GTD: It’s not about the technology

I was about to write a post walking through the new app that I’m using for my GTD (Getting Things Done) this year, but I paused. I paused because over the past year, as I’ve really tried to implement GTD into my life, one of the biggest things I’ve learnt is that the technology you use isn’t that important.

When we think about GTD, there are lots of shiny apps out there which are always promising to make you a more productive person. It’s obvious that it’s not the app that makes someone productive, but the person using the app! However, we often lose sight of that when thinking about becoming more productive, because it’s easy to think that a new shiny app or system will make it different to last time. Will make it better. “This time,” we say. “This time I will be more productive and stick to GTD! This time will be different.”

Last year, my biggest realisation was that GTD is just a number of lists you keep to remind youself of what you’re trying to do. That’s it. It’s that simple.

You make a commitment to yourself to check those lists often enough that your mind trusts them, enough to not remember what’s on all of them all of the time. It’s a slow process, building trust in a framework like GTD because it often feels like you take one step forward before taking two back. I found that being honest with myself and just refocusing on GTD, the framework, much more relieving than searching for yet another app to try and use. For most of last year, I used Outlook for my tasks and it’s worked terrifically well, mostly because I worked at using it terrifically well.

So, I’m trying a new app. I will probably post about it, because I like it so far. It served as yet another reminder to me that the technology we use doesn’t matter. You could equally implement GTD with a paper notebook and get the same peace of mind possible without any of the more modern technologies out there. It’s just a bunch of lists.

Washing dishes

My first job was as a dish washer, affectionately known as a dish pig, where I would spend my hours tucked away out the back of a grimy Pizza Hut restaurant through my teenage years. It was great fun. Today’s post occurred to me when I was finishing up the night, cleaning up the dishes from our earlier meal. It’s hardly revolutionary.

It occurred to me that I still tackle doing the dishes in the same way I learnt to back then, when I would need to wash hundreds of plates an hour. Washing dishes at pace required that you sort and separate them into like piles. Plates were always the easiest, so they go together. Then cups. Then ‘others.’ Finally, the cutlery. It’s funny I still do this now.

It’s always curious when you catch yourself playing out the habits of days long past and can trace their roots back to inception. What skills do you still unconsciously carry out from long ago?

As for me…back to the dishes.

Blisters lead to purpose

Simon Terry and I shared a conversation on CoTap recently about my last post (Bliss vs Blisters) and shared his own post that he’d written about a year ago. Like everything Simon writes, it’s terrific. Here’s my favorite bit. Enjoy your weekend, wherever you are in the world.

More than ten years ago I was doodling on a pad trying to find a focus to my diverse career history. I decided to draw a network diagram of my personal and work interests, the work that I enjoyed most and always chose to repeat. I drew lines where there were connections between these activities and interests. I began to build a map of my past life experience.

Bliss vs Blisters

How do you follow your passion in your life? Through your career, your activities or something else? I’ve been thinking a lot about that these last six months or so and I think I have a few interesting ideas to share which were not things I’d originally considered. Before I get going, though, credit for the title of this post must go to Julian Waters-Lynch, who I shared a few conversations with on this topic when I was thinking through it a lot.

In Wrzesniewski’s research, the happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do.

This book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You:Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, really uncovered a particular bias I had adopted. It’s commonplace for someone of my generation to have this deeply held belief that we need to find out true calling in life – our passion – to be truly happy. Working, or doing anything for that matter, that isn’t in alignment with this ideal causes us to induce stress on ourselves that leads us to thinking we would be happier if only we were following our passion. This book looks and that and suggests that, in fact, those that are happiest in their careers are those that have worked at something for a great deal of their life. What they started in may not have been their passion in the beginning, but it has become something they’re passionate about over time.

In other words, working right trumps finding the right work

This really resonates with me, and I’ll tell you why. Because it primarly gave me permission to stop worrying about what my passion was. The corollary to believing that you should be following your passion is that you have to KNOW what your passion is. And that, at best, is a myth. Figuring that out is pretty close to impossible. The world is just too dynamic to really come to this easily. I tweeted this recently, from Nick Crocker’s great post about his system for better living.

It served as something quite empowering to me that what I should really be focused on was not figuring out my core passion in life; but instead focusing on the skills and things I’m doing right now and understanding how I can be doing them much better. Because within that I will probably find something I’m truly passionate about.

In the end, I still believe understanding what you’re passionate about is very important to continue attempting to understand. But more important is to continue developing the skills you have and the networks within which you practice them. You get the opportunity to do that, for the most part, every day when you begin spending time working. When you pair this with the approach outlined in the other book I wrote about recently, The Alliance, you’re left with a related number of powerful ideas which I’ve really been thankful for so far these last few months.

Message me and let me know what you think. 

Reviewing your year

A quick one today. I was rereading David Allen’s Making It All Work last night, to review how exactly I should do a review of 2014. I kept coming back to this quote. I can see David and his wife, in my minds eye, sitting at an old wooden table somewhere in the countryside, going through this process and clarifying both their past year and the next to come. Doing so over a terrific cup of coffee. Enjoy.

My wife and I go through a rather unsophisticated exercise in this regard at the end of every year. First we spend about a half hour taking an inventory of everything we accomplished and everything noteworthy that we did that year. Major projects completed, new places we traveled, significant events that we experienced—all are just dumped out into a long list. We discovered several years ago how well this stock-taking provides a refreshing sense of completion and acknowledgment. During the next half hour we simply ask ourselves what we would like to have on that list at the end of the following year, and capture those goals on another lis