Thursday, February 8th, 2007 http://adamkhan.net/rambles/on-the-seventh-day
ike many computer-addled timewasters before me, I have adopted David Allen’s Getting Things Done, a holistic approach to self-management. The Mrs however is skeptical of the system, though rather than viewing it as overly anal, as many do, she thinks it’s dangerously lackadaisical because there’s not much time management involved, appointments being the relatively rare hard landscape around which flow the vast river of unscheduled things to do. She believes that for those who tend to let themselves off easily until last-minute panics ensue, the system merely invites further procrastination. That perhaps it’s fine for someone with a strong disciplined work ethic, WASPy types such as Allen himself who simply require an airtight system with which to manage the sheer number of things they need to do. But for fuck-ups such as myself, GTD feeds rather than cures the disease.
This issue has been addressed at least twice by burgeoning internet superstar Merlin Mann of 43folders. ‘Procrastination’ is the title of his first podcast interview with Allen, while in a 43folders post Merlin suggests dedicating Monday morning to cringebusting, ie, attacking those things you need to do that you’ve avoided to date because even thinking about them makes you cringe.
I think Allen’s answer would be that these problems are handled by the system as is, that procrastination ceases and cringebusting is not necessary once GTD is practiced properly. If you’re doing your Weekly Review thoroughly, I believe he’d say, you’ll be mindful of just why these cringe-inducing/procrastinatory things are important to have done, as you’ll have refreshed your view of your entire situation and will be able to see once again how these nasties fit in, how they are not just obligations on a list but organic parts of a whole—your whole. Nobody else puts these things on your list, after all. Moreover, GTD generously provides you with an escape valve to let off pressure and keep hard the edges between those things you will and will not do. So if you decide you don’t actually intend to do any of these nasties, you can move them from your Next Actions to your Someday/Maybe list or just live wildly and trash ‘em. As Allen writes repeatedly, the purpose of the system is to enable you to feel okay about what you’re not doing, so if you’re feeling the anxiety of procrastination, you’re currently failing with the system.
GTD is deceptively simple because although there are few principles and moving parts, each of them is overloaded and relates to the others in a myriad of ways. Among these is Allen’s principle that although you need to do five types of activities to be organized, the error is in trying to do all five at once, rather than understanding that each of them requires different energies and is better done separately. (This separation principle in turn relies on another Allen principle, namely that you must trust your system fully, as otherwise you lack faith that you can let go and you are best continuing in the afternoon where you left off in the morning). Life is easier and more pleasant once you grok that there’s a time to collect, a time to process, a time to organize and a time to review—and of course a time to do.
This principle solves our case, the problem of procrastination, for rather than trying on Monday morning to directly and with brute force take care of the unpleasant things—cringebusting—it’s far easier and more pleasant to think about things fully the Friday before, which will fuel the galvanization required to tackle those cringe-inducing tasks come Monday. So although GTD seems to disregard time, it is in fact very much about time, albeit not in the regimented scheduling way that self-management has been to date—Allen scorns this as “scaffolding”—but by building upon the truth that there’s a time for this and a judicious time for that.
In its Taoist way GTD lets the yang of conscious planning mind do on Friday what it does best—plan, visualize and strategize—then, armed with that general’s view of the battlefield, lets the yin of the id, the power, the doer, the infantryman, spring up from the belly on Monday and execute without hesitation what’s now so obviously required—such as a task that otherwise required the horror of cringebusting.
Allen reports that most people fall off the system by neglecting their Weekly Review. Perhaps this is because its innocuous name does not sufficiently convey its utter centrality, its role as the pivot around which GTD operates. You are only able to do without a clunky schedule because you trust your vitality to do next what obviously should be done next. But your vitality can only function this “mind like water” way, grasp as obvious its next task, if your view is fresh, articulated and clear. And your view will only be fresh, articulated and clear if you review it weekly.
It shouldn’t be necessary to mention that we already have the importance of the weekly review on even higher Authority than the mighty Mr Allen.