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Blog // Adaptability
September 17, 2009

Being Honest About Disorganisation, Confusion And Success

I’m currently on my fourth read through David Allen’s book, Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life. On each occasion, I have found the following quote profoundly challenging and unnerving. “Keeping uncaptured, unclarified, and unprocessed things in our minds creates unnecessary stress. But if we leave them there, we can allow ourselves […]

I’m currently on my fourth read through David Allen’s book, Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life. On each occasion, I have found the following quote profoundly challenging and unnerving.

“Keeping uncaptured, unclarified, and unprocessed things in our minds creates unnecessary stress. But if we leave them there, we can allow ourselves to believe that there’s still plenty of potential merit and importance to our thinking lying around in our brains. If we write everything down that we have to do, along with all our constructive thoughts about it, we may see the limits of our capabilities. If we maintain confusion and amorphousness, we can pretend that we could be smart, powerful, and purposefully effective – but never have to prove it to ourselves. “Oh, I could express much more of my magnificence, creativity, brilliance, and dynamism, but because my importance has me so burdened with the responsibilities it must bear, I just can’t demonstrate it at the moment.” What crafty games we can play with ourselves!”

Allen goes on to say that putting the whole of your life’s commitments down on paper and deciding what you and should do about every part of that list ends up being very liberating. I agree, it does, eventually. If you keep working through it, you’ll get to a point where the next things you need to do become very clear and defined and within that clarity you can experience a massive release of creative energy.

But, getting there isn’t easy. In fact, it takes a lot of hard work, graft and determination to analyse your life, your commitments and your stuff then organise your next actions on all of those into lists (even with the help of excellent software like OmniFocus). You have to face some unpleasant truths about your own ego (especially if, like m,e you have a history of being disorganised and inefficient). Looking at a single document that is, in effect, your whole life can be very discomforting. That’s it, that’s what I will be if I achieve everything I can realistically achieve.

That may sound rather depressing. At first that’s how I felt for a while – it was like my permission to dream had been taken away. But, then I noticed something else happening. All those things I had never managed to complete, many of which were no longer important, or even relevant to me, started to have less grip on my imagination. That was seriously liberating stuff.

The whole GTD (Getting Things Done) process has really started to work for me this year. In a way it is cool to have all the tricks, like contextual lists in OmniFocus, InBox Zero with my emails and the like. But, there are softer things happening as well. I’m coping better with randomness and unexpected challenges in the day (and today threw me some real randomness, from invites to crazy events and sudden changes in school and activity timetables). I’m finding it easier to make time for exercise and enjoying cooking more. Perhaps the most unexpected change is that I’m remembering songs and solos better, even stuff I haven’t played for years!

Of course, I wish I’d known all this stuff years ago and had some of these processes in place earlier. Then again, it might not have mattered. The crazy thing is – my list of “really big things I want to do from here” actually doesn’t look a lot different than it might have 20 years ago. It’s not that I’ve regressed. Rather, I’ve come to realise that, honestly, I knew myself better at age 18 than I did at age 30! It was only when I started, in recent years to tackle what Alain de Botton calls “job snobbery” that I started to see that.

In fact, rather than ramble on, I’d encourage you to listen to de Botton’s excellent TED talk, A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success.

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