What to do if you're smart and imaginative

David Allen received this email from a student:
I consider myself to be very smart and imaginative. The people that get to know me always have a very good impression of me and have great expectations from me. More importantly, I have a lot of dreams and ideas. But I’m not very practical and everything ends at a theoretical phase. I never have clear objectives and I’m always confused by dozens of thoughts and can’t focus properly on what I do.

Most of the time I feel like I’m wasting my time, and would rather be doing something else. I always feel I ought to organize, so I make a nice, tight schedule. But after a couple of days it’s gone, and I’m back at the beginning.

If I had to describe the last 10 years of my life in a sentence I would say: “I woke up every morning to row in yet another direction.”

I have read your book and tried to apply roughly your technique. I have to admit that it works to some extent, but it did not bring the radical change in my life that I expected.

David replied:
Thank you for reaching out with your email. I empathize with your situation — I’ve been there myself many times in my earlier life.

The best thing to do is to ask yourself, “What do I really want to be experiencing in my life?” And then, when you have that short list in front of you, ask yourself, “What is the most immediate thing I could commit to, that would start to move me in the direction of getting those experiences?”

You may find that the experiences will show up sooner than you think!

I hope that may be of some help to you. And you have my best wishes.

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  1. Hooo, boy – been there, do that!!! I call it the mental magpie mode – the newest shiny thing is grabbing your attention…

    Presuming that you do not have a formal diagnosis of ADD or ADHD, I would tackle this in a slightly different way –

    Even before you address David’s question, I recommend that you make a huge someday/maybe list that not only includes all the someday/maybes (your dreams and ideas) still in your head, but all the ones that you started towards that fizzled. However, make sure that this list is what YOU want(ed) to do, not what someone else is expecting from you – leave those for a separate exercise.

    Once you have that huge someday/maybe list of what you want to do, take a mental break and then tackle David’s first question – what do you really want to be experiencing in your life?

    Take your someday/maybe list and see how many of those items you match in some way or another to the answers to David’s question. Then look at all the items that you could not match to an answer to David’s question. If you have a lot of unmatched items, consider why they are unmatched – you may be missing an answer to David’s question or you may see some other patterns in your behavior. The answers to David’s question become your objectives.

    The other habit to get into is writing your ideas down as they occur to you – I suspect that a lot of the items that seemed to fizzle did so because you jumped on an idea and followed it simply because it was on your mind right then and there and you were afraid you would lose the idea if you did not do something about it RIGHT NOW! If you put each of the ideas on an index card or journal or list as they occur to you, you can then follow them at your leisure or as part of a weekly review (or at least when you are not on a deadline.)

    David introduced this by saying you are a student. As a grown-up gifted/talented student, I can tell you that the feeling you are wasting your time, particularly when you are dealing with class assignments is common, and may very well be accurate. You also may have the additional problem of not having any study skills, simply because you have never needed them to this point – you can pass the class by acing the final without bothering to do the homework. However, in order to get good grades or your degree, you have to learn to grit your teeth and get through all this stuff that seems like a waste of time such as homework. Then you get out in the working world and find out you are still doing things that are a waste of time, only now they are part of your job duties …

    I found that if I made it a point to do all the time wasting stuff that teachers or bosses required of me quickly and also well that I then had time to consider ideas and dreams and even turn them into projects and work on them!

    The answer to your dilemma really does take working on both the big picture and time wasters. Do not try to schedule your time very tightly – give yourself a block of time for routine homework each day, and another block for long term projects (papers, research, class projects – anything with multiple milestones in the project.) While you are in those time blocks, if you have an idea, write it down then and there on a separate card or list and go right back to work – do not chase the idea until you get out of the assignment time blocks unless you have completed your assignments.

    I hope this helps. It will take a while to get there, but it can be done…

  2. Hello,
    I’m not a student anymore (I’m (already!) 38) but I feel the same most of the time.

    What first worked for me is to give up trying to be like everybody’s telling me to be: decide about your life, identify 5 years vision, 1 year objective to move toward the vision, etc. (Altitude stuff in GTD). I’ve understood that being curious is just my way of having fun. So, whatever work I’m doing, I always find the interesting things in it.

    Then, recently (I’ve been doing GTD for 6 years or so, now), I’ve *described me* and the KIND OF things that please me and that I would like to be in. It doesn’t specifically gives me an objective, but it does give me a direction to aim at and the possibility to look aside the path of life for other things.

    If life or work present me some interesting things to do or study, I can quickly check against my values (this is what I identified. Only that, no objective!) and tell to myself: look, this might be interesting, but you’ll drop it sooner or later so just go by and don’t loose your time.

    Of course, if I feel there may be a gem in it for me, I give me permission to dig a bit further with my values in mind. If nothing comes out with respect to my values, I drop it and look for something else further on my current path. If I do find a gem, well, that will influence my path and it will change a bit. So what?

    I’m curious and proud of it! Is it ADD? Frankly, I don’t know. Who cares, I’m happy?!

    (married, 2 kids, house, cat… I am h-a-p-p-y! :-))

  3. I think this is why Napoloen Hill’s Mastermind principle is so important. As visionaries, we need people to help us execute the details.

  4. Reader: I cannot focus.

    DA: What you need to do is focus, and your dreams will come true. Thanks for buying my book!

  5. I read it like this.

    Reader: I cannot focus.

    DA: Here’s a way that works for lots of other people. Good luck, thanks for writing.

    (where’s the invisible book reference?)

  6. Many young people are “crazy makers” (lots of dreams + disorderly implementation). David’s system (“get everything out of your head”) has worked for me. I concentrate on each task without effort, and it has turned my work into pleasure.

    As for beginners…
    I only ‘got’ GTD while reading ‘Ready for Anything’, not the first book. I suppose ‘Ready for Anything’ is better for beginners than ‘GTD-the Big Book’.

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