I was a big fan of deadlines. Chasing them. Crossing them off of my todo list. Striving to meet them. Spending countless hours just to prepare myself for this date with my deadline. Oh, the feeling of pride when I was there in time to make it. The inner power and fulfillment… Yes, that was a very interesting experience.
I’m not into deadlines anymore but I do remember the feeling of satisfaction I got from crossing my deadlines off. I still enjoy doing things, I’m just not into deadlines anymore. As simple as it seems, this is a fundamental difference.
The Word “Deadline”
Have you ever really thought what is the meaning of the word “deadline”? It has the word “death” in it. Never wondered why? Because a deadline is a line of death. Once you meet that line, you kill the task. You take its life away. You conquered it. You extended your presence onto its territory, occupied it and now you have the right to eliminate it from your system. That’s a highly motivating psychology. Also, it’s a very disempowering one.
Thinking in terms of “death” lines will make you assimilate the end of a task with its death. Doing things will mean kill one task after another. Slashing tasks over a to do list has this feeling of power: I killed 32 enemies today, I feel good. Tasks are not your enemy. Nobody is, in fact. You just pretend that they are, so you can use the “warrior” resources you already have deep down in your ancestral behavior. The pressure of doing more and more exalted our warrior style way over the safety level.
We position ourselves as conquerors of our own task land. What lies in front of our work day is a field filled with enemies that have to be eliminated. Every day is a battle. Many productivity techniques are using this subliminal approach. What you have to do is a burden. You have to take it away, to overcome it, to eliminate it. The more you eliminate, the better you’ll feel. Train yourself to become better at killing tasks.
At a certain level, this psychology is, as I already said, very motivating. Fighting for our survival is deeply wired in our unconscious memory. This is why we find it easy to understand this approach. Fear of our own death will push us to kill the “other”. And the “other” in this case, is clearly written on our daily to do list. If we don’t kill “them”, they will kill us, so we’d better jump off of our beds, rush into the subway and take position in our daily trenches, suitably camouflaged as desks.
But the downside of this approach, its disempowering part is that, by transforming your tasks into your personal enemies, you’ll eventually become so good at deadlines that life itself will look as a deadline. You’ll rush towards the biggest deadlines of all: your own death. Deadline by deadline, task killed by task killed, you’re going to eventually cross the final episode off of your to do list with great satisfaction. The ultimate project management victory: I crossed off my own death today.
For A Liveline Philosophy
Forget deadlines. Instead let’s have livelines. A liveline is different from a deadline in that it creates a new starting point. The point where you start something on the foundation you just finished, something alive. You restart the movement.
In Assess – Decide – Do, your tasks will always generate a new cycle. You’re not spending time only in Do. You’re also spending time in Assess or in Decide. Each time you finish a task in Do, you will have to feed your Assess realm with the results. You will evaluate feed-back. In this respect, a project is never “finished” in ADD. The graphical representation of a project in Assess – Decide – Do will look more like a spiral than like a Gantt diagram. I agree it’s a little difficult to understand this concept, especially if you’re coming from a long traditional task management experience.
A liveline will never ask you to cross a task over. You always have the possibility to re-start the liveline by sending it back to Decide, and, from there, back to Assess. A liveline will be met only if all its initial stages (Assess and Decide, namely) are completed and fulfilled. And every liveline will generate in turn several ideas, lessons or potential tasks.
A liveline means we’re taking the “death” out of the deadline. We’re taking the pressure out, we’re taking the urge of finishing it so we can get back to our regular life. Because there will be no dichotomy between what you “have” to do and your regular life. It will all take place in the same time/space continuum.
I hear you loud and clear: what about commitments? What about promises? What about our corporate life where we have to finish tasks before competition, otherwise we’re out of business? Well, if you set a certain end date to a task, keep it. It means you Assessed it right and you also took the right Decision about it. If you spent enough time in those two realms, nothing can go wrong.
Every Do imbalance is in fact a liability you carry on from the previous realms. If you can’t finish a task in the specified time and space constraints, it means something went wrong on the Assess and Decide realms. Completing a task is not a function of the Do, is also a function of Assess and Decide. Until you won’t realize that, it will be really difficult to understand the benefits of the Assess – Decide – Do framework.
How about “unexpected” events? Let’s say you did your best in Assess to anticipate every possible outcome and you properly allocated time and space resources in Decide.And still, some catastrophe happened. A power outage 2 hours before the client presentation or a traffic jam which delayed your presence at that important meeting. Well, things are happening. It doesn’t mean you’re off track. Back to Assess.
