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The Racing Mind and GTD

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  • The Racing Mind and GTD


    I'd like to share something that I have recently learned and improved upon lately, which was my racing mind. Though GTD helped greatly, it didn't nearly do it good enough as I had hoped. But let's start with the beginning about why I even started GTD.

    When I read the GTD book I got a lot of "aha" moments. It seemed to be perfect for my needs because I was thinking about a lot of stuff, but not actually doing anything about it. I put much hope and praise into it, thinking that this would actually be the way to get stuff done in my life.

    I became a perfectionist, overly thinking projects and actions and made the system much more difficult to use than needed. I would create actions that were too obvious (i.e go get ladder, put ladder up against wall), thinking that I would rely heavily on the system itself at all times. I failed, miserably.

    It didn't cure my racing mind. In some ways it enhanced it, allowing me to go deeper into the rabbit hole instead of feeling more free. Now there might be things in the books that I actually overlooked because I was so overly focused on getting the system up and going, so I have to apologize if the original GTD book covers this, but my mind was flying high.

    After that I fell off the wagon a bit, it wasn't working for me because my mind was still thinking too much. I read several books after that like "The Now Habit" (interesting book), meditation and traversed into Buddhism (I am now a buddhist). They helped, bit by bit, but not tremendously.

    These last few weeks I have been a vacation while waiting to start my new job. After leaving my old stressful job my mind became much better, though I still was thinking and judging too much. I should do this, I should do that, why haven't I done X and why haven't I done all of these things when I got all this time. I was essentially nagging myself in so many ways, judging, critizing, categorizing, defining.

    Then I started reading a book named "Kick the Thinking Habit", which was on a discount so I thought, why not and bought it. After reading it a little I became more aware about my thinking and learned some nice "tricks" that if you think about your thinking (just observing it), it subside rather quickly. Basically it is taking the focus out of the thinking that is going on and taking it toward observing that it is happening. I then learned how ingrained this behavior (thinking about stuff) was in every area of my life. Washing dishes, waking up, shoveling snow, taking out the garbage etc. Almost everything in my life triggered a type of "brainstorming" in my mind saying that I was too tired, tomorrow would be better, it's raining outside.

    It has the same message/goal that meditation has, or what they say in Zen, having a Beginner's Mind. Simply experiencing, not thinking about the experience, not judging it, not thinking about that bill or item on the grocery. But being right there, in that moment, or in this moment is perhaps better to say. That is also what GTD is about essentially, being in the moment while having control of the other stuff in your life because you got a systematic approach to deal with it. But GTD couldn't solve my thinking problems, it would just exaggerate them because I became so system fanatic about it. Now I can tailor GTD to myself, look into each step and see "what are we trying to do here" instead of thinking "this exact way of doing things won't work for me".

    The goal of this post is to give a few tips and hopefully help people in the same situation, especially since I been so plagued by it for so long.

  • #2
    My racing mind has always been in the way, too!

    I have lost count of the number of times I have failed at implementing GTD. When I started with a paper system, my mind always raced ahead to the next thought before i could finish capturing a thought or processing an in basket item. When i went electronic, my mind would race with ways to "improve" my set up every time i went into the app, and I would get sidetracked working on those improvements (which just made things more complicated). I'm definitely going to check out that book you mention.


    • #3
      The Racign Mind . . .

      Thank you for such a great post. I've suffered with the same problem but have yet to do the introspection to understand it. While reading your post, I felt like it was speaking directly to me. I will check out the book your cited.


      • #4

        A great post. And the book you recommend seems insightful, too.

        I think your conclusions are very correct. If I may paraphrase them, you are saying, and I agree:
        • There is a lot of human wisdom which has evolved for aeons and which is available for us to learn (or to discover for ourselves if we open our eyes); Eastern philosophy contains a lot of this, and it exists in other places, too.
        • GTD is primarily a task management methodology - which can help keep us "organized", but which cannot be expected to create wisdom for us on its own.
        • All GTD does in this respect is indicate an "interface point" at its 50k horizon, and point out that this level will permeate all the lower levels. It will even influence the details of how we perform individual tasks at the runway level, e.g. how we treat people in meetings, or the diligence with which we double-check our bookkeeping. None of these workings (from 50k down) are detailed in the GTD methodology, though, nor should they be, IMO.


        • #5
          I've always believed that thinking is an extremely good thing to do, however the big mistake I made in my life was not thinking at the appropriate horizons of focus. It's like making sure the passengers on the train are comfortable and offering them coffee and biscuits whilst not perceiving the fallen tree across the tracks ahead!


          • #6
            Hi and thanks to you all for replying!

            I'd love to hear from the people who is checking out the book, would be very interesting if you get the same effect as I did. Since I read the book (not finished yet, still reading), I have started and completed much more in just four days than I did the last month. Looks like I am slowly progressing from thinking to action and making it easier all the time.

            Tomorrow for instance I am buying Halloween gear for party (going as Alex Delarge), delivering keys and equipment to my previous job (got a new one, yay!), buying work clothing for house maintenance, grocery shopping, exercising and making food in bulk. That doesn't sound much, or it could sound much depending on how you think. I would previously look for every fault and possible issue, but now I don't engage in thinking and instead see it as what they are; stuff to be done.

            GTD can help you organize the stuff you are thinking through its systematic approach, but it certainly won't calm your mind if you have that worrying mentality that stuff will go wrong.

