Ready for Anything - Part One

David Allen's Ready for Anything has been sitting in my "to read" pile for a while now, and recently I actually sat down to take a look. I thought it might be an interesting blog post to summarize this somewhat scattered collection of meditations on the "why" of GTD. As in, why does it work?

The book is divided into four parts. Each part includes 10-30 short sections, each examining a thought or question related to the larger topic. The first section is called Clear Your Head for Creativity, and focuses on the importance of getting stuff out of your head and into a trusted system.

Here are the segment titles in this part, and my notes about each one:

1. Cleaning up creates new directions.
Reiterates the importance of always having the tools you need to capture inputs, and the comfort that comes from negotiating all your "open loops."

2. You can only feel good about what you're not doing when you know what you're not doing.
Traditional "to do" lists don't work because they attempt to do all the steps (collect, process, review...) at once, and because they are too simple to really capture all the different things you have to do. You have to know everything you need to do in order to feel good about what you are doing.

3. Knowing your commitments creates better choices of new ones.
"If you don't know the current inventory of your work, you won't be fully aware of what you can't do." You need to practice concentration and cooperation. You need to cooperate with your world (job), knowing what really needs to be done, and concentrate on what's really important.

4. Getting to where you're going requires knowing where you are.
Objectively review your current reality in order to give yourself a realistic picture of what's important and attainable. Take inventory of your life.

5. Infinite opportunity is utilized by finite possibility.
Create a concrete set of actions or be overwhelmed by all the possibilities. "'More and better' will always stretch out in front of you, as you attain it."

6. Two commitments in your head create stress and failure.
You have to deal with the minutiae, regardless of the other priorities you might see. GTD forces you to react to minutiae, and trains you to be productive.

7. Priorities function only at the conscious level.
Getting stuff out of your head and objectively evaluating it frees you up. By evaluating, you do things when they are appropriate, and avoid problems later.

8. Closing the open loops releases energy.
Self explanatory.

9. If it's on your mind, it's probably not getting done.
This is why review is so important. You have to trust that when you get something out of your head, that you will come back to it. If you don't believe that, you will keep thinking about it.

10. Creativity shows up when there's space.
We fear that if we look at it all, we'll be disappointed that it's not enough. But usually it's freeing, and I've also found that I'm impressed and humbled by what I've done and what I'm doing. It helps you see the boundaries you need to set, and that you really are productive after all.

11. The deeper the channel, the greater the flow.
Cleaning up increases our capacity. We hold good things back from ourselves because we don't think we can handle them.

12. Worry is a waste.
Worrying happens when you avoid thinking about thinking. You have to force yourself to think about your work and what needs to happen.

13. You are not your work.
"You process the things you have attention on so you can do what you really feel like doing." (Because you know what can wait.)

The sections are often redundant and they're all getting at the same basic point: that getting stuff out of your head and into a trusted system allows you to make good decisions about how to spend your time, and frees up your mind.

On a related note, lately I've taken his encouragement to capture my "stuff" a little farther than I might have to if I was just focusing on actions. I've started "brain dumping" whenever I can, writing down thoughts and observations in a strange stream-of-conscious quasi-journal. Afterwards, I process this content, looking for action items or observations that I can put elsewhere. For example, I keep my more creative ideas for fiction or literary writing in Stikkit. I keep my thoughts about organization and productivity in a separate document. My day-to-day notebook is just where I get stuff out of my head, without worrying whether it's stupid or important.

I'm a big fan of what Merlin Mann and Anne Lamott, call "shitty first drafts." This journal of mine is a step even lower than that. It's a collection of data that I can later edit into a shitty first draft. I find the whole process very freeing and comforting.

I'll follow up soon with section two.


em said...

I read Ready For Anything a while back. Liked it. Recently made a Backpack page with condensed GTD stuff, including a list of all the Ready For Anything chapters which serve as a handy reminder sort of thing.

Jennifer said...

Wow em, that's awesome! Thanks for sharing.