Thinking In Four Dimensions - Next Action Associates

I’m old enough to remember life before email, and it makes me shudder. I love email (and, truth be told, text messaging too) because it’s asynchronous. I write the message when it suits me to write it, and you read it when it suits you to read it. Unlike an unsolicited phone call (which is timed to suit only one party) email is more respectful of the other person’s time and attention.  

(Please understand, I certainly don’t have anything against phone calls. Real conversations can prevent the sort of misunderstandings that text or email exchanges are famous for. But many transfers of information are not that complicated, and email works perfectly well in those cases without disrupting the other party’s flow.)

There’s an analogous asynchronous effect with GTD®, and it works in both time and space. Before learning the GTD methodology, I might think of something and then try and do something about it immediately. Or, failing that, forget it until I think of it all over again sometime later.

With GTD, however, there are three distinct times and places that matter.

First, there’s the time and place where stuff arises. All I need to do at that moment is capture it, by writing it down or recording a voice message (unless it’s automatically captured for me, like email).  In almost any situation I can be equipped to do simple capture, if I put my mind to it. A simple pen and paper will suffice. Once the stuff is captured, I can forget about it for now.

Then, at some point (hopefully soon after), I get to clarify all the stuff and decide what needs doing. I do this when I’m in the mood for clarifying, and when I’m equipped to do so. I’ll probably be in front of my laptop and will have access to my whole system (calendar and lists). I’ll find said piece of “stuff” on a capture list, and I’ll determine the next action to move it forward, and in what context I’ll be best placed to do it. Then I’ll make an entry on the appropriate context’s next action list, and be free to completely forget about it.

Finally, at some third point in time, when I’m in the right context for the next action to actually happen, I’ll choose that next action from a list and do it. I might look at the appropriate list for where I am, or look at my calendar, or receive a time- (or location-) specific notification from a device.  And if I’ve done my job properly, the next action entry will tell me exactly what to do and I’ll just get on with it. 

So I interact with the information at three very different places in space and time, but in each case the input required from me is appropriate given the location and resources.

And (perhaps most importantly) I don’t have to transport the information between those places in my head. My system does that for me.

But not only are we talking about three different places and times, we’re actually talking about three different people. 

  • In the first scenario, it may be the creative me who has an idea (perhaps while walking the dog, or while working on something else entirely).
  • In the second scenario, the thoughtful methodical me goes through the clarifying process.
  • Then finally there’s the productive me who, in the moment, needs the two previous versions of me to have done all the prep so that he can just get on with things without any friction…

So my GTD system effectively communicates between three versions of me, through space and time. (Of course, I may sometimes capture the idea, clarify it into an actionable task, and do it, all at the same time. Whatever works best in each specific instance, GTD makes it possible).

GTD allows each different version of me to do what they do best, when they need to.   

You could say it’s the glue that holds my team together.

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