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Interview

"You can only do something about what you are not doing...
In the final installment of a three-part interview, productivity expert David Allen explains the need to constantly renegotiate with oneself

That being the case, what is the most practical way to set and achieve organisational goals?

You have to make sure people are headed in the right direction and they aren’t running into each other or going in opposite directions. That creates a sense of alignment when allocating resources towards the outcome. Also, it doesn’t take people very long to understand how real that goal is. So you have to constantly change what your system manages and what you need to manage. As I keep asking; how long does it take to change a goal…half a second? How long does it take to learn to execute on anything… about two years.

Is an unsaid part of GTD, the willingness to let go of things thinking, ‘Not everything can be done but let’s get along with life’?

You can only do one thing at a time in terms of conscious focus. It is either half-full or half-empty. You are either delighted that this is the best thing you need to be doing, given all the other options. Or you can feel really bad about all the other stuff that you are not doing. But there is always more to do than you can do. The whole idea is to be constantly in renegotiation mode with oneself. But you can only do something about what you are not doing when you know what you are not doing. There are very few people who have a clear idea of that inventory.

What is the context to understand your quote about passion being overrated?

Everybody tries to be motivational and says, “Get up, set goals, be a winner” and all that. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. They may go through all kinds of emotions as they are doing that but your mind is going to run your emotions rather than the other way around. I don’t pretend to be a motivational speaker. It turns out that it gets very motivating when people start to realise it actually makes a difference. I think what GTD does is provide hope, that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Is there any aspect of GTD that is not very clearly understood?

The biggest and most subtle misunderstanding of GTD is that along with productivity comes baggage. Most people’s perception of that is hard work. It is not really about getting things done. It is about being engaged with your life, it is not about working harder.  If you go to a vacation, just relax. If you don’t relax, that is an unproductive vacation. At times, taking a nap may be the most productive thing you need do to let your brain rest. If you read Compernolle’s book, one of the things he emphasizes is the necessity for your brain to stop thinking in order to connect the dots. You have got a hard decision or a problem to solve, you need to take a break and let the unconscious part of you to work on it.

Finally, the thought behind, "The future is an illusion, we only have Now."

As I have written in GTD, you need to manage the horizontal and vertical aspect of your life to be optimally productive. The horizontal aspect is that during any 15-minute period, you may get a call from your mother or an angry customer or a potential contract stuck on pricing. The ability to navigate your ecosystem rapidly and to know where those things go and not have one thing affect the other is the martial art of horizontal control. How do I manage it across the whole ecosystem that could need my attention every second of the day? And that is where the vertical thinking comes in, you say; ‘Now I need to think through this problem, this issue, this project.’ You need to tie them together and be able to work on both; horizontal control and put your head down into a particular project and then think that through effectively.

Click on the link to read part one and two

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