If you’re not willing to commit to keeping your head completely empty, it’s not worth trying to make any “personal management system” work. Give it up. Don’t kid yourself. Throw your productivity tools away.
OK, I’m becoming more direct and succinct. (At 72 I think that serves us both, and I choose not to beat around the bush.) But I’m also getting a bit bored with people half-heartedly attempting half-implemented solutions as they attempt to do “just a part of” GTD and complaining about it “not sticking” with them. Now, a partial engagement with this methodology won’t really hurt (and can create some minor wins), but it produces such a minuscule fraction of the value possible if you go all the way. People who say they are “doing GTD” are still showing me half-filled-out lists of still-undecided stuff in their system. They may have a few folders set up, a couple of next-action lists; but a majority of their stuff is still scattered from tables to briefcases to kitchen drawers to their heads—all un-retrievable in any consistent fashion.
Stop complaining about your stress and your overwhelm! Look outside—the universe is not stress-out or confused. It’s fine. It’s only the way we are engaged with it that creates our negative reactions. GTD is the process we’ve uncovered that creates appropriate engagement. What you’re dealing with at hand may not be easy or fun, but being in the driver’s seat about it moves that experience to a much more mature and effective level. But If you’re not willing to make this process really work, 100%, don’t tire yourself with the pretenses of half-baked solutions. They just add insult to injury, and quite frankly, may not be worth the energy to continue.
It’s like trying to keep air in only three tires on your car. Hello. IT WON’T DRIVE WITHOUT THEM ALL! If you’re going to flop along anyway, don’t waste your energy trying to keep just a couple in good shape.
Either your head is the place to keep track of stuff, or it’s not. You’d have a hard time intellectually justifying something in-between. If you use a calendar at all, you’ve already admitted you need external support to manage your life.
But, hey, why not? Just keep it all in your head, throw away your calendar, and trust that you’ll have what you need for information and perspective whenever you need it. If you had the guts to really do that, 100%, it might work. I might actually try that some day. Until then I will be responsible to the creative process that I’m born with, frequently makng agreements with myself and others that I need to define, clarify, track, and renegotiate regularly, to get off my own back and to make meaningful things happen.
But, if there’s only part of all this in your system and only a part in your head, you won’t trust either place to give you appropriate guidance. You’ll be driven in your choices of what to do by simply the latest and loudest things in your psyche. Good luck.
OK, I admit it—I’m just projecting some of my own frustrations with the resistance to full-out execution of the Getting Things Done process that I have encountered with so many people, and the unfortunate give-up energy I have seen from people who “fell off the wagon.” Don’t take me too seriously. Most people haven’t really had the game defined so they could see how the partial solutions are no solution. But if you have…
Give yourself a break. If you’re going to play this game the way you are trying to play it, you’d better really play it.
Write it down. Anything, everything. Decide what your intention is about it, and what the next step would be. Do the action, delegate the action, or defer the action to your list of optional things to do. Look at all that regularly. Be conscious about what you’re doing, and what you’re not. Get free. You should be focusing all your energy on bigger issues, greater joy, and more expanded opportunities.
Thanks for listening.
This essay appeared in David Allen’s Productive Living Newsletter. Subscribe for free here.