What can we learn about GTD from successful people who haven’t used it? - Next Action Associates


Over the years in my blogs I’ve naturally quoted a lot from David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done.  David has an astonishing ability to encapsulate powerful ideas in pithy sayings that stick with you.*

But one of my hobbies is also collecting quotes from other famous people who probably have never heard of GTD, that shed some clarifying and inspiring light on what we do and how we should do it. Here are some of my favourites:

“We cannot change the wind, but we can set the sails differently” – Aristotle

How often do we blame our surroundings and other people for our lack of success?  Yes, you may have to work in an open plan office and your colleagues may interrupt you too often and the boss may be demanding. That’s the wind. How are you going to set the sails differently?

“Be regular and ordered in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” – Gustave Flaubert
(This was reportedly a favourite quote of Frank Zappa’s)

“Discipline makes daring possible” – Atul Gawande in a BBC Reith Lecture

“Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted” – John Lennon

To the untrained eye, GTD-inspired ways of working may well seem to involve more structure than we’re used to, or immediately see the benefit of.   But this is not structure for its own sake, or lists to enable “being well-organised.” GTD is about creating clear mental space so that you can focus effectively on what you want to, whether it’s developing ideas for next year’s budget, or whether it’s fully appreciating the concert you’re listening to without being distracted by thoughts about work.

“Living in continual chaos is exhausting, frightening. The catch is that it’s also very addictive.” – Lorna Luft

“Any idiot can face a crisis – it’s day-to-day living that wears you out” – Anton Chekov

“I don’t have time to be in a hurry” – Anonymous

The buzz that comes from reacting to urgent things is moreish. We keep busy and have a sense of accomplishment, even if that sense is accompanied by another sense that we should be focused on something else. That buzz is so addictive that we often create a sense of urgency in ourselves even when one isn’t called for. If I’m responding to something I’ve decided is urgent, then I don’t need to confront the thinking required to make a better choice from a position of perspective.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” – Albert Einstein

One of the most powerful things about GTD is that it gives us new lenses through which we can view and optimise our ways of working. Think about your own: how you make decisions about what to focus on day-to-day and minute-to-minute, how you make best use of the organisational tools you have, how you ensure you can focus undistracted on whatever needs your attention in the moment. When is the last time you took a hard look at those ways of working with an eye toward optimising them? GTD gives you a road-map for taking that journey.

* One of my recent favourite quotes from David came in a call I had with him earlier this week. “As human beings, we’re not entropic, we’re intentional,” David said. I expect I’ll be happily chewing over that one for many months to come.

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