GTD can be painful

This idea came to me when I was ironing (not my favourite household duty).
Triathlon is a sport that’s very much orientated on efficient of energy use. The shortest of races takes at least an hour to complete and the longest Ironman last from 9 hours up to 17. To achieve best possible results in this sport you need to have great level of endurance and a good technique. Developing both takes time and effort.

Every swimming or running technique is built on a simple set of moves so that you can get maximum power from each stroke or step.  During the learning process body needs to adjust to new type of movement. Some muscles are under bigger strain than the others, joints need to stretch more in directions they never did before.
New types of strain you put on your body cause a pain. As your muscles are not used to increased  intensity of workout they develop lactate acid and you feel as you can barely move. Joints and tendons get stretched so you merely can move your arms. When you keep repeating new drills and steps over a period of time body adjusts and pain will be gone.

A similar set of principles applies to learning new productivity methodologies like GTD. There is a set of rules that need to be learned and some behaviour needs to be changed. Although these appear to be simple and easy it takes some time effort and pain.

The Getting Things Done book offers few very simple ideas to organise life and work. The information flow is straight forward. All you have to do is collect, process, organize, review and finally do. Nothing overly complicated. Yet the complete implementation can be a drain you mentally.
When you look at this methodology closer you’ll see it requires establishing new set of habits for each of the steps. New thinking paths need to develop, new behaviour needs to be learned. Old patterns need to be replaced. In the medium term the effect will be similar as for the muscles and joints, there will be experience of pain.
As I learned GTD there were couple forms of frustration and discontent jumping at me all the time. Even now days after over 2 years of practicing it I get this feeling. I’m not happy with my system or with the way things work. I’ve been reading a lot about other  people experiences with implementation of getting things done, their problems and questions. I think the biggest adjustment and pain shows up in three areas.

Tools. Perhaps not the most important element of the methodology, yet it’s discussed the most. In order to track thing you need a tool and most people searches for a perfect appliance. Although the choice is varied we rarely settle with one for long. Frustration grows every time I change a tool and then realise that all I need is a simple set of lists. Yet again I spend hours trying new shiny programs and gadgets. It can be a vicious circle.

Rules. They are simple; one word rules yet again we are not used to think by them. Collect, organise, decide, review, do, how difficult is that??? Either you don’t collect, forgot to review or completely ignore what you decided to do. Then when you try to re-examine what went wrong you look at the principles and try to find the answer why you can’t implement them – they are so simple.

Progress. There is expectancy to get an immediate result with anything we do. Have headache grab a pill and in 10min pain is gone. Want more time, be more organised and efficient then use GTD. But this time it doesn’t work that well, there is an improvement. It lasts only until next surge in workload when everything goes out the window. On the other side you crank through the carefully carved actions and then you find you haven’t moved a lot. Something important and meaningful was left out.

Implementing GTD is major shift in thinking so there will be obstacles, challenges to overcome. So if you are feeling down with your implementation or you fell from the bandwagon just take a moment and think of any things that your GTD adventure helped you to experience, complete etc.

It just takes time and persistence to work with your system. But once the change is done you begin to act on some sort of autopilot write down, process, organise, review, do! And it happens just like that.

Someone said that anything worth fighting for will cause you pain. Is GTD worth the pain? Probably not but most definitely it will have impact on areas that are important in life.

A Perfect Day

What is the purpose of all the productivity systems, tools for managing tasks and projects?What do we want from them?  Why do we need their help?
I would assume that we all want to create something, be it writing an article, coding a website, putting a presentation. Each of us may have a different answer to that but I think it can be funneled into to something that’s called a perfect day. A day when everything goes as planned, a day that leaves us satisfied with the progress on things that are important.
Visualising a perfect day can be a very powerful tool to create the desired effect. I think when we consciously work on creating visions and plans we engage in a process of internal change that will result in the vision becoming a reality.
How would you like to for your day to look like? What would perfect day look like? What would happen on that day?
For me it would be something like this:

  • My day has been planned a day before
  • Work on the planned actions and complete something for an important project
  • Have a lunch and go for a walk,
  • Complete planned triathlon workout,
  • Read a book and talk with someone,
  • Work on some more actions,
  • Enjoy the evening feeling accomplished,

This is my perfect day. What I like about it is that it can serve as reminder of how I want things to look like in my life. It’s also a kind of checklist that I can refer to see how far off I’m and what needs to happen to get there.

Work and swimming

Water is not a natural environment for humans, when we swim; there is a lot of resistance to overcome. To move forward and to limit the friction we need to streamline our body and ensure that maximum power is achieved from each stroke.
When you swim in chaotic and uncoordinated way you’re not getting far. The water is holding you back. To maximize efficiency of swim strokes need to be refined so that you rather slice through the water making as little movement as possible.

One of my favourite swim drills is to swim with a float between your leg and use arms to propel. I can focus in streamlining my body and making sure that each stroke gives me the best result. Because I like to drill so much I’m able to focus on it so much that I can swim 25m pool on a single breath. It’s a fantastic workout.

I’ve observed a very similar pattern doing my work, the more friction is in my work the less stuff gets done and the more disconnection and boredom I feel. The elements that cause this friction are mostly stress, lack of clarity, the nature of work. But pretty much anything that you can consider as "work environment" can create some sort of resistance.
Many times to overcome this friction I tend to stress more, put more pressure on, try to move in giant pushes of effort. As this is not leading very far, a feeling of exhaustion and burn out appears. It is like trailing the water in strong current, you exert lot of effort and power yet you’re not moving anywhere.

Reducing resistance at work is not an easy game but you can try. There are countless ways of decreasing stress and anxiety at work and some will work for one but not for the other. As I’ve been attempting to reduce the frictions that I experience, I’ve decided to try three items:

Focus – Most of the time, the work I do requires longer periods of time to achieve the right state of mind and concentration. I try to block out distractions as much as possible. Also I’m forcing myself to complete one single thing until it’s done. Sometimes technology can help you with that. You can use distraction free software (like Q10 my favourite) or work in the full screen mode. Other technique is to use a tool that’s so simple it can’t be any simpler hence I enjoy using Filofax or pen and paper in general.

Clarity – During the day many items will attract our attention, like an article in the newspaper, an email or a colleague. At the end of the day letting all these things to pull us in various directions leaves a feeling of incompletion and lack of progress. To counter that try to list one maybe three things you would like to complete in a day in order to be able to say that you’ve had a good day. Getting this sort of clarity even in such a small form definitely works and is a great start for introducing more direction in to live. Knowing what you want to achieve is much better that simply bouncing around like a free electron.

Doing what you love – Being in a place that is not right for you and working on stuff you have no desire for feels like a great waste of time and energy. Due to social conditioning, our beliefs, lack of clarity (again) it’s probably the hardest thing to achieve. Yet, as many have proven it’s possible. Making your way from the point where you don’t like what you do to the point of doing what you love may take some time. Best way to test how it is to be fulfilled is try to do it in your free time. Spend couple hours a week on those activities you enjoy most and see where does it take you. Perhaps you won’t make a living out of it but you will introduce a positive change in your live.

Streamlining your body and refining your strokes makes you a better swimmer, focus, clarity and working on your passion makes you a more satisfied person. Just like you need to do drills in the water to improve your swim technique you need to exercise focus and clarity at work so that you no longer in trailing in one place.

I’m pretty sure it will take me a while to make sure that I use these things and I will fail many times but I’m also pretty sure that trying one time after another will pay off.