Getting Things Done

Managing Your Mind, Not Just Your Time: The Getting Things Done System and the Neuroscience of Attention

Friday, March 20th, 2009, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM, Uris 301

Practical Skills:

Wayne Pepper, Senior Trainer, David Allen Inc.; entertainment industry executive

Science Commentary:

Malia Mason, Assistant Professor of Management; social neuroscience researcher


The Getting Things Done (GTD) System developed by the David Allen Co. is the most influential time and workflow management method in the past decade. It has been embraced by leading companies such as Google and by knowledge workers around the world. Dozens of products have been introduced to implement this system on paper, PDA, PCs, or web based platforms. A central tenet of this system is freeing ones attention from reactive responses to incoming information and continual processing of "to do" items by creating a reliable external memory of ones workflow. Many of the GTD ideas about how our minds work best resonate with recent insights from social neuroscience research that uses fMRI scans to see which brain regions become active under different conditions. Path breaking research by Malia Mason (Mason et al, 2007, Wandering Minds: The Default Network and Stimulus-Independent Thought, Science, 19, 393-395) has identified mental systems related to planning and creativity that only activate when minds are freed from incoming stimulation. Her research highlights that one primary brain mode is "opportunistic processing" -- monitoring the environment (e.g., the beeping Blackberry, the blinking email notifications) for information signaling that action is required. While certainly adaptive for our cavemen ancestors, this sensitivity to goal-relevant information gets us into trouble by setting us up for distraction and preventing the deeper processing needed for insight and "big picture" thinking. Paradoxically, this important deeper processing often occurs in the relaxed state of mindwandering or daydreaming, something that busy people often don't allow themselves. By bringing together a practical workshop on workflow management and cutting edge insights about the brain science of attention, we expect a lively conversation about personal management and productivity.

About the Speakers

Wayne Pepper is a Senior Presenter and Coach with the David Allen Company. Since 2005 he has presented the Getting Things Done methodology to audiences in the public and private sectors all over the world.

Malia Mason is an assistant professor of management at Columbia Business School. Professor Mason currently has two lines of research, both of which she has explored using a combination of behavioral, functional imaging (fMRI) and patient-based (split-brain) approaches. Professor Mason teaches the Leadership Development. Learn more about Professor Mason.