Advertising
Advertising

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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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?”

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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?

    More by this author

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques Back to Basics: Capture Your Ideas The Science of Setting Goals (And Its Effect on Your Brain) Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide) The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    Trending in Featured

    1 How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques 2 How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life 3 How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone 4 Back to Basics: Capture Your Ideas 5 How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways to Try Now

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on March 25, 2020

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes effectively.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

    Advertising

    1. Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    2. Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    3. Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    4. Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    5. Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

    Advertising

    6. Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    7. Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    8. Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

    Advertising

    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

    Advertising

    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More Note-Taking Tips

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

    Read Next