Just when you think you can’t get any busier… - Next Action Associates

Lee Chalmers is a Certified GTD Coach as well as a consultant, facilitator and personal coach who specialises in authenticity, sustainable and ethical leadership development. She has worked in the development business for seven years and has worked with business leaders around the world. She has coached senior members of companies such as HSBC, KPMG, BP, Arts Council and CapGemini.

I have just come to the end of the busiest and potentially most stressful period of my entire 44 years so far and I thought you might like to know how I got through, alive and sane.

I’m an organised person, some would call me a control freak, that’s OK, I know that I have a way of working that means that I can get a lot done so I thought, “let’s test it, let’s see how many things I can add in before the system falls over”. Little did I know to what extent the system would be stressed.

I’ve been running a business for the last 13 years so that already accounts for a large number of spinning plates. I’ve been using GTD to manage these tasks for the last eight years or so since I was trained up as a GTD coach and trainer, and as I built my confidence, scope and client workload, I gradually added in extra projects.

Last year, I decided to add in a part time PhD at the University of Edinburgh. I needed to keep the same level of income so client work needed to stay the same with the studies shoved in around the edges. Two terms in, so far so good. I’m getting distinctions in my papers.

I also added in running a not-for-profit organisation to encourage women to get into politics. I built a website, networked a board of advisors, partnered with a friend and we were successful in getting funding. Now I have events to organise at the Scottish Parliament and at the House of Commons, and a training programme to design. In to the system goes another load of projects and actions.

Add to that a project that was coming to the most stressful part; buying our first property. We had solicitors to organise, surveys, a mortgage, a roof to inspect, decorating to commission – all on top of the worry that something would go wrong at the last minute and we would end up with nowhere to live.

Then, some would say foolishly, I decided to run for election to the Scottish Parliament this May! In went committee meetings, campaign meetings, hustings, preparing for hustings, radio interviews, filming, writing for the press, knocking on doors, handing our flyers, standing in the main street speaking to passers by. A load of extra, pretty stressful work – all growing by the minute and added into an already full diary.

I had papers to write for University, campaigning to do, clients to serve, new business to generate, a marriage to maintain, a flat to buy, family to see, a not-for-profit to run, a fitness regime to aspire to. My system was creaking at the edges.

But then, very unexpectedly, my mother-in-law died.

Suddenly the system was tested to its limits. When family emergencies appear you need to be able to drop everything and focus on what really matters. I was only able to do this because my GTD system contained everything, all my tasks and all the outcomes I had committed to. Nothing was rattling around in my head, uncaptured. I could look at Omnifocus (my tool of choice) and instantly see what could be handled by others and what needed my attention immediately. I could drop everything to focus on my husband knowing that everything was going to be OK with the rest of my life. I wasn’t worried that there were projects or outstanding actions that I didn’t have written down anywhere.

What I learned from this is that rather than letting the system slide when things get tough, this is exactly the time I need the system most. When I am coaching people I often hear that life got busy and they stopped defining their work, hoping to pick up GTD later, when things slow down a bit. I have found that this is a time that never comes. I am clear that without GTD I would have collapsed under the strain of the busiest time of my life. Managing our commitments is not just about working well, it’s about living well and GTD can be the system that keeps the whole show on the road.

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