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.
Episode 3: Want something to be different? Focus is the key.
So far in this series I’ve talked about the importance of our commitments, those atomic elements of GTD. I’ve also provided a framework for thinking about how our commitments translate into the things we make happen in our lives. As I said in episode two, if our interest is optimised stress-free productivity, then it’s important to strive for an optimal balance, so that all of our commitments get appropriate focus from us: neither too much nor too little.
When we think about where commitments come from, though, I think it’s important to stress a surprising element of the GTD methodology, namely its recommendation that we focus on things that aren’t true.
Now before you think I’ve succumbed to some kind of lockdown lunacy, let me explain.
In his work, David Allen has consistently stressed the importance of focus. In fact, he says “we’re in the focus business.” GTD is about helping you to be able to focus, to make it clear how to focus, and on what to focus.
But that leaves a fundamental question hanging, namely “what’s so great about focus?” Why do we stress it so much? Because focusing in the right ways brings big payoffs. You want something in your life to be different? Then change your focus.
What would be good things to focus on? A unique element of GTD is its emphasis on imagining “desired outcomes,” those things that we want to be true, but which aren’t true. Not yet.
Want something in your life to be different? Focus on your desired outcome: what will be true when this is complete? When the problem is solved? When I have the thing you want?
Now you might reasonably be saying to yourself at this point, “so all I need to do is imagine my outcome, and it is more likely to happen? Really?” In our advanced seminar, we go into detail about why this is true. Because of the ways our brains are structured, when we identify with an outcome, we open up our mental filters so that we receive information about how to make the outcome come alive.
What’s on offer here is an intoxicating mix of power and freedom. Commitments are not only imposed on us by others. We can have control of them.
By choosing to focus on these not-yet-real things, by identifying with them, we make them more likely to happen. As David says, “you don’t need any more creativity or intelligence than you were born with. The issue is: where are you pointing it?”
So ask yourself, what are you choosing to focus on?