Bob Lieberman's Blog

Tools For Initiating and Managing Change

Getting Things Done

I've spent the last week getting organized as I get ready to bury myself in an intensive writing task. I didn't think I could write well if my mind was still holding all its little reminders and project statuses. So I bought David Allen's book Getting Things Done.

As predicted, it took several days of dedicated work for me to reorganize, during which all my other activities were on hold. Then, for the first few days on the GTD system, I kept testing it to make sure nothing could easily get lost. It took lots of testing before I felt I could rely on it. It seems to be helping me focus, and if that holds up, it will prove really valuable. The overhead is a little daunting, but the potential benefit is definitely worth it. After several days of real use, I've learned some things about myself that I'd like to share with you.

One thing I learned is that there are times when I'd rather play around with my organizing system than do what would be considered "productive" work. This can last for hours. An observer might think I'm wasting time or dallying around, but I know better. This play serves two purposes for me: (1) Other work that I've done needs in-attention for a time, to "settle in", and the diversion provides that opportunity; (2) Manipulating my tasks as recreation makes things apparent in the portfolio as a whole that might have remained hidden were it not for this play time.

Being a former software engineer, I like to play with systems. My recreation might seem weird to you, but musicians and other artists find recreation like this too. Musicians play the same phrases over and over, for the sheer joy of it. And anyway, the game of creativity is not a march towards a goal. It is an accumulation and connection game. You strive to make as many connections as you can, and eventually you reach a critical mass where good things begin to happen.

The other thing I learned is that for me GTD depends on just two things, and the rest is just mechanics. The two things are: discipline and decisiveness. I need to clearly decide what to do about something, and I need to let the chips fall where they may. This doesn't mean I never review anything. It simply means I review things in a calm an orderly fashion instead of sitting bolt upright at 2AM with worry. I can see already that the energy I save in smooth execution and peace of mind more than compensates for that last drop of perfection I might happen upon when I should be sleeping.

In both my professional and performing lives, I've found that this attribute of "economy" is a key characteristic of the creative process. By making clear commitments and trusting them, I permit myself to accept outcomes and move on. It is the movement that makes the creative process work for me. Only by letting go of decisions (by making them) can I get back to being connected with the real world. And that's what it's all about, isn't it?

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