Communication of insight … and GTD

One of the great things about GTD, from David Allen, is the insight that comes from the people involved with it through the material which they generate, much of which is generally available. Some of it is reserved for GTDConnect members, such as a recently posted article, “The Mental Side of GTD”; I found this particularly interesting as it is from Dean Acheson, who is credited with providing much of the background for the development of GTD. Without knowing GTD or reading the article, it is nevertheless interesting to consider the ways in which insight is communicated.

The article is, of course, superb! Why “of course”? Because Dean Acheson always catches some deeper, yet simpler, point about whatever subject he discusses. It is particualrly interesting (to me, at least) to see how he does that.

As with sages and gurus in any field, the points that Dean chooses to make are simple, timely, refreshing and central to the topic on the table. Also, the simplicity of the message seems to allow people with a variety of different levels of understanding to get something from it, … and then later to see more in it.

Do you notice the “pregnant pause”? I love the way that the best teachers seem to have a habit of pausing just before delivering an important item. It is for emphasis, and it is to let the noise die down; but it is also, one feels, to check that this is the moment to deliver the point: an “are you sitting comfortably …?” and an “are you quite ready …?” kind of thing.

Sometimes the space is an actual pause in time; on other occasions, it is a mental space deliberately created. For example, when we hear “it is not about XYZ” our brains think “OK, so what is it about?!”; there is a space there like an empty box on a form; we are alert, waiting for it to be filled in.

There are many interesting points in “The Mental Side of GTD”, one of the central ones (I think) is: “The point of GTD is NOT to get everything done, but to get actions under control”. And look at how he delivers it: there seem to be two levels of pause.

On a larger scale, he has established the area of interest and made some great points along the way. Then he has distracted us with talking about the somewhat wacky idea of what “your desk” cares about; including that it does not care if “no one shows up … ever …!” Now we are “at rest”, as Dean would say. I am thinking: “well, OK: so the desk does not care, no one is showing up, nothing is happening … ” (as David might say: “I’m sorry, what were we talking about?”!)

We are ready for it, so he delivers the point; and it comes in three quick phases.

Firstly, he alerts us “The point of GTD is …”. I am thinking, “oh, of course, it was GTD that we are talking about!” and, “yes, I do want to hear what the point of GTD is, especially from Dean Acheson”.

But, secondly, we have to wait, because he creates the other, smaller scale, space, and he does it beautifully: “… is NOT to get everything done, but …”. This is not a new idea, earlier he had raised it is a significant myth about GTD; so we have already thought about this, but we are (or, I, at least, am) still thinking “well it would be great if it could be”; and, “yes, I suppose I have thought that from time to time”; but “that would, of course, be ridiculous!”. We are left with the space for the answer to: “OK, so what IS the point of GTD”; also the “but” implies it is something different and, perhaps, opposite; I am now really ready to hear what belongs in it.

So, thirdly, he delivers it: ” … to get actions under control”. Aha! He has mentioned actions earlier, but this is new! And, now, the key point has been made; so he elaborates on it, and we are off into various aspects and implications and so on and so forth. It is really well done! … and, as with much of learning, the sequence has been so important.

So Dean Acheson has done it again. His wonderful ability to talk about important and broad topics in a friendly, compassionate and personal way is a great gift, from which we can all learn in two ways: one about the topics themselves; the other about how to communicate them. Another source of his insight is his GTD InConversation interview which stands out for me, despite all the other good ones, as the one that I’d take to a desert island. In that interview, after much discussion, context and analogies, he leaves us with “you’ve got to get to the trailhead”!

Thank you very much, Dean; please keep them coming!

P.S. This article also hit a nerve with me as it reminds me of the comment about the game of golf being “90% mental and 10% … mental”!


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