GTD jump start

I attended David Allen's Roadmap seminar in Santa Monica on Friday. This one-day seminar is a reformatting of the two-day Getting Things Done seminar I attended a few years ago and it has refreshed my enthusiasm for Getting Things Done in a couple of ways.
Written by Marc Orchant, Contributor on
I attended David Allen's Roadmap seminar in Santa Monica on Friday. This one-day seminar is a reformatting of the two-day Getting Things Done seminar I attended a few years ago and it has refreshed my enthusiasm for Getting Things Done in a couple of ways. I've written and talked about GTD for years now and work at a company where the majority of employees have been exposed to Allen's approach to stress-free productivity. Over time, I've strayed pretty far from the "plain vanilla" implementation of Allen's GTD methods and adapted them to the way I work.

Allen uses a martial arts metaphor in his presentation and talks about reaching and maintaining a "black belt" level of proficiency in the skills that comprise GTD. This is an apt way of describing GTD because, just like karate or aikido, GTD requires constant practice and commitment to be really effective. Reaching the black belt level, for martial artists, is a point along the way, not a destination.

In an podcast I recorded with Allen and his technology consultant Eric Mack last year, Allen asked me if I felt I had attained a black belt level of understanding and mastery of GTD. I told him I thought I was probably a brown belt with occasional "lapses" into black-beltedness -- that sometimes things just got overwhelming and I would find myself off track for a bit until I had the time and focus to get myself back on track again. This might take the form of e-mail getting out of control or not getting everything out of my head and into my "trusted system" as GTD practitioners call their collection of information about goals, commitments, and actions.

Allen told me that he had come to understand from his karate teacher that this recognition that I had gotten out of shape, combined with the ability to get myself back into shape, was the sign of being at black belt. I appreciated that thought at the time and had it strongly reinforced in the Roadmap seminar. On a number of occasions during the all-day presentation, he told the 150 people in the room that everyone can and probably will find themselves out of balance from time to time, himself included. Recognizing this and taking the necessary steps to bring things back in balance is what is important.

So I return to my day-to-day reality with a renewed enthusiasm for making sure I have my goals properly defined, desired outcomes (what does success look like?) articulated, and next actions properly captured in my calendar or task list. I'm looking forward to doing this -- I was in pretty good shape when I get to the seminar but I'll be in even better shape after I do a thorough review of my goals and commitments this week.

Allen often talks about achieving a state he calls "mind like water". This is a reference to an old martial arts chestnut that asks, "how does water respond when a pebble is tossed into it?" The one-word answer is "appropriately". The pebble strikes the surface, creates a momentary displacement, a set of ripples radiate outward from the point of impact, and then the water returns to its former state. Crisis, opportunity, and the unexpected are the pebbles we need to learn to deal with -- appropriately -- to be most effective.

Sorry if this sounds like a Kung Fu rerun. My name is Marc and I'm a GTD Kool-Aid drinker.

The other big takeaway for me was the way Allen has tightened the focus on the why questions and stepped further away from the how questions over the years. The Roadmap emphasizes the importance of doing rather than the mechanics of acting. One of the things I have always appreciated about GTD is its agnosticism (my word) or neutrality (Allen's preference) toward the tools you elect to use.

Case in point: in the two-day seminar I attended in 2002, we spent a significant amount of time working our way through the GTD workflow diagram -- a process model that walks you step by step through a deliberate series of steps to determine what to do with each new piece of "stuff" that comes into your life with the potential need for you to take action. In the Roadmap seminar, Allen did not even show the model and made only a single passing reference to where it could be found in the Getting Things Done book.

GTD requires nothing more than a legal pad and writing instrument. Making and maintaining lists of your projects and actions can be done on paper, a PDA, or in complex software environments like Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes. The "how" is a matter of preference. Allen firmly believes that this neutrality is one of the reasons GTD resonates so well with techies. We get the tools. What we respond to is a framework that shows us how to use them more effectively and rigorously.

There many passionate advocates of GTD who regularly write about the impact this method has had on their ability to get more done with less stress. The David Allen Company website has a rich library of free resources that explain various aspects of getting a trusted system set up and working. If you are new to Getting Things Done, these blogs, articles, and essays can help you get get started. If you've been working on getting GTD integrated into your life, there are plenty of ideas and techniques that may provide a welcome jump start to help you kick things into a higher gear.

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