GTD From the Top - Next Action Associates

It’s been a while since I did a written blog (most of my blogs these days are of the video variety), but I’ve got a big topic here and it doesn’t boil down into a five-minute film. What I’m going to try to do in this series is distill my knowledge and experience of David Allen’s Getting Things Done® methodology into an easily digestible narrative to help you understand how the core ideas in GTD® relate to each other, and how they make GTD relevant for anyone interested in leading a rich, fulfilled life. I’ll begin with first principles, and then develop them; which is why I’m calling the series “From the Top”.

So where to begin?

Episode 1: Commitments

Over time I’ve come to realise that what lies at the core of GTD are commitments.

Commitments are the things we decide that we want to do or need to do. Commitments can be fundamental and feel like they’re core to our being, like a commitment to keep your family safe and healthy. At the more mundane end of the scale you might realise that, as your stomach has started to rumble, you’re in need of something to eat. You choose to go to the kitchen and find nibbles in the fridge. Your commitment, then, is to do something to satisfy your hunger.

The way I see it, that we have any commitments at all springs from fact that we humans are purpose-driven beings, interested in making things happen in the world so that the future is best aligned with what we want.

So what determines what our commitments are?

Our commitments ultimately are driven by our purpose and principles.

Let’s start with purpose. I’m talking here about your purpose, the reasons you’re on the planet. What gets you out of bed in the morning? Whether you’ve spent much time thinking about what your purpose is, you’re going to be drawn to commitments that express your purpose. In fact, a good way to discover your purpose is to examine the things you’re choosing to do.

Principles, on the other hand, get at the question of how you’re going to operate as you make things happen in life. A good way to get in touch with your principles is to keep an eye out for things you would choose not to do because they feel fundamentally wrong. In other words, principles become clear when they’re violated.

In my own practice of GTD, I went for many years without feeling as though I really had a handle on my purpose and principles.Then one day, in the middle of a seminar I was giving, it came to me: “do important work, and do it well”. In a flash, I had the sense that I finally had determined something key that expressed both a core purpose and an important principle. The purpose is to do work that I think is important. How I’ll do that work, namely well, is the principle.

By the way, I’m not meaning to imply that your purpose and principles necessarily need to boil down to single items, though they might. If you examine your purpose and principles, you’ll perhaps feel that more than one of each is appropriate for you. For example, outside of work, what is your purpose when it comes to your relationships with your loved ones? Making them feel valued and cared for? What principles are important to you in the ways you interact with other people? Honesty? Integrity?

Now most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about whether the things we’re engaged in day-to-day are aligned with our purpose and principles. So in future blog posts in this series, I’ll look at how your purpose and principles translate into the things that guide you day-to-day. In other words, I’ll be looking at how your purpose and principles drive your other commitments.

It’s helpful to point out here that when we commit to one thing, we necessarily leave less time and energy for other things. So, committing to things comes with what economists call an “opportunity cost.” If I commit to this, I forego the benefit that might have come from engaging in that.

My time is limited, and I want to make the maximum number of right things happen. My goal then is to ensure that I have the right balance. We’ve all got 24 hours a day. How do I ensure that at the end of the day I’ve achieved the maximum possible return on the time and energy I’ve chosen to invest in the things I’m making happen?

Ultimately, that’s our goal. More about that, and how GTD can help, next time.

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