Car

Personally, I’ve never owned a Honda. I have many friends who own or have owned them, but I haven’t had occasion. But almost without exception, folks I’ve known who have owned them have all shared one common opinion about their cars: you can drive them until the wheels fall off.

When I imagine the ideal GTD implementation, one thing keeps coming back to me – the idea that it works so well, I forget it’s there. If you smelled another car analogy, you’re well on your way to a career in private investigation…

Many (if not most) of us own cars. We get up in the morning, get cleaned up and dolled up, then we stroll merrily out to our vehicle. We hop in, turn the key in the ignition, shift it into gear, and push the gas pedal. Most of us don’t think much about all of the engineering and craftsmanship that went into the various mechanisms and systems that made those things possible. The great part about that? We don’t have to – the hard work has been done by people much smarter than me. The same is true of GTD – David Allen spent nearly two decades (according to the book) fleshing out the various aspects of his methodology. He did the work (and, perhaps more importantly, made the mistakes) so you wouldn’t have to.

The good news is, this type of a high-level, not-worried-about-the-plumbing existence is well within your reach when it comes to GTD. You can operate above your system, sort of like a trapeze artist floats gracefully above his safety net below. He knows it’s there on a subconscious level, but he’s generally more focused on how many mid-air somersaults he needs to do in order to get the crowd on their feet. In my mind, this is the ideal for all GTD practitioners.

Ok, back to the car analogy. Capturing information, processing inputs and reviewing your commitments should be as reflexive as your morning commute. There are really only two instances when you should need to get under the hood and muck around:

  1. “Changing the Oil” – Regular maintenance like your weekly review, The kinds of things that don’t indicate a problem, but keep everything running smoothly. Endeavors such as these, while they can sometimes be an inconvenience, will go a long way toward avoiding things like #2.
  2. When the “Check Engine” light is on – If you car begins to show signs of breaking down, it’s time to dig in and root out the problem. Sometimes this just means a mental sweep – a tune-up, if you will. Or it could mean you need to replace your muffler bearings or get yourself a new rotary girder. The point is this – if your brakes stop working, you don’t just toodle along merrily on your way to the office. Once you manage to stop the car and change into a clean pair of pants, you deal with the problem at hand.

There is also, of course, the period of time spent getting acquainted with your car. For the first week or so after you acquire it, you’ll find yourself driving places you don’t necessarily have to, going the long way to the lemonade stand or just sitting in the car while it’s parked on your driveway. You want to get acquainted with this new “tool” of yours – find out which buttons do what and so forth.

All this cryptic and fanciful talk of cars boils down to the idea that GTD is meant to support you in what you need to do. As long as you perform your regularly-scheduled maintenance, you’re that much closer to the elusive “mind like water”.

Brett Kelly writes computer programs and drinks coffee in southern California. At The Cranking Widgets Blog (RSS), he writes a great deal about GTD, productivity and various other lifehack-y topics. For more interesting and thought-provoking musings about the attitudes and habits that make up GTD, check out his series called “The Mind of GTD”.

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