Strange title for a post I know! But a couple of years ago I was explaining GTD to someone and they rather neatly summed it up by saying ‘so what you’re telling me, is that I need to keep a shopping list for my groceries?’. And I kind of had to agree with them!
How Do Most People Handle Their Grocery List?
If you’re anything like the rest of us, you will occasionally hit the local supermarket to buy a few grocery items and, in doing so, will get home to realise that you have just forgotten two things you had on the list. But so what, you can always pick them up tomorrow on your way back from work, right? Or, if urgent, pop out again after supper quickly and get them then?
And, to tell the truth, you probably can find a way around the fact that you forgot the potatoes. After all, there’s a half bag of rice you’ve just found in the back corner of the one kitchen cupboard. Excellent, supper is saved!
Far less typical though tends to be the person who maintains an up to date grocery list, someone who goes around the store, ticks off everything they came to get and then, when home, smiles because they bought absolutely everything they wanted. In fact, we’ve been known to laugh at such people for being so super organised always. After all, it’s only groceries right?!
So What Does This Have To Do With Work?
Well, imagine going about your responsibilities at work the way most people go about their grocery list … keeping most of it in their head, writing things down on disparate bits of paper and, generally speaking, always managing to forget something that they really needed. Usually they get home before their mind reminds them of the potatoes. ‘Oh yeh’ they think, ‘I was right there at the veggie counter just now and even looked at the potatoes. Funny that. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow.’
But isn’t that how many of us approach our work lives? We keep as much as possible in our minds, expecting that, when needed, we will get reminded by some inner secretary of what it is we need to be doing at any particular point in time. Yet somehow we forget. We get home and realise three things we forgot to do today. Then we hop on email quickly to handle the urgent one that should have been handled before we left the office. And hope to heck we remember the other two tomorrow on our way into work.
The question of course is whether the lack of tightness in your grocery list process at home is the way you feel you should go about your work tasks? Is it really OK to always have something slip our minds just because we managed to keep ourselves busy all day with something that looked useful at the time? Or should we actually make a better plan because this is how we earn a salary or because we have colleagues and clients who depend on us? People who perhaps don’t appreciate becoming forgotten about?
But because this is typically the way most people we know operate, we kind of get used to it in some kind of entrenched mediocrity that we are not really aware of as being mediocre. We tell ourselves that we are no worse than others around us, so it must be OK. ‘Heck, I’ve so much on my plate I’m bound to forget something! Please, I’m not super human’.
Good News – The Excuses Can End And The Experience Can Improve!
The GTD equivalent of your grocery list process is the person who, whenever they find they need something from the supermarket, will quickly add it to their list. They almost don’t need to think about it, the thought comes to mind ‘oh yeh, potatoes are out‘ and then it gets added shortly after to their list.
And they don’t have 5 lists for groceries, they have just the one and keep adding to it until, at some point, they realise they better get down to the supermarket. And, when they do, they buy everything they needed and go home with a blank sheet. They don’t have to remember what they needed and they don’t remember dog biscuits half way through a client meeting or remember they have to call the plumber just as they arrive home at dusk and now it’s too late. And because they don’t have to keep trying to remember everything on a mental to-do list, their minds get freed up to be a much more relaxed place to live in.
But our perception of the super organised sounding person is that it’s a hassle to operate this way, that there’s no need to be so perfectionist about your grocery list. And perhaps we’re right, because we CAN always pop out later or substitute something from the kitchen or buy it another day.
But is that really how you feel you should approach your work life with its infinitely more complex set of scenarios, tasks and circumstances? The whole basis for GTD is that you maintain an up to date list of all the open loops in your life and, when new loops appear, you capture them quickly, in clear language and, voila, get it off your mind. And when you go about Reviewing your lists you are able to ensure that what’s most important floats to the top and gets handled all in good time … certainly before it decides to blow up on you.
The Take Home Message With Your Groceries?
Those little land mines that go off every time we forget to buy the apples don’t really cause much damage. But the ones that keep going off in our work lives can and will create damage. Either to our state of mind, the quality of our sleep, our stress levels, our free time, our project delivery deadlines or to our all important relationships with our clients and colleagues.
To a large extent it’s just a different paradigm and you get to choose which one to live in:
- Forget things regularly and live with the consequences or;
- Stay on top of things and benefit from the simple joy of not always being on the back foot?
And, surprisingly, you have a choice in this 🙂
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Note: ‘Getting Things Done’ and ‘GTD’ are trademarks of the David Allen Company.