Keeping the Runway Clear

David Allen refers to your day-to-day Calendar and Action choices as the “Runway.” In the Horizons of Focus model, covered in Getting Things Done and more extensively in Making It All Work, it’s the ground floor:

  • 50,000 – Purpose
  • 40,000 – Vision
  • 30,000 – Goals
  • 20,000 – Responsibilities
  • 10,000 – Projects
  • Runway – Calendar & Actions

We got a letter from Mike who has been reading the Getting Things Done book and shared his experience with us of what David’s means by “keeping the runway clear.”

A few years ago, I took some classes in New York. A guy came in who had just finished a book on The Beatles–Bob Spitz. He talked to the class for maybe an hour or so about his writing. He managed a big name rock star band then wrote for Rolling Stone. One of the things that has stuck with me, these past few years, is that he said that he always needed the house to be clean before he could write. He said he’d Spic-n-Span the whole house/apartment/condo (whatever he had) before he’d write a word.

This comes to mind today because Chapter 9 goes back to the basics. David mentions Chapter 2 at least a couple times, so this is a “don’t forget” chapter. Specifically: don’t forget to keep the runway clear. For Bob, his runway was having nothing in his writing area that he could possibly construe as out of place. In fact, I’ve heard about a lot of writers that need everything clean before they write. At first, I thought the writer was always Bob, but it turns out that tidiness is an important state that keeps a lot of people from distraction.

I did my own cleaning today. I did in just a couple hours, what I haven’t been able to do in the past month: clear out all the junk from my ski trip and clearing a spot in the basement to write. I focused first on the end result; I need a clean area to write. Then I thought about what that clean area would be like. I decided that I needed a table, chair, and a computer. Moving my desktop seemed like a serious hassle, so I decided that my laptop would do fine. Once I knew what I wanted, it was easy to push aside what I didn’t need and set up a nice writing area.

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  1. I agree with the “Runway Concept” I’ve been applying the GTD principles for two + years and I must say GTD has keep me focused on what really matters. I like the idea of “Keeping the Runway Clear”. The GTD software has been a blessing, prior to reading the book and adding GTD to Outlook I feel in control of the moment and future. Sharing personal experiences helps to reinforce these principles. If you’ve never tried the software add-in for Outlook, you are really missing out on an excellent time management tool.

  2. As a writer, I have never found that a clear desk, or room, has any impact whatsoever. I recently finished a chapter to be published in an academic book. I angsted over it for months, really for almost a year. I had piles of literature to skim and reference, piles becoming boxes scattered around. And then, bang, without rhyme or reason, I started writing. I worked for days, and most of the time I was in that wonderful state of flow, oblivious to anything that might be considered a potential distractor. It is usually like this. When I move into my most productive, prolific, moments, the needed organization is in my mind. I think what this means is that I am writing non-consciously, long before I am in fact writing, so when I finally sit down and focus, giving myself that green light “GO,” a great deal is already written and spills out easily. Using GTD, always running in the background, allows me to worry less about what I am not doing. When I’m finished writing I am able to easily pick up the pieces. My main point here is that the physical environment, the order or disorder around me, seems to be entirely disconnected from my ability to work effectively. I literally block things out of my line of vision, I don’t even register “disorder” when I am really working.

    Interesting how we are all wired so uniquely, what is soothing to one person’s brain differs from what is soothing to someone else. Even our tastes in music, what instrument we love to hear, is part of what we call individual differences. Sam Gosling wrote a terrific new book “Snoop” about personality and personality differences. I recommend it.

  3. My take on purpose vs. vision is that purpose is “why,” and vision is “what does that look like when it’s functioning best?”

    For example:

    purpose: I love to serve others
    vision: I give of my time in ways that bring joy to others and myself

    purpose: I am married so I can enjoy the company of my wife and serve her
    vision: I daily provide comfort and blessings to my wife, and she is my partner in every major area of my life

    I’m not sure I’ve “got it,” but breaking those two up like that has shed some light on why I do what I do.

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