Every decision we make about what action to take at any point in time is an intuitive risk. I have twenty minutes before my next meeting—should I call Bob, work on chapter eight, or go get Susan’s opinion on the new software?
The over-simplicity of “A, B, C” or “high, medium, low” priorities or daily to-do lists can never really answer that question sufficiently for any of us.
It’s natural to want to create a system for priority coding (like “A, B, C” or the flagging feature in many apps) to tell you the most important things to do. But it’s a short-term insurance policy that won’t give you the trust you need when the time comes to take action.
No matter how organized we get, how squeaky-clean our systems and our processes are, or how current our strategic and tactical planning is, we must ultimately trust our hunches about the best thing for us to do at 10:43am or 3:22pm today. It’s true that we can utilize those prioritizing frameworks to good advantage, from time to time, to help us focus constructively. But to the degree they potentially limit our options unnecessarily and constrict spontaneous, creative thinking that is dynamic to the moment, they do us a disservice.
The vast majority of the coaching and training we do installs a thought process and a good system for clearing the psychic decks, and frames perspective at the appropriate horizons to make good decisions. It never ultimately answers the question—what’s the best thing for me to do right now?
People would often love to be able to give up the non-stop accountability for their intuitive judgment calls about the moment-to-moment allocation of their resources. That’s why the ABC-priority and daily-to-do-list structures have often seemed so attractive as a way to “get a grip.” But reality has a way of requiring us to be more on our toes than that.
So how can we really know for sure what action to take? Prepare for the worst, imagine the best, and shoot down the middle.
Prepare for the worst = Tie up all the loose ends and don’t leave yourself vulnerable to the self-deflation of unclear and un-renegotiated commitments.
Imagine the best = Keep focused on the most positive outcomes and energies you can.
Shoot down the middle = Leap into action!
The GTD methodology we teach doesn’t replace the need for the use of your intelligence in the moment. It just makes the intuitive leaps more a matter of trust than hope.
Trust your own instinct. Your mistakes might as well be your own, instead of someone else’s.
This essay appeared in David Allen’s Productive Living Newsletter. Subscribe for free here.