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Defeating the Enemy Within (a GTD Success Story)

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  • Defeating the Enemy Within (a GTD Success Story)

    Things crawl in the darkness
    That imagination spins
    Needles at your nerve ends
    Crawl like spiders on your skin

    Pounding in your temples
    And a surge of adrenaline
    Every muscle tense to fence the enemy within

    Rush, "The Enemy Within"

    I dropped off the grid for a bit to get some stuff straightened out but have come back to share a GTD success story. If anyone reading this has struggled with the mechanics of GTD for reasons similar to me (and based on what I've read here and elsewhere there most certainly are such people), I'd like to share how such challenges can be overcome.

    I wrote a bunch of posts called "Back to Basics" a while back because I had identified that my GTD systems were far too complex and convoluted. The overhead required to maintain them far exceeded the payoff. Several attempts at GTD had crashed and burned for this reason. At the time I thought the answer was to streamline and simplify my GTD systems. In other words: go back to basics.

    I had identified the symptom but not the cause. The cause was fear. Fear of failure and fear that I lacked the natural abilities to get things done.

    Many of the root causes of this fear are deeply personal and thus have no place in this or any public forum. Let's just say that before I could rehabilitate my GTD practice I first had to confront these fears.

    Oftentimes the same set of facts feels different depending on the lens through which you choose to look at them. It is a fact that we are all ultimately responsible for our own choices and behavior (objectively speaking if someone puts a gun to your head and says "do this or die" you still have a choice albeit a rather ugly one with severely limited options). You can choose to accept that or not. The thing is accepting such a thing can be scary because you own have to own your own failures as much as you own your successes.

    I was exaggerating the severity and consequences of my failures and had gotten stuck as a result. But based on what I'll simply call some personal work I've done for the last couple of years in tandem with recently coming face to face with the price I was paying for not believing in my own abilities led me to choose to accept what is real: while I have been influenced by prior events outside my control I can choose what kind of person I will be in response.

    At that point I realized why I had such overly convoluted systems: a refusal to trust myself. And I think for many people who overly complicate GTD like I used to, that's probably at the heart of it: a refusal to trust one's own intuition.

    GTD is "about" a lot of things but for me and my purposes, the core, the very heart and soul and purpose of the principles so well laid-out in Getting Things Done, is to create systems that can support me just enough so that I can free myself to trust my intuition. I think too many people don't trust their own intuition.

    My GTD system now lives in Evernote following the recommendations laid out in the Evernote For GTD PDF for sale from the David Allen Co. Unlike The Secret Weapon the recommendations in the manual are deceptively simple. For me the major thing I had to quit almost cold turkey was using software that could create linkages between projects and next actions.

    Turns out I don't miss the complicated systems. The Weekly Review really works. When I read down my list of projects I can easily remember which ones have appropriate next actions and which of them don't. I generally have between 150 and 200 projects, BTW. My roles in life include professional salesman (with a complex set of technology products which I sell mainly to municipalities of varying sizes), board president for a small but robust arts non-profit serving the needs of local artists, boyfriend (practically married though -- my girlfriend and I own a house together), son, brother, uncle, friend, etc. etc. So it is safe to say my life is not a simple one to manage. Yet a very basic GTD setup is proving robust enough to help me keep up.

    The results? I'll give you an example. What seemed like an intractable problem in the "board president" sphere of my life turned out to be far more straightforward than I initially realized. My problem was in fact a project: "Resolve issues around decision-making process for [initiative I shouldn't name here]." The first next action was "Call [former board president] for advice." Her advice was solid and led to, "Email [Executive Director] to set meeting." The Agenda items for the meeting included, "Understand [Executive Director's] position on decision-making process." I prepped for the meeting with Computer actions including, "Research proper role of non-profit boards." My Calls list included "Call [good friend who serves on boards] re his view on [initiative]).

    The result was that what had been a crisis that had practical, personal (for one of my board colleagues) and political dimensions was turned into an opportunity for a board that had been struggling with its identity to crystallize its role in the organization. The board is now more energized than ever, the Executive Director now clearly sees me as a peer (something which hadn't been true before), and the initiative is un-stuck and moving forward. All because I simply identified an outcome and the relevant next actions. That wouldn't have been possible if I had continued to over-complicate my approach to GTD (and to life).

