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GTD’ing the Economy

GTD’ing the Economy

GTD'ing the Economy

    Mark Twain said, “Those of you inclined to worry have the widest selection in history.”

    We live in troubling  times, and it is a sign of Twain’s genius that his statement is as true today as it was a century ago – if not more so. There’s a lot of stuff for the chronic worrier to obsess about: global warming, economic chaos, an ever-widening gap between the very, very rich and everyone else, terrorism, unstable nuclear powers, layoffs across the spectrum of industries, decaying educational standards, and on and on.

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    At times, it’s easy to feel like no matter how neatly you draw up and categorize your to-do lists and your  project files, you are at the mercy of massive forces beyond your control – and that the wolves, so to speak, might be howling at your door at any moment.

    What can keeping your @phone and your @errands lists clearly defined do about that?

    Turns out, quite a bit. What I’m discovering as I press at the bounds of GTD and other productivity ideas in my “Toward a New Vision of Productivity” series (which I’m taking a break from this week in order to refocus – the planned end is out of whack with where the beginning ended up going) is that there’s a quieter aspect of GTD that’s somewhat hidden by the emphasis on action and productivity.

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    What’s got your attention right now?

    The takeaway from GTD for most people is the driving power of the question “What’s the next action?”. Since most people read Getting Things Done hoping for advice in dealing with an overwhelming workload that needs to get handled on a day-to-day basis, this makes sense. People have things to do, and next actions are where the system meets the doing.

    But David Allen doesn’t call GTD a task management system, or a time management system, or an action management system. He calls it a mind management system or, more frequently, an attention management system.

    The whole process of GTD is rooted not in next actions but in attention. Long before you get down to sorting out next actions, Allen has you asking “What’s got my attention right now? What’s on my mind?”

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    I think we just sort of figure that this should mean the projects we’re working on, the tasks that are languishing for lack of time, the dreams we haven’t managed to turn into meaningful action, and so on. What Allen calls “open loops”, all the unfinished stuff that hangs on us like a weight.

    But as we all know, that stuff isn’t always what’s got our attention. In fact, at times, they may be the least likely things to be taking up “cycles” of our “psychic RAM”.

    Fiddling around with day-to-day tasks while worrying about the state of the world isn’t all that productive. For one thing, it’s hard to find satisfaction in compiling sales figures from the Western sales regions for the 2nd quarter of the current fiscal year when the  rumor mill suggests that you and 10,000 of your closest colleagues may be out of a job by the end of the 3rd quarter. At a broader level, retreating into our daily next actions is a recipe for disengagement from the world; a system that only encompasses a part of what really has your attention is a system where you’re only giving productive attention to a small portion of your life – while  the rest languishes.

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    Is this item actionable?

    After emptying our minds of everything that’s taking up mental energy, Allen suggests we ask of each, “Is this item actionable?” This step is often glossed over in the rush to defining next actions – after all, we already know we’ve got stuff to do, right? If we didn’t have a bunch of stuff we needed to take action on, we wouldn’t bother with GTD at all.

    But it’s a powerful question, as much for the things that are not actionable as for those that are. For Allen, conscious decision-making about what, if anything, to do about everything that captures our attention at any given moment is the key to GTD – and beyond that, to happy, productive living. When we’re honest with ourselves and admit that high gas prices, collapsing financial institutions, the security of our retirement funds, the threat of terrorist attack, or whatever other things way outside our sphere of control are taking up a lot of mental real estate, it is important to ask ourselves if there is really anything we could be doing about it.

    Consciously determining that the state of the economy or anything else is not an actionable concern can go a long way towards easing some of the stress and anxiety of living in “interesting” times. It means we give ourselves permission not to worry, which unlocks the power of conscious non-action – recognizing that no action is possible releases us from the frustrated pressure to do something .

    Being honest about what really is occupying our attention has another benefit beyond the power of non-action. It may well be that when we face these nervous-making realities head-on, there actually is some action we could be taking, that the economy is, in some way large or small, actionable. It may be what’s really needed to push us to re-engage with a world that we’re used to experiencing more through the fear factory behind the glass screens of our TV sets than face-to-face.

    With that in mind, next time you do a review – or, if you’re getting started, when you sit down to do your initial mind sweep – muster up the courage to face the biggest problems on your mind. While you might not be able to fix the world’s ills with a task list and 43 folders, you might find that admitting that frees you up to be more productive in the things you can change. And who knows? I mean, at some level, don’t you kind of think that President Obama is just a guy with a tickler file and a project list?

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    Last Updated on September 10, 2019

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

    By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

    Effective Prioritization

    There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

    Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

    The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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    Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

    Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

    If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

    Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

    My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

    I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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    Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

    But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

    The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

    I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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    That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

    You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

    My point is:

    The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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    What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

    And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

    If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

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    Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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