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  • The GTD perspective on "Saying Yes to Mess"?

    Have just finished listening to a BBC World Service programme on the "anti anti mess" movement and the idea that accepting mess and disorder can enhance our creativity and by extension our productivity.

    Here's an article from the New York Times:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/21/ga...=5088&partner=...

    I'm not sure about this and suspect its just an excuse for procastrination.

    I know the often repeated mantra that one of the ways GTD can benefit creativity is by giving you time to focus on creative processes and clearing your mind of other things.

    However, I do get frustrated that the GTD processes don't sometimes help me get to the crux of things sooner. I think it might be something to do with facing the emotional element of work. Sometimes certain amount of stress and frustration can sometimes lead to breakthough, while GTD can lead to a rather mechanical process.

    I also know some very creative and productive people (productive in a creative and innovative way) that would never get involved in anything like GTD. My mother is an example.

    I am anti-mess/clutter by innate personality reasons and not because of GTD. Which leads me to wonder - are there any GTDers out there who tolerate a certain amount of creative mess and clutter and if so how do you reconcile this with GTD which is a ordered system with everything "having a place and everything in its place"?

    And what do you think of this "anti anti mess" reaction/movement?

  • #2
    I think it's a false dichotomy, manufactured because the author had a deadline and needed to write something. Maybe if her office were neater, she'd be able to find her idea notebook...

    I think you have to differentiate between the kind of clutter that indicates things are happening, and the kind that makes it impossible to get anything done. It's true that when I'm in the middle of cooking a big meal, my kitchen is a mess. But it's also true that it's dangerous to leave sharp knives lying around, and that an unwashed cutting board is a food poisoning disaster waiting to happen. Similarly, my notes for a big project can be a gloriously messy riot of colors, doodles, different sizes and shapes of paper, and so forth. But all of that creative thinking is wasted if I can't find it when I need it.

    As in many things, the balance lies somewhere in the middle.

    Katherine

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by kewms View Post
      I think it's a false dichotomy, manufactured because the author had a deadline and needed to write something. Maybe if her office were neater, she'd be able to find her idea notebook...

      I think you have to differentiate between the kind of clutter that indicates things are happening, and the kind that makes it impossible to get anything done. It's true that when I'm in the middle of cooking a big meal, my kitchen is a mess. But it's also true that it's dangerous to leave sharp knives lying around, and that an unwashed cutting board is a food poisoning disaster waiting to happen. Similarly, my notes for a big project can be a gloriously messy riot of colors, doodles, different sizes and shapes of paper, and so forth. But all of that creative thinking is wasted if I can't find it when I need it.

      As in many things, the balance lies somewhere in the middle.

      Katherine
      I agree. A balance is required.

      I think I am sometimes too focussed on order to the point where it is a way of procastrinating. DA gave a very good example of how procastrination can work in one of his recent podcasts. He jokingly said if his house looks absolutely fantastic then its a sure sign that something really important is not getting done. One could probably say that about my very ordered house and office.

      Perhaps a better questions would be: How do people manage to differentiate between tidying and ordering that needs to be done and tidying and ordering that's just procastination?

      Comment


      • #4
        Awesome post, tominperu. I recently read that article as well.

        I've realized that sometimes I feel less able to be productive because I feel like EVERYTHING has to be in perfect order before I DO stuff... this often leads me to DOing very little. Obviously being able to accept "mess" to a certain degree would help me, I suppose.

        Keep the thoughts on this coming, I look forward to everyone's insight.

        Comment


        • #5
          It is wonderful to forgive oneself for having a mess. This is similar to the first step in addiction recovery: recognizing the addiction and forgiving oneself for getting addicted.

          But there's a big difference between forgiving oneself for having an addiction, and allowing that addiction to continue in one's life.

          I completely agree with Katherine's post.

          Comment


          • #6
            Very interesting topic. The Times article refers to the recent book "A Fine Mess" by authors Abrahamson and Freedman. Although it argues for "messiness", to be fair ,the book does differentiate garden variety messiness from pathalogical messiness (an illness that would potentially need a recovery program). And that may talk to the paradox often mentioned that you need structure to be creative. That's where GTD should come in. Also, in David's case, in GTD fast tapes he talks about the need to use mind mapping (a structure) or some form like that to facilitate creative brainstorming sessions as very few people other than Indian mystics can manage that type of mental focus for any usefull length of time.

