Speeding up by slowing down…

I want to talk about one of the more mysterious best practices in the GTD®methodology: the art of speeding up by slowing down.

I am making the assumption that all of you reading this are on some track of improvement and growth to begin with. I mean, why speed up, instead of slow down, as an end-result? If we were here to merely fulfill entropy, the thicker, duller, slower, and generally more unconscious we became, the more on track we would experience ourselves. I have to admit I do have some component inside of me that seems to align with that—my comedy team of Sloth and Indolence, with their cute little assistant, Gravity. Pretty seductive, especially as I move into my later years, to give in to that siren’s call.

There is a more dynamic and more “real” part of me, though. It is naturally buoyant, has direction, is continually expansive and is in upward movement. The trick is how to maximize my alignment with that. If someone asked me whether I would consider expressing that with more effort instead of less, I would say, no, I’m not interested. (For me, increasing productivity means getting a result with as little effort as possible.) But if what we’re getting to here is how to truly access more and more of that refreshing, rewarding, and fulfilling aspect of ourselves, is “working harder” required to get there…? No.

One of the subtlest ways that positive energy retreats from us is in our busy-ness. Losing perspective in trying to control everything, finish it all, fix it all—all at once. It shows up in ways like practicing Getting Things Done® out of frustration instead of inspiration, or helping yourself and others out of compulsion, not compassion.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned and continually must practice is that in order to really be in control, I must surrender. In the martial arts things must be held lightly. Grabbing too tight, whether it’s my muscles, my ego, my trowel, or my lists of projects and actions, can be dangerous and ultimately ineffective. I must at a moment’s notice be ready to let go, walk away from it all, and do nothing. Nothing at all. As a matter of fact, your ability to do nothing—to be idle, to daydream, to nap peacefully, to give yourself permission for 100% zoning out—is a hallmark of GTD maturity. And if you don’t believe me, just read the plethora of new data from the cognitive scientists about the need for the brain to rest—daily. That’s a bit tough to do, though, unless you’re REALLY onto the GTD game.

–David Allen

This essay appeared in David Allen’s Productive Living Newsletter. Subscribe for free here.


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1 Comment

  1. Hi David, that’s totally true. Before starting my GTD journey I often was running around like a headless chicken, trying to resolve things by speeding up. The result: Three exhausting runs in order to accomplish ONE task.

    Now I just take ONE slow and relaxed walk, but I usually get three or more tasks done.

    What’s the difference? Before doing anything I just mentally check the GTD workflow.

    Does the next action really require a physical action or would a phone call just be fine?

    If a walk really is necessary, what else can be done to get the most out of it?

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