Consistent, Current and Context-driven

The podcast episode, Consistent, Current and Context-driven, is a scant 5 minutes and 43 seconds long. You’ll probably want to pause and take some notes. After it widens your eyes, go revisit your copy of Getting Things Done—or omgbecky buy a copy, …how do you not own a copy?

Everything I have ever accomplished is because I have systems within which I can think and operate; our brains are for having ideas, not for remembering things [such as: to-do lists, dates, reminders, etc.]

slip:4c2ge2a.

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Not grinding away

Critically, as Gribbin’s explains, during this period Galileo was also occupied in part by his success in “leading a full and happy life,” in which “he studied literature and poetry, attended the theatre regularly, and continued to play the lute to a high standard.” He was not, in other words, locked up, grinding away in relentless pursuit of results. Yet results are what he did ultimately produce.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2021/07/21/on-pace-and-productivity/

Everything wears down, wears out, and wears away. The light that burns twice as bright, lasts half as long. There are cautionary tales about the hedonic treadmill. The tortoise and the hare. The ant versus the oxen; I’ve always liked that aphorism from Lao Tzu.

Let’s grant that the ant walks a great distance, removes debris from the colony, and collects food for 10 ants. Meanwhile, the ox accomplishes nothing. But when he awakes refreshed from his nap, he can plow a field in a few hours. For comparison, how long will it take the ant to plow the field?

I’ve always liked that aphorism from Lao Tzu: It reminds me to always be the dozing Ox.

I am frequently asking myself two questions:

What would world-class look like?

Is this thing I just did world-class?

I may fall short— honestly I think I always fall short of executing world-class. That does not mean I stop asking those questions. That does not mean I stop trying. The mantra is not, “do more!” It’s not, “hurry up!” I am not alone in this thinking:

The constructive evaluation of activities, asset allocations, communications, policies, and procedures against purposes and intended outcomes has become increasingly critical for every organization I know of. The challenges to our companies continue to mount, with pressures coming these days from globalization, competition, technology, shifting markets, erratic economic swings, and raised standards of performance and production, making outcome/action thinking a required twenty-first-century behavior.

“What do you want to have happen in this meeting?” “What is the purpose of this form?” “What would the ideal person for this job be able to do?” “What do we want to accomplish with this software?” These and a multitude of other, similar questions are still sorely lacking in many quarters. There’s plenty of talk in the big meetings that sounds good, but learning to ask, “Why are we doing this?” and “What will it look like when it’s done successfully?” and to apply the answers at the day-to-day, operational level—that will create profound results.

~ David Allen, p272, Getting Things Done circa 1989

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Horizons of focus

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.

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Start where you are

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.
Chaos.
Disorder.

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Wherever I go

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Distraction — Visual entertainment switches off my brain. Movies, streaming TV, etc.. 100% waste of my life… but it’s an escape which does work.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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What’s next?

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.

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Getting things done

GTD

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.

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You can’t fool your mind

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.

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No instruction manual

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*

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