03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Delights Of "Dummy Work"

Often the most tactical thing to do with yourself is dummy work. And one of the best reasons to get organized is to take advantage of that.

"Dummy" does not mean dumb or irrelevant. Dummy work most definitely needs to be done. For example: process receipts, update calendars, input data into the computer, purge file cabinets, clean drawers. Even processing an in-basket can be dummy work, if you know how to do it. Dummy work is simply work that requires little creative developmental thinking. It gives us the obvious task in front of us, sufficient to focus us and create productive activity and completion, relieve attention, and give us uplifted energy from obvious closure and progress being made on our "stuff."

It is the best thing to do in the myriad segments of unstructured time that we experience. We're on hold on the phone; we're waiting at the dentist; we're waiting for a meeting to start. We've just come out of a 3-hour brainstorming session, and need to leave work in 20 minutes (and our brain is toast).

Here are some of my favorite dummy things to do:

- Clean out my Read/Review file

- Empty my in-basket (Process receipts, input meeting notes, read & toss junk mail, input business card info into my laptop, etc.)

- Purge old files in my general reference files while I'm listening to telephone on-hold elevator music

- Clean my desk drawer while I'm tolerating someone's phone gab

The consequences of undone dummy work create inordinate pressure and frustrations later on. But most people are not organized enough to take maximum advantage of their opportunities to get the dummy work done. It takes planning to be ready to do dummy work when dummy work is the best use of your time. When you're in a state to only do dummy work, you don't have the energy to get it ready to get done. If your receipts are everywhere, collected business cards are randomly strewn, your filing system is incomplete to begin with, your read/review stack is not immediately at hand, and if you don't have a hard-edged in-basket that's truly functional, dummy work won't be obvious or easy enough to do when you could do it.

Be smart and sophisticated in your up front planning to create fabulous opportunities to be elegantly and productively comatose when you want.


You can find out more about David Allen and GTD at

The David Allen Company is a professional training, coaching, and management consulting organization, based in Ojai, California. Its purpose is to enhance performance and improve the quality of life by providing the world's best information, education, and products in the fields of personal productivity and work/life balance.

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