            But David says don't narrow your reticular activating filters (translate-keep an open mind) or you won't see the blue in the room here.

            One of the "Fine Mess" book's core ideas is the concept of "stochastic resonance" or the fact that "random noise" in a signal many times can have a positive impact on that signal in quality and information content. Ex,: Fleming's messy (noise) desk yields high quality information (penicillin) to oversimplify that one.

            And to paraphrase the authors - If a messy desk is a sign of a messy mind then what can we say about an empty desk? Can this all be the evil twin of mind like water?

            There's even more about all this in another book called "Noise" by Bart Kosko who also wrote "Fuzzy Thinking"
            From that book: Noise is good........-"Much as random raindrops can help calm a rough sea" (another analogy on stochastic resonance).

            Bottom line for me is that I need the structure of GTD to keep my messiness on this side of chaos so I'm taking the middle of the road. But the info is very interesting.

            Comment


            • #7
              Very interesting topic. The Times article refers to the recent book "A Fine Mess" by authors Abrahamson and Freedman. Although it argues for "messiness", to be fair ,the book does differentiate garden variety messiness from pathalogical messiness (an illness that would potentially need a recovery program). And that may talk to the paradox often mentioned that you need structure to be creative. That's where GTD should come in. Also, in David's case, in GTD fast tapes he talks about the need to use mind mapping (a structure) or some form like that to facilitate creative brainstorming sessions as very few people other than Indian mystics can manage that type of mental focus for any usefull length of time.

              But David says don't narrow your reticular activating filters (translate-keep an open mind) or you won't see the blue in the room here.

              One of the "Fine Mess" book's core ideas is the concept of "stochastic resonance" or the fact that "random noise" in a signal many times can have a positive impact on that signal in quality and information content. Ex,: Fleming's messy (noise) desk yields high quality information (penicillin) to oversimplify that one.

              And to paraphrase the authors - If a messy desk is a sign of a messy mind then what can we say about an empty desk? Can this all be the evil twin of mind like water?

              There's even more about all this in another book called "Noise" by Bart Kosko who also wrote "Fuzzy Thinking"
              From that book: Noise is good........-"Much as random raindrops can help calm a rough sea" (another analogy on stochastic resonance).

              Bottom line for me is that I need the structure of GTD to keep my messiness on this side of chaos so I'm taking the middle of the road. But the info is very interesting.

              Comment


              • #8
                appologies for the double posting to all - I'm a total luddite.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Great thread

                  Great thread, tominperu. I'd not read that article, and I think I'll pass it on to my colleagues here, because everyone will have an opinion on it (disclosure: I'm a professional organiser).

                  The 'procrastination' tidying you refer to is displacement activity, and it's exceedingly common. Look at just about any university student around exam time. It's just an outward expression of an inward anxiety: we feel our world is slipping out of control, and it's emotionally uncomfortable for us to tackle what's making us anxious, so we try to assert control in some other area.

                  As for working out which is necessary order and which is procrastination, I think we determine that from how we feel. If we feel that we're on top of all our projects, and we do something non-crucial that's been niggling for a while, that's normal. If we suddenly get an overwhelming urge to tidy and catalogue the saucepan cupboard, or flee from the office and spend 6 hours digging stones out of the gaps in the paving, that's probably procrastination.

                  I think the authors who wrote that book are making several logical errors. First, they're using one example and claiming that that proves the rule, as when they used Fleming to suggest that mess is more creative. I think, if they did even a cursory survey of biological and chemical researchers, the ones with mouldy petri dishes on their desks and no cataloguing would not necessarily be the most productive.

                  Second, they're claiming that order == constraint == crippling. Yes, order imposes a constraint. But in most cases, most of the time, it's a constraint we need. We're not constraining our creativity, which is what they claim. That's an old canard.

                  And from personal observation, I disagree with their postulate in general. Most of my clients are people who have become overwhelmed by parts of their work or personal life, and have withdrawn their tentacles, in a sense, so they no longer control the mess. Once we start to sort through it, and begin to get them organised, aware of all their committments and in control of their lives, they feel much better. The mess is simply blocking them from making any progress whatever.

                  I'd say that there are people who use systems that appear unorganised, to us. These are the ones who function well but look messy. There are others who do well enough, but could do much better with a good system. And there are those who are really struggling, but still want to feel superior to someone, so they denigrate 'organised people' as those who have each cornflake individually labelled and won't have a conversation without a signed waiver in triplicate.