            These days I haven't focused much on GTD except getting my current stuff done and on track. Larger goals (create a meditation group, exercise goals, financial planning to buy an apartment) exist, but I currently feel no inclination toward dealing with that more than what I currently am. Writing that statement made realize that I judged my current larger goals toward something I don't know and by that it must be somewhat wrong. That is one of the few things I am talking about in my original post, not only have I been engaged in chronic thinking, but also chronic judging (everything I do is not perfect etc.) which makes life more difficult than necessary.

            This topic was meant to bring on a discussion if people wanted to have one, any views and insights are welcome (and I thank those who have already contributed to that!).


            • #7
              Originally posted by treelike View Post
              I've always believed that thinking is an extremely good thing to do, however the big mistake I made in my life was not thinking at the appropriate horizons of focus.
              There is nothing wrong with thinking as such. It is a great gift. We can use it for many good things - and for things that are not so great.

              Originally posted by theilluminated View Post
              I'd love to hear from the people who is checking out the book.
              It sounds like a good book (and short and inexpensive), so maybe I'll get it. I am tempted. But I have already read dozens of "similar" book (a relative of mine was a Tibetan nun, Vajrayana school, with a huge bookshelf that I helped myself to), so I am not sure I can absorb much more

              I like the "core" Buddhist philosophy a lot and I am deeply impressed by its level of insight. It is probably at least 500 documented years ahead of documented Western philosophy of comparable depth, and probably 2500 years ahead if you allow reasonable assumptions based on indirect references etc. And I like their balance of a fundamentally cut-to-the-core approach with an almost "German analytical" writing style

              But, as I said before, I somehow feel that GTD, or task management in any of its forms, is a more mundane and operational kind of thing, something you can use regardless of whether you are a Christian creationist, Western atheist or fundamentalist Moslem, or if you are an existentialist, nihilist or determinist. Whatever your views are on the higher levels, or your attitudes to life, they will affect your daily life as a whole and in much of its detail, but may not necessarily affect your task management methodology much at all, just as they most likely will not affect your use of knife and fork at the dinner table.


              • #8
                The Book

                Originally posted by theilluminated View Post
                I'd love to hear from the people who is checking out the book.
                I finally read the book you recommended, Kick the Thinking Habit, - and do you know what? I really don't know what to say, A good book, but with a caveat.

                For me personally it was a good reminder of things that I should perhaps do more often or more deliberately. For me it has been a spontaneous thing since early years to think and do a little bit of this, and to contemplate philosophy and psychology, but not to systematically put it into any form of regular practice. I think I could probably benefit from doing that, very systematically, but had never had a strong enough urge.

                I have not read this kind of book for a long time now, and this was the first time ever I read such a book written by a non-Tibetan. For example, I have never read Eckhart Tolle, the probably most well-known Western writer in this genre.

                I believe the book could be useful for many. It emphasizes - or is actually only about - the importance of non-attachment to one's thoughts and emotions, how that works and how it can be brought about deliberately etc. A very easy read with plenty of examples.

                What makes me a bit ambivalent about the book is the fact that - for better and for worse - the book is only about this non-attachment - mainly for a primarily selfish reason; peace of mind. The good thing about this is that the book is easy to read.

                What makes me unsure, though, is something that Yoda might have expressed as "it can lead to the dark side"

                In the old hippie days (I was never a hippie myself, but I knew quite a few) a came across plenty of people with a very reckless form of love & peace attitude, claiming that everything is cool and smooth and what not as it is (like modern Leibnitzes), and basically not caring for anything or anyone - shutting out everything under a fashionable veneer of thin philosophy and a matching jargon. I remember I felt eerie about this, but could not put my finger on it at the time.

                In the present book, the story about the retreat in British Columbia gave me a bit of that same eerie feeling - where everybody was so happy and perfect. Something is missing.

                I think what is missing is the balancing in of something like empathy - or compassion, as Buddhists would say - an external purpose, if you will, for being so peaceful deep inside, and a genuine source of new fresh pain and pleasure to guide your actions for the benefit of others and yourself.

                The present book describes (among many other things) a method of deliberately splitting your focus both internally, to something like your heart, and externally, to something like a conversation you are having. There is nothing wrong with this. Coincidentally, though, this reminds me of another, similar yet very different, heart metaphor that I read in a reasonably modern (20th century) Tibetan book that I can hardly remember anymore (written by Chögyam Trungpa, I believe, perhaps titled something like the Way of the Warrior). The difference is huge. In the latter book, the author expresses this "dual focus" approach as imagining having a "raw and tender heart" directly exposed to the world, feeling every raindrop, flower, war, murder, cloud or symphony straight on your own unprotected, pulsating, red heart. Although both of these approaches are heart related, the former is entirely without, the latter with, the element of "compassion".

                Does this make sense to you?


                • #9
                  Thank you Folke, it was great reading your take on the book, it was pure pleasure.

                  I understand your sentiment wholeheartidly, it can feel somewhat like a way to escape. Non-attachment, like everything else, can be taken too far and get results like the retreat you went to in British Columbia. My feelings for the book have been positive, I've taken the parts that suit me well in order to have a greater balance than what I previously had before.

                  I could reframe it as being aware of the action of non-action, or cutting through when thinking becomes overwhelming. Essentially for me it is just another tool in my belt to deal with life. Peace of mind is a great thing, but through evolution humans have dealt with more than just sitting around being happy all day. The world is a great experience and I believe it is a waste of time not seeking out and being a bit adventureous on this part. Aiming and working towards balance is my core belief, and one cannot know if certain techniques from the book will be a part of your own balance until they have been tried.

                  In total I am very much pleased with the book, but I think what people get from it can be very different. And yes, it did make sense to me!