An Expensive Time Peace - Next Action Associates


I thought my last post had settled it.

I’d made the point about the value of investing in yourself and your people. Readers would get it, change their behaviour, job done.

A few days later some feedback came in:

Dear Ed,

A great post with little or nothing to challenge.

But any potential client will ask, “Why don’t I just buy the book and watch YouTube videos for free?”

Best wishes, D.

That’s a challenging question for people who do what we do, but it is great to have it out in the open. This is after all probably the most un-asked question in any conversation we have with prospective clients.

So I’ve spoken to a few colleagues and clients, and pulled together our best thinking on the question D. asked.

There are good reasons to work with us that relate directly to GTD, but by far the best reason to work with us has nothing to do with the methodology at all. Instead, it’s a widespread human failing that pretty much all of us are prey to at some point: confusing knowing about something with being able to do it well. Or even do it at all. This was a problem before the web, but with arrival of the 24/7 info- and entertainment-fest that is the internet – and YouTube – this phenomenon has simply exploded.

You know this intuitively of course. If you thought the second sentence of this blog was a bit optimistic – that people would get information, act on it and get results – then you already know that getting information about something simply doesn’t equate to real learning or behaviour change.

One of my colleagues speaks about this by using a swimming analogy: “Would you try to learn to swim by reading a book or watching a video?”, he asks, when people mention they’re thinking of going it alone with their GTD learning. “They will describe the technique, and show you the right moves to make, but good luck with getting going when you get in the water for the first time.” His point? Best case – if you are fit, well-coordinated and a fast learner –  you’ll maybe make a good fist of getting across your local pool. But you might want to start in the shallow end, as the chances of going forward at that point are still outweighed by the likelihood of going downward.

We see a lot of people “dipping their toes in the water” as they try to learn GTD®. It is what often happens when someone tries to learn something new on their own, alongside everything else they are already doing. It’s not that it can’t work, but fitting a bit of learning in here and there around other priorities makes the whole process long, cumbersome, and inefficient. A contained immersion – like in a seminar or a coaching – is more expensive, yes. But it’s also what delivers actual results. For me, finally getting a coach involved in my swimming practice was transformational, even after 50-something years of practicing on my own.

Learning a language is another useful parallel. Have you ever beavered away diligently for years on your own, trying to learn a language with books and cassettes, CDs, or streaming services (perhaps all of them, if you’ve been at it for a while…)? Then you meet a native speaker, trot out your best book-learned sentence,…. and find yourself unable to respond to the first question they ask. Arrrrggh! Then, at some point you finally got some time with a local family in the country where they speak the language all day, every day and – after a few weeks or months – you are dramatically more fluent.

That shift is what we can do for your workflow.

What it boils down to is this: we earn our living by consistently speeding up and smoothing out the mastery of workflow for our clients. The info provided in the books is 100% complete, but difficult to interpret for your specific circumstances. To bridge that gap, we offer translation services in our seminars and in coaching sessions.

Full disclosure: I first implemented based on my understanding of reading the GTD book too. I didn’t get it backwards exactly, but certain elements of what I put in place were definitely trending sideways. Still, I got significant benefits from that first implementation. I was working so inefficiently prior to reading the book that even a couple of minor improvements made a big difference. It was a good five years later – after attending a seminar and getting some coaching – that I really understood and got the benefits of the simplicity that David Allen was proposing in the book.

Working on your own and working with us are not mutually exclusive of course. Lots of people who come to us are self-taught.  But even when they’ve been practicing for years on their own, we can easily find them 10-20% increases in productivity along with significant reductions in their perceived stress. We can do this consistently and easily because there are patterns in the misunderstandings. Sometimes they’ve implemented the system so well that they’ve missed the point of it. Their drive for productivity has them making sacrifices that more perspective would help them avoid. Others get over-focused on what their tools can – and can’t do – rather than handling the real challenges of their workflow. Personally, I got stuck for years with way too much attention on the whole ‘inbox zero’ thing. Not wrong, per se, but also not the point of the exercise.

I don’t regret my first implementation of the methodology, but I sometimes wonder how much more might have been possible if I’d gotten the improvements that came from really understanding what was intended five years earlier. It’s the same for many of my colleagues. But all the mistakes we made were not for nothing. It’s those same mistakes that enable us – in the space of a couple of days – to save our clients years of wasted effort.

Everything else I can say here is basically under that heading – we save you time and effort in your process of learning to save time and effort. If you think of it that way, getting the input of an expert in this domain has a certain useful logic to it.

Beyond learning their own errors, all our coaches and trainers go through a rigorous training programme designed by David Allen, and have years – sometimes decades – of experience with coaching and training in the methodology. Between us we’ve seen thousands and thousands of implementations so can help introduce other possibilities when you are stuck.

We are paid to care more about your success than you sometimes will, and to push you harder than you will yourself in service of your success. Doing it all alone is possible, but also requires a huge amount of discipline. When you are flagging and ready to throw in the towel, we’re there to provide a ‘backstop’ for supporting you with doing the things you say you want to do. Because given the pressures of everything else you have on, a project like ‘Master GTD’ can easily turn into a ‘Someday/maybe’ in your system.

Another of my colleagues puts it this way: “Do you want to teach GTD or get the benefits of it? If you want to teach it, go it alone; all of the errors you make will be great anecdotes when you finally get to teaching it. If you prefer to have the benefits now, why wait?”

One final metaphor: if you are hiking and want to move fast through unknown territory, it will be useful to have a guide. It’s hard enough to do the walking. Figuring out the path and walking it is another level of difficulty altogether.

And now it gets a bit circular; because knowing about all of the above also doesn’t really help you, unless you do something different than you have until now.

See you soon?

*Big thanks to Adrian, Dan, Spencer, Robert, Amy, Tim, James and Marcus for their contributions to this piece.

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