Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Story About Getting Things Done: Part 2

by Dan Frank

Previously I mentioned the meltdown that was impending while I was in DC kicking off a new project. It was not long after I returned from that trip that it occurred. I won’t go into the details but it involved me behaving like a jerk and treating people badly. It wasn’t your traditional meltdown and at the time it didn’t even seem like that big of a deal but things could easily have gone much worse than they did. Luckily when I got home that night Jess was able to listen to me vent and when she heard my story she told me that I needed to go send an email and apologize. I knew before she even said it that she was right and I wrote a few difficult emails that night. I had a couple of hard conversations the next day and things quickly returned to normal.

I spent a lot of time praying and reflecting on things over the next day or two and if I had to point to a moment in time that really started to turn things around for me that was it. My apologies were accepted and most of the wounds healed quickly. It was a really humbling experience for me and opened my eyes to a lot of things in my heart. Luckily I get to live with my best friend and a truly wise woman who helped me to work through some of the issues I was dealing with. God had used this incident, which really got my attention, to point out the severity of the situation and prepare me for the change he was about to introduce in my life. At that point the stage was set. The perfect storm for the change that was about to take place in my life was brewing. I would have to write another three thousand words to communicate my mindset three weeks ago (which I won’t do since I will be lucky for anyone to read the words I have already written). A lot had happened the week of my meltdown and God was doing a lot in my heart. There were the major adjustments he was making to my attitude but there were also little ideas and realizations that would become the pieces to a bigger puzzle I would begin to solve over the next three weeks.

All of this brings us back to Wednesday night the week of my meltdown. I just got the GTD book by David Allen and started reading it that night. As I began to read the book every word rang true inside me. Many of the things God had been revealing to me about my life and just general truths were right there on the pages I was reading. I should note at this point that the book “Getting Things Done” is not a Christian book. I don’t know David Allen’s religious beliefs and they are certainly not stated in this book. It didn’t stop every word of it from ringing true. God’s wisdom can be found all over by believers and non believers alike. Truth is truth no matter who speaks it and there is a lot of simple truth in this book.

So I am reading the book and everything is making sense. I know what he is going to say before he says it and I have one “ah ha” moment after another as my thoughts are made more and more clear and my actions and feelings relating to work and stress in general all start to make sense. At this point I was starting to get that excited feeling that you get right before you realize the thing that is too good to be true is too good to be true. Very much like the feeling I got when the doctor told me that I had hypothyroidism and that symptoms of that disease were weight gain, fatigue (both mental and physical), headaches and a variety of the other issues that plague me because I eat too much, don’t get enough sleep, manage my stress poorly and don’t trust God. Needless to say the Levothyroxine didn’t solve any of those problems.

I started to get a sinking sensation. I started to worry that this guy clearly saw the truth of my situation and had figured out a good way to communicate the whole problem but probably wouldn’t have any real answers. I am sure that if I actually had any readers they would be saying something like “I have been practicing these techniques for 30 years since I read such and such a book back in the 70’s”. And if I had actual readers I would say that they were probably right. I am not saying that this is the first and only guy in the history of the world to make sense on the subject of time management and the effects on our subconscious of holding too much information in our heads, but he is the first guy I have heard say it.

Anyway, something kept me hoping that this guy was going to have some answers and not just be another self helper that ends the book trying to sell you his 12 month course on getting rich in your underwear. So I read on.

Jess getting into "Getting Things Done".
The book is broken up into three main parts. Part one is an overview of the problems along with the solutions that he proposes solve them. Part two walks you through the practices in more detail and helps to get your systems set up and begin processing your world. Finally step three talks about the finer points of the system and how to maximize its effectiveness. I finished part one the first night and at that point I knew this was going to change my life.

I have to believe that a lot of why I found the book to be so profound was that a lot of the very simple concepts that were being communicated were things that God was really bringing to my attention around that time. Also, while the concepts are very simple, its how he puts them together that really shines a light on things. The concepts are so simple in fact that numerous times throughout the book from the first page to the last he talks about how you already know how to do everything you will need to do to implement the system. There is a lot of common sense and many basic tasks that you already do, and probably do quite well, which make up a system that is much more than the sum of its parts.

I won’t get into the specifics of the system in this story, if you are interested in finding out more just get the book from your local library, it will explain the concepts much better than I could. It is important to note however that the main purpose of the entire system is to get as much OUT of your head a possible and INTO systems that you trust and that you will maintain. The theory being that your mind can be described as a computer, there is RAM (or random access memory) that holds information that is readily needed for processing and problem solving but which is volatile and finite. There is the display or desktop which puts the information in front of the user and brings it to focus, and there is the storage that holds the information that is not currently being used but needs to be kept around as a resource for later work.

I will not be able to do the author justice but the point is that your brain’s RAM is not a good place to store information (since it is volatile and finite). Furthermore your brain is not well designed to bring things to your remembrance at the most opportune times when things are stored in your more permanent subconscious. Any time you have more than one thing in your RAM you are by nature wasting that space since you cannot truly be doing more than one thing at any given moment in time. The main function of GTD is to reliably store information and put it in front of you at precisely the time it is needed while keeping any other distractions (no matter how important) out of your focus and out of your head until it needs to be dealt with.

Now in some ways I am oversimplifying the system but the fundamental purpose really is that simple. Get as much out of your head and into a system that you can trust to put it in front of you when it is needed as possible and then work the system to make it as efficient as possible. And here is where the real magic happened for me. Your subconscious holds on to things that you told it you should be doing forever. If you tell yourself at some point that you should be doing something and never put that information in a place where your mind trusts that you will find it, your subconscious will hold on to that information and think that you should be doing that thing every minute of every day even when you don’t remember that you ever thought you should be doing it. Since it is impossible to be doing all of those things, or even more than one of them at a time, your subconscious is always going to think you are not doing things that you should be doing and you are going to end up with a sense of stress and discontentment that you can’t put your finger on.

I can’t tell you how much sense that made to me. It explained why I was getting frustrated with people and things and not being able to really figure out why. It explained why I wasn’t really able to tell anyone the multitude of things I just had to get done and why I felt that 24 hours in a day wasn’t nearly enough but I couldn’t make a list longer than a dozen items to explain what I needed to do. It explained why I was constantly tired and why even when I had more to do than I could even bring myself to remember I often couldn’t think of a single thing I should be doing when I sat down to do get stuff done. It explained why even when I was doing something that I thought to be important and that had clear direction I felt like I should probably be doing ten other things instead. It explained a lot. I couldn’t wait to get everything out of my head. Just the idea that it would be possible to get everything out of my head was freeing.

And as with so many things in my life God had brought all of this together with perfect timing. Within the next week and a half I would see the GTD system turn what would have been a complete disaster into one of the greatest times of growth in my professional as well as personal life. I had just gotten back from my DC trip the week before. I had more to do than ever. I had half of the development team depending on me for direction, I had to get multiple projects off the ground, and I had to wrap up a hand full more. The stress of the situation was definitely manifesting its self in my life even though I was relatively blind to it myself. If it hadn’t been for my melt down the previous week I probably wouldn’t really have seen the severity of the situation even when it was staring me right in the face. The truth of the matter is that I wouldn’t fully realize the importance of that week and the full severity of the situation until it was past.

1 comment:

karim said...

A valuable post and it much helpfull to all.Thanks a lot for your post.

Thanks,
Karim - Positive thinking