Check! Check! Check!
It feels good to get things done.
For many years now (let’s just roughly say, two decades), I have been a procrastinator, delay-er, and have been a generally un-organized dude.
Thanks to marrying a really great woman, and with the help of some excellent reading, some of the externally-disorganized areas of my life have come into order.
The one area of my life that I could never seem to get in order was my lousy brain.
It could generate incredible, problem solving ideas, creative thoughts, amazing jokes, and funny stories…But they would be lost in an instant, my mind catering to the next big interruption. It was a traffic jam of thoughts, quotes, ideas, and knowledge that wasn’t really rooted anywhere, and was completely disorganized.
If a photo could be taken of my mind, it would look something like a post-tornado trailer park, a crashed cargo train, or the bedroom of a teenage football player who also plays a lot of computer games –> A MESS!
Have you ever experienced this?
David Allen to the rescue!
Look at that handsome dude, all casually-smiling and whatnot, hands in his pockets, ready to solve problems with ease. I think I may actually love him.
As mentioned in a recent update, I’d first heard about David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, through a Lifestyle Business Podcast. It was added to my book-reading queue, and then after a year (yes, a YEAR) I finally started to read it.
Why, oh why, did I wait so long?
In the weeks that have followed since finishing the book, I have been able to complete more projects, come up with more ideas for future (and current) projects, and have felt an incredible sense of being fully-present in the moment like no other I’ve felt before.
Check! Check! Check!
It’s actually fun now to write everything down, get it properly processed, and create what David calls a “Mind like water” – able to adapt and be present to any situation that’s placed before it.
What is this “mind like water” you speak of?
Getting Things Done does one of the best jobs, in my opinion, of comparing the brain (mind) to a computer.
In a computer (if you didn’t know this already), there are storage points known as RAM – Random Access Memory. This is what allows multiple programs/apps to remain open and functioning, or multitasking, at the same time. It’s like a waitress carrying a tray. She has two arms, two trays. She can only hold so much.
It’s once the RAM, or the waitress’ trays get overloaded, that the real problems start to come in.
How many times have you forgotten someone’s birthday? Or driven multiple times past the grocery store, forgetting the whole time you were supposed to stop and buy milk? Or had an incredible idea, only to have it wash away from your brain later?
Why does this happen?
Easy – Overload.
The trays are too full. The RAM is over capacity. This is where stress, anxiety, and a general mindset of procrastination and in-action comes in.
Bad dog! Roll up a newspaper and swat yourself on the nose.
Freeing up space
One of the amazing functions of our brain is not only its ability to remember things long term (like a computer’s hard drive storage space), short term (like the RAM/tray example above), or even its ability to process information (like a computer’s processor, which in this case, GTD actually helps to increase the mental capacity to process information), but its ability to create.
Creation. New art, new ideas, new solutions to problems, new pathways. New!
When the RAM portion of the brain is overloaded, a midst a flood of information, things to remember, mental lists, and other distractions, the brain’s ability to create and to focus is hindered. It’s like a very delicate flower that requires protection, sunlight, and a lot of love (maybe not REAL love, but run with me on this one, ok?).
This creative portion of the brain, which helps partially in the processing of information, can get snuffed out, like the flame of a candle, by more urgent and pressing matters.
The goal that I needed from this book (which thankfully, I’ve achieved and am continuing to perfect), was to be able to protect those creative juices from getting sopped up by having to remember and focus on everything else.
How to get things done
This will not be a summary of the book. Hopefully, if I’ve done it right, you’ll want to go out and read it for yourself and apply it. I will share some thoughts at a later date (once I get some feedback from you, the handsome/gorgeous reader) on how I apply some of David’s paper-and-pen principles to a digital age. I DO still use paper and pencil, but love to use the glorious powers of iPhone and Android for just about everything else.
This chart is the main premise of the entire book, and one I still refer to (keeping a copy by my desk at work, and carrying a printed copy of it in my “man book” – a folder that has a pad & pen for note-taking):
We all have “stuff” in our lives.
Projects we’re working on. Ideas that we’d like to act upon some day. Responsibilities we have at/in our home/job/church/business/team/life. A whole bucket list of things we’d love to get done and goals we want to achieve.
Step 1 to all of this is getting it written down and out of your mind.
If you’re worrying about something right now, it’s not out of your mind.
