Your priorities are determined from the top down—i.e. your purpose and values will drive your vision of the purpose being fulfilled, which will create goals and objectives, which will frame areas of focus and accountability. All of those will generate projects which will require actions to get them done.~ David Allen, from https://gettingthingsdone.com/2018/12/the-gtd-horizons-of-focus-for-determining-your-priorities/
Thinking about one’s purpose is…
Okay, I generally try to dial down my vocabulary in blog posts. Not because I think you, Dear Reader, are dumb; I dial it down because I tend toward prolixity, pontification, posturing, and preaching. Things I’d be better a person if I did less of. But today, I feel irresistibly compelled to trot out vertiginous…
Thinking about one’s purpose is vertiginous. When I sit still—physically and mentally still—as I do quite often, and climb the stairs to the highest view of the farthest horizon, the vertigo is physical. Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of life? …or the hopefully smaller and more tractable: What is my purpose? I have no clear answer to any of those. But I have 100% absolutely for-sure take-it-to-the-bank found something that enables me to continue looking for answers…
Simply sit with the feeling and gaze at that horizon.
If you’re trying to get to the beautiful lake or beach and you’re caught in the weeds, ignoring the weeds and their constraints will produce nothing but desperation and angst. You first need to know what weeds you’re in, and how to get unhooked from them.~ David Allen from, https://gettingthingsdone.com/2018/06/starting-with-where-you-are-not-where-you-should-be/
Of course this insight is blindingly obvious once you see it.
…and I distinctly remember what it was like when I hadn’t yet seen it. I can’t quite put my finger on an exact year, but I remember a feeling—or rather a few feelings and things which kept happening to me:
I was often late.
I was often tired.
I was often bored
…and then suddenly realized I’d forgotten to do something that I had felt was important.
Your freedom will not come from trying to ignore all the “stuff” or by trying to complete everything—it requires truly detaching from it.~ David Allen from, https://gettingthingsdone.com/2018/05/gtd-and-stress/
Detaching from all the stuff is a linchpin behavior for me. Wherever I go, there I find myself; if I want to not be swept away by all the stuff on my mind I have found exactly four things which work:
- Sleeping — This however is cheating. This is being unconscious and is simply a form of escape. Depending on what’s on my mind, and how poorly I’ve physically set myself up, (alcohol, caffeine, food, etc.,) sleep may even not be an option.
- Distraction — Visual entertainment switches off my brain. Movies, streaming TV, etc.. 100% waste of my life… but it’s an escape which does work.
- Focus — I can sweep away the crush of things on my mind if I’m sufficiently focused. Rock climbing, (not just the time literally climbing, but the entire day and experience of it,) is great for this. Lots of other activities indoor, (reading in various mediums and writing,) and outdoor, (walking and biking for example.) This is in fact, still a form of escape from the things on my mind.
- Capture and process — This is the only thing I’ve found which works for me. To be clear, a single idea had in a flash might require two full waking-hours days of capture and processing for me to fully flesh out the idea. If there’s even the slightest nook or cranny left unexplored, my broken mind will snag on that like a nick in a fingernail. Harmless, but very very repetitive redundant and repetitive.
I really hope you have no idea what I’m talking about here. If you do, I offer my sincere condolences.
It is fascinating that whenever two or more are responsible for something, usually nobody is.~ David Allen from, https://gettingthingsdone.com/2017/02/why-things-dont-get-done/
The “doing” is always the easy part. How do you build an awesome wall? You place the first brick, then the next. Placing a brick is easy. The hard part is sitting down and imagining all the things that have to happen first—and realizing that the first step is to search online to find out where I can go look at bricks; Because I need to pick bricks first. I often get pushback when I ask people, “what’s the next action?” or “What’s the first step?” I get pushback because most people aren’t used to thinking about how to do things before they start. I mean really thinking about things, about what’s required to get things done, and what exactly does done look like?
We’ve been trained that if we’re the last one holding the hot potato, we get in trouble at the end. Once I create an environment where responsibility always comes with empowerment, resources, support, and, (if needed,) commiseration, then people can relax and think.
Also, put a date on that next action. No date? No commitment.
The fact that you can’t remember an agreement you made with yourself doesn’t mean that you’re not holding yourself liable for it. Ask any psychologist how much of a sense of past and future that part of your psyche has, the part that was storing the list you dumped: zero. It’s all present tense in there. That means that as soon as you tell yourself that you should do something, if you file it only in your short-term memory, that part of you thinks you should be doing it all the time. And that means that as soon as you’ve given yourself two things to do, and filed them only in your head, you’ve created instant and automatic stress and failure, because you can’t do them both at once, and that (apparently significant) part of you psyche will continue to hold you accountable.~ David Allen, from Getting Things Done
I talk often about David Allen’s, Getting Things Done. It’s one of a few books which I keep extra copies of on hand to give to people. There’s a Wikipedia article, Getting Things Done, but it talks more about it rather than describing what/how to do it.
