When I put GTD into practice, I found that my way of thinking changed a great deal. It wasn’t a fundamental change, but when my something caught my attention, I began to focus on it and apply a process of asking ‘What’s that?’
■ Before GTD
My approach to the problems that arose in daily life, especially those to do with human relationships, was to hope that it would sort itself out over time, just putting it off and allowing the status quo to continue. Many times, this approach ended with an irrevocable failure.
I was the same at work. If I noticed something, I’d just pretend I hadn’t seen it, thinking that dealing with it would be too much trouble.
But I’d have another look nearer crunch time, and the problem that I’d feared would be clearly apparent, and it’d be all the more difficult to fix because it had been left until the last minute. I was always getting into situations like this.
In both my professional and private life, I was saddled with regrets, always knowing that it would have been better to take care of matters as soon as they arise. But at the root of it all was my way of thinking: ‘Put off difficult problems until later’.
It was this realisation that caused me to hit upon GTD.
■ Applying GTD
When applying GTD, we thoroughly examine everything that comes to our notice in daily life. In order to realise a stress-free way of being, we make no exceptions. In this phase, the observation-collecting phase, problems from which we had previously averted our gaze or issues that had been put off until later come clearly to the fore.
Next, in the processing phase, we undertake a process of approaching each issue and asking ‘what’s that?’. The option still remains to ignore issues during this questioning process, but since it has the effect making it impossible to completely ignore anything, various kinds of actions can be taken to deal with these issues.
If the issues identified at this stage are complex, then break each problem down into its smallest possible components, and the apply the same process of breaking down into the smallest units to the concrete actions that will address the issues.
The really amazing thing is that after implementing a process like this, issues that seemed so troublesome that you just pretended they didn’t exist, just don’t seem so bad anymore.
Furthermore, when you carry out the first of these bite-size actions, you’ll find that a lot of the time, what’s left of the problem is solved before you know it.
When you get on with things like that, you’ll find yourself thinking, ‘What on earth was I so scared of, what was I waiting for?’.
GTD is very important for increasing the efficiency of one’s way of working and personal productivity in the workplace, but it has an additional aspect: it allows you to acquire a natural response of identifying problems as problems, then initiating the first step towards their resolution.
It has been several years since I encountered GTD, but I could not properly explain the difference between the two in my own words.
Recently, I finally became able to explain my comprehension in my own way, so I write this article to reorganize that.
At first, if I were to say what has changed between the me before GTD and the me afterwards, it is that my stress at work and in my daily life has disappeared, as has the woolly-mindedness I felt before.
For me, this is where the difference between a simple to-do list and GTD’s Next Action lies, so I would like to rethink this difference.
■ What is collected by GTD?
The first step of GTD is to write down everything that is on your mind.
What is collected by this is not just concrete tasks but also abstract feelings and ideas that cannot move into action right away.
Those miscellaneous lists are the thoughts and hazy feelings on our mind that we cannot sort.
Those hazy feelings rarely appear on our consciousness, but they rear their heads at small opportunities and trouble us.
For example, like rubbish that has sunk to the bottom of a clear lake, it usually stays sunken at the bottom of the lake quietly if nothing is happening, but it makes the water muddy if a rock is thrown in or there are waves on the water’s surface.
■The essential difference in the collection scope
If a simple to-do list’s collection scope is just the rubbish that is floating on the water surface, GTD’s also collects the rubbish that has piled up at the bottom of the lake.
Then, following GTD’s flow, there is the selection task wherein each one is ascertained to be either treated as rubbish or made clean and returned to the bottom of the lake.
■ Forgotten courage and a stress-free life
Asking what the rubbish at the bottom of the lake – the small thorns stuck in the bottom of our hearts – is a task that is accompanied with more than a little pain.
If that is something you do not want to see now, it’s fine to toss it into the Someday List and follow the flow of GTD when you change your mind.
If you feel relieved after the task is finished, thinking all the things that were on your mind are now on your list, you can be relieved and forget.
If we say forgetfulness is a safety device to protect people’s healthy minds, GTD is a system to allow people to be relieved about the things on their minds and let them forget.
If anything is on your mind, pick up a pencil right away and try putting it into words that you can see.
That should be Next Action, which makes a stress-free life into reality.