Back to basics with David Allen - Next Action Associates

We’re deep into the season of office parties, mulled wine and mince pies here in London, and as the nights continue to draw in I find myself in a reflective mood.

Around this time of year, I like to remind myself of the core ideas behind GTD®, by way of reaffirming my commitment to ongoing refinement of my GTD practices and systems.

Keep in mind that there are no beginner moves in GTD. Just like in the martial arts and ballet, the moves you learn as a beginner are moves you’ll continue to use, even as an expert. So, there’s no shame in going back to some of the things you learned on the first day of your seminar or when you first read Getting Things Done®.

With that in mind, here are some great ideas from David Allen’s work that I hope will remind and inspire you to get more out of life with the help of GTD:

If it’s in your head, it’s in the wrong place

It doesn’t get more fundamental than this when it comes to the philosophy of GTD. Our goal is mental clarity, and that can’t be achieved if you have unfulfilled commitments, a.k.a. ‘open loops’, pinging around in your mind. Maybe sure the idea gets externalised and that it then ends up somewhere where you know you’ll see it again. If there’s paper to hand, write it down and get the paper in your in-tray or in-folder. If you have nothing but your mobile phone on you, send yourself an email.

A corollary of this is the idea that sometimes, if there are things on your mind, you might not be engaged optimally with your system. Emails piling up in your inbox? Maybe your subconscious is sensing that some time spent clarifying and organising those inputs would be a good idea. Action lists getting long? Might be time to spend time doing some of that pre-defined work.

If you’re well organised, where things are match their meaning to you. 

A good organisational system has clean edges. The edges mark boundaries of meaning. To have the right boundaries, you need to be clear about what meanings are important to you. Ultimately the test comes down to: can you put your hands on helpful information that supports you as you want to be supported? Getting ready for a meeting with one of your direct reports? You’ll probably want quickly to have access to the list of things you want to discuss with them, and to the list of things you’re waiting for them to do for you.

Most people don’t have enough clean edges in their system. They have elements of their system in which multiple types of things are intermingled. A common example is an email inbox with some emails that are actionable, some that are reference material, and some that are trash. Another example is a stack of random papers that similarly have disparate meanings. The problem with being ‘organised’ that way is that it’s much more difficult to get your hands on helpful information quickly. Another disadvantage is that when you engage with an inbox like that you have to (re-)evaluate what things mean to you. Better to make the decision up front, to finish the thinking, and then put the reminder someplace that has clean edges.

You do your work, but you are not your work. 

This is one I often find myself needing reminding of, and I find that many successful people also have a hard time with this. Through your efforts your work happens, and you may identify strongly with what you do for a living, but your work is only part of what defines you. You are more than your work.

So, there you have it – some core ideas from GTD to reflect on as the year draws to a close, to help you through the holiday season and to help you start off 2018 with more relaxed focus and control.

All of us here at Next Action Associates wish you all the best for the holidays and for a productive, happy new year. We’re looking forward to being of further help for you on your GTD journey in 2018.

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