Getting Things Done vs First Things First
Ok, so the title of this post is a bit over the top - I recognize that in some ways David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) and Stephen Covey's First Things First
(FTF, the sequel to 7 Habits) are orthogonal - they address somewhat
different problems in the time management arena. But anyway...
I was thinking about some of the different challenges I've had with
both systems the other day. For example, I'm great at keeping my next
actions up to date and regularly go through my inboxes, but I'm either
pretty bad at reviewing and doing what's on my lists or I always find
something more important to work on. It's almost like my next
actions/calendar/someday-maybe/etc. just show all the stuff on my plate
and the urgent (important?) stuff gets done while the other stuff just
sits there. I'm just a paper pusher in that system. I rarely think to
look at all my lists and when I do I rarely have time, energy, or
something to do anything more than I already knew needed to be done. On
the other hand, when I've done better at FTF in the past (and when I've
tried to go back to it more recently) I never felt like I was on top of
everything. GTD does do that for you. And FTF helped me do a better job
of getting the important things done than GTD.
As I thought about these issues and considered another attempt to use
the FTF system, I was struck by the personality behind each system.
Both men, Stephen Covey and David Allen, are highly successful in
business and both consider themselves successful in their personal and
family lives also. However, I can definitely relate a lot more to Mr.
Covey, just because he has kids. Now, Mr. Covey has nine and I've only
got two, but I also know that, when you're counting children, two is
closer to nine than zero. Of course, my parents are very glad I'm
learning this and expressing gratitude for their own sacrifices. I'm
learning that children present challenges in time management that are
different in both kind and degree to those presented by other adults or
even other people's children. When work, church, and community
responsibilities leave me only a little time to be with my kids, its
hard to stop, look at my next actions, and work through the list. My
kids almost always win, and they probably should. That makes choosing
what few things I will do in my spare time much more important: will I
do the dishes for my wife, fix the broken closet door, read a good
book, pay the bills, send in a $10 rebate form, or mow the lawn? The
ideas in FTF help me make that decision. The ideas in GTD just make my
list of choices longer.
Now, I know I've been somewhat unfair in presenting this battle of the
planning systems. GTD and FTF can co-exist. They are just sets of
principles that can help you manage your time and actions. Some of the
principles overlap nicely, such as having a weekly planning and review.
Ideally, I'd like to find a way of merging all these principles into a
coherent system that helps me focus on the important things while still
staying on top of everything. But I'm thinking now that I should start
from FTF and incrementally add the principles espoused in GTD rather
than the other way around because of my particular situation. For all
the rest of you, there may be some value in comparing your current
circumstances to both David Allen and Stephen Covey; it may help you
choose which system makes the most sense for you.