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GTD? Try WNTGD Instead

GTD? Try WNTGD Instead

I’m amazed at the number of postings and advice articles, let alone pieces of software, that are spawned by the GTD phenomenon. To me, it’s yet another symptom of today’s short-term mentality and our obsession with activity. Getting Things Done is useful, of course. I’m not without sympathy for people with bulging schedules and huge to-do lists, who seek a better way to organize themselves. But I think they would be better advised to turn their attention first to WNTGD: What Needs To Get Done.

It’s so easy to be overwhelmed with long, detailed lists of actions to be dealt with and so have your attention fixed remorselessly on the short-term. Business leaders succumb to this all the time. They obsess about next quarter’s results and targets. It seems that a majority of managers are willing to give up on important, value-creating projects to “make the numbers” for the quarter instead. Some even compromise the long-term health of the business in favor of short-term achievements, as I noted this week in Short-termism, over at Slow Leadership.

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By and large, shareholders get the managers they deserve, and vice versa. Of course, leaders also get the subordinates they deserve. As JKB said in a comment on that same posting:

If the organization promotes and advances those employees who cut corners and don’t spend the time needed to develop long term skills and relationships, then employees, managers and shareholders will feed on the carcass of the company and suck it dry.

But back to Getting Things Done. I’d be prepared to take a sizable bet that most people spend their time doing a whole lot of activities that mean virtually nothing in the longer-term and wider scheme of things. They do them because they’ve always done them—or someone has, and now it’s their turn—or because its assumed those things are needed. And they are so busy doing them that they never manage to take the time to question whether such actions are truly necessary—or even useful.

Most procrastination and anxiety about your task list has the same, simple cause: you don’t want to do whatever it is that you keep putting off. It’s boring, difficult, unpleasant, or just doesn’t seem to have much point. If it were something you were eager to do—something interesting and plainly useful to you—people would have to drag you back from getting started right now. To-do lists and all the rest are mostly a way to help people force themselves to do what they don’t want to do, especially things that don’t seem as if they need to be done anyway.

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Why not slow down and take a little time to see what can be dropped off the list altogether? After all, if you keep putting off those important, long-term projects to spend your time on short-term activities of dubious value to anyone, when will you ever get around to the things that really matter?

There’s the danger. When people feel rushed off their feet, it seems obvious to put off anything that doesn’t have to be done right away. There will always be time to get to those other things later, won’t there? Maybe. But important, long-term matters usually cannot be done in the blink of an eye. They take time to complete: maybe years of it. Suppose that you know you need to improve your qualifications. You’re probably looking at 3 or more years of effort. If you put off starting for a year while you concentrate on less important, short-term activities, it will now be 4 years at least before you can start to get the benefit of a better job or a new career. And so it goes. People put off their dreams and aspirations in favor of . . . what? Minor bits and pieces of administration; organizational tidying and throat clearing; attending pointless meetings; impressing the latest boss; meeting some crazy budget figure dreamed up by someone who simply took last quarter’s results and added 5%; filling in forms that are then filed and forgotten.

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If you truly want to spend your time getting the important things done in your life, remember WNTGD, and ask yourself What Needs To Get Done? Take a long-term view and concentrate first (and exclusively, if you can) on what will bring you, your customers, or your organization real and lasting value. Then focus on that and drop as much as you can of all the short-term, itsy-bitsy, meaningless stuff. You won’t miss it . . . and nor will anyone else, once they’ve got over their horror that form FR678/3/45 hasn’t been completed (if they can remember why it’s there anyway). A good 50% or more meetings have no good reason for taking place, and probably 90% of PowerPoint presentations would be best filed in the wastebasket instead of being shown. Statistical returns have a habit of multiplying faster than rabbits . . . and they are much less cute.

Turn your eyes firmly away from what is short-term and supposedly urgent, though not important, and fix them instead of whatever is really important, even if it doesn’t seem urgent. Only then will whatever you get done actually be worth doing.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his posts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership.

