Monika Danner has worked in corporate HR and leadership roles for more than 15 years. She has been a GTD® practitioner since 2014 and is now a certified GTD trainer for Next Action Partners in Germany.

“Your projects list is a composite picture of the future you want to create.”

This quote is not mine. It came from words that were said to me by Todd Brown, Co-Founder of Next Action Associates based in London and Next Action Partners based in Berlin, during my training to become a certified GTD® Trainer. I liked it from the moment I first heard it, and have been using it in my seminars ever since.

I discovered Getting Things Done®, the powerful self-management methodology, in 2014. At the time, I was desperate to find a solution for managing leadership tasks and huge restructuring projects, while juggling a complex family structure. In retrospect, the greatest success of my GTD journey and one which has accompanied me ever since, is the feeling of calmness even during tough times. It has become part of what I call the “GTD addiction” that I have been so drawn to, and a crucial contributor to that ongoing feeling has been the ability to get a complete overview over all my projects.

Calmness is also what I am experiencing right now, looking into the greatness of nature outside my window. Most summers, like this one, I spend a few weeks of the kid’s holidays on a little German island in the North Sea that is barely known to many people. It’s called Spiekeroog and if there is a place anywhere on earth where peace has its home, I’ll bet you it’s there.

A ferry boat departing two or three times a day (depending of the tide) will get you there. No cars are allowed (with the exception of emergency services), and not even many bicycles will venture onto the island. Waiting for your luggage to get offloaded from the ferry forces city dwellers like me with usually busy travel diaries to simply stop. Breathe. Wait. Slow down. And after a few days, I am there: relaxed and calm. This place has an almost magical effect on my pulse, my health and my personal happiness.

While summertime is of course family time in the first instance, it also has the quality of a personal mid-year retreat. It allows me to look back on what has been achieved across the preceding busy months. And it invites me to look ahead at what I want to do with the rest of the year. Don’t get me wrong: I am not working here in the sense of doing business. I am reading, I am doing some thinking – something that everyone usually does when set free from daily commitments and limitations – while walking through the dunes or while simply watching the waves come and go.

I am envisioning new goals and looking for inspiration in conversations with friends or in good books. I am designing some ideas for new projects in my head while others, that may have been stuck for months, have free reign to be dismissed. “Gone with the wind” as you might say! Tides come and go, waves cover and uncover shells and mussels. Some ideas that might have been of great importance yesterday might not feel important anymore, seen in the never-ending light of long summer nights and the forces of the sea.

New and unseen flotsam and jetsam brought to the beach sets ideas free.

You might have a similar place for your personal reflection time. I really hope so, because I think it just has such value in a busy life.

To share some thoughts I found myself pondering on, I have listed some of the questions I have been allowing myself to think about:

  • What am I proud of that has been achieved – and who should know about it?
  • Have I spent enough energy on all of my Areas of Focus during the past few months or are there any roles – like parenthood – that need more attention?
  • Do I have (or just feel as though I have) any current obligations that make me feel uneasy, and that I want to let go?
  • Where can I come into force in the months to come with the resources given, and who will support me?
  • What does the picture of the future that I want to create look like?
  • Is there a specific colour I want to add to that picture – maybe by adding new projects or even new roles?

Being primarily knowledge-workers in many instances, I guess we all deal with these thoughts even while on vacation and when we are enjoying being far away from our daily routines. It offers a good starting point for a new evaluation and an even higher perspective on our lives, and provides a source for going back to work with a new spirit. Because we have to go back eventually, right!?

GTD will help you transfer your drifting thoughts at the beach into concrete, actionable projects. My next action upon returning to my desk? A thorough Weekly Review®, which we recommend as a regular habit in GTD anyway. This one will still be carried out in the sense of recreation and as a full inventory of my projects and tasks, but I’m confident there will be some creative Someday/Maybes that will find their way onto my lists (this year it is try horse riding!).

There will also inevitably be some interesting projects that the waves have brought into my mind as this year’s jetsam, and I am pretty sure they’ll add some colourful new qualities to my composite picture of the future.

Curious to hear what flotsam and jetsam you come across during your summer downtime!

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