Scaling down (yes, down) with GTD - Next Action Associates

It seemed like it was going to be an ordinary Tuesday. Then the phone rang.

Have you ever had one of those moments when the camera seems to pan back on your life suddenly, and everything that seemed so important up to that moment falls away in the clear, cold focus of some unexpected news? There has been an accident; the medical test results came back positive; your child failed their exams; your spouse wants to separate for a while; beloved Uncle Harry has passed.

In seventeen years of practicing the GTD methodology, I have not been exempt from my share of difficult, unexpected, life-altering news. Yet I credit my GTD system with helping me to navigate life’s choppy waters without creating waves of unnecessary additional disturbance along the way.

You see, it is exciting to talk about how effective GTD can be in helping individuals and organisations scale up. It is also worth noting how, in the process of doing so, one can keep an even keel in times of expansion and growth by mastering the art of ongoing, measured renegotiation. Sometimes, however, what you need more than anything is to scale down in a hurry – to throw things overboard to make space for an unexpected and life-changing storm of events.

So, let’s take a personal look at how GTD can help not only in fair weather but foul.

These days, when a crisis hits, demanding my attention, my first port of call is the Weekly Review. I conduct a kind of “special review” with one focus in mind: to renegotiate everything I can. I look ahead in my diary to be able to pre-emptively say, “I’m sorry, something has come up” instead of just missing the call/meeting/deadline. I scrutinise every project in my list, looking for options to communicate what’s happened, and delegate or renegotiate the project wherever possible. My someday/maybe list often shrinks considerably in the spirit of “getting real” with myself about the one life I have to live.

And in all of this – a breath of air, a sense of relief and even hope comes forward, right in the midst of the challenging situation that provoked it.

You see, GTD helps me move many, many things forward in parallel in my life. But when I really need to shift focus, I have to first regain that focus and energy by “calling back” a number of my commitments. I pull bookmarks out of books and declare them done. I wind up ongoing, time-based commitments. I purge closets. I cancel events. I box up hobbies for awhile.

All of these seemingly mundane activities help me reclaim needed attention to get me through whatever lies ahead.

Plus, once things get better again, I don’t have to clean up a mess of broken agreements on the flip side with explanations, apologies, and regrets – because I have been proactive in alerting those around me that things needed to change, and fast. Shoring up in this way helps me weather the storm without casting off wreckage in my wake.

Nowadays, there seems to be an insurance policy on offer for just about every circumstance one can imagine. Yet when a crisis hits, it is often time – not money – that is most heavily impacted. Having a trusted GTD system in place is an insurance policy for your time. Ensuring I have the time and head space to deal with the unexpected has been a huge factor in getting me through hard times and out the other side again intact.

The good news is that you don’t have to wait for a crisis to get your proverbial “affairs in order” à la GTD. Round up your projects. Identify next actions. Keep track of who is doing what for you using the waiting-for list. Then, when life deals an unexpected card your way, playing out that round needn’t be an ounce more painful than necessary.

Here’s wishing you smooth waters, and the prudence to shore up your systems for the inevitable rough patches ahead.

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