Productive Living
David Allen

Hi Folks,

Defining what you are not doing is as important as knowing what you are doing for stress-free productivity. Having things you've told yourself to do (implicit agreements with yourself), still undone, can be deadly to your confidence and energy if they are not appropriately managed by constant renegotiation with yourself. My essay this month talks about the wisdom of "the way out is through." I hope it gives you some good direction on dealing with what may be dragging on your psyche and systems.

All the best,

David

DAVID'S FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The way out is through

The heat is on. I've been noticing that the stress factor at senior levels in organizations is increasing. My coaching with executives lately has uncovered an increasing number of agreements that are real, but largely not consciously acknowledged or kept. We're giving ourselves so much to do, and we're taking on so much of what we expect others are expecting of us, that it would be virtually impossible to do even a portion of what's on our plates.

Most of you reading this don't even have time to finish to perfection your current set of projects, even if you stopped the world from giving you anything new, and you had several months or even years within which to do them.

It's strange, but I work with people to define the work they are not doing. Unfortunately the resulting ambiguity of just halfway assuming responsibilities and commitments with ourselves and others, or just halfway clarifying and understanding what they mean and what needs to be done about them, won't cut the pressure in half—it doubles it! So much of what people are feeling these days is the pressure to get things done, but there is universal resistance to defining precisely what that commitment and that work is. We have to really focus and think (which requires energy often in short supply) to clarify and define the outcomes and actions needed, on each and every thing that we might need or want to do.

You can only do one thing at a time, so at any point in time there is going to be a huge backlog of "work." Much of what we must do, to gain comfort and control in our knowledge-worker worlds these days, is clarifying what all that work is, objectively, in a format that provides an easy overview. We must continually renegotiate those commitments with ourselves and with others; and that's impossible to do, unless they're captured, clarified, and organized in some systematic way outside our psyche.

There's an old Gestalt theorem—the way out is through. Defining what we could do, and what we are doing right now instead—managing the triage strategically with ourselves and others, is a key component of managing ourselves and our workflow these days. You can only feel good about what you're not doing when you know what you're not doing. We have to loosen the grip of unclear agreements with ourselves to be free to follow our intuitive hunches and creative focus.

There is no catching up. There is only catching on.

 

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"The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking one's self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous."

—Margot Fonteyn

 

Q&A WITH DAVID

Q: How can I avoid feeling stressed and frustrated?

A: Clarify what your desired outcome is, what the next action required to move it forward is (and who's going to do it); and evaluate those commitments consistently within your total context of commitments about work and life. My article on the Levels of Your Work is a great place to understand where your work shows up so you can start to get some control & perspective.

 
 
 
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