Disclaimer: A friend recently recommended to me that writing extreme opinions is far more engaging for the reader. I attempt it a little here for experimentation.
After a year of practicing GTD, I no longer think it the magical system for getting things done in my life. Quite the contrary. And in fact, I am not at all interested in so-called “stress-free productivity.”
What I want is results. Dream level results. Let me learn to deal with the stress of neglecting all low-level areas so I can focus on the dream visions.
Let’s review how David Allen recommends to choose which action to take and why I think this component of the system is not productive for my dream-driven personality.
Allen offers the Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment in chapter 9 of GTD
1. Context 2. Time available 3. Energy available 4. Priority
Where #4 relies on the Six-horizon commitment model, starting with actions on the ground level and working from the bottom up.
Horizon 5: Life Horizon 4: Long-term visions Horizon 3: One- to two-year goals Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountability Horizon 1: Current projects Ground: Current actions
David Allen recommends working from the ground up and it is in some way the least stressful thing to do.
“Buy cat food” may certainly not rank high on some theoretical prioritizing inventory, but if that’s what’s pulling on you the most, in the moment, then handling it in some way would be Job One. - David Allen (p. 218)
Thing is, I don’t want to buy cat food. That’s a distraction from my vision for the future. Let the cat die. I would love to learn and adopt such a theoretical prioritizing inventory instead.
“Finding out exact details of your personal finances, clarifying the historical data about the company you’re buying, or getting the facts about who really said what to whom in an interpersonal conflict can be constructive, if not absolutely necessary and downright healing.”
Do I really need to know my exact personal finances? Why not just estimate so I can actually work and progress with my career instead?
Is it really worth my time to learn who said what and to whom so that I can be “right” in the midst of drama? No. Either I want to let go of my desire to be right so I can continue a strong relationship with the person, or the person is just so unreasonable that it is not worth my effort to even continue the relationship. Rory Vaden, in Procrastinate on Purpose, lists dealing with unreasonable people as one of the biggest most common time-wasters that should be eliminated. Later in the book, Vaden quotes one of his case studies for the book, Troy Peple, saying
“Whenever possible, I never take an action that can’t be undertaken until either I have to or until there is an overwhelmingly compelling reason that I should.”
Taking a step back to the four-criteria model, let’s consider the reverse of the model. I can start with what’s most important and create the energy, time, and space (context) to do it. As Dr. Stephen Corvey writes in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,
The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities
In my class at Stanford, Startup Blitzscaling, taught by Reid Hoffman who founded LinkedIn, we learned that as LinkedIn grew Hoffman always ignored many “fires” to focus on putting out only the important fires. The process started with priorities.
Now there’s one key question remaining: As a person who loves to optimize life, I am fearful of the optimizations that I might miss out on if I neglect every action that doesn’t have, as Troy Peple puts it, “an overwhelmingly compelling reason” for doing it. I would love to have an easy system for prioritization that takes into account all these three components:
(1) Progress towards dreams and goals
(2) Potential return of investment in work energy, focus, or time
(3) Improvement in my quality of life
Maybe taking care of a cat is enough of an improvement in quality of life or in work energy to be worth it? How can that be quantified in a way that isn’t in itself an over complex waste of time? I’ll leave that to comments and suggestions.