Welcome back to GTD® from the Top, a blog series in which I’m distilling the core ideas from David Allen’s Getting Things Done® methodology into a blog-sized narrative. For those of you who are experienced GTDers, I’m hoping I’ll provide some insights and new ways of thinking about your GTD systems and practices. For you newbies, my goal is to entice you into further engagement with GTD by making it clear what its benefits are and why it has proven so popular – David Allen’s books have sold over 2 million copies worldwide.
For those of you who missed the first episode in the series, you can find it here.
Episode 2: Achieving and Maintaining
In the first episode I talked about the importance of our commitments, and how they’re driven by our purpose and principles. As our time on the planet is limited, and as our commitments are many and varied, our goal is to strike the right balance so that all of our commitments get the right amount of our focus over time.
Now let’s get a bit more granular about what commitments are. I think it’s helpful to think of commitments as being of two types: things you want to achieve, and things you want to maintain.
I’m using the word “achieve” here in a very broad sense. Achievement applies to big things, like those major projects you want to complete, i.e. hire a new team member, develop a business plan, or plan your holiday. It also applies to more modest things you want to get done: buy the new tablet, discuss something with your partner, send the email to the client. What all of these things have in common is that your aim is to tick them off as done at some point.
The other type of commitments are the things you want to maintain. These are things to which your commitment is ongoing. They’re the roles you play in life, your ongoing responsibilities. At work these might include your role as manager of your team, or as a member of a committee. In your personal life this might include your roles as a son, daughter, or partner. You might also have an ongoing commitment to a hobby, or to a religious organisation.
What’s interesting about these commitments to maintain things is how they translate into commitments to achieve things. A great question here is: “Am I comfortable with the way things in this role are going?” For example, for me as a father, I can ask how things are going with my son. Anything to do, other than what’s already underway for him? If not, if I’m comfortable with how I’m maintaining things in my role as father, then there’s nothing further to do. If though I think he needs more support in some area, I can ask the question: what needs to be done? In other words, what would I like to achieve in order that I would be comfortable that my ongoing role as a father is being maintained successfully? The fact that I see a gap in my commitment to be a good father translates to a commitment to get something done.
What I’ll look at in the next episodes is how we keep track of these commitments to ensure we’re consistently focused on the right things, so that we have the balance right. And I’ll also go into a bit more depth about what surprises a lot of people when it comes to GTD: its ability to both make us more productive, and simultaneously to make us less stressed.