As the biggest library if it is in disorder is not as useful as a small but well-arranged one, so you may accumulate a vast amount of knowledge but it will be of far less value than a much smaller amount if you have not thought it over for yourself. – Arthur Schopenhauer
For a while I was a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach to work.
It worked when there were lots of things to do and you wanted to capture them all, make sure that they were moved on.
Now, however, as I look back – what is the main purpose of a system like that?
Is it to do things in the best way possible – to apply yourself to the most important problems?
Or is it a way to avoid being shouted at?
I think productivity systems like GTD are actually armaments for the workplace – a way of showing people that it’s definitely, absolutely not your fault with extreme prejudice.
Here’s the task, I sent you the analysis and then I followed up every week and you didn’t respond.
So, how can you blame me for the mess you’re now in?
Now, in many situations, you need that kind of approach, especially if you work in an industry that addresses failure demand.
Failure demand, if you remember, is John Seddon’s term for work that has no value – work that is done to fix failures elsewhere.
It looks like work, but it isn’t.
Real work is value demand – stuff that matters and makes a difference.
Should you treat value demand the same way – record everything, list it all out and make sure you get it done?
I’m starting to think that isn’t the point.
Stephen King, I think, said something like he doesn’t take any notes, doesn’t put down ideas when they come to him.
If they’re good enough they’ll stick in the mind, they’ll come back to nag at him.
I guess you should pay attention to the things around you, the thoughts and events, but you don’t need to document everything, put everything on a list.
“Not-doing” is a form of filtering.
You have a limited amount of time – you should probably spend it doing the highest value work you can – the work that calls to you.
Everything else can wait – preferably for ever – but certainly for next week.
Until someone nags you, anyway.
This idea has a certain power when you start to implement it.
There are so many boxes you could pick up – but only so many you can hold.
There are only so many things you can own before you become a person whose job it is to own things, to look after them and sort out their care and maintenance.
Having more things might make you feel rich – but it’s also a form of imprisonment, an open jail that you have to bar against others.
Now, does that mean you should never collect anything, never look back, never finish jobs?
Nothing really is ever that absolute.
It all depends.
If you want to do something – write a book, create art, grow a business – there are things you need to do and things you don’t.
You have to decide which things are which.
Doing everything will probably just make you tired – too tired to notice that an opportunity has passed you by.
You were too busy working to see it.
There will always be more jobs to do, more tasks to do, they will fall from the sky like rain.
And like rain, they will come around again.
But your time will not.
So spend it wisely.