“I feel the need, the need for speed.” – Top Gun

Whisper it, but more than once down the years I’ve heard it said that Tom Cruise is a fan of GTD®. He’d be a great GTD ambassador if it were true. Let’s face it, he gets things done – over 75 movies, career earnings of over 750 million dollars, and all this achieved while cultivating a reputation for being surprisingly relaxed in the pursuit of his greatness. He’s famous for being super-friendly with fans and his megawatt smile is the only one I can think of to rival the one beaming out from David Allen on the cover of ‘Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity’.

However, Tom hasn’t always been so relaxed. He’s had his flops, too – ‘Vanilla Sky’, ‘Days of Thunder’ and even a ‘Razzy’ Worst Actor award for ‘The Mummy’. And in those troubled times I like to think that Tom has sought inspiration from his greatest-ever screen creation and asked himself, “What would Maverickdo?”

What he’d realise is that Top Gun hero, Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, has something to teach us all about regrouping in the face of adversity and that it very much applies to those times when you’ve fallen ‘off the wagon’ with GTD as well.

As a pilot, Maverick would know that in an emergency you first aviate, then you navigate, and finally you communicate. Let’s break this down…


The first thing you need to do in an emergency is to keep flying and avoid what pilots euphemistically call ‘uncontrolled contact with the ground’. In work and life crises, control is also the first thing you need to get back. If you’re conscious that you’ve lost the control and perspective that GTD provides and that you need to get back ‘on’ then your GTD version of ‘Aviate’ should be an ‘emergency scan’ – looking rapidly through your GTD system to catch the things that most need attention; e.g.

  • Is there anything in your inbox from key people like the boss that you need to jump on quickly?
  • Is there anything in your GTD lists that’s bubbling up to boiling point?

The key is to rapidly ‘zoom in’ on the things that need immediate attention to stop bad things from happening and to start to get back in control.


Then what? Once the ground is no longer metaphorically rushing up at you, you can start to navigate. A pilot will now be looking to get their bearings; Where am I? What’s my altitude and airspeed? Is there anything near me that I need to be aware of?

In GTD, this kind of ‘situational awareness’ comes from the GTD Weekly Review®. It’s your primary navigational tool and, as such, going through the steps of the GTD Weekly Review helps you start to get your perspective back. (And note that it doesn’t need to wait until your normal Weekly Review time. You choose and use the various tools in your GTD arsenal when you become aware that you need them.)

As you do a GTD Weekly Review, you’re starting to get ahead of what’s coming up next. Pilots know the importance of ‘staying ahead of the plane’ and being ready before things need to happen. Likewise, your GTD Weekly Review is the place to scan the horizon around you, to ask yourself what’s approaching and to start to prepare for it.

Now you have your control and perspective back, there’s a final stage of the recovery procedure to consider…


Once Maverick has avoided crashing the plane and has regained his situational awareness, communication with others becomes important. As a pilot you are just one part of a wider system and communication is key to make sure you are aligned with all the other parts. How else can you plot your route, change course if needed, and land safely in one piece?

Communication in work and life management is also key because the things that contributed to your emergency sometimes require the help and input of others to stop them from happening again. Often renegotiation is required and here is where the value of having a clear picture of your commitments in your GTD system becomes even more apparent. It helps you to sit with significant others and together ask yourselves some useful – and possibly overdue and uncomfortable – questions to enable course correction;

  • Am I spending my time on the right things?
  • Are there any projects on my plate that can be parked, given what has just happened?
  • Have I strayed into doing stuff that I shouldn’t be doing because others should be doing it?
  • Am I working on projects that are no longer needed, or not needed yet?

What you do with time is a zero-sum game. You can’t do everything and some things have to go to enable others to happen. Sometimes it takes an emergency to get questions like these on the agenda.

So, next time you find you’ve flown into the danger zone of overwhelm, just remember what Maverick would do and work your way systematically back towards control and perspective using your GTD system and your GTD skills.

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward. For there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” – Leonardo da Vinci.

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