Last night I scattered my father’s ashes on the waters of the Ganges at Varanasi, the holy city to which Hindus come to die and end the cycle of death and rebirth.
India had exerted an ancestral pull on my dad his whole life but he’d never managed to actually go there. Therefore, when we kids provided the funds as a wedding anniversary present one year, he started his ‘India folder’ and began planning.
The folder grew with information about areas to go, places to stay, things to see, things to eat and more. After all, everything had to be perfect for the trip of a lifetime.
The folder grew, on and off, for seven more years. Then, when everything was finally planned, right down to the first guest house in the foothills of the Himalayas, he got bowel cancer, and the trip was no more.
Procrastination is the most human of characteristics and it’s often the things that matter the most that we put off the longest. We can spend a lot of time going in circles around the big things rather than straight towards them because we’re so invested in the outcome, and that can be scary. India was certainly big and scary for someone of my dad’s age and maybe that’s why it was always something for ‘next year’, after a bit more research.
But sometimes, when you wait too long, the opportunity is one day gone.
We talk a lot in GTD about lists being helpful things, but lists can be unhelpful, too, if they are not genuinely moving things forward towards your goals. Dad’s India folder was full of lists like that, lists of things that would eventually be of value once in India but which ultimately didn’t move him any closer to the place.
GTD systems themselves can also be a playground for those who are vulnerable to procrastination. While one of GTD’s strengths lies in its ability to be customised, this also means there’s a lot that can be tinkered with. You can spend time refining the language in your lists, road testing more nuanced new contexts, exploring the latest upgrades, and even changing systems completely in the hope that life will be more productive with a different app.
It’s easy to get sucked into spending time doing productivity rather than actually being productive.
So, as you reflect and review each week, it’s worth watching out for projects that have occupied your lists for too long. As you engage with them, are you still feeling energy and forward movement, or has your project become part of the landscape, something that you spent time doing things to but not actually moving forward?
Similarly, watch for tinkering with your system. Evolution is a necessary thing, but is the time spent working on your system adding real value or would living with its imperfection and actually taking some action instead add more?
Procrastination can eat up your time, and there may be less of it than you think.
(The title ‘Slowly down the Ganges’ is taken from the classic travel book by Eric Newby.)