This is another installment in the ongoing series “Oliver’s GTD Experience”. The goal with this series is to share some of the thoughts, experiences, and personal as well as professional discoveries that have come about as a result of my effort to employ GTD in my life.
I’m in Ojai today and at the moment I should be over at the Ojai Valley Inn participating in the David Allen Company’s annual retreat. I really should be over there, but last night I had a discussion with a GTD coach that resulted in a major shift in my understanding of GTD.
I’ve been thinking about this all night and this morning while I was getting ready to head over to the conference my thoughts clarified into a post. I’ve been writing long enough to know that when that happens I should just sit down and pound on the keyboard or I risk losing my best thoughts as other things in my world start to interfere with my focus and ultimately kludge up what I want to write.
Originally I had planned on writing an introductory post about a new contributor to GTDtimes, Meg Edwards. Meg is a long time GTD practitioner and one of the most experienced GTD coaches working with DAC. For a variety of reasons that I will get into when I do her formal introduction, Meg typically ends up coaching the problem cases. Or as she puts it “the people who are stuck”.
According to Meg, what often happens is that people who get stuck have some issue or other that interfers with their ability to focus correctly on some part of the GTD process. For example, people with ADHD or those that have difficulty dealing with sequential processing.
David Allen, Meg says, basically assumes that people reading “Getting Things Done” (or “MIAW”), have pretty much normal executive function. However if they don’t…well, they end up getting some help from Meg if they’re lucky.
Now I don’t have too much trouble with executive function- usually. Those of you that have read my other posts may recall that I tend to be late so I can “self-medicate” with adrenaline by driving like a bat out of hell – I don’t do this intentionally, but the brain is a tricky and manipulative creature – sometimes I wonder who’s running the show in my case – me or my brain. Does that make sense?
Anyway, I was talking to Meg about the fact that I have started feeling sort of numb to my lists lately. I’ve been using Things for almost a year now and I realized that I am starting to develop an aversion to even clicking on the icon to check what needs to be done each day. Then, after several days go by I open Things and have to tick off a dozen or more items that I’ve completed (or realize in horror that I missed something important).
Obviously this is not a terribly GTD way to go about things and worse, for me it means that I have fallen back into my old habit of remembering everything (or almost everything since I’m still pretending like my trusted system is capturing everything which of course it can’t possibly be since I’m not opening it every day, right?)
Mark would be kicking my butt if he were around. This is not the black belt approach to GTD he followed. It isn’t even a brown belt approach. In fact, it’s more like a grey belt approach – you know, the sort of gray color that comes when you wash something white with a new pair of blue jeans?? This is hardly the color belt that the editor of GTDtimes ought to be wearing, is it? But I digress…
At any rate, I was explaining this to Meg and she was asking me some questions about what is going on in my world and in particular she asked me what I do when I have a task that I don’t particularly care for. Needless to say she wasn’t surprised to hear me explain that there are certain things that I detest doing so much that it practically takes an act of God (or one very pissed off female) to get me to get on with the getting done.
Shortly thereafter we started talking about another topic and didn’t really close the loop on this discussion. When we were walking out to the parking lot however I showed her one of my lasers (I’m the biggest nerd). This lead to my showing her video that I’ve taken of something that I believe may actually represent a somewhat significant scientific discovery that I may have made (this is a long story in and of itself, but if you want to see the footage you can find it here.
Meg was intrigued and after talking about this for a few minutes she asked me what my next action was. I explained that I was waiting to hear back from one of several microbiologists that I had written to in an effort to get confirmation.
Meg then asked me what my ultimate goal was with this project. “It’s not really a project I said; I’ve been playing around with this for years before I did GTD.”
“Do you know what your desired outcome looks like?” Meg asked me.
I told her I did and explained what my goals were. she asked me why I didn’t have a project for this and why it wasn’t anywhere within my lists including my long-term horizons of focus.
I tried to explain again that this was just a hobby and that…
You can see where this is going right? Of course this should be listed. It should have concrete next actions, it should have an ultimate final step to allow me to close the loop and if I am not really working on it seriously then I should park it in “Someday, Maybe”. What I shouldn’t do is spend thousands of hours a year on this “hobby” without stating my objective and having a systematic approach to getting to that point.
I tried once more to tell Meg that I didn’t have this as part of my trusted system because I just worked on this stuff for fun.
This was the “ah ha!” moment. “Fun?” she said. “Yes”, I explained. ” I do this for fun so I don’t need to put it in my system.”
Meg said to me “is everything in your trusted system something that you don’t want to do but know you have to do?”
“Of course” I said. That’s how I stay on top of that stuff and make sure that I can keep myself on track. There are some things I hate doing so much that in order to make myself do them I have to promise myself little rewards in order to get them completed.
“No wonder you are going numb to your trusted system”, Meg explained. “Anyone would if everything in there was a hateful task that you have to force yourself to do it. Why don’t you put things you like to do in your system?
I didn’t have an answer to this last question. I should have one. I would have liked to have had one. I told Meg that I needed to go back to my hotel and digest.
End result? After digesting all night – <burp> – I have come to a conclusion. Mind you I still don’t have an answer to the confounding question of the night prior but I have a solution just the same. I can avoid having to answer that particular question by making one simple change.
I need some new lists. Lists that include things I actually want to do not only things that I have to do. You know, I’m supposed to be pretty intelligent but sometimes I wonder what gave me (or anyone) that idea. Has anyone else failed to incorporate things that they like doing into their GTD lists? Or am I uniquely incompetent in this particular regard. Well, someone has to be the “dumbest wolf”*, I guess today it’s me – but I’ll bet you didn’t have an epiphany today, did you? You’ve got to take the bad with the good. It’s just the way of the world.
*the “Dumbest Wolf” is a reference to a story I used to tell about contextually relevant intelligence. Basically what it means is that if any one of us were suddenly turned into a wolf (a-la- King Arthur), in spite of the fact that our human intelligence is far greater than that of a wolf in our own domain- even this huge intellectual advantage isn’t sufficient to overcome the handicap of lacking the domain specific knowledge and expertise required to be a functional wolf. Thus, in spite of all our brain power, in the context of being a wolf, every sing one of us would be the dumbest wolf – and most likely the first one shot, trapped, hurt, or killed by the pack for being so stupid that we were too much of a liability.
Whenever I start to think I’m so smart I take a deep breath and remind myself that but for the grace of whatever divine power exists in the cosmos I could be the dumbest wolf or something even worse.