I’m Not Going to Do It: Leveling Up in Getting Things Done

Making a career transition during a pandemic and economic recession while managing a chronic illness is no small feat. 

To wrangle this beast, over the summer, I read David Allen’s personal/professional productivity classic Getting Things Done (GTD, for short) and implemented his system using Nirvana.

GTD proceeds from the premise that your brain is for having ideas, not for holding them. By getting all your commitments to yourself and others into a reliable, regularly updated system, you become less stressed, more efficacious, and more creative. 

Learning and practicing GTD is a process. You get better at it over time. And that’s just what happened last week: I leveled up. 

A number of tasks and projects have lingered in my system for months. In and of itself, that isn’t a problem (in a few months, you better believe that I’m going to update my wardrobe, for example). 

But I’ve recently accepted the truth that I’m simply not going to do some projects. To be more specific, I’m releasing myself from my commitment to myself to do them, for the foreseeable future.

Interrupt my job hunt to spend a week editing and producing the unreleased episodes of the academic podcast I used to host? Nope, not going to do it. 

Make a series of comedic videos to showcase my scriptwriting talent and develop my video editing chops? Uh-uh. No.

Design a relative’s website so I can add Squarespace to the web design platforms I know? That’s a big ole nope.

I’m not going to do these things.

None are bad ideas. In fact, they’re potentially pretty good ideas.

Podcast episodes that help subject matter experts convey their insights to a general audience? Sure, good idea. 

Would it be great to know how to produce video and write scripts? Absolutely. 

Would it be helpful to learn Squarespace? Yes. 

All these projects and tasks would benefit me. There’s a case for leaving them in the category of “Someday/Maybe” in GTD. 

But I decided not to.

It’s not that I’m deciding not to do them: I’m recognizing that I’m not going to do them, I’m accepting the truth that I’m not going to do them.

As an ambitious person with a strong work ethic, I’ve spent years, if not decades, bumping up against my own human limitations. 

But, simply put, I can choose to live in a fantasy of endless time and energy or accept reality on reality’s terms (as Dr. Drew would say). 

My past and recent experience leads me to believe that the latter is superior to the former.

Rather than being in denial or aspiring to what is beyond my personal capacity, I’m accepting my limitations and ruthlessly prioritizing within them. I have 3-5 hours each working day given the complexity of recent tasks and the higher-level strategizing they require. This might change as some things become more routine, but, for the time being, this is the window I have.

It’s been incredibly energizing to focus on a substantial, but not unrealistic, number of tasks that are highly likely to advance me towards my goals. 

By tracking your accomplishments and reviewing your system each week, practicing GTD helps you be realistic about what you can accomplish and what you possibly will do, not what you should do.

Shifting from “should-thinking” to “will-thinking” means that I’m aggressively focused on those tasks I believe will give me the biggest bang for my buck, so to speak. 

Making this shift has unlocked a fountain of energy and focus as I see bigger, more substantive results from my actions each day and more concrete movement towards my goals. Sure, I have to combat all the “should” voices in my head, but I can take comfort in the substantive nature of my gains. Each day is a targeted strike. I’m not doggy-paddling forwards: I’m executing stroke after calibrated stroke towards my goals.

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