Categories | Community Contributions | Gear | Implementation
We GTDers sure do like showing off our workspaces. And, naturally, we show them off when they are looking their best: inboxes in a near-pristine state and folders lined up tidily with their labels gleaming in the sunlight. Honestly, I love it. Like many other GTD geeks, I get a perverse pleasure from looking at other people’s workstations. I get inspired and sometimes even pick up an idea for a new way of doing something (like my new Tickler file – LOVE IT!).
But, I also think it’s important to acknowledge that GTD isn’t about always being tidy. In fact, the moments when GTD is most valuable are the messiest and ugliest moments. Take this recent snapshot of my desk, for example.
This is what it looks like after a week that included four speaking gigs, two road trips (to get to some of the aforementioned speaking gigs), an all-day conference, and two birthdays (my husband’s 40th and my son’s first). Oh, and that’s in addition to my full-time job at clockwork.net, blogging at geekgirlsguide.com and trying to maintain some semblance of a personal life. Gaaaah!
But, you know what? That’s LIFE. It’s freakin’ messy. The minute something feels “done” or “perfect” — something comes along to mess it up. The real power of GTD is in realizing that it’s not about how awesome your desk looks, it’s about realizing that — for most of us — there is no such thing as “done.” We have to get comfortable with that fact.
Ultimately, my desk tends to reflect my state of mind: when my desk is a mess it means that, before I just go about mindlessly cleaning it, I need to get my head back in order. What are my priorities? What do I need to do? What do I want to do? What can I realistically accomplish in the time I have?
In my own life, it played out like this: on Tuesday morning last week (around the time this photo was taken), I sat down at my desk and felt immediately overwhelmed. Every inbox in my life was literally bursting at the seams. Instead of freaking out, I grabbed a very large cup of coffee and began a Weekly Review. I immediately started to feel calmer. I checked the calendar to ensure that I could spend the day getting things back into focus. My inboxes slowly started to dwindle. (By the way, the most frustrating thing is processing one’s inbox while more input keeps coming in — getting to zero took me all day.) I channeled my energy either where it was most needed (urgent emails!), or where I most felt like letting it go (Did I remember to book that hotel for our anniversary weekend?). I ended the day feeling like things weren’t perfect, but they were good enough for now, and I’d finish the rest tomorrow.
I’ll be the first to admit that this discipline of defining the edges of my own work doesn’t come easily. I’m the type of person that will stay up until 1am to finish something because I feel compelled to, not necessarily because it needs to be done. But, I’m working on it. I’m working on learning that my time is finite and I could literally spend
the next 7 days in front of a computer working non-stop with no breaks for sleep or meals and I still wouldn’t be “done.” I’m not a widget maker, I’m a knowledge worker and my work is never done.
Yeesh, it feels uncomfortable to even say that! “Hello, my name is Meghan and my work is never done.” But, it’s true. And the more I practice saying it, the more I believe it, and the less I feel compelled to keep my inboxes at zero all the time (which, I can tell you from experience, is a losing game). The more I believe that I’m never done, the more I can choose to close my computer at 5pm and give my kids my full attention or keep my iPhone turned off on a date with my husband. These things are just as — if not more — important that my inbox or my desktop.
So, the question is not: is your desk spotless right now? The question is: do you feel in control right now, and how long would it take you to get there? If the answer gets a bit messy, don’t worry about it. That’s part of the game. After having said all that, I totally want to see your awesome desk. (Send those along to us at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Meghan Wilker is a regular contributor to GTD Times. She’s also been featured in David Allen’s In Conversation series on GTD Connect, spotlighting some of the most fascinating people in our network of GTD’ers around the world.