“I’ll get right on it, boss,” the new recruit beams back at me. There’s just one problem – he doesn’t write it down. When I mention this, his face falls, as if to say, “Don’t you trust me?” Still, I am not too surprised to find myself a week later chasing him up about it.
You see, at this point I’m now many years into practicing the GTD methodology. So, I keep a complete list of all the things I’m waiting for from all of my direct reports. It’s a big part of how I made the transition from ‘IT guy’ to ‘head of IT’. But it wasn’t always this way.
Growing up, and on into university, people would say all kinds of things to me, and I’d say all kinds of things back to them, about what we were going to do. These good intentions were predicated on me remembering what was said before it was too late.
I’m not one of those people who has that recurring dream where he misses an important final exam, walking into a huge darkened lecture hall to discover he got the day wrong. I don’t have that dream anymore, because that actually happened to me. Fortunately, unlike the dream, I wasn’t naked at the time.
Still, it was a big shock, and after that I started looking for better ways to keep track of my commitments. Discovering the GTD methodology changed me, but it was a journey that took time. One of the biggest keys that helped me to adopt this method over time was to start to pay better attention to language – specifically, the language of commitments.
Now, whenever I hear myself say something that sounds like I am agreeing to do something – or feel it flow from my fingertips through the keyboard into an email – I know I have a next action, and possibly a project, to record in my trusted GTD system. Every time it sounds like a commitment, it gets tracked. I can still philosophise, debate, and banter – but once I have said “I’ll do that”, out comes the pen.
Likewise, in conversation, whenever I hear someone agree to do something that I care about, I know I have a waiting-for item to record. This also goes for online order confirmations, emails from friends, and even conversations in the hallway. If someone has made an agreement I care about, verbally or otherwise, it goes into my system.
Having practiced these two key behaviours for a while, my ears have now become like a pair of finely-tuned commitment-scanning radar dishes. Meetings rapidly separate into the “having a conversation” and the “deciding who does what” parts – the latter of which gets written down and tracked religiously. It’s a seemingly simple behaviour that, ingrained into daily living, has helped make GTD into the operating system for how I run my life.
The new hire was lucky enough to get some GTD training soon after starting, and quickly became not only eager but reliable, by practicing listening out for commitments – his and others – to write down. He also came to see that it was never a matter of my trust – none of us GTD practitioners trust our memories, or anyone else’s- because we have a far more effective and less stressful methodology for keeping track of what matters (versus trying to keep it all in our head).
Knowing how and when to use this methodology just takes is a certain kind of listening.
Want to manage your life a bit better, in a simple but powerful way? Tune in your ears to the language of commitments, and keep track of what you hear.