GTD Notes: Chapter 01 – “Mind Like Water”

This is a series of posts with reading notes of the book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

My notes about the first chapter: “A New Practice for a New Reality”

The first chapter of the book discusses the problems we have today as knowledge workers. We are living in a reality with constant new demands and no clear boundaries. Work tasks can be often ambiguous, and we have to figure out for ourselves how to execute them, while being bombarded with information.

One of the key aspects of the method is to manage all of our open loops. Everything, mental or physical, that has come to our attention and that we have not yet determined their meaning, is considered to be “Stuff”. Stuff comes through life's random inputs: emails, calls, invites, demands, ideas, conversations, bills, etc, etc.

So, mismanaged open loops will pull at our attention if not managed appropriately. I find that to be painfully true. This was my first “a-ha” moment when I read the book 11 years ago. I was keeping everything in my head, and I couldn't understand why I was feeling so overwhelmed and stressed.

David Allen explains why keeping things in our heads is NOT ideal:

A big problem is that your mind keeps reminding you of things when you can’t do anything about them. It has no sense of past or future. That means as soon as you tell yourself that you might need to do something, and store it only in your head, there’s a part of you that thinks you should be doing that something all the time. Everything you’ve told yourself you ought to do, it thinks you should be doing right now. — David Allen

I have that feeling every time I don't write things down. And, as David Allen points out, the reason why things are on my mind can be:

  1. I haven't clarified exactly what the intended outcome is

  2. I haven't decided what the next physical action step is

  3. I haven't put reminders of the outcome and the action required in a system I trust

The starting point to reduce overwhelm is to capture and organize all the “Stuff”. That way, we can start building an inventory of next actions that can be implemented or renegotiated. It requires us to define what “done” means and what “doing” looks like.

What I really like about this book is that it really goes into the nitty-gritty on HOW to capture and organize all that “stuff” (to be covered in the next chapters). And the method includes (and integrates) both personal and professional areas: it is really a full life management system.

In the end, the promise is to have “Mind Like Water” or be in the “Zone”, in a state of perfect readiness. The image behind this analogy is imagining throwing a pebble into a still pond:

How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact. Water is what it is, and does what it does. It can overwhelm, but it’s not overwhelmed. It can be still, but it is not impatient. It can be forced to change course, but it is not frustrated. — David Allen

I can say from experience that I had mornings and afternoons in which I was in the “Zone”. It's when I have a clear image of what needs to be done, I have well written next actions and my mind feels free to prioritize things and focus.

But this was just the introduction. The next chapter will go into the famous Five Steps.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.