Winning The Un-Winnable Game with GTD - Next Action Associates

“When you know what you’re doing, efficiency and style are your only improvement opportunities.”

-David Allen

SurfingIn my early twenties, I took up surfing. At first, I approached it competitively. After countless wipeouts, I began to realise that the ocean would always beat me. I would always wash up on shore, fatigued. But there was a certain fatigue of satisfaction that came from having caught some good waves, and this was a delicious feeling.

There were also markers along the way that I was improving–from that first moment standing up on the board in white water, to sliding down the glassy face of a perfect blue wave. There were bigger waves and longer rides. So, I could “win” at something un-winnable. The prize was my own greater confidence, skill, and sheer enjoyment.

In life, there will always be more to do and achieve–projects and tasks ranging from the inspired to the mundane. The waves keep rolling in. How I ride those waves has a lot to do with whether I come home tired and satisfied, or simply tired. Applying the Getting Things Done® (GTD®) methodology to my life is one way that I feel I can start to gain the satisfaction of winning at that un-winnable game.

Now more than twelve years on in my adoption of GTD, that process is constantly evolving for me as well. However, there are also various markers along the way that I am “winning” the prize of greater confidence, skill, and enjoyment in relation to that progression. Here are five of them, in order of how they showed up for me.

Inbox zero is equivalent to the first time you stand up on the surfboard. Once you have tasted it, you invariably want more. On bigger waves. For longer. At Next Action Associates, we have coached people with tens of thousands of emails all the way to this zero state, in surprisingly less time than you might think it could take. This is the first taste of freedom.

Stop working out of your inbox. You can do it. The GTD methodology creates a system you can trust as the basis for all your reminders that is not your email (or physical) inbox. Many people are so accustomed to having the inbox collection point be the only place they trust that making the shift can take a small leap of faith. Getting to inbox zero means transferring the un-clarified accumulations of your inbox into clarified projects and actions. The next stage is working from that clarified system.

Regular weekly reviews are a key ingredient to building trust in that system. They give you the perspective you need to know that everything you care about is in there, up-to-date, moving forward in appropriate ways. Even a thirty-minute stint where you just scan project and action lists, look up and down your calendar, tidy up a bit and spot a few fires breaking out can make a big difference to your sense of perspective. Making this a habit means you’re serious about doing GTD.

A thorough weekly review is best done using the Weekly Review Checklist, available in the laminated GTD System Guide cards that we hand out at every seminar, and also free to download as a PDF from the David Allen Company. Walking yourself through the steps on a regular basis ensures that you are reviewing in the optimal sequence.

A custom weekly review can involve making your own checklists, such as Areas of Focus and purpose/principles that guide your work and life, and using these as “trigger lists” to initiate projects and actions that may help keep your work and life in greater balance. Here you start to see the power of GTD not only as a way to rapidly hit balls back out of your court, but as a means to proactively guide your activities toward greater fulfillment.

Regular review of higher horizons can involve looking at the Areas of Focus on a quarterly basis, setting goals for both the mid and long term on an annual basis, and keeping in touch with the purpose/principles you hold for yourself and for whatever organisations you take part in. This framework can be a great way to align with teammates, bosses, and even your partner or spouse. Rather than waiting for the “What’s it all about?” question to hit you in the office at 9PM on a Friday night, you can ask it regularly and proactively, and come up with real answers from a fresh, positive mindset.

There will always be more to do. We all know at some level that how we do it goes a long way to enhancing the quality of life we lead, and perhaps even the legacy we might leave behind. Yet it can be hard to get present with that quality of attention with waves crashing down on your head. GTD has given me the skills to ride above it–not always–but more often, consistently, and for longer.

Noticing the specific markers along the way that show my improvement have helped take the despondency out of the realisation that work, life, and its associated tasks don’t stop just because I want them to. Learning to operate in greater harmony with reality by clarifying and organising what comes to me, and then regularly reviewing my commitments to make sure I am riding the right waves, means I can feel a sense of “winning” no matter what comes my way.

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