Waterproof Productivity - Next Action Associates

sailing

Growing up in a small town in the Sonoran desert, I loved matinees. Besides the film, the theatre was cool and dark. My first summer in London, I suggested a weekend matinee to my English wife. “We can’t,” she replied, incredulous, “the sun is out.” That winter, I learned more about seizing the day when the weather is nice. Coming from a virtually season-less landscape, I would plan my gardening for Saturday and my reading for Sunday, weeks in advance. These days, I check the forecast, and adjust accordingly.

Rain and shine are not the only kinds of “weather” that blow through our lives. Storms pass in and out at work and at home–in our communities, economies, countries, and families. The First Noble Truth in the Buddhist Eight-Fold Path is that pain is inevitable, but suffering optional. Likewise, weather happens, but what we do with those circumstances greatly affects, not only our attitude in going through it at the time, but our long-term results, season after season.

A highly productive day trader, for example, is one who leads the market in good times, and shorts the market when bad. While others ride the vicissitudes, she continues to generate a steady output of earnings. Whether you are measuring your own productivity in pound signs or lines of poetry, there is something to be said for being one of those who can go in all weathers.

The keys to making this work, of course, are anticipation and preparation. In sailing, one of the best things you can do at the first sign of a storm is to clear the decks. This means collecting and appropriately repositioning everything that doesn’t belong, so that when the waves hit, nothing gets thrown out of kilter. After all, the last thing you need when your boat is pitching to and fro is to be dealing with debris flying around your head.

So, how’s it going in your email inbox? It is called an inbox because messages are designed to flow into it for processing, not take up permanent residence. In the uncertain waters we are all navigating these days, I find that I need to completely “clear the decks” of my email inbox at least every day or two.

This means getting the emails out of there–not just reading them. I think about what each message means to me in terms of what I have committed (to myself or someone else) to do, and organise the results of my thinking in trusted places around my “ship”. Then I have just a few places to go to find work to do when the winds are calm, and I can trust that when things get rough, that information is safely stowed so that I can focus on riding out the squall.

More and more, I am convinced that those who achieve all that they want from life are not the ones who make great progress on sunny days only to quit at the first signs of rain, but those who make consistent, steady, forward progress–come rain or shine.

There is always a storm brewing. I can’t always tell from which direction, or how intense. This is why inking in my best laid plans in a diary, just like plotting a perfect sailing course on paper, is not enough. I need to know how to keep moving forward, no matter what the clouds are doing or which way the wind is blowing. Figuring out those options is a lot easier when I consistently capture, process, and organise all that life sends my way.

The email inbox is a major place where the information life sends our way ends up, which is why it is a source of pain–and I daresay suffering–for so many. The truth is, the weather doesn’t really care if you’re already soaked. It is just passing through. Mastering the fundamental thinking process in GTD–capturing, processing, and organising–can make your progress waterproof.

Did you feel that? I think it was a raindrop.

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