Posted by: Matt D. | May 25, 2007

Simpleology & GTD: My own thoughts

Earlier this week, Leo at Zen Habits wrote a very interesting piece, suggested by a reader, on comparing Mark Joyner’s Simple*ology and David Allen’s GTD system. I read the piece as a lay person in regards to Simple*ology and as an initiate into GTD and found both well considered and thoughtful. After reading the article, I took some interest in exploring Simple*ology, after it has simple in the title and simple is in the title of my blog. It seemed like a good fit. I visited the website, signed up and read through the introduction. It then occurred to me that comparing these to systems was a great deal like comparing apples to bowling balls. Here’s why:

First, a disclosure, I am a follower of GTD, and it is a tiny bit like a cult, so you may want to take what I say from that perspective. (I am also a full fledged member of the cult of Apple and the Boston Red Sox and may not be used as a reliable source on either topic.)

Simple*ology, to me, smacked of flim-flammery. I felt like I was about to be hustled the entire time I was reading the intro. I felt like the use of syllogistic reasoning to get you to “agree” with the principles they were putting forth was overly simplistic. The same type of reasoning that could also get you to agree that 2+2=5. Another thing that weirded me out more than contributed to the “about to be hustled” feeling is the similarity it had to the ads on TV that used to run for Dianetics. Now I don’t have a personal problem with Scientology, I just feel like if you are going to push a religion on someone they should know about it.

That said, It does seem to work for some people and I don’t want anyone to feel attacked. Here are the reasons I never felt any of those things from Getting Things Done.

#1: You’re never asked to “believe” anything
GTD doesn’t want you change how you think. It places an emphasis on what you’re thinking about. It does strive to change how you act, which must be what you are interested in because you’re reading up on a personal productivity system. It gives you the tools to sort out what you have going on in your life and how you can act upon them. For those unfamiliar with GTD, it is based on breaking down everything you want to accomplish, whether it is a short term project at work to buying an RV for your retirement, into simple “actionable” steps. For instance, You want to buy a car and you want to do online research first. Depending on the amount of direction you need to give yourself to get motivated, the first step could either be a general “Research cars at kbb.com“, or as precise as “Turn on the computer”.

#2 GTD takes away excuses, guilt.
One of the first thing David Allen mentions in Getting Things Done is the idea of feeling like whatever you are doing is what you are supposed to be doing. What really spoke to me was the idea that when you’re “standing over your baby’s crib at midnight” there should be nothing else on your mind, because you did it today or you know exactly what to do tomorrow. Basically, you have accomplished all that needs to be done that day/week/month and are now watching TV/playing Wii Sports/having a pic-a-nic, because that is what you are supposed to do now. You worked, now relax.

#3 Martial Arts terms are used properly.
In my initial post, I mentioned about not yet being a “black belt” in GTD. Now, that’s not official GTD terminology, but a metaphor used to convey a certain level of skill on a practitioner of this skill or area of knowledge. The martial arts/eastern philosophy term David Allen did use was the Zen pricinple of possessing the “mind like a mirror”. For those unfamiliar with this phrase, it simply means to react instantaneously and with clarity of action: a complete, accurate response to whatever has arisen. This can occur when a) you have all of your open projects written down, or “processed” b) all of your actions have been assigned a context c) a clear system is in place that allows you to stop what you are to deal with an “interruption” and return to your previous task as if it never happened.

#4 Context is King
I mentioned context in the previous point and it is something I do not mean to gloss over. For me, it is the single most important aspect of GTD. The idea is simple. Once you have all of your projects written down and broken into actionable items, you assign a context. The context of an action is the where/when of how it is supposed to be accomplished. For instance, in the aforementioned example of buying a car online, the context for the online research would be “@Computer”. If your next action was to call a dealership, the context would be “@phone”. This went along way in eliminating guilt over the things that need to be done. Simply because if I am in my car I can’t get online to check movie tickets or redistribute my 401(k), therefore I shouldn’t feel guilty about not doing them at that moment. I should, instead, work on my @phone context list and knock out phone calls that need to be made (while following the rules of the road, of course).

#5 The grassroots community
So this wasn’t something David Allen wrote into the book, but he definitely helped create it. Reading the book, I fell in love with the system. After that, when I went online and put GTD into Google, I was surprised how many resources I found. Then I put GTD into del.icio.us. There is a grassroots element to GTD that truly makes it great. David Allen owns the trademark, but GTD belongs to everyone. It’s not captive in corporate board rooms or to people who can afford to pay for exorbitant seminars. It is yours to shape to your needs.

I hope these 5 reasons I love GTD show why it could be useful for you, or at least give a chance if you haven’t already. It has made a huge difference in my life. I no longer trip over being over-commited. I spend time with my daughter with out feeling like I should be doing something else. I’m blogging, instead of playing WoW and feeling guilty about it. In conclusion, GTD is a life-changing system for helping you get where you want to go. There is a chance its not for you and that’s OK. At least you won’t feel like you’re going to get hustled.

Happy 30th to Star Wars and Happy 30th anniversary of Shakespeare in China

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