Words For Each Day - Next Action Associates

Each Day In Life is Training
Training For Myself
Though Failure is Possible
Living Each Moment
Equal to Anything
Ready for Everything

(Soen Ozeki, Daisen-in Zen Temple, Kyoto)

I’m sitting in an Amsterdam coffee shop reflecting on the mind-altering trip that I’ve been on for the last couple of days. No, neither that kind of trip nor that kind of coffee shop – I’ve actually been at the GTD® Summit; a gathering of enthusiasts from all corners of the globe whose lives have been touched and transformed by the Getting Things Done® methodology.

From astronauts to artists, doctors to dancers, business leaders to brain scientists, it was a fabulous coming-together to celebrate and reflect upon David Allen’s life’s work and share the GTD love like an extended family.

As is the way with conferences, the notes will take time to process, the buzz will fade, and some of the insights will slip in memory, edged out by the busy-ness back home. However, there are always one or two takeaways that continue to resonate, and I thought I’d share one of mine. It’s practical and portable, and it seems to embody the commitment to continuous self-improvement that brought nearly 800 GTDers together under the same roof last week and which brings you, Dear Reader, here today.

Marshall Goldsmith, who spoke on day one in Amsterdam, is often described as one of the world’s leading executive coaches. He has made his considerable reputation from, as he modestly puts it, “just asking questions”, and as a keynote speaker at the conference, he shared a questioning technique he’s been using for many years with his clients and upon himself to great effect. Here it is…

Every day a lady called Maisie calls Marshall solely to listen to him answer the same set of questions which prompt him to reflect, focus and stay accountable to himself. Here are a few of them; ‘Did you do your best to set clear goals?’, ‘Did you do your best to be happy?’, ‘Did you do your best to be fully engaged?’.

The questions should differ from individual to individual, but the basic thing that Marshall recommends you ask yourself each day is; ‘Did you do your best to do what’s most important to you?’.

I found that this percolated in my head somewhat, and perhaps it was the surroundings, but as I thought about it, I realised that there were several rather GTD-esque aspects of this approach that were perhaps contributing to its effectiveness…

  1. It’s simple to operate – something that you intend to make into a daily ritual or habit is floating towards the bonfire of good intentions from the start if it’s complicated to find, set up or execute. Simple yes/no questions aren’t – they don’t at all get in the way of the more important part of the process which is the reflection that they prompt. GTD is also simple to operate, a set of simple repeated actions that enable complexity of thought and action because of the thinking space they create.
  2. The system lives outside your head – Marshall’s trusted system of appropriately placed reminders is Maisie, who has less emotional investment in asking his awkward questions on a daily basis and will continue to be a reliable prompt even when his things aren’t getting done. Your GTD system, likewise, will reflect without fear or favour where the gaps are opening in the commitments you’ve made, to yourself and others. There’s no hiding place in a weekly review.
  3. It’s action-focused – Marshall argued that one of the strengths of the daily ‘Did you do your best?’ approach was that the questions are active rather than passive. For example: ‘Do you have goals’ is a passive question because it increases the chances that responsibility for action is perceived to be elsewhere; i.e. “No, we haven’t been given clear goals” is too easy an answer to give because it lays the blame elsewhere. Instead, ‘Did you do your best to make clear goals’ lays the responsibility at your own door and asks what action YOU can take to change things. The GTD thought that came to my mind as I reflected on this subtle difference was ‘There are no problems, only projects’ – one of the themes of the conference – seeing the world not in terms of intractable problems, but as simple collections of actions that one can take that will change things if pursued.

So what things are important to you and have you done your best to achieve them since yesterday? As Marshall Goldsmith points out, to answer ‘Did you do your best…’ questions in the affirmative, all you have to do is try, which means you’re actively meeting the commitments you’ve made to yourself, and that feels good. Every day.


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