If you want to know what clean edges in a system looks like, take a peep through a microscope.
Life, in its simplest form, is about integrity. When the walls of a cell break down, the cell is finished – returning to the primordial elements that once made it up. No cell, engine, or beating heart can operate without well-defined chambers. So too with the life of the mind – to think is to make distinctions; to create is to differentiate.
The Getting Things Done® (GTD®) methodology is fundamentally about integrity as well. By making clear distinctions, and recording the results of that thinking in discrete and well-defined places, we fight the good fight against entropy and dissolution on a number of fronts.
The first ‘clean edge’ that we establish is between what is actionable and what is not. As the great philosopher Yoda famously said, “Do or do not; there is no ‘try’.” In GTD, we likewise point out that all inputs ultimately come down to what is doable (actionable) and what is not doable (not actionable). There is no “maybe” or “we’ll see”. Nice try.
Just as a cell decides what it can use and what it can not use as it swims through its simple life, so too must we. Then, once we have taken in actionable input, we need to decide where and how best to process it. In GTD terms, we need to just do it if it is quick, delegate it if not ours to do, or get it into a place where it can be useful to us when it is appropriate to engage. Typically, this involves a calendar or list.
Trying to process food with your kidneys or filter blood with your stomach would probably kill you. Why then do people put items that can be done anytime on their calendar, and write all-caps reminders about a deadline on their lists? Likewise, you don’t want to see a list of household chores in your next board meeting, or run a meeting agenda from months ago. Yet time and again we tolerate those little leaks in our own ‘cell walls’ that sap our verve.
Organisms that don’t maintain appropriate processing of inputs struggle to act congruently in relation to their environment. Their integrity – in all senses of that word – becomes compromised. That is, it becomes hard to do what you say you will do without enough structure to back it up. After all, microscopic organisms have an excuse for lacking backbone – but we don’t.
So, if you want to evolve your GTD practice, take a lesson from one of our simplest living cousins: take in only what’s useful to you, process it appropriately, and maintain clean edges as you go along.
Life itself depends on it.