In a traditional approach, you would consider the undone task a liability. In the best case, you would have tried to reschedule or postpone. Meaning you would still keep yourself in the Do realm. Stuck on the deadline. And for as long as you’re stuck in the same mindset, the problem will never disappear.
Take a leap of faith. Go out. Make a lateral step. Transform that deadline into a liveline. A liveline will give you flexibility not only at the action level, but also at the perception level. Start assessing what went “wrong” and see what could you’ve done better. There are many reasons for what you can’t really Do a thing. Keeping yourself only in Do will hide those details, will lock you in the Do box. You can’t see the real picture if you’re not taking time to assess.
Perhaps the presentation wasn’t ready. Perhaps the client wasn’t ready to receive your message. Perhaps the meeting wasn’t very good for your career. There are so many things you should ponder about what’s happening around you and still, because you’re pressuring on Do, you skip them. Or you avoid them consciously because they won’t “help” you in any way.
Inject Some Life Into That Deadline
And make it a liveline. By now, you should have understand that there is a little bit of a word game here: dead versus alive. I deliberately pushed the comparison a little bit. Of course you will commit to doing things in Assess – Decide – Do too. Of course you will do the best to meet your own expectations, at least. What’s different, though, from the traditional productivity approach, is an unprecedented degree of flexibility.
In a traditional approach, if something went wrong, you would at best re-schedule and try to refill the Do realm with that task. Or lose it all together. In Assess- Decide – Do, you will reintroduce the task into your Assess realm. Of course you can just Re-Decide it, and in many day by day circumstances, that would be the expected reaction, but you also have another realm to work with, Assess.
I will avoid using a term like “planning” when it comes to Assess. You do much more than planning. You evaluate, you imagine, you wait, you dream about it, you play with the task as in a dream world. The degree of flexibility offered by the mere idea that you can be productive while Assessing is incredible.
And finally, one of the most important benefits of this bouncing back and forth is the organic rearrangement of your activity. Projects, tasks and events will start to fall into their places. The initial feeling will be one of melting, of losing control. But after this rather scary period, another feeling will come into place: the feeling of flow. There is an inner capacity of natural order, of simple flow from one project to another.
The deadline carries with it a threat. If you won’t do it, something or somebody must die. In 99,99% of the cases, the task will die, and you will actually kill it. But a liveline will not have any threat associated. It’s like “doing nothing” and yet “doing it”. A good deal of resistance to implementing Assess – Decide – Do will come, ironically, from the fact that you associate “doing” things with pressure. And when you’re not feeling pressure you’re going to feel like you’re doing nothing. If there’s no deadline it means there’s nothing to do, right? Wrong. you can do things in the absence of a deadline, just by knowing that the results of your work will not get lost in a to do planner, but they’ll be part of a bigger, flexible system that you can work with. I know, you associated doing with pressure. But no, with a liveline there is no pressure. And you can still do things.
Now, I hear you for the final question: are one going to do more using Assess – Decide – Do than using any other productivity framework? My answer to this question will always be: “more” is not automatically “better”. The consumerist obsession put a lot of weight on “more”. If you live in the deprivation of only one realm, spending your entire life in the Do realm, “more” becomes important. “More” is a way of measuring what you’re Doing. But once you get out of the prison of Doing, spending time in Assess and Decide, “more” will lose its meaning as a measurement tool. It will be only a choice, an assessment. I can Do more today, or I can spend more time Deciding or Assessing.
Ok, this was a teaser. What you just read is just a chapter from my upcoming ebook: “Assess – Decide – Do: Natural Productivity“. The ebook will be launched this Friday, on September 17th, but you will be able to pre-order it at a significant discount starting this Wednesday. Many concepts you read in this article and seemed a little foggy will come to life by reading the entire ebook. It’s a 150 pages text, grouped in 3 main parts. The last one is a very thorough guide of iAdd for iPhone, the app which puts the power of this framework literally in your hand.
If you’re a blogger, your audience is revolving around productivity or lifestyle design and you feel like reviewing the ebook, you can have a chance to get a copy of it for free, as long as you commit to review it on your blog. It doesn’t have to be a positive review, just an honest one. I’ve done this before with other ebooks I wrote and I was positively surprised by the results. After the ebook launch, next week, I will also do a round up of the reviews and post links to the blogs who published them. So, you’re not only getting the ebook for free, you also get a link back to your blog from quite a popular site. So, if you’re into it, just hit me up with an email in which you’re telling me your blog address, a few words about yourself and why would you like to review it. You should also tell me if you want to become an affiliate (you may include affiliate links in your review, if you want).
Other than that, I’m really looking forward to this Friday, September 17th, this is one of the most interesting livelines I’ve set up lately ;-).