For all of my high-minded pimping of this GTD stuff, I have to admit that I’m still very new to it. The fact is, I only read the book for the first time about 5 months ago and here I am spouting off like I wrote it. Having said all that, I do feel that I’ve got a pretty thorough understanding of how the system should work. Why is that? Well, being the zealot I am for certain things, I wasn’t halfway through the book before I started preaching the truths it contained to friends and family. And, as most folks who have any sort of instructional role in life will tell you, teaching something almost always leads to a clearer, deeper understanding of the subject on the part of the teacher.
So many of you might be thinking to yourself “Sir! I’ve only just read the book! I’m not even consistent with my weekly review!”. Let me tell you a little story that might help assuage your timidity a bit:
My father was a lawyer. And judging by his hourly rate, a pretty good one (though I don’t know from good lawyers, personally). He used to always tell me stories about when he was a student in law school, and there’s one that’s always stuck out in my mind. Apparently it’s fairly common for upper-level law students (or recent graduates) to teach certain introductory courses to other law students, which is what he did. Now, most of the material he would teach he’d either never learned or had learned many years before and mostly forgotten. So to remedy this, he’d read one chapter ahead of the students he was teaching! The beauty of it is that, as far as I know, they never knew the difference.
This isn’t to say that anybody can teach anything if they’re simply good at communicating things in a way that people understand, but possessing that capability certainly helps. Besides, anybody who’s telling others the beauty of GTD will probably begin most of their sentences with “Well, this is explained pretty thoroughly in the book, but…”. No, the real value for you as a teacher of GTD is the “for-instances” you’ll get from your “pupils”. Like, a friend might give you an idea of his and ask you to translate it into a GTD “project” (2 or more physical actions with a well-defined outcome). This has happened to me many, many times. And most of the time, the answer is fairly obvious – but sometimes it isn’t. You’ll actually have to apply what you know about GTD to a foreign situation. And it’s things like that which will give you a clearer understanding of the core principles.
Please understand that I’m not suggesting everybody put down the GTD book and go stand on a street corner with a cardboard sign that reads “Will Manage Projects for Food”. But I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with suggesting GTD to friends and family, or offering to help them out if they have questions about the process. The more experience you have with creating projects and defining outcomes (even if you’re not going to be the one doing the actual work), the better off you’ll be when trying to figure out how to turn that IRS audit notice and Aunt Matilda’s tea invitation into functional projects with executable next actions.
Clearly, the book is the unequivocal authority on GTD, but the knowledge and experience you gain by helping others out will go a long way in augmenting what you learned from the book.
Brett Kelly is a husband, father, computer programmer and coffee snob living in Southern California. Visit his blog, The Cranking Widgets Blog (or subscribe) for more of his wordy insight into GTD and practical productivity tips.