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A mind like water

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  • A mind like water


    the most intriguing idea about GTD to me is the idea of the "mind like water". I realise I have this when I work at home, because then I simply follow my lists one by one without much time pressure.

    However, at work, I feel I have to prioritise, and often I feel when I do "small" things that I should be completing a bigger and maybe more important task. Also, I get a lot of small things done whereas the big ones often take a lot of time to be completed.

    Is it better to follow a list one item after another or is prioritising better? But then, what is really important right now? What is the most important thing? And this is when I lose my "mind like water".

    Any ideas?



  • #2
    mind like slush

    It is easy to get out of the mind like water state, especially where you have competing demands and the hierarchical structure of most work environments.

    Time is limited, so you must make decisions of what to do. Even at work, it is easy to get caught in the "busy trap", where you are doing great work but maybe not the right work. David Allen points out that there are some people doing great work that should be fired, because they aren't doing the work they are supposed to be doing.

    One of your most useful tips is to REVIEW. This is by far the most neglected area of GTD, in my opinion. You have to be intimately familiar with what's out there, where projects are, etc. Looking over your lists regularly will help you subconsciously prioritize.

    I do NOT recommend going straight down a list of to-do's, unless you have unlimited time and can afford to just "be busy".

    In order to figure out what is the highest priority, you need to figure out what your job is (David Allen discusses this in the GTD Fast recording, which is very good, btw). If you can connect your current tasks all the way up your 10k-50k views, it will become evident to you which things are most important.



    • #3
      Originally posted by Lorem View Post
      Is it better to follow a list one item after another or is prioritising better? But then, what is really important right now? What is the most important thing?
      I agree with John in that priorities come from your higher horizons of focus and not the next actions or even the projects. If you try to prioritize your actions alone you'll find yourself in analysis paralysis especially when looking at a long list of seemingly arbitrary actions. To prevent overload from long lists, I suggest you keep your action lists as short as possible. If they get too large, try to prune them to a manageable size.

      The key to keeping your inventory of work complete and current and staying in touch with your priorities is a regular (weekly) review of your system. No system will tell you what action is the most important to take; it can only support an intuitive judgment call that you and you alone have to make.

      Try thinking of your next actions as bookmarks rather than individual tasks. Each next action represents the very next physical thing that you need to do to kickstart a project when you start it or come back to it. Often times I've started my day by picking an action, doing it it, deciding what the next action is, doing it, and repeating without touching my lists again for the remainder of the day. Other times I've cleared lists one item at a time (knocking off individual phone calls during breaks or lunch, for example).

      After you've evaluated your context, time available and energy available, decide what action will give you the biggest personal payoff. If you're operating strictly from priorities and what's mission critical, choose an action that's connected with a high priority outcome.

      When you complete that action, decide the next action and either do it or defer it into your system. If you forget to decide a next action or get sidetracked, a review of your system should trigger a reminder that you need to define a next action. That's why the weekly review is so important; it prevents projects from stagnating due to a lack of a defined next action.

      Best of luck!



      • #4
        Good topic!

        First off, one will not remain in the Mind Like Water state for long periods, especially in an environment with many external stimuli.

        However, the Projects list can help to quiet down that yapping insistence that you're not working on the right thing right now. Re-check your Projects list to re-connect with the most important Projects.

        I often find myself most able to maintain a mind like water when I focus on a few important and/or urgent Projects for, say, the next few hours. Sometimes I'll scribble a little mark next to each of these Projects, to remind myself to focus on them. Then I'll prioritize my Next Actions accordingly.


        • #5
          I have also noticed that whether a next action is used to go further into a project or just done to move onto the next action on a context list really depends on what I know or what I hope I know I need to do next. Sometimes just working down the NA list is a quick and easy way to get quite a bit done. It gets momentum going and works well when I'm uncertain what to do next (a blanking snoozy early afternoon, for example). A lot of my trust in what I'm doing next comes from my weekly review and tiny daily reviews.


          • #6
            Hi Lorem,

            For me "mind like water" was an elusive concept and my interpretation has moved upon multiple readings of David's Getting Things Done book.

            I originally thought "mind like water" meant calm and your post suggests that may be your interpretation as you are less under pressure at home than at work. I've since understood it to mean "Like water, my mind response directly to the force applied to it. No more, no less".

            This is more feeling than words but since that won't translate so well online, I'll have to use the latter.

            If my boss walks in with an urgent task that I wasn't previously aware of I have to respond to that task urgently. If not, I can place it on a list and get to it when needed. I have moments of stress and pressure and have found these to be less the norm. If I'm not like water, then I am in pressure all the time.

            Drop a large rock from a tall height into water and there is a big splash. Water flies into the air and it's not easy to predict what happens next. Once dealt with however the water returns to its previous state. Place a large rock gently into the water and the surface hardly moves.



            • #7
              Originally posted by Lorem View Post
              Is it better to follow a list one item after another or is prioritising better? But then, what is really important right now? What is the most important thing? And this is when I lose my "mind like water".
              I've been thinking a bit about this "mind like water" as well. It's interesting that a system (GTD) so focused on thinking about and planning for the future should be compatible with mindfulness which is all about staying in the present. But I do think they are compatible, and I see GTD as a system for allowing the mind to engage with the present because it systematically deals with an "externalizes" the future into a reliable system so that the stuff isn't rattling around in your head and taking your mind off of what needs to be done right now.

              As for your question I think you can work from lists or prioritize, and as long as you do so "mindfully" (meaning that you are engaged with the work itself and not worrying or distracted by other things). (Confession: I rarely work in this "flow state" but when I do it is fantastic the day flies by and at the end of it you feel great about your job)

              In the case of prioritizing there's no reason to feel anxious since the alternative (working from lists) isn't going to yield any "better" result. And it all needs to get done anyway, if you're committed to doing it at all. I would recommend just using your gut level instinct to choose a next action (perhaps based on priority). Then just go and engage with that task as completely as you can, confident that whatever else you need to get done is written down and you will get to it.


              • #8
                You know, increasingly, I am starting to befriend the idea of quieting down anxiety by going back to the basics -- Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Often, when I am anxious it is usually because of physiological factors rather than psychological (I am probably lucky!?) so I put everything on hold and a) take a nap, b) eat a favorite food, and then I am back to my usual self.

                I realize that in this life you can't be happy without the bottom (animal?) instincts satisfied first -- it's mind like water for me! Perhaps, as I am aging I am becoming more cynical about it all and simply looking at life how a child would look at it

                Now, Chinese or Italian tonight?
                Last edited by alsa; 09-12-2009, 03:06 PM.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Lorem View Post
                  But then, what is really important right now? What is the most important thing?
                  Some quotes from the GTD book might be helpful:

                  So how will you decide what to do and what not to do, and feel good about both? The answer is, by trusting your intuition.
                  At 10:33 A.M. Monday, deciding whether to call Sandy, finish the proposal, or process your e-mails will always be an intuitive call, but with the proper preplanning you can feel much more confident about your choices.
                  In order to trust the rapid and intuitive judgment calls that you make about actions from moment to moment, you must consistently retrench at some more elevated level.

                  Hope that helps,


                  • #10
                    Great ideas all. My only other suggestion which helps me greatly... Keep your lists in front of you.


                    • #11
                      lists or fists

                      Originally posted by bartco View Post
                      Keep your lists in front of you.
                      I read this first as keep your fists in front of you. Guess too much martial arts references for me.....