Thursday, March 20

Getting Things Done

I may have first requested this book, Getting Things Done by David Allen, from my library nine months ago. It took a long time in coming, and when it finally arrived it did so in August, when I was in Europe. Then I requested it again, and months later, it is finally here. There must have been a long queue of requests!

So, at last, I'm reading it. I'd picked up details here and there, mainly from the blog 43 Folders. I'd started using a to do list website, Vitalist, that is based on 'GTD' as it's called. (I'd also read two long selections from the book posted on the web that I'd link to here, but I can't find them; they may have been taken down.) But I didn't quite get it.

First, I have the tendency to feel overwhelmed, even when you'd think there isn't much going on. I'm a person with many interests, and somehow they all seem to add to my to do list in some way. I also am sometimes haunted by the feeling that whatever I'm working on isn't the right thing to be working on right now. When I feel overwhelmed, it isn't so much because I'm afraid that the quantity of tasks exceeds the extent of my productivity. Rather, it's a sense that the tasks are mentally unmanageable in number. As Allen says, "You've probably made many more agreements with yourself than you realize, and every single one of them--big or little--is being tracked by a less-than-conscious part of you. These are the 'incompletes' or 'open loops' which I define as anything pulling at your attention that doesn't belong where it is, the way it is."

He goes on to write, "if it's on your mind, your mind isn't clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind, or what I call a collection bucket, that you know you'll come back to regularly and sort through." That's his first step. I'd been doing that, with Vitalist. It was helpful in that I was able to better categorize my tasks, but reading the book I understand his next step much better. "I suggest that you write down the project or situation that is most on your mind at this moment... Now describe, in a single written sentence, your intended successful outcome for this problem or situation. In other words, what would need to happen for you to check this 'project' off as 'done'?" For myself, I'm also using the principles I learned in composing affirmations (don't knock 'em til you've tried 'em), to describe the desired state or experience in positive language (ie, 'I am strong and healthy', not 'I have no sickness'), using the present tense. Sometimes these subtle shifts in language have a surprising influence on the mind. "Now write down the very next physical action required to move the situation forward... If you're like the vast majority of people who complete that drill during my seminars, you'll be experiencing at least a tiny bit of enhanced control, relaxation, and focus. You'll also be feeling more motivated to actually do something about that situation you've merely been thinking about 'til now."

Around this point I had to stop and try it out. I realized that I'd been using "projects" on Vitalist as "categories"... home, health, finances, etc. Instead they're literally projects. The website lets you create sub-projects, so I wanted to start with the top, overarching projects that I have in my life. What are they? I made a list:

  • Be financially organized and prosperous.

  • Stay in touch with friends and family, especially with visits.

  • Be fit, strong, energetic, and at peace.

  • Eat nourishing, homecooked meals.

  • Have a clean, practical, beautiful home.

  • Enjoy art-related outlets.

That was it! After remembering that I'm running out of socks I added "Be comfortably and attractively coiffed and dressed." That one doesn't involve that many tasks. I'm not going to add actionable first steps, yet, or sub-projects, or improve phrasing. Because it's time for lunch and grocery shopping. I'll enjoy doing that later. For now, it's relaxing to know that all the complexity in my life falls neatly into six priorities.

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