.

The subtitle of "Getting Things Done" is "The Art of Stress Free Productivity." I like the concept because I like the results. I encourage everyone to buy the book. Read it. Try it. If you get a chance to go to the one of 75 speaking engagements that David Allen does each year (check his Web site), do it. Check out the Web site,, for lots of great and free stuff to follow up on. Sign up for a free pass for GTD Connect, an online "Getting Things Done" performance support tool with hundreds of hours of video/audio by David Allen himself, and for which I pay less than $50 a month for, so you know I feel it is worth. If you choose and can afford it, hire one of his consultants to come and revolutionize how you work and play.

So what would your life look like if your mind were clear like water--if you were totally organized, everything was in place and your life were perfectly ordered? You would handle easily each of the tasks that floated by each day. You would feel in charge and in control. You would act in balance and in harmony with your environment. You naturally would make decisions and take actions that lead to inner fulfillment and expression of your highest good. "Getting Things Done" is one more tool to help each of us get there. Let me know how you like the change.

John D. Svirsky has been a Mortgage Broker for 24 years, doing both commercial and residential mortgages. He is also a volunteer firefighter, avid cigar enthusiast and cook. He may be reached by phone at (845) 424-3388 or e-mail [email protected].

Product Summary
Product name: "Getting Things Done" by David Allen
Web site:
What is it: David Allen teaches the system that the top corporations in the world hire him to teach their executives. The book shares the techniques and strategies to channeling all the various thoughts and actions that are in our mind into organized, systematic actions and stress-free productivity.
Price: $15-$29 at retail stores; $8.99 at
Recommendation: The book is absolutely worth it, and I pay $50 a month for the companion online content, so you know I feel it is worth it. (For free access to online content, send an e-mail to [email protected] with "Svirsky" in the subject line.)

Mar 24, 2014