“Defining what you are not doing is as important as knowing what you are doing for stress-free productivity.” — David Allen
This quote has always been a powerful quotation for me. When I read this in Getting Things Done — The Art Of Stress Free living, it was an “a ha” moment. It made me realise that I do not have to do everything on my list every day. If I wake up in a non-productive mood (and yes that does happen from time to time) I can move off a bunch of tasks to another day. I do not have to feel guilty about it. And it was that that took my productivity from a stressful existence to a truly stress-free existence.
Before I really got to understand the quote, I used to feel guilty whenever I didn’t manage to complete my tasks in a day. I hated it if I did not have time to process my inbox and it was causing me stress. That is not what GTD is about at all. It is about defining what you can do and what you cannot do. Of course before you retire at the end of a day you may well feel you are a super-hero and be able to achieve the impossible the next day. But when you wake up in the morning and take a look at your list for the day, the reality sets in and you know you are not going to manage all those tasks. You should never feel guilty about that. You should calmly review your list and push off the tasks you know are not going to happen. Then forget about them, knowing they will return another day.
The same goes for processing your inbox. In an ideal world you would process your inbox at the end of the day and begin the next day with nice clean inbox. But our world and your life do not exist in a perfect world. Things go wrong, you go out for a few too many beers with your friends and you collapse in a heap on your bed well past midnight. Or you get home late on a Friday night and you are simply not in the mood to process your inbox. That’s okay. You do not have to do it. I make it a point now not to process my inbox on a Friday night. I know Saturday is not a busy day for me and so I can process my inbox any time on a Saturday, it is like giving myself a night off from GTD and I can sit down and relax with a pizza, some chocolate and a good British detective drama (we’re pretty good at making these kind of dramas — Inspector Morse, Midsomer Murders and Death in Paradise to name just three)
Too often when I read comments in articles about GTD, I see people complaining about the feeling of pressure to keep up with their system, and it shouldn’t be like that. Your system should be support for you, not a chore. To me, my system is a dumping ground for the things I have to do and the things I would like to do. When it comes to processing I can re-evaluate what I have committed to and make a decision when I will be able to get round to doing it or decide not to do the task at all. It is simple and it is stress free.
You should not be worrying about the things you have decided not to do today. You made that decision and you should be comfortable with it. If your system is working for you, and you trust your system implicitly, then pushing off tasks to another day is all part of the approach. If something is on your mind and it is bothering you, then perhaps you made a wrong decision and you may have to go back and review your decision. Again, if you need to do that, it is okay. Review the decision and change it if you feel you need to.
Going to bed at the end of the day, feeling completely relaxed about what you have decided not to do is just as important as being completely relaxed about the things you have decided to do. Once you truly understand that, you will enter the world of stress-free living.
Carl Pullein is the author of Your Digital Life: Everything you need to know to get your life organised and put technology to work for you, a book about how to get yourself organised in the twenty-first century