The Getting Things Done President, and the need to just sit and think…

the book that launched the Lifehacking movement
the book that launched the Lifehacking movement

This is not a post about the politics, the stances of Barack Obama.  It is a post about work challenge.  And it is fully prompted by a provocative article from — The Big Money:  The Getting-Things-Done President: Is GTD any way to run a country? By Paul Smalera.

The article is based on the book, and the life/business approach of David Allen in Getting Things Done.  Here is Smalera’s paragraph describing the value of Allen’s approach:

Getting Things Done is a productivity system invented by David Allen. Currently all the rage among the lifehacking set, Allen uses seminars, books, and private sessions to teach people how to handle all the “stuff” in their lives. Allen, echoing the theory of alienation that Marx applied to industrialized labor 165 years ago, thinks that the relentless stream of “stuff” white-collar workers process every day makes it hard for them to retain control over their accomplishments and larger purposes. His theory is basically this: By creating an external system to track our big goals and breaking those goals down into discrete actions, we free up our minds to actually complete those actions, which, after all, get us closer to our big goals. Then we use chunks of time to think, to plan our next steps, and to adjust our courses of action.

Smalera’s article is about what all is on Barack Obama’s plate.  He has too much to do – and is tackling so much of it that he does not have time to do what the Getting Things Done approach is supposed to free him up to do:  think, ponder, reflect – look at the big, big picture.

It may as well be about all of us.  The information overload we experience, the to-do lists that are never finished, the dozens (hundreds) of e-mails we have to answer, all add up to an avalanche of “stuff.”  This stuff has to get done, and it takes hard work and a very good system to get it all done.  And we have to faithfully work the system – all the time, every day, day after day, or we get truly buried in stuff.

But the bad news is that when we do get it all done, when we are supposed to be freed up to be able to think and ponder, there is not time to sit and think and ponder – there is frequently only the arrival of more stuff.

In the article, Smalera includes link to an original Getting Things Done work-flow diagram, and a diagram created to capture what is on Obama’s plate.  Take a look (click the earlier links in this paragraph for larger images):

GTD chart
GTD chart
The Obama GTD chart
The Obama GTD chart

Looking at President Obama’s chart does not seem to leave much room to think and ponder.  I wonder what your chart, and my chart, would look like?

The article implies that President Obama should not try to do so much “stuff.”  But – the stuff needs to be done. By him, and by us, tackling our own lists.  And the more stuff there is, the less time we find for the really big tasks.  (And, yes, I readily acknowledge that our schedules do not hold a candle to the president’s schedule).

We live in a really, really busy time!

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