If you’re just starting out learning “Getting Things Done®”, perhaps having read the book, and now reading this to deepen your understanding, or having been on one of our courses and wanting more of the benefits you’ve already discovered, then it might be worth considering what you should be aiming for whilst improving your own GTD practice. What are the payoffs for all the initial effort you must put in?
Sometimes, when I tell people what I teach for a living, they will say something like “GTD, that’s all about lists, isn’t it?”. I know from this viewpoint that they have either only read a short synopsis of David Allen’s work or tried to use it for a short time and stopped before they had got to experience the real results of GTD because it absolutely isn’t “all about lists”.
You will already, at your early stage with GTD, know about the 5 Steps of Mastering Workflow and the fact that if you have a Next Action, that you can’t do in under 2 minutes or delegate to someone else, you should defer this Next Action for you to do when you are able in the future, which may well mean adding it to a list or your calendar.
Similarly, you will be aware that if this Next Action won’t complete the whole thing, you have a muti-step outcome on your hands, which we call a Project, and this too needs tracking in some way, again likely on a list of some description.
Lists are the most common way of tracking Next Actions and Projects in GTD, although there are other ways to externalise your commitments so that they can be held outside your brain, which is a core principle of the methodology. Some people prefer to create mind maps or pictures or images rather than simple flat lists, especially for the higher horizons. Indeed, you could draw your goals and visions, so you can really ‘see’ them, use a GANT chart to track projects in coloured columns and a photo covered pinboard or scrap book to represent your Areas of Focus.
I’m not trying to dispute the fact that those of us who use GTD are very likely to have more lists than those who keep all their needs, wants and wishes just rattling around in their heads. I’m simply wanting to highlight that lists are not ‘the point’ of GTD, they are merely a means to an end. What end though?
David Allen uses the metaphor of ‘Mind Like Water’ in his book, which he learnt while gaining a black belt in martial arts. The idea is, if you’re fighting someone, or if you’re fighting your Inbox, that you want your mind to be free and able to react appropriately to whatever is thrown at you, be that a punch – or an email marked urgent with six attachments, two links and an amorphous subject line!
Water can be as flat as a mill pond or as violent as a waterfall, it is always reacting to its environment proportionately and able to adapt to changes quickly with a tendency to return to calm whenever possible.
“Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax.” – David Allen
This doesn’t mean that all GTDers are constantly walking around in a zen-like state, although if you want to reach inner peace, at any time, it will certainly help to have all your outstanding issues externalised and reviewable. To be fully present, relaxed and able to focus on, and adapt to, any and all activities you are taking part in, is certainly one end to be aiming for.
“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”– Heraclitus
Another is trusting that what you are doing at any point in time is the right thing for you to be doing. This supports you being fully present, as you will not be distracted by worries that you really ought to be doing something else. If you can trust that what you are doing throughout the day is the right thing for you, for your job, your colleagues, your family and friends, then this has myriad knock on advantages: increased self-confidence and self-esteem, more enjoyment in whatever you are doing, the ability to switch off easily at the end of a day knowing you’ve given the best you could have done, to name but a few.
“Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own” -Bruce Lee
So, you see, “Getting Things Done” is certainly not ‘all about lists’, and rather, it can affect your very way of living, helping you get the right things done and be more balanced, relaxed, content and engaged with your life and your place in the world as you do so.
That’s worth the ‘bother’ of learning!