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GTD in a Crisis

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  • GTD in a Crisis

    (I've been thinking about this for a while, but what prompted me to finally get around to writing it up is the Confessions of a GTD failure thread, especially the parts about GTD faltering when things get hectic. It's not really on-topic for that thread, so I launched this one.)

    It's been common in my practice, and I suspect not unknown to others, that when my life enters a 'crisis stage', one of the first things on the chopping block is the usage and maintenance of my GTD systems. This is a bit distressing, so I wanted to analyze it a bit.

    During a crisis, it's often obvious what the next thing to do is. Escape from the burning building, pull the emergency brake, call an ambulance, etc.

    When it's obvious to you what the next thing you need to do is, do you need GTD? Does GTD help you at all? I'm starting to think that maybe it doesn't.

    Indeed, I think this might be a big part of the "addiction to crisis" that some people and some organizations seem to have. Everything becomes simpler and clearer in a crisis. The lack of a tool like GTD hurts less.

    While I'm starting to think GTD isn't helping me in the midst of a crisis, I'm gaining a greater appreciation for GTD surrounding the crisis. Before the crisis, it can help prevent the crisis entirely, build good structures for minimizing the duration and severity of the crisis, and provide an early warning system. After the crisis, it helps with the cleanup, with getting things back to normal, and with examining the situation with an eye towards prevention.

    I'm still thinking this topic over, but it feels like I'm onto something.



    Cheers,
    Roger

  • #2
    re: GTD in a Crisis

    Hi Roger,

    While I agree with you that a crisis helps make priorities clearer (e.g., it's more important to get the kids out of a burning house than your inbox), GTD actually makes dealing with a crisis much easier when it shows up. Over time, GTD creates clean edges that help us know what our work is every day as well as where to find it when we need to be working on it. A crisis merely creates urgency which forces us to be more rigid with our focus and time and to scrap the things we instinctively know we won't be able to get to.

    I felt this the most when finishing my dissertation. Two or three weeks out from the final deadline you realize all of your ideals have to be scrapped and find ways to trim the fat down to the most important elements needed to get the project done by the deadline. The fast approaching deadline creates a "fire drill" of sorts that forces you to someday-maybe everything you're not going to have time to finish and hone in on the things you can.

    Of course it's all relative to the kind of crisis we're faced with. Some crises consist of getting thrown a bundle of undefined work with an immediate deadline, in which case our normal pace of doing GTD (e.g., what is it?, is it an action / project? etc.) has to be put into overdrive. We don't have time to patiently move through getting this project defined and done; we have to define the elements as quickly as possible and get onto cranking out the actions immediately. GTD gives the tools; the nature of the crisis determines the pace. And whatever failure may ensue, GTD (as an approach) is likely better than the kinds of failure experienced with previous systems. That's been my experience, at least.

    Hope this helps.

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    • #3
      You're definitely onto somthing

      "addiction to crisis"!

      Very interesting; thank you for the insight

      Comment


      • #4
        Crises seem to be the only way I can engage with certain tasks that for whatever reason I'm resisting. It's not so much that GTD doesn't help, there's just nothing for it to do once the crisis starts, since my "control yolk" is pressed all the way to the "Runway, Engage" position.

        I wonder if there's a way to precipitate an artificial crisis to get yourself moving on the stuff that your GTD system is telling you you need to be doing now, i.e. before the real crisis arrives? Problem is my brain wouldn't be fooled by anything other than the real thing. At work I keep my team moving by setting and following through on frequent internal deadlines.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by mackiest View Post
          I wonder if there's a way to precipitate an artificial crisis to get yourself moving on the stuff that your GTD system is telling you you need to be doing now, i.e. before the real crisis arrives? Problem is my brain wouldn't be fooled by anything other than the real thing.
          Externalize it. Send cards to friend and foe how important it is for you to get done XYZ at such and such a date. Make deals with your significant other: if I get it done, we are getting ABC if I screw it up, I have to do XYZ for you. Give your nephew a grant and tell him he can keep it if you get the job done on time. There are many variants of this.

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          • #6
            As I thought about this, I realized a distinction is made between crises that occur because of inadequate planning/execution (avoidable crises) and crises that occur mostly because of external, unexpected changes in circumstances (unavoidable crises).

            Pulling from some real-life crises I've seen recently, an avoidable crisis would happen when you realize you forgot to file paperwork to get health insurance and your child is due to be born any minute. An unavoidable crisis would kick into gear when you get a phone call indicating your mother has had a stroke.

            The response in either case is the same - DROP your lists, because the highest priority and the first action in this "project" becomes obvious. Call the insurance company, or go to the hospital to talk to mom and the doctors.

            GTD becomes invaluable in both crises, but for different reasons:

            Avoidable crises: Ideally, with GTD you should be able to see the lay of the land and prioritize well enough to prevent these entirely. In the real world, when you're not a mind-like-water black belt and an avoidable crisis occurs, GTD provides the framework to:
            1. Have the materials you need organized enough to work through it more efficiently and faster.
            2. Allow for you to pick up where you left off after the crisis is finished. Instead of the slightly-confused "now, where was I" feeling, you can simply pick up your next-action list and keep going.
            3. Once you've come through the avoidable crisis, you have the tools to figure out how to prevent it next time - where did the gap occur here? Did you collect something but didn't process it correctly? Did you neglect to do weekly reviews until a project snuck up on you? Is there something that isn't getting checked that should be, and should therefore be included somewhere in your process? Do you need to create a project to maintain or periodically fix whatever it was that broke?

            Unavoidable crises: Having your next actions documented allows you to completely focus on mom. The list will be there when you get back. Sometimes you can literally hand a context list or project folder to someone else to handle until you can recover from the crisis. Without GTD, that wouldn't be possible.

            During any crisis, your ability to effectively process information goes down to zero. I disagree that the next action during a life crisis always obvious. When this happens, continue capturing. I've been there When a medical crisis occurs, all you can do is collect the myriad of instructions, requests, deadlines, notes, and handouts, and though it feels mundane, when you get home and collapse into a chair crying, at least those responsibilities are not swimming around in your head. They are waiting in a notebook for you to read, process, and do WHENEVER YOU'RE READY.

            That's the key for GTD. It stops and starts, but as long as you're somehow using the workflow Allen prescribes, it is helpful. I know business crises feel different from personal ones, but the workflow is the same. Collect, process, organize, review, do. Do what you can, when you can.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by cojo View Post
              As I thought about this, I realized a distinction is made between crises that occur because of inadequate planning/execution (avoidable crises) and crises that occur mostly because of external, unexpected changes in circumstances (unavoidable crises).
              Excellent description of the 2 types of major crises.

              One thing I would add is that GTD can help with the avoidable crises if you use them to develop a checklist for next time. I don't use checklists as much as I should but the ones I do have are extremely valuable.

              GTD also allows you to learn how to triage crises so that you can deal with the most urgent at one time. My unavoidable crises are usually during lambing but I have a checklist of items that I go over so I can determine which sheep needs my assistance now and while it's stressful I can usually manage to cover all the bases, even when they are ewes in labor that need help scattered across the field.

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