Categories | Getting Started
For a long time I resisted trying out David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” approach to productivity. Sure, I recognized how efficient its practitioners were. After all my best friend was Marc Orchant – an acknowledged expert in the practice of Getting Things Done so I saw first hand on a daily basis just how productive and efficient he was with his “note taker wallet”, weekly reviews and traveling folders.
Marc never pressured me to try GTD and quite honestly, I didn’t believe I needed to. While I readily acknowledged it was a superior way to manage one’s time and maintain control over one’s life and schedule I kept telling Marc (and myself) that I didn’t need such a system. After all I have – I said – a photographic memory. I don’t have to worry about remembering where stuff is – I just do. Wherever I leave something I can recall exactly where it is.
This is true. If I pack a box in 2002 I can remember that there’s a broken remote control from Adelphia Cable in that box and that while the remote is broken, the batteries in it are still likely to work. I’ve tried to explain what it’s like to have a memory like this to a few people in this way: it’s a little like having a closet that has infinite storage and perfect internal organization, only it’s a closet that never lets anything you put into it back out.
In other words, if you don’t like how something looks, you’d better avoid looking at it because you’ll be able to recall that image in all its upsetting detail most likely for the majority of your life. In other words, I don’t go see many horror movies.
Of course just because I can remember where stuff is easily doesn’t mean it’s a reasonable system and in fact, in hindsight it is not only unreasonable, it’s ridiculous. For example, with no organizational structure at all, what happens when someone moves something? What happens when the maids do you a favor and straighten up your desk or the stacks of paper you have on the floor around your chair? What happens when someone goes through your desk drawer looking for a pen?
I’ll tell you what happens – the chaos that you have preserved an image of in your mind is now not the same chaos that exists in your workspace. This entirely new chaos is no longer recognizable as the place where you put your mail or your remote control or your wallet or anything else. Your…or really, I should say “My” and own up to the failing… yes, my chaos is now not a place where I can miraculously pull just the document I’m seeking from exactly where in the stacks and piles I remembered leaving it because it isn’t there anymore. It has been…uhh…relocated…and without any kind of system to help you reference just where it might have wandered off to you have no choice but to go through all the crap – it was stuff just a second ago but now that it’s an unfamiliar disorganized mess that differs from the disorganized mess I was familiar with it really has become a big pile of crap.
You see where I am going with this?
Finally, I have awakened to the realization that just because I can remember where I dump all my junk doesn’t mean that I should use that gift as my organizational system.
On the contrary, kind of like the waiter that takes your orders without writing anything down to show how brilliant he is (if he’s so brilliant, why is he a waiter in the first place? (no offense to waiters, I’m just making a point here), but then manages to screw up every single order because he got them all wrong, I was needlessly complicating my life and by default the lives of those around me by arrogantly insisting that systems were for people that couldn’t remember where they put stuff.
Of course I didn’t mention the sixty seven times that Marc had to wait for me because I was late – mostly because I wasn’t organized as well as I could have been…The truth isn’t always pretty, but being able to recognize the truth and accept it for what it is, if not a road to redemption is at least a road to self improvement.
When Marc gave me a copy of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”, I read the book cover to cover and saw the elegance and intelligence of the principles therein. However, I simply wasn’t ready to take the steps necessary to put myself on the path to being a more productive and less stressed person.
In fact, it wasn’t until several months after Marc passed away that I was invited to attend a David Allen GTD Roadmap Seminar in Westlake, California. About two hours into the seminar something clicked. As a professional athlete I was used to a very systematized approach to training; from setting long term goals, seasonal goals, short term objectives and self assessment I was able to craft a training and racing strategy that would allow me to improve upon my weaknesses, maintain or increase my strengths, and basically prepare myself for the races that I had determined where the ones I wanted to be able to race in peak form.
GTD had many similarities with this periodized approach to sports and I realized that by applying those principals in my life I could focus on improving those aspects of my professional self that were weaknesses without sacrificing the strengths. Marc had asked me more than once what I would do with all the mental energy that was tied up remembering where things are. I used to chuckle and tell him that it took no energy- that I just remembered.
It wasn’t a lie. At least not an intentional one, but now, as I begin to put David’s program into action I can see that I only thought it didn’t take any energy. As things in my life become ever more structured and organized, not only are my pens a lot easier to find, when someone looks for them it doesn’t end up costing me half a day while I reshuffle the mental index I used to carry around to re-learn where everything now was dumped.
For me, the process and the battle has just begun. I still have lots of my old habits. I still tend to stack stuff up and I’m too cavalier about making notes and getting things into my inbox and from there to wherever they need to go next. I’m still figuring out what I can purge and what I need to file and I’ve got a ways to go before my projects and my goals are perfectly aligned and correctly prioritized. I have a long way to go.
But that said, I have a lot less of a ways to go than I did before I woke up and realized how much more I could actually get done if I spent just a little more time doing and a little less time explaining why I didn’t need to.
As one of the editors of the GTD Times, it will be my pleasure to share my progression from GTD newbie to GTD not-so-newbie to someone that practices GTD with sufficient proficiency that it has become second nature. While I don’t know that I’ll ever achieve the GTD Black Belt status of my friend Marc, I can thank him for opening my eyes to the fact that there was a better approach to being productive than the one I’d selected for myself and a I can hope that somewhere, Marc is chuckling knowing that he was right all along just like he usually was.