My knuckles tightened spasmodically on the steering wheel as I sat in traffic watching the minutes tick by on the dashboard clock. I had 30 minutes to make my meeting in a hotel across town and I was stuck in a rush hour jam on the Manchester inner ring road, in a mood quickly turning as black as the steaming tarmacadam in the roadworks ahead.
It was decision time. Faced with the humiliating prospect of arriving late, sweaty and irritated to discuss the calming benefits of a GTD seminar, I knew that I had two options: call in and ‘fess up to my plight, or find another way to get there, and fast.
Suddenly, a ping from the driver’s seat next to me. It was only the latest gambit by one of my offspring for an increase in pocket money, but it snapped me out of my shame spiral and I realised that my smartphone might be a heaven-sent answer to my predicament. Well, heaven-sent from global positioning satellites, to be more specific.
I’d seen Google Maps’ Satnav in action before but thought it beneath me. “No!” said my inner explorer. “I’m a map reader, dammit! I’m in control, not some satellite. I don’t need a device telling me where to go, no Sir-eee!”
But when your best-laid plans get lost in a sea of traffic cones it is time for a new approach. I picked up the phone, tapped in the postcode of my destination and abandoned the Mancunian Way for a new course via the backstreets of Moss Side.
Twenty minutes later I was pulling up to the Hilton Hotel, not a drop of sweat in sight. As cool as the cucumber in one of their overpriced sandwiches. My unplanned diversion had worked a treat, and -despite my long-held commitment to map reading like some modern day Marco Polo – I’d become a Satnav convert.
However, it was only later that I realised why.
For years, I’d stubbornly clung for years to my AA road atlas, using it to plan my route before departure and storing a cognitive map in my head en route. It made me feel smug to think I could still find my way all by myself, but the reality – when the journey didn’t go to plan – was less noble. I’d end up with the map with one hand and driving with the other while looking outside for visual cues and trying to keep my ton of metal from engaging with pedestrians and passing children.
After giving it a try, I realised that it had been a lot healthier all round to hand over the decision-making to the lady in the iPhone with the relaxing voice, because those lovely Satnav people have done all the map-reading, information-gathering and thinking up front already.
The next junction? They’ve worked it out already. Better still, the lady knows only to bother me with the next set of instructions when I need them, rather than distracting me with them ahead of time.
As a Getting Things Done practitioner, the benefits of that approach should’ve been obvious to me already. Why? Because the GTD methodology does exactly the same thing with the all the future commitments in your life.
By deciding on next actions ahead of time and parking those decisions in your system so that they show up at the right time and in the right place, you are free to place your attention where you want in the meantime. That set up is as stress-reducing in terms of managing your life’s journey as the Satnav is to managing your road journeys.
And when you trust that the satnav is going to tell you the right time to take the next exit, you’re free to relax and do something more productive than map-reading as you cruise along – think about the meeting you’re headed for, perhaps, rather than just careening along like a madman trying to figure out where you are.
To learn more about how GTD can change the way you work and live your life, register for the GTD Level 1: Fundamentals seminar in Manchester on Wednesday 26th October.