Freedom ain't free - Next Action Associates

 “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” 
 -Thomas Paine: The American Crisis, No. 4, 1777 

If you’ve attended a seminar or had coaching with us, you’ll know that for things that take more than one step to complete, we suggest that you make an entry on at least two lists.

Indeed, we are suggesting that instead of just having a vague trigger for action on a mish-mash of a list, that you take the time to identify on one list exactly where you are trying to get to (or when you can actually cross that thing off your list), and – separately – what you are going to do next to get there (the next action you’ll take).

Most people – at least initially – feel like that is too much work. At least one entry surplus to requirement.

Actually, what we are suggesting is much worse than that.

For things that take more than one step to complete, two entries is the bare minimum we are suggesting. You can get away with that for many things. But if you really want to experience the peace of mind that GTD offers at the very the core of what we teach, you might want to do a bit more.

We are not suggesting two entries as standard. What we are really suggesting as a useful standard is this: think about things until they are off your mind, and then keep them off your mind by putting the reminders you need about them in a system you trust. Sometimes, that means doing a lot more than just putting two reminders in your system.

As an example, the following was the series of actions I took to deal with the ‘stuff’ that was a mail from someone about getting a job with us:

  1. Forward mail from applicant to my partner Todd to get it on his radar
  2. Reply with a holding note to the applicant to say we’d discuss it and get back to her
  3. Make a note on my ‘Agendas’ list for Todd, to discuss the application in our next face-to-face meeting
  4. Create a Project to get back to the applicant, either way
  5. File the mail/CV in ‘recruiting’ as reference

Total time: probably 3-4 minutes. That’s what it took to get a particular e-mail off my mind, confident that I’ll bump into the reminders before I forget any piece of it.

If that was the only thing I had going on in my life, I probably could manage it all in my head, with just one reminder. But I have several of those things going on simultaneously. Here’s another example, where the point of departure was an incoming email invitation to submit a proposal in response to a client Request for Proposal:

  1. Mail to Linda to delegate admin of the process
  2. Mail to associates to request CVs by a specific date, copying Linda
  3. Mail to Todd to check terms for associates on this work
  4. Respond to client to say we’d submit a proposal for the business
  5. Create project on my project list to clarify what finished looked like (RFP for xx completed and submitted)
  6. Put deadline/due date in my calendar as final backstop to put my mind at ease

Total time: 5-6 minutes.

Now, those are specific – more or less worst-case – examples, chosen to illustrate the point. Most ‘stuff’ doesn’t take that many steps or that much time to deal with. Sometimes it is just one note in my system, often simply two: where I’m going, and what I’m doing next to get there.

But holding the standard of thinking it through until I’m not thinking about it anymore is what it takes to be free. Is it a lot of work? Absolutely. But I don’t think that is the right question.

For me a better question is this: ‘Is it at all possible to navigate in this maelstrom while keeping peace of mind and perspective about my life and my work?’ If the answer is ‘no’, then what we propose is too much work. Why would you bother? If the answer is ‘yes’, however, then the only question is whether you want that peace of mind or not, and are willing to do what it takes to have it.

If you’ve protected some time in your day for thinking about ‘stuff’ then the two series of actions I’ve detailed above will not seem outlandish.

If you haven’t protected time for doing that thinking you’ll try to get by with only one trigger in your system, or – worse – just leave the mail in your inbox where you keep looking at it, over and over, until each of those individual pieces occurs to you. With a bit of luck they’ll occur to you before your hair is on fire as a result of dropping the ball on a critical piece of it because there was no clear reminder about it outside of your head.

So, with that as context – and given the season – what do you need to put in your system right now to get the seasonal festivities off your mind? For some helpful and timely thoughts, be sure to check out next week’s video blog by my colleague Robert Peake.


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