Perhaps in common with other people who run their own business, I am mildly obsessed by productivity techniques. From apps that help organise work, manage attention, to ways of filtering emails and using technology to help limit the impact of technology – I am always
a bit obsessive interested.
One of the best productivity systems is David Allen’s Getting Things Done, where he explains why we need a system (a ‘second brain’) which we trust if we are to work without distraction.
It’s great stuff, but I think ACT has much to add to his system, in particular two key ideas:
1. Clarify values. The distinctive problem with knowledge work is that it is difficult to know what the ‘right’ work is at any given moment. There are so many competing priorities; should I be writing this blog or perfecting a proposal?
For knowledge workers, how we define our work is our most important task, so a clear understanding of what matters to us – what we want to stand for – will help. I certainly want to stand for more than winning commercial contracts, hence me finding time to contribute to this blog.
2. Acceptance. So often productivity is not actually at the mercy of external factors, but our own thoughts and emotions. For example, I know that if a task makes me anxious or bored then I will find a sudden urge to clean the shiny handles on my kitchen cupboards.
This is where all the advice to do work you love or find your passion is so dangerous. If we focus on how we feel during a task, we start to hand control of our lives over to our emotions. And our emotions – even the ones we want – are not really in our control, or reliable bellwethers of where to head next.
“Begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect, or a procrastinator or unhealthy or lazy or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself. Go ahead and be the best imperfect person you can be and get started on those things you want to accomplish before you die”.
Ultimately it is only by holding our emotions lightly – by committing to our values in the presence of anxiety and boredom if necessary – that we will build the kind of working life we want. Or, as Morita says:
When running up a hill, it is all right to give up as many times as you wish – as long as your feet keep moving.
(And as my mind says ‘check this post one more time’ with my finger I press…PUBLISH).