Disclaimer: what will follow is just a projection of my thoughts, it’s not related nor endorsed in any way by the authors quoted. Also, what follows is a personal interpretation of facts as I see them and thus has only my personal truth value and is not intended nor advertised as an universal truth. It can also change over time, and hence it represents my opinions here and now.
GTD, as in Getting Things Done, is a methodology that helps you stay organized. Basically, this is how it is presented by David Allen himself, the creator of this methodology. It implies a set of rules and operations that one must perform in order to feel good about what one does, and also – and maybe even more important – about what one doesn’t. It increases the energy, focus and creativity for each activity and maintains an overall ethusiastic, or at least clear and calm tonus. Among other benefits GTD offer also what David Allen calls a mind like water, a way of reacting to the events with the exact required quantity of energy and then regain the initial tranquility, much like a water surface after someone throws a rock inside.
There are though several steps in GTD that made me think a little more, and raised several questions for me. Or at least some unusual resemblances with other techniques or activities from other personal growth systems. Those are, in my opinion: emptying the RAM (or keeping a clean INBOX), the weekly review and the fact that in a weekly review you must do it one item at a time.
Emptying The RAM – The Modern Confession
Emptying the RAM is an activity in which you actually take out of your mind all the things that are there (and that are just staying in the way): thoughts, to do’s, disparate pieces of information, sketches, projects, wishes, obessions or behaviour descriptions. You end up with a list that is basically a mirror of your head, a collection of all your open-loops, as they are called in GTD. Easy to see the benefits, right? More time to actually do stuff, or to enjoy time, an ordered system where you can find stuff later, an organized reflection of you, and so on… Are these the only benefits of an emptying RAM session?
Well, beyond those listed, emptying the RAM has the same benefits as a religious confession. (I told you that I need a disclaimer in the beginning 🙂 ). Seems hard to chew on that, isn’t it? What can be the link between religion and efficiency? I am NOT going to answer on this, or at least not now, it’s not what I intended to do in the first place with this article.
But I can only tell you that there are many similarities between a religious confession and an empty your RAM session. After each one you feel more relaxed and free. You have a better sense of the universe and you can embrace new challenges with more energy. Both activities need a precise schedule in order to work: if you are not doing your confession regulary, you are not going to gain much redemption. And if you don’t empty your RAM regulary you start feeling that confusion thrill again…. Both need also a very high degree of honesty: do not lie to your preast, right? And do not cheat with thoughts…
Emptying the RAM consciously and rythmicly makes you a master of your soul energies. What you gather in your mind when you try to “be in control” of your life is just a vortex of energy that is kept in a prison. The prison are the thoughts themselves. Free them, give them a separate room in your life (a dedicated and trusted outside system as GTD teaches) and the energy will flow. Also, when you empty your RAM, be conscious and note each and every aspect as exact as you can. Many of the thougths that you have are just different version of a single pattern. Try to think at your mind as railroad station where trains are thougths. Analyse them, see where they come from and where they go. And then let them really go, otherwise the station will become unusably crowded.
The Weekly Meeting With Yourself
Weekly review is the cornerstone of the GTD implementation. It’s one of the most difficult thing to do, and is also one of the most rewarding. I am a GTD follower for only 3 months now, but I can tell you that I already feel the benefits. As an entrepreneur, programmer and manager, I established over the year various habits and techniques for trying to get things done. This need caught me in the GTD flow after all (and even beyond GTD, as you can read here). But in no other activity or system I hadn’t feel as much simplicity and freedom. And the main reason was the weekly review.
We are raised and educated in a civilisation that values guilt. And so, the first intention when something goes wrong is to put guilt on somebody. Most of time, us. The weekly review is a moment where you can actually burn out the guilt feeling. What you do in a weekly review? You take each and every action, thought and project stored within the system, and deal with it: what am I doing here? Do I need this? If yes, I can act on this, or is just a thought that felt nice (or bad) to have? And so on…
For each thought you make a decision. You process that thought or situation and put a tag on this that says “solved”. Being the fact that is deferred, delegated or done. Stept by step the guilt will start to melt. Because there is nothing more to be sorry and worry about. You dind’t make that reasolution? You missed a deadline? OK, but you dealed with it, you re-incorporated it into yourself and you are happy with that. You can try again later with that resolution or you can re-negotiate that deadline. Of course you can. Everything is negotiable.
The process of analysing each and every piece of you it’s a very tough one. Not all the time you are coherent with yourself. To be honest, you barely are coherent with yourself. Because you act in each and every moment on different leveles of energy and in different contexts, with different short-term objectives. Confronting the traditional model of the monolithic personality with the instances of this personality that you have each and every moment is almost hurting at the beginning. It creates frustration and a feeling of helpless. Did I really thought that? Did I really wanted to buy a new car? Or to hire another 30 sales manager? Or to learn chinese? You live for years with a concept of a one and only self, and now, reviewing all that you said and thought in the recent past, shows you that you are not as monolithical as you thought. You are just a fine net of potentialities that floats around you. And you chose each second which one you want to be.
The energy to create and to be is a natural thing. It just flows. All the spiritual masters told us this in different ways. You just need to go with the flow. What stops you though are a complex model of beliefs and mental roadblocks that you, or the society, raises against your true self… Forcing you to deal with your projects and desires every week will eventually blow up all the roadblocks. You will analyse everything that is in your system, put a tag on it, and move on. With each tag one barrier will start to collapse. And the energy behind that roadblock will start to flow again.
Week after week, dealing with your projects, fears or moments of sadness or glamour, you learn who you really are. You take out the image from within and put it in a new context. In the spirituality this is often referred as witnessing something. You become, more and more, your own witness.
Here And Now
The weekly review is done one item at a time. You are not allowed to try to do two or three or five things at a time, only one, until is done. And done means you decided what to do with it: do it in the moment, postpone, delegate or abandon. And you may have up to 100 projects. Tough. Maybe in the process you stumbled on a project that is there form some time now and you don’t want to deal with it anymore. Another project, more appealing and interesting, is sucking your attention and thoughts. But you must stay coherent and do one item at a time, otherwise the whole benefit will start to rapidly decrease.
From a spiritual perspective, this approach reminds me about “here and now” concept of the well-known speaker and spiritual master Osho. He has written extensively about this concept and I think this was always a central topic on his speaches.
Basically, the concept says that the whole world is here and now. The past is done, unmodifiable and the future is not yet alive. All you have is this second. Every time you try to escape this second, by letting your mind rambling around and making scenarios or unsustainable projects, you are not longer here and now. You are in a fake space and time that is only in your head. A space and time that is not connected in any way with the real experience, it’s only in your mind…
Doing your regular meeting with your real self (the weekly-review), and acting upon each item one at a time, creates a very interesting – and precious – habit: to live here and now. By focusing on your current analysed item you are escaping distraction and you become present in the moment. And when you completely finished with the item, you just sent it to past, giving yourself time and energy to work with next one. Believe me, it’s a very rewarding habit, within weeks you will start to experience a significant increase in your focus. At least that.
Emptying the RAM, the weekly review and the ability to act on each item one at the time are not just processes in the GTD methodology. They are much more important than this because they act on several levels at a time: the mundane you and the higher, most elevated you. Following GTD can be done not only from a managerial perspective (managing a company or your own actions) but, if assumed as a higher endeavour also, can bring a significant spiritual growth…