“Once you have defined all your work, you can trust that your lists of things to do are complete. And your context, time, and energy available still allow you the option of more than one thing to do.” -David Allen, Author of Getting Things Done.
B.G.T.D (Before Getting Things Done)
I have never been an “organized” person by the classic definition.
As a child my mother had to constantly prod me into cleaning my room, often requiring assistance to achieve even a modicum of organization. Despite our best efforts, my toys would quickly become scattered about the room, and all too often calls requesting help finding a favorite item would be heard throughout the house.
My lack of structure, however, extended far beyond the physical realm. I’ve always been a procrastinator by trait; in college I almost always wrote papers in the wee hours of the morning before stumbling into class to turn them in. In my first job out of college (as a caseworker for a children’s mental health unit), I quickly became overwhelmed by the sheer volume of responsibilities thrown my way. Ultimately, I left rather than flounder in my work.
I’ve tried various kinds of organizational systems over the course of my life, the most notable of which was probably the 7 Habits of Steven Covey. I never stuck with anything for longer than six months, mostly because it never felt like the system really made any difference. I always felt like things were being missed.
In my first job in technology (in a joint developer / production support position), I found myself in a similar situation as before. There was a near constant barrage of e-mails, phone calls, and drop-by advice seekers, constantly interrupting my flow. I found it extremely difficult to keep track of all the various open loops and responsibilities, and nearly missed critical deliverables several times.
To be honest, I don’t remember how I got my hands on David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. What I do remember is the way what I read immediately resonated with me. Here was a system whose foundation was simple: write everything down, and refer to your lists unmercifully. It was an incredible experience to suddenly understand the source of my angst had been not the environment around me, but my inability to trust my mind to recall all my responsibilities.
Now I would never claim that I’m perfect after adopting GTD. We’re all human, and prone to fall off the wagon on occasion. GTD is not a magic bullet, and in my mind one still needs elements such as motivation to be successful. What it has given me, however, is a newfound calm and peace of mind; for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m fully aware of everything I need to do, and I can relax in that knowledge. The job is no different: distractions are a constant and unavoidable part of my day. But now, I feel confident in the ability to shift from task to task, without fear of anything slipping through the cracks. To say it’s a profound change would not be an exaggeration in any way, shape, or form.