Restart GTD: Blog Purpose
The purpose of this blog might have been “Getting Started with Getting Things Done” except that Merlin Mann has been doing that at 43folders.com for 8 years already. I love Merlin’s idea of “getting started with getting things done” (note you can now pre-order Merlins’sINBOX ZERO at Amazon!) and use the “getting started” title repeatedly in teaching high school students, undergrads, MBAs, high school teachers, doctors, and ministers that cross my path. But getting started isn’t really the core issue I want to focus on in my blog.
Non-transitivity of information, Gödel’s Theorem, and Cul-de-sacs:
What I want to focus on is why people fall off the GTD wagon, what keeps them off the wagon, what keeps them from getting on the wagon in the first place. That is, the struggles of getting GTD practice to the point of GTD flow. The people I’ve had the most fun working with on GTD often call themselves “visual learners” or “tactile learners”. They listen to the Audible version of GTD that I buy them, get excited, and then do not make progress.
They often complain about how unreadable Getting Things Done is. Unreadable? Really? Unreadable? I read therefore I am. I can’t really understand why I’m hearing this repeatedly. I don’t agree with this evaluation, but I do accept the statement as data. Data that is trying to tell me something about information non-transititivity, about how different people read the same words and don’t get the same message. God has spent a lot of time giving me data about information non-transitivity.
At age 52, I’m no longer denying it (20s), being angry about it in my 30s, bargaining with it in my 40s. And thus I sit before you opening my GTD kimono.
You see, I’ve given over 50 copies of GTD away. 20 copies to the legal department of a large international company. Information non-transitivity eats the vast majority of these copies, and robs the receivers of GTD, from harvesting the stress relief, the flow, the delight of becoming neater and more organized than their spouses. The information is in the book, the book goes to the receiver, but the receiver never “gets” the information in the book. Non-transitivity.
In the three years I’ve been doing GTD and hearing the frustrations of people who can’t get the system out of the book and into their minds, I’ve begun to see a metaphor: glass. There is an invisible glass ceiling and invisible glass walls around the brains of people who can’t read and instantaneously translate GTD to action. The glass is between them and and the simple ecology of organizational tools available to them. They are inside the door of Apple’s NYC glass cube, but they can’t get down the stairs into the store!
I had the luckiest introduction to GTD short of having David Allen come over weekly and talk me through implementing. I had Ian Watson GTD jeddi and patent broker genius, poking and prodding me to read GTD, and then re-poking and re-prodding me to implement GTD. I think this kind of conversation between someone with sustained victory and the newly minted GTDer, can work magic.
What is the conversational magic? Hypothesis: GTD magic comes from sharing pointers, answering the legion of “resistance-by-over-thinking” questions with strategic taunts to “get results not more theories”, and just being there to talk to, help people magically stumble towards GTD victory. If you have loved and failed to implement GTD, you are my people.
The purpose of RestartGTD is enact conversational GTD magic. I’m starting the conversation by opening my GTD kimono. But I hope that people will post questions, gnarly questions, and answers, perspectives, tips-tricks-and-traps. And not the knee-jerk left-brained answers so common on blogs.
In informational non-transitivity situations, the opposite of a great truth, is another great truth. Gödel’s theorem overturned the turn-of-the-century movement in mathematics to unify all species of maths. Kurt Gödel, who was a back-row quiet member of the Vienna Circle, proved that formal systems are profoundly incomplete. That is, any formal system is incomplete in that there are truths that it cannot prove are true as well as falsities it cannot prove are false, and infinitely many of both.
As a student at Michigan State, I had a philosopher of law (Lewis Zerby) as my mentor. Zerby studied under Gustav Bergman at Iowa. Bergman was another member of the Vienna Circle. My undergrad goal as a liberal arts outsider, guided by a liberal arts insider, was to unify all theories that I was learning in economics, business, electrical engineering, metaphysics, ethics, into one giant theory of life. A giant theory where everything was interconnected. In my doctoral program, I came across Gödel’s theorem and the idea of recursion (Gödel’s incompleteness proof was recursive). And I had to give up my simple black-vs-white perspective on knowledge.
But, in this collapse I was given the great gift of tough open-mindedness. Under the guidance of three giant brains: Steve Melnyk (Western Ontario), Jim Miller and Mark Whalon (both of Penn State) I stated reading voraciously and omnivorously in philosophy of science, in history of science, drilling into how a community of scientists who can’t get along personally, have been able to make progress and get results.
This was excellent training for implementing GTD, and for never giving up on off-the-GTD-wagon people. If you know you need GTD, and you can’t do GTD with someone else’s system. The answer is simple, roll your own system. The problem is, once someone “fails” in their own eyes at implementing GTD, they usually don’t find the simple answer.