David suggests this at the very beginning of the book, and this step alone changed my entire outlook on mental capacity and actually getting things done in my own life. It’s amazing what happened to me when I no longer had to focus on worrisome things, knowing full-well that they would eventually be processed (via the steps listed in the chart above) soon.
I was free! I was present! I had a mind like water.
The two best questions I gained from this book
I have to stop myself. I’m so tempted to continue to give away info from this book, but it wouldn’t help any of you. PLEASE go buy this book and read it. You can thank me later.
Back to the topic at hand.
There were two essential questions that the book covered, which are both listed in the chart above.
- Is it actionable?
- What’s the next action?
Take your email inbox for example. Most people have never read the Four Hour Workweek, so they don’t understand the power that “inbox zero” can bring to productivity. Their email inboxes are disaster zones!
Asking this question alone, when approaching email, can make the difference between inbox-zero, and having thousands upon thousands of unread, or worse yet, un-actionable (sometimes un-answered) emails waiting. No wonder stuff like this happens at work.
“Is it actionable” requires the next question to be asked, and then answered. This perhaps, is the most powerful question in the book.
What’s the next action?
I want you to try something if you’ll play along.
Next time you’re in a meeting, be it a business/work meeting, a family pow-wow, or even a 1-on-1 with a friend, date, or spouse, ask this question when a new idea comes up. I’ll give you an example:
“I think I’d like to start a business this year.”
“Really? Cool! So what’s the next action (step)?“
At this point, a number of different options exist. The person who wants to start a business could say something like:
“I need to come up with an idea for a product or service.”
“I need to research successful businesses that have worked out that I could model mine after.”
“I should dig deeper into what it is that I really enjoy doing, and find out if that coincides with me making money.”
“I should dig deeper into what it is that people want to pay money for, and then meet that need.”
What would happen if the next-action-step question was never asked?
I’ll tell you, fine lads and lasses: nothing would happen.
AND THAT’S THE PROBLEM!
Left un-checked, un-asked, and even un-answered, that potential idea of the person wanting to start a business would simply remain just that – an idea.
Asking, “What’s the next action?” puts legs on ideas that are just floating up in the clouds, and causes the rubber to meet the road.
A crazy side effect
Asking this question also helps to take gigantic, scary ideas, and breaks them down into simple, day-to-day stuff.
It may be daunting for any one of us to think up something like, “Gee, I really think I’d like to start a business this year”. There are a LOT of options (I only listed a tiny, tiny amount of them in the example above).
But it’s not so daunting to take 10 minutes and do something as simple as taking a look at the list of the top 10 Amazon sellers for a potential product idea. Any old Joe could do that. As a matter of fact, the schmuck writing this article did just that! Easy peasy, boss.
We’ve all heard the stories and anecdotes of how persistence pays off. Of how in the battle between running water and a rock, the water always wins. Or how the most important swing of the ax on a tree is not the first or the last, but all of them together. Asking, “What’s the next action?” is THE question that breaks down huge tasks and makes them simple, every day, easy.
And when you add all those tasks up, you get some serious compounded action! My buddy Joel wrote about this recently, and while reading GTD and since finishing, I think his post on The Surprising Effects of Compound Action may be my favorite Internet-find of the past 6 months. It’s one of those things that when I read it, it hit me right between the eyes and was the perfect article at the time. I’ve gone back and read it about 10 times since he posted it. If you have 2 minutes, it’s worth your time.
The Fellowship of the Doers
How can I leave without at least finding some way of trying to work Teddy Roosevelt into this?
Last year I finished reading a lengthy book on the youth and rise to power of Theodore Roosevelt. As a young boy, TR realized the power, clarity of mind, and sense of purpose that was associated with DOING things (and not just talking about them). He surrounded himself with such people that took on the same mindset, calling themselves “The Fellowship of the Doers”.
I feel like Getting Things Done has helped to give my brain the type of effect that steroids would give muscles (minus all the side effects and health problems, of course). It has given me a shortcut to moving from someone who is not simply just a “thinker”, but more importantly, a doer. I can’t describe how cool this feels to be able to plan things out, process them, cross them off a list. It’s incredible!
And while I know that some won’t buy the book and check it out (and that’s totally fine with me, I understand and my feelings aren’t hurt), some will. When you’re done, let’s connect. I want to swap notes and see how we can help each other.
Chopping down the tree, one swing of the ax at a time.