                  Yes, putting GTD in place, getting organised, clearing physical and mental clutter, are all challenging. They can be unpleasant. But the end result, a workable, dead simple, stress-relieving, system, is well worth it. I can't say I'm there yet, but at least I've had some of that glorious feeling of freedom and creativity that comes from being totally on top of everything.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Constant View Post
                    And to paraphrase the authors - If a messy desk is a sign of a messy mind then what can we say about an empty desk? Can this all be the evil twin of mind like water?
                    But an organized person does not work at a total empty desk. They work on a clear desk with just one project laid out on it. Therefore, they do not have an empty mind but a very focused mind.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      For me...

                      Personally, I have had to loosen my grip on trying to maintain complete neat-ness while being productive. I have learned that when I allow a little messiness that the need for perfection releases me emotionally to hunker down and GTD.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Max View Post
                        But an organized person does not work at a total empty desk. They work on a clear desk with just one project laid out on it. Therefore, they do not have an empty mind but a very focused mind.
                        No argument there Max. But maybe in this case the book's authors are just trying to stimulate us into seeing their ideas on the hidden benefits in disorder, and the empty desk-empty mind (originally Einstein's I believe) quote serves as a vehicle to do that. This won't impact my enthusiasm for structure like GTD. Without it I wouldn't have the time to read books on Messes.
                        Having said that, a lot of the ideas they're presenting seem to have validity in biology and physics where in many cases noise(= disorder or mess) acutually improves the quality of information/signals (even in our brain processes for ex.), so I found the book very interesting food for thought.

                        Excuse me while I toss some files around.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Really interesting!

                          Fantastically interesting and insightful responses.

                          I look forward to reading the article again at the weekend when I have more time, and thinking of something intelligent to add to rival the responses so far, though that might be difficult...

                          Noone can say GTDers have closed minds!
                          Last edited by tominperu; 01-31-2007, 05:59 AM.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            If someone has a messy office and knows where everything is, and can work with it, that's fine by me. But when I have a messy office (and believe me I can do mess), I can't find anything. As a result I spent tens of minutes or even hours wasting time trying to find important documents. The authors of that article can't tell me that is an efficient use of my time.

                            It has just taken me 3 weeks to find one particular chart I needed for a lecture today. It's out of print and can't be found on the web. Unfortunately the cupboard I found it in is number 3 on the list of remaining cupboards to purge and organise, and it was in a folder I haven't used for about 5 years!

                            On the other hand, since starting GTD I can see the top of my desk and am orgnised enough to turn up at meetings with the correct set of minutes. Tidyness rules! and thank you David Allen and GTD for brining some sanity into my life

                            Ruth

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Mess can be order...

                              Originally posted by RuthMcT View Post
                              If someone has a messy office and knows where everything is, and can work with it, that's fine by me. But when I have a messy office (and believe me I can do mess), I can't find anything. As a result I spent tens of minutes or even hours wasting time trying to find important documents. The authors of that article can't tell me that is an efficient use of my time.
                              I'm the same. I get very tetchy when the mess mounts up, because I can't find things. It happens when I let my system slide, so I try not to do that. Can't say I'm perfect, or even close, but at least I've come a long way from where I started.

                              I read a great book that's related to this idea recently. It's called "Conquering Chronic Disorganization", and it's written by Judith Kolberg (I think). She's a professional organiser in the southern states somewhere (Georgia?), and she talks about some of the work she's done with people who just can't get organised.

                              The problem is that some people think differently: they process information in a different way, and their memory/mental storage is keyed in a different way. Most of us are primarily visual, but some are not.

                              So, for instance, people who are spatial thinkers will look for something where they remembered it, not by the memory of seeing it, but the memory of where it was placed in relation to themselves. People who are primarily auditory will remember conversations, meetings, and tones of voice, but not reading minutes.

                              I'm describing this extraordinarily badly, but it was quite a mini-revelation for me. It was also the source of several good alternatives for bits of my system, and the book which convinced me that we don't have to be too serious about our filing categories (amongst other things).

                              One great example was a guy who'd had a head injury and lost his ability to visually categorise (this gets into Oliver Sachs territory). His garage was a total mess, because he had to spread everything out on the floor to allow him to find things by touch. Her answer, which was great, was to put it all on a small-weave fishing net and suspend it from the roof, so it could be lowered when he needed to find stuff. Two painted shadow boards took care of the hand tools.

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