GTD on the Planet of the Apes - Next Action Associates

I’m not a fan of fitness. What’s to like? Basically it hurts while I’m doing it, again the next day, and then – go figure – it’s worse again on the day after that. Seemingly not a lot of upside in all of that, but by day three after a workout I’m feeling great and then… well, unfortunately it’s time for another workout. ☹

Fortunately, it isn’t uniformly bad. Over the years I’ve noticed there is a hierarchy of awfulness amongst the various aspects of getting and staying fit. Here, characterised by their ape family equivalents, are my opponents in motivational terms (from least worst to most awful):

Monkey = Exercise

As per the above, this is painful, both during a workout and with a bit of sneaky time lag. Still, there is usually a healthy dose of endorphins on offer, so immediately following I’m feeling pretty good about things. I’m the guy who can get himself to do the difficult thing. A useful – if temporary – mindset. Not only that, but if I stick with it there is often measurable progress. Over time, I can see that I’m lifting more, running further or faster, or that my heart rate and/or blood pressure has dropped. Love to see progress. And due to the astonishing creativity of the global exercise-industrial complex, I also have an amusing variety of toys to play with as I hurt myself.

Chimp = Stretching

A bit harder. Pain is pretty much constant, and measurement nearly impossible. Some stretching goals are likely only achievable after good few years. Often the goal is so distant as to be laughable (how close are you to being able to do the splits, or touch your toes, or pop up into a back bridge, for instance?). Progress is slow and mostly imperceptible. And, no matter how much progress you make, the pain remains the same if you keep pushing the edge of progress. Hmmm. Think I could better use this time for exercising….

Gorilla = Rolling muscles out to break up old injuries and adhesions

Much harder. No discernible upside. Rolling tight muscles over a knobbly foam roller or balls of varying densities is tear-inducingly painful. Every time. Unlike with exercise or stretching, there are very few programs to follow, and pretty much zero classes to attend. There simply is no market for them (see tear-inducing, above). Even with YouTube, there is almost no one who has a regular practice that one can be inspired by. I’m constantly dogged by the question, ‘Am I doing this right and healing myself, or just inflicting life-changing damage?’ Can I not go back and do some stretching instead?

King Kong = not overeating (cupcakes or carrots)

You can’t outrun your mouth. I repeat, you can’t outrun your mouth. Not unless it is your job. If the other simians were simply unpleasant in varying degrees, dealing with this one is next to impossible. Given the ambient misinformation and changing messages about what we should/should not put in our body, plus the untold emotional associations with favourite foods and drinks in specific contexts, we really don’t have much chance. Even when eating ‘healthy’ foods, our genetic hardwiring will push us to eat much more than we should.

What does help is very clear edges around what I’m eating and what I’m not eating, and regular reinforcement of why that is better for me than some other plan.

I’m afraid I may have lost a significant chunk of our readership at the top of the page with the first mention of exercise. But for those of you who have some fitness practice and were drawn to keep reading by a combination of compassion and Schadenfreude, what does all this have to do with GTD®? Stay with me for just another minute.

Here is GTD in Planet of the Apes terms:

Monkey = Capture

This is pretty accessible. It’s easy to understand that given how much I have on I’ll be toast if I try to run my life in my head. Okay, it’s a bit of a pain to keep writing things down as one thinks of them, but the experience of a first mindsweep offers such dramatically positive return on invested effort that it is a no brainer to continue. Besides, there are plenty of cool tools to play with (apps, leather jotters, watches) and now even some playmates (Siri, Alexa, et al). I can get myself to do this.

Chimp = Clarify

Gotta find a bit of time each day now, and – dammit! – gotta think through those things I captured. One at a time out of my inboxes through a one-way system until they get to the right place in my system. Ouch! That hurts. Thank heaven for that two-minute rule. Otherwise, so many possibilities, and very few ‘correct’ answers, just my best guesses, based on incomplete information. Ooof! Makes capturing things seem positively attractive.

Gorilla = Weekly Review

What?! Look at everything I’ve committed to? You’ve got to be kidding. Don’t you know how busy I am? Having a regular overview of my commitments sounds great, but have you seen my inbox? Let’s not even speak of the three meetings competing for the Weekly Review slot that I book over each week. Okay, I’ll give it a try. Huh? Think, decide, update and not be tempted into catching up on my backlog immediately? This is smelling a lot like discipline. Will get to it next week. Think I’ll do a bit more of that soothing Clarifying business.

King Kong = Saying ‘no’

I know it’s been said that there is no system in the world can cope with the lack of a strong ‘no’, but you don’t know where I work. I want to get ahead, and we have a ‘can-do’ culture. Besides, I want to be liked, not ‘Mr. Uncomfortable, I can do this but not that’. What? You mean actually mean it when I say ‘yes’, and have some confidence in my plan for making that thing happen? Hmmm. Interesting idea.

As with exercise, this is close to impossible in organisational life, but there are supports for mustering a ‘no’. Unfortunately, they seem to rely on having a complete and up-to-date catalogue of all my commitments in one place, along with a basic understanding of the edges of my responsibilities. With that, ‘no’ is still difficult, but it is a lot more likely than if I’m navigating in a fog of vagueness about what I’ve already said ‘yes’ to.

Why would anyone exercise, given the above description? If it is all so challenging, why do any of it?! It is a good question, given that many simply don’t bother.

For me it is about clothes that fit, moving with joy and freedom, and the ability to go ‘off road’ for physically exhilarating adventures on holiday. There is no right or wrong in it, just some outcomes I like more than others.

And why would anyone do GTD, given the above description?

For me, it is about a certain polarity in my use of energy. Being highly productive – in a ‘zone’ of some kind, doing work that matters – is extremely satisfying. At the other pole, worry-free ‘nothing doing’ is also very attractive to me.

The great thing is that both those extremes are made dramatically more likely by doing the same simple steps. For with a fitness tracker, the good news is that it isn’t 10,000 of them either. Five will do.

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