This week, I watched a video on lynda.com called “Getting Things Done,” by David Allen. This is Allen’s organization system, and he has a book about it and coaches about it, etc. Being an admin assistant, part of me actually thought, “I’m already good at getting things done. Why should I waste time watching another ‘how to get organized’ video?” What I didn’t anticipate was Allen’s approach.
The Real Purpose of Your Brain
Allen’s philosophy is that the brain is for having ideas, not for holding them. The first task he has you do is to make a list of everything that “has your attention.”
I thought this was a brilliant way to look at all the things I have to do in my life. If the request had been to simply write a to-do list, then I would’ve finished that in a few minutes. But a task requiring me to write down everything that has my attention is a different beast.
For example, my messy desk had my attention, my work-in-progress marketing plan had my attention, and spending more time with my husband had my attention.
How I Actually Got a Good Night’s Sleep
In the end, after about 90 minutes (including a few interruptions from the kids), I had a list of 200 items. I can honestly say it had been a very long time since I’d slept that well.
Of course, by the next night, once my mind was aware of a to-do list with over 200 items (more got added the next day), I didn’t sleep as well again. However, once I got those items into a to-do program, the sleep returned.
There was definitely something to this idea of moving everything that has your attention to manageable lists.
The Hard Evidence
What became evident to me, though, after writing that huge list was how much I wanted to just spend time with my family. My desire to freelance came out of my desire to show my kids that you can make a living doing what you love. Ironically, though, I haven’t been spending much time with the people I love.
Is it Really About Time Management?
The next point that really drew me to Allen’s approach is his belief that it’s not about managing time but about managing your focus.
For some reason, then, Cheryl Richardson, a life coach who publishes with Hay House, came to mind. Her philosophy is balance: she lists seven areas of life that you should try to keep somewhat in balance. If one area goes out of whack, e.g., you lose your job, it’s easier to manage that change if you have also focused time on your family, yourself, your spirituality (doesn’t need to be anything religious), and the other areas.
The approach that Allen is suggesting seems to fit that.
The God of North American Culture: Single-Minded Dedication
We often idolize the single-minded tenacity of an Olympic athlete, or the latest start-up CEO who’s slept only a few hours a night for the past year, not the human who can expertly balance the many parts of life at once.
Instead of revering the race car driver who gets all the glory, we should be revering the teacher who has over time become a surrogate parent, social worker, psychotherapist, and educational assistant all rolled into one.
Instead of the baseball star who couldn’t exist if it weren’t for a slew of unnamed people – likely included many volunteer coaches – we should be celebrating first responders who go from rushing to the home of a panicked mom whose kid is wheezing from a sudden onset of croup, to a violent break-in a moment later.
Don’t get me wrong: these athletes are incredible, and not all teachers and first responders are great. But please don’t miss my larger point: our culture reveres this extreme kind of focus more than it does the balancing act, which is what most people have to contend with.
And Back to David Allen
David Allen’s system is very simple, and I’m not going to explain all of it here (that’s what he’s for, after all). I should make it clear that I’ve only been at it for a week, including trying out a new to-do program that thankfully perfectly aligns to his approach.
But his system is also really simple.
Once I saw everything that was going on in my mind, it became clear that I needed to find a better way of managing it, and I think I have. It started with a clean desk and cleaning out my in-baskets. It continued with realizing a few items on that list would only take a few minutes each to complete. And it’s continuing now with helping me see how I can focus on each aspect of my life and still keep the balance, as precarious as it may be sometimes.
Let the balancing act continue!
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