Here is a favorite passage of mine from Francis Crick’s What Mad Pursuit:
What, then, do Jim Watson and I deserve credit for? If we deserve any credit at all, it is for persistence and the willingness to discard ideas when they became untenable. One reviewer thought that we couldn’t have been very clever because we went on so many false trails, but that is the way discoveries are usually made. Most attempts fail not because of lack of brains but because the investigator gets stuck in a cul-de-sac or gives up too soon. …
However, I don’t believe all this amounts to much. The major credit I think Jim and I deserve, considering how early we were in our research careers, is for selecting the right problem and sticking to it. It’s true that by blundering about we stumbled on gold, but the fact remains that we were looking for gold.
Francis Crick. What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (Kindle Locations 987-1000). Kindle Edition.
So, RestartGTD.com seeks to provide a context where kindred minds, can interact, explore, prototype solutions, share GTD cross-fertilization pointers, and success lessons learned.
We GTDers get stuck in cul-de-sacs.
But like Watson and Crick, we need to discard ideas (GTD system components that don’t work) and try new things. Any new GTD system component is better than using an older GTD system component that is not working. We GTDers can help one-another with this. We can provide outside objectivity, ideas to get one another unstuck from cul-de-sacs, simple order of battle step-by-steps, and encouragement. The strategic enemies of GTD are being stuck in cul-de-sacs, and information non-transitivity. The strategic tools to fight these enemies, are magical GTD conversations.
GTD Tool Ecology:
After the first flush of reading and implementing GTD, I attempted to replace my ecosystem of disorganized limping success with an electronic GTD monoculture. That is, I put my entire trusted system into OmniFocus on the Mac. As I completed entering all the data, recycling all the paper and pushed away from my desk, I had the GTD equivalent of the Willy Wonka Wonkavator ride of stress release.
But, there was this problem. I started avoiding sitting at my desk where OMNIFOCUS ominously awaited. Thus, two weeks into GTD, immediately after getting myself 100% on the wagon, I was in my first GTD cul-de-sac. You know you are off the wagon by one high contrast signal: procrastination. I was procrastinating, not doing. You can get off the Wonkavator now Bill.
The idea of an ecology or ecosystem of tools, specifically island biogeography, is a second GTD metaphor that has become important to me. In E.O Wilson’s famous experiment, all the species of insect were censused on three small islands off the coast of Florida. Then, the islands were covered with tarps and floral bromide was used to kill every species of insect on all three islands. Then, Wilson did periodic re-census of each island. The most telling piece of data from this experiment was that the number of species after the islands had reached equilibrium, was the same after floral bromide, as before. BUT THE SPECIES IN EQUILIBRIUM WERE ALL DIFFERENT.
The tools of GTD, the inboxes, the Evernotes, the Outlook mail clients, are like species. Each person coming to GTD is like an island after the floral bromide. The equilibrium set of GTD tools for each of us, is I think, idiosyncratic of who we are and how we’ve come to GTD.
David Allen implicitly recognizes that it does not matter which tools you use, what matters is that you have a system your brain trusts. Our brains don’t care about obedience to any one design of GTD tools, our brains care about getting results and spending as much of our life as possible, in flow.
Getting into GTD flow is about finding the ecology of tools in our work lives, that allow us to reach equilibrium. To, as tropical fish aficionados say get to a “pop” where our GTD fish tank is in stable equilibrium, so that we can introduce projects (fish) to our GTD system, and have the projects thrive.
If one true equilibrium set of GTD tools isn’t the point, the point is opportunistically discovering and testing tools to see how the tools help us maintain work flow. A second goal for this blog is for people to share the tools that work for them as well as the barriers they experience in achieving GTD flow.
What RestartGTD is not about:
What this blog will not be about is second guessing David Allen. I yield to no-one in admiration for what David Allen has done in his consulting and writing. He makes catalyzing consciousness look very easy, the ease belies a tremendous quantity of research, testing, and thinking. I can’t add to the GTD architecture, my goal is to improve GTD implementation.
When I was working at HP, I enacted an analogous embrace and extend process to the HP IP Legal architecture. A great architecture is about the best place to start in lighting a fire. HP went from 18th in US patenting before I stated embracing and extending, to 3rd in US patenting after.
I seek to embrace and extend David Allen by seeking to serve the willing seekers of GTD, who somehow can’t get past their own glass ceilings and walls. RestartGTD seeks to refine and refactor the GTD tool set, methodology, and principles, to release GTD’s potential to this seeker community.
bill meade, ph.d.
2012/1/3, updated 2012/9/22