    That's merely one example of how my GTD practice is now supporting me.

    So if you're still with me, and if you are someone who has struggled mightily and repeatedly with GTD I would suggest you consider that fear may be the root cause and no one, not me or DA or anyone else, can force you to be honest with yourself about that. But if you're willing to be honest with yourself about that, and to understand that you can stand down and face that fear, I think you will likely eventually find it as easy as I have to finally implement GTD in a way that supports your getting things done in ways that are appropriate and sustainable.

    What I am truly excited about is that I think I have merely scratched the surface of how I can use GTD to support me in moving forward.

    I would like thank everyone in this forum with whom I have interacted with over these last few months, by the way. I would also like to thank Kelly Forrister whose online writings in her old blog, at the GTD Times web site, and in various podcasts have helped me clear away a lot of roadblocks.

    If you've made it this far, you're finished and I hope you found this as beneficial to read as it was for me to write. Enjoy your day.

  • #2
    Very thoughtful....

    Thank for sharing.

    Fear/lack of confidence, can certainly stymie the best system/person. Your post has given me much to consider related to my personal journey. Thanks again and good luck.


    • #3
      Thank you

      Originally posted by bcmyers2112 View Post

      GTD is "about" a lot of things but for me and my purposes, the core, the very heart and soul and purpose of the principles so well laid-out in Getting Things Done, is to create systems that can support me just enough so that I can free myself to trust my intuition. I think too many people don't trust their own intuition.
      Thanks for sharing this with us. I think in the above quote you really hit the nail.


      • #4
        Thanks Myriam and JerseyDoug! In retrospect some editing down might've been in order but I've learned not to do that after the fact if at all possible as it disrupts the flow of the online conversation.

        The funny thing is I may need to bulk up my systems in the near future but am finding that it is easier to start simple and add capabilities than it is to unwind an overly complex system!

        In any event based on posts I've read here and elsewhere I don't think I'm alone in struggling with this and hope this will be helpful to others. I think for many people who have the tendency to overcomplicate systems, it may be rooted in similar fears and insecurities to those I've dealt with.

        The bottom line is that your GTD systems should support you, and not the other way around.

        Thanks again to both of you for your feedback.


        • #5
          Simplicity really works - and computers can be double-edged

          I can say with all my heart that I believe you are on a very promising track. I used to use a very simple system myself for maybe 20 years (late 70's to late 90's) and it worked well. It essentially consisted of (using GTD terminology) context based next actions lists, project support material and project action lists, and an appointment calendar and an address book. I don't think I had a separate project inventory (list of projects) or a separate waiting for list, though, so it was not exactly like GTD, but quite close.

          When we turn to computers it begins to get risky. Computers do have a lot of potential power, but the apps typically also force us to invest time in inventing all kinds of workarounds for problems we never had before. If we choose to use a computer, we probably had some reason for it; there were some things in particular that we wanted to be able to do more easily on a computer than on paper, but the problem is that with a computer app we inevitably get a package that not only has some of the things we were actually looking for (and some extra stuff that we do not need but can ignore), but, worst of all, it introduces and forces upon us a level of rigidity to our whole setup that we have no choice but to conform to - except to the extent that we manage to invent workarounds.

          When I started using computers I battled for many years until I reached "breakeven" - a situation where I both had most of what I used to have on paper, and then in addition at least some of the extras I wanted from the computer in the first place. I think I am well beyond the breakeven point now, but it has been over 15 years since I started computerizing my lists. I think - and hope - it will be a lot easier for you.


          • #6
            Folke, I think because of some differences in how we communicate I used to think we disagreed on much but now realize we disagree very little. We just have different ways of expressing similar thoughts.

            Your thoughts regarding the double-edged sword that is the computer are among the most insightful I've seen expressed here. Thank you for sharing them.


            • #7
              Can't Believe I Didn't Say This...

              Can't believe I forgot one big thank-you: thank you David Allen for such pioneering work in the productivity field. It has changed my life for the better.