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Trapeze Artists, A Japanese Sedan and Achieving GTD Nirvana

Trapeze Artists, A Japanese Sedan and Achieving GTD Nirvana
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…

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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.

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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.

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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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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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