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It's not about productivity...

That was something Jason Womack said to me the other day, and I think it's right on the money. It reminded me of the following quotes, which I absolutely love:
  • Real change focuses not on techniques but on the way people think about themselves, their colleagues, and their work.
  • Time management is not a technique. It is a way of relating to the world.
(These came from an organization class I recently took at work. I'm sorry I don't have the original references to credit.)

This issue has come up for me lately because I've found it's easy to get caught up with doing (the book is called Getting Things Done after all), mainly because Allen's work enables me to do so much more. I feel I'm able to juggle more balls in the air than before, which is empowering.

So at the "runway" level [1], I'm making much better choices for spending my time, as dictated by the moment, my energy, etc, but I feel the deeper meaning (as I've tried to indicate via the quotes) must revolve around my purpose - how I spend each precious moment available to me, and ultimately how much inner peace the system gives me.

David Allen addresses this at the higher elevations of his approach, but so far the only way I've been able to look at it is this: To me, being productive is more about replacing my old, habitual patterns with new ones that move me in directions that make me more like I want to be. For example, after adopting GTD, I am more likely to view my habitual time wasters at home (mindless web surfing, for example) from a new perspective. In other words, I'm more likely to ask questions like:
  • Is this activity one that moves me in a direction I like better?,
  • Is this making me into someone I like better?, and (at the extreme)
  • Am I living as if I were to die tomorrow? (apologies to Gandhi)
Others have analyzed GTD's "bottom up" approach [2] (Marilyn Paul does it too - just read the title: It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys), and until now I've been a bit nervous about my not having explicitly addressed the highest elevations. I do have Actions, Projects, and Areas of Responsibility, but now I'm starting to experience how getting control of those more basic levels opens me up for thinking about the higher ones.

I'd love to hear from anyone who's had some clarity on this.

Update: Just got something terribly relevant from myself (found in my Read/Review folder just now while exercising): In The Essential Missing Half of Getting Things Done, Steve Pavlina characterizes how GTD is fabulous for the lower-level "doing things right," but is missing the higher-level "doing the right thing." He starts at the top with purpose, then details his goals (divided into need-based and purpose-based), and finally on to standard GTD projects and actions. (In fact, I'm told Allen used to call it Managing Actions and Projects -- or "MAP" -- as mentioned in this early book review.) One thing I don't know if I agree with is Pavlina's assertion that:
The high level element that is missing from standard GTD is, in my personal opinion, absolutely essential. It makes no sense to blindly apply standard GTD unless you've already secured the top level elements of purpose, mission, and goals.
Clearly I'm still working this one out. Regardless, it's a typically excellent essay, and is welcome encouragement. Highly recommended.


[1]: Recall Allen's "six horizons of focus":
  • Purpose ("50,000'")
  • Vision ("40,000'")
  • Goals ("30,000'")
  • Areas of Focus ("20,000'")
  • Projects ("10,000'")
  • Actions ("runway")
He says drive goes downward (i.e., purpose drives vision), but we start organizing upward.

[2]: In Doug Johnston's post Where GTD Falls Short there's a discussion that, in his view, GTD is missing depth - "something that penetrates deeper down into what it means to be human".


In Clarifying the Meaning of Productivity, David Seah gives us lots of possible benefits for being productive (he frames it from the personal, rather than work perspective), including: satisfying the urge to create, being recognized, and providing something of value. (Found via Personal, No Really PERSONAL, Productivity.)

Must be quote night: "For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin--real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life." -- Fr. Alfred D'Souza (found via Ready for anything)

Reader Comments (4)

I haven't implemented GTD in my life but I have done Stephen Covey's First Things First, which is a top-down approach. Have you read that book? It seems to me like it would make the perfect complement to the GTD bottom-up approach.

December 7, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAlvin

Thank you for the reference, Alvin. I'm using the rule that if a book gets referred to me more than once, I order it. (In pseudo-announcer voice) Congratulations to Stephen Covey and his book "First Things First". Seriously, I've started 7 Habits a few times and just couldn't get through it, even knowing its importance.

December 7, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Gasp! You put it down? How could you!

Kidding ;)

It's a really good book, Covey has some brilliant stuff. I'm holding it in my hands now, and it seems like if you really need to skim it the chapters up to the overview are fine, and then the habits' titles themselves are pretty self-explanatory.

All in all, great book to read. The hard part is in the pratice!

December 7, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAlvin

Thanks for the strategy, Alvin. I'll use the "scan for goodies/summary" method on it. Please don't tell Covey I haven't read it yet; I suspect he'd be crushed... :-O

December 7, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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