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The artifacts of getting organized, and their misleading prosaic nature

In the article Tools versus Process, Geekle talks about "the myth that tools [themselves] can make you more productive." I agree - to truly change and become more productive, adopters of any new organization system (including the one that I practice, from David Allen's book Getting Things Done) must change their thinking and habits, rather than simply buying something. As Allen says of his system in particular, it's simple (i.e., it's understandable and uses skills everyone has), but not easy (i.e., requires instituting the aforementioned changes).

I think this concept is behind a pattern I've noticed when introducing people to Allen's work. If I start the conversation by talking about the artifacts of getting organized (paper, to-do lists, folders, etc.) oftentimes their immediate reaction will be something like "lists - oh yea, I use lists" and then they're gone. End of story. (I see similar reactions when talking about filing systems.) I think one problem is that the tools of the discipline are composed of prosaic and common everyday business items, but the value is in how you use them. For example, when I started adopting GTD I experienced this distinction keenly with respect to how I used my calendar. Previously I'd been mixing date-independent action items with "hard landscape" appointments that had to happen on certain days, but once I had the conceptual framework (OK, "idea") of separating them, the use of the artifact became crystal clear. And this clarity allowed me to use the tool in a far more effective manner.

I believe this problem (focusing on tool, not process) is exacerbated when talking with the kinds of confident and intelligent people I work with, who sometimes assume they "got it" (or enough of it) after a brief introduction to dive in. (And to be honest, I think the geek culture many of us inhabit has a bigger focus on the "nouns" - be they electronic or paper - than on the "verbs" - process.) In other words, simply thinking solely about the artifacts can cause underestimation of the system's power, which in turn distracts potential users who might benefit from it. Such a focus also waters down the methodology's ability to be heard in a culture with a thousand other getting organized books and systems. (Searching Amazon for "organizing" gets almost 3,000 hits.)

However, as Don Norman writes, I think it's natural for us to be excited by attractive and functional things, and, for those of us who strive to improve ourselves, seeing tools like those mentioned above holds a promise for helping us deal with our stuff. (I admit - I now love to browse the office supply section of our awesome local general store - stickers, note cards, pens - yum!) But the challenge is to help people realize it's not the tool, but the process (as Geekle said) that provides the real power for lasting change. As Marian Bateman says in What is Organized?:
The real issue is not how your home or office looks, but how we all think about our workflow... This is the paradigm shift that is so radical, it is not about our outer environment, it is about our inner environment. The new conversation is about how we learn the methodology about the art of work. It is an educational process that takes time and energy to learn, just like learning any language.

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