I recently found a talk given by Allen which has been repurposed as a short podcast; Getting Things Done: 55 – Removing System Drag is well worth the few minutes it takes to listen.
Aside: Learning when and how to “go deep” is an important part of what you gain when you understand GTD. If the thought of spending five minutes listening to someone teach you something abhors you, you may need GTD more than you think. /preaching
If, however, what Allen said interests you, a fellow podcaster named Jey Jeyendran, (of Productivity Heaven,) is working on a mini series of podcasts on Allen’s GTD. They’re bite-sized, inspiring and you should check them out. https://productivity-heaven.simplecast.com.
You can’t fool your mind. It’s an expert on your current personal management system, and it knows whether you can be trusted to look at what you need to at the appropriate time. It knows if you’ve decided what the next action should be. And it knows if there is a reminder of that action placed somewhere you will actually look, when you could possibly take that action. If you have not done any of that, your mind won’t let it go. It can’t. It will endlessly keep trying to remind you of what to remember. The mind is a loyal and dedicated servant, but it needs to be given the jobs it does well–not the ones that it mismanages.~ David Allen, from Ready for Anything
…and yet I try all the time. Fortunately I’ve gotten much better at capturing my thoughts.
The important part, the hard part—one might even say, “the trick”—is to have regular and sufficient time to review all the things I’ve captured. Do I really want to read that book that piqued my interest? Do I really want to try that new recipe I found? Do I really want to go to the trouble of adding that new electric outlet in the dining room?
I see too many people with no way of capturing their thoughts, and I see very few people who have a habit of regularly assessing what they want to be doing.
The fact that you can’t remember an agreement you made with yourself doesn’t mean that you’re not holding yourself liable for it. Ask any psychologist how much of a sense of past and future that part of your psyche has, the part that was storing the list you dumped: zero. It’s all present tense in there. That means that as soon as you tell yourself that you should do something, if you file it only in your short-term memory, that part of you thinks you should be doing it all the time. And that means that as soon as you’ve given yourself two things to do, and filed them only in your head, you’ve created instant and automatic stress and failure, because you can’t do them both at once, and that (apparently significant) part of you psyche will continue to hold you accountable.~ David Allen from, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getting_Things_Done
…yes another quote from the GTD book.
In the first half of my life — say to age 40 — I made a HUGE MISTAKE: I presumed that I had a reasonable understanding of how my brain worked. I don’t mean at a physiology level; I still don’t really understand that. I mean at a day-to-day-doing-stuff, when-I-do-this-then-this-happens, this-is-how-one-lives sort of level. Like how I thought I knew how to use my brain to decide what to eat, what to work on, what to read, what to do with my time . . .
Now why on earth did i think I had any idea?
Seriously: You think of “me” as this “self-thing” located behind your eyes, but that “you” is just “running” in/on your brain. So have you ever tried different ways of running your life? How do you know reading some such book will or won’t change your life? Maybe you should experiment with everything. Try something radical: Pay attention to the results. You’re ALREADY following lots of advice — my advice, your mother’s advice, the TV ads’ advice, your doctor’s advice — but have you ever bothered to figure out what the results are? Then make a deliberate change intended to move you toward a specific goal. Observe results. Then make another change. Then another. And another.
I mean, it’s not like your entire life depends on the choices you … oh wait. *lightbulb*
Most people have been in some version of this mental stress state so consistently, for so long, that they don’t even know they’re in it. Like gravity, it’s ever present — so much so that those who experience it usually aren’t even aware of the pressure. The only time most of them will realize how much tension they’ve been under is when they get rid of it and notice how different they feel. It’s like the constant buzzing noise in a room you didn’t know was there until it stops.~ David Allen from, https://www.librarything.com/work/1844807
The key insight for me was once I realized there are two “directions” to thinking: I was always good at vertical thinking, going down thru a project (big or small), planning, organizing and doing. This was simply “thinking”, and how could there be more than one “direction” in which to think?
Unfortunately, I often got stuck when my brain started doing this other direction of thinking for which I had no name; no concept to attach: The horizontal thinking. The hopping from project to project — and I use “project” in the most broad sense of ANY thing involving a goal (“remodel house”, “send holiday cards”), any size (“seven years of projet management and contractors”, “buy stamps, buy cards, stuff, mail” ), and any number of steps. My mind hopped uncontrollably from thing to thing, around and around, across all the open loops, as the same things came up over and over and over.
These days, having a solid capture and review system enables me to close those mental loops. I can often read for a half an hour without my mind once interrupting me with some random, “I need to do this,” or “I need to remember that,” thought. (And if it does interupt me, I simple capture that thought once. Done. Freedom.) In the beginning I used paper notecards, then notebooks, software, and on and on. The exact system does not matter. It only matters that you trust your system. Only when you truly trust your system will your subconscious close all those open loops.