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Last Updated on December 30, 2018

How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic Throughout the Day

How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic Throughout the Day

This article is the 2nd in the 6-part series, Lifehack Challenge: Become An Early Riser In 5 Days.

If you’d like to become an early riser, there are some things you should know before you run off to set your oft-ignored alarm clock.

So how to become an early riser?

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Here are five tips I’ve discovered to be most helpful in making the transition from erratic sleeper to early morning wizard:

1. Choose to get up before you go to sleep

You’re not very good at making decisions when you’ve just woken up. You were in the middle of a dream in which [insert celebrity crush of choice here] is serving you breakfast in bed only to be rudely awakened by the harsh tones of your alarm clock. You’re frustrated, angry, confused, and surprised. This is not the time to be making decisions about whether or not you should stay in bed! And yet, most of us leave the first decision of our day to be made in a blur of partial wakefulness.

No more! If you want to be a consistently early riser, try making your decision to rise at a specific time before you go to sleep the night before. This frees you from making the decision in the morning when you’ve just woken up. Instead of making a decision, you have only to follow through on your decision from the night before. Easier said than done? Of course. But only for the first few times. Eventually your need for raw willpower to get out of bed will diminish and you’ll be the proud parent of a new habit!

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Steve Pavlina suggests you practice getting out of bed during the day[1] to get a few of the “practice sessions” out of the way without the early morning fog in your head.

2. Have a plan for your extra time

Let’s say you’ve actually made it out of bed 2 hours before you normally would. Now what? What are you going to do with all this time you’ve discovered in your day? If you don’t have something planned to do with your extra time, you risk falling for the temptation of a “morning nap” that wipes out all the work you put into getting up.

What to do? Before you go to bed, make a quick note of what you’d like to get done during your extra hours the following day. Do you have a book to write, paper to read, or garage to clean? Make a plan for your early hours and you’ll do more than protect yourself from backsliding into bed. You’ll get things done and those results will fuel your desire to build rising early into a habit!

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3. Make rising early a social activity

While there’s obvious value in joining a Lifehack Challenge in order to get you started as an early riser, your internet buddies just don’t have enough pull to make your new habit stick in the long term. The same cannot be said for the people you spend time with as part of your early morning routine.

Sure, you could choose to read blogs for two hours every morning. But wouldn’t it be great to join an early breakfast club, running group, or play chess in the park at 5am? The more people you get involved in making your new habit a daily part of your life, the easier it’ll be to succeed.

4. Don’t use an alarm that makes you angry

If we’re all wired differently, why do we all insist on torturing ourselves with the same sort of alarm each morning? I spent years trying to wake up before my alarm went off so I wouldn’t have to hear it. I got pretty good, too. Then I started using a cellphone as my alarm clock and quickly realized that different ring tones irritated me less but worked just as well to wake me up. I now use the ring tone alarm as a back up for my bedside lamp plugged in to a timer.

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When the bright light doesn’t work, the cellphone picks up the slack and I wake up on time. The lesson learned? Experiment a bit and see what works best for you. Light, sound, smells, temperature, or even some contraption that dumps water on you might be more pleasant than your old alarm clock. Give something new a try!

5. Get your blood flowing right after waking

If you don’t have a neighbor you can pick fights with at 5am you’ll have to settle with a more mundane exercise. It doesn’t take much to get your blood flowing and chase the sleep from your head. Just pick something you don’t mind doing and go through the motions until your heart rate is up. Jumping rope, push-ups, crunches, or a few minutes of yoga are typically enough to do the trick. (Just don’t do anything your doctor hasn’t approved.)

If you live in a beautiful part of the world like me, you might want to use a bit of your early morning to go for a walk and enjoy the beauty of the world around you. If you have a coffee shop open within walking distance, dragging yourself out of bed for a cup of coffee to savor on your walk home as the world wakes around you is a wonderful experience. Try it!

More Resources for an Energetic Morning

Featured photo credit: Frank Vex via unsplash.com

Reference

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