It's All Work

Date: Monday, October 25, 2010 by GTD Times Staff

A Community Contribution from Erik Hanberg

For me, one of the easiest and yet most difficult concepts of David Allen’s Getting Things Done was thinking of everything as work.

After all, who wants to work all the time? But I quickly learned there was strength in the idea.

As I was implementing GTD for the first time, I understood the concept as a way to make sure that I didn’t lose track of the fun things in life. If my lists concerned only work-related areas, it would always feel like a chore to check them. But I added projects like “Experience great art,” and “See the world.”  That means that every week I think about those two projects and make sure I am scheduling them, whether it’s “Watch next disc of Mad Men” or “Reserve train tickets in Italy.” (These might be the only projects I have that I’m glad there is no “done!”)

I also understood the concept as a way to re-think procrastination. David Allen’s system encourages me to take into account my energy level as I consider projects. So if I don’t have the energy to do that massive task in front of me, and instead I check off a lot of little things related to home or personal life, that’s still work. I’m not shirking, I’m still … ahem … getting things done. It’s all work.

But in the last two years, I have come to realize that there is even more power behind this idea than I’d originally thought.

My professional life is fractured into many small pieces. I am the part-time Executive Director of a civic non-profit (12.5 hours per week!). I am in public office, one of five commissioners overseeing the park district here in Tacoma, Washington. And I am a web developer, project manager, and bookkeeper for my wife’s graphic design company, which further divides into projects related to each client we have. Non-profit, government, and for profit work.

I don’t know if I could do it without GTD.

Clearly, having a well-maintained task list is essential to pulling off this kind of cobbled-together professional life. But it’s more than that. At times I can feel how easy it would be to let it get to me. On days when I have meeting after meeting after meeting—and none of them even barely related to the others—it’s tempting to think that if I could just “simplify” life would be a lot easier.

But I think that kind of simplicity is an illusion. In reality, even when I had a 9 to 5 job, I was tugged in different directions all day. Long-range goals, short-term goals, budget meetings, staff meetings, and—oh yeah—I’m the only one who knows how to replace the toner cartridge.

Thinking of my jobs, plus my personal roles, plus my volunteer roles as parts of the same big ball of “work” helps me achieve more than I’d ever thought possible. It’s all the same work. It’s all the same life.

If I were too busy trying to maintain a “work/life balance” I wouldn’t be doing nearly as much, and I wouldn’t be having as much fun with my work as I am.



4 Responses to “It's All Work”

  1. Sterling Noble says:

    Perhaps the alternate vision may help some with work/life balance angst: “It’s all Life, even the Work.”

  2. nuno says:

    great article, thanks Erik!
    somewhat related discussion at the GTD forums: http://www.davidco.com/forum/showthread.php?11728-It-s-all-work-or-is-it

  3. BlueNight says:

    I was angsting about my own habits of procrastination, but this post reminded me that even in my “playing around on the Internet” for six hours a day, I’m seeking something, working at spontaneously experiencing something.

  4. Rafal says:

    By looking at everything as work it’s easier to give commitments the same value.
    It’s not difficult to put things off only because it’s repairing leaking shed or cleaning out the garage.
    When you compere this to write a report or make a clien proposal it’s to say ‘I need to finish that report’.
    When things are equal the balance changes and real decision need to be made.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Leave a Reply