The wistful lumberjack is back - Next Action Associates

Not everything in life – or even in GTD – can be illustrated using wood chopping as a metaphor, but it does seem to offer some helpful parallels. I noted some of them a few years back in a previous blog, but this year I noticed a few other lessons that translate well back to life and work.

An example? Well, I can’t tell you how much more likely it is that wood actually gets chopped once the axe is next to the wood pile.

The obvious lesson – at least in a GTD context – is that when I hit on the right next action, I can trick myself into motion, and things get done pretty quickly once I have. I say that because I was aware of needing/wanting to chop wood pretty much from when I arrived at the cottage, but it kept taking second place to sleeping, swimming, eating, and hammock swinging, etc. It was only once I moved the axe from the tool shed to the pile of wood that the logs got even remotely nervous. Once the work gloves made an appearance too (a necessity for us urban wannabe lumberjacks) there was even a bit of light wailing and gnashing of little wooden teeth. Both axe and gloves were necessary before any actual splitting of logs could take place.

Second, as noted by my colleague Miles Seecharan in his brilliant piece on the eating of vegetables, we are natural batchers. We love to clump things up.

When chopping wood we don’t, for instance, do the following:

Find a log
Chop a log
Pile the chopped bits of that log
Clean up after the chopping of the log, and
over and over again

Never in a million years. The cost of switching between the activities is too high, and the cleaning phase take up too much time relative to actual logs chopped.

What we do – naturally, when we work efficiently – is batch the activities:

Pull a pile of logs together
Chop, chop, chop,
Pile, pile, pile

The former approach would be a form of torture, the latter is just how we do it. It’s part of why the context lists can be so helpful, because they simply align with how we do things when we are being efficient with any kind of activity.

The other thing I noticed this year is that all of this rather neatly illustrates the five phase model:


First we pull all the stuff together in one place.


Then we work out what to do with each individual piece of stuff. With wood chopping there is a superficial similarity in what happens with each log, but plenty of devil in the detail of working how to get around the knots and twists of each individual log to get it split


Once the logs have been processed, the results need to go into some trusted system. As you can see from the image, the nice, dry last year’s chopping is along the back wall. It would never do to mix that with the wetter fresh chop from this year along the left wall, and it is super-helpful to have the kindling (behind white box, bottom right) and burnable bark (blue basket, bottom left) separated out from either of the other categories.


Every now and again it is worth checking the status of the system. As you can see, even in a week there have been substantial changes (due to a two-day cold front that rolled in from Alberta…). Not only is there less dry wood, but the cooler weather gave me motivation to chop more new wood, and whack up a bunch more kindling.


After all that, it was my pleasure to appropriately engage with the fruits of my labours – with a cup of java and a very good book.

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