Habits vs Things
One of the challenges that I and many others face with David
Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) is that the number of next actions,
someday/maybe items, and lists in general seems to be out of control. Mr. Allen recognizes this to some extent and
encourages dividing next actions into lists by context. Ideally, this means I
should only have to look at the next actions for the context I’m in. But of
course, to make the right decision and do the most important things will
require changing context (going to work, picking up the phone, etc.), and so I
still need to look at everything. I don’t, and so my brain takes back
responsibility because I can’t trust my system.
This problem with GTD is a result of the focus on things. It’s all about improving your
productivity by keeping track of all the things you need to do, or want to do,
or hope sometime to do. Certainly, this is an important part of being
productive. But because the paradigm is focused on getting things done, it has the side effect of forcing you to keep track of
a lot of things. And because you get so
caught up in keeping track of all the things, it leaves less time and
brainpower to make sure you’re doing the most important things.
In contrast to the GTD paradigm of things, Stephen Covey’s 7
Habits paradigm is about habits. To
become more productive you develop habits, like being proactive or putting
first things first. These habits themselves don’t help reduce all the things
that need to be done, but they do focus your time and energy on those that
provide the greatest return on investment.
In a more general sense, however, habits are the key to
reducing all the things in your life. For example, one thing I’ve never added
to my calendar or my next actions lists was to read the scriptures each day,
because I already have a habit of doing it. A bad example is that I don’t have
a habit of checking the oil in my car when I get gas, so I have to put it on my
next actions lists or it doesn’t get done. Ok, so it doesn’t get done anyway.
But if I had the habit, I’d have one less thing to keep track of. And it would
So now I’m going to look through all my next actions and
calendar items for habits that I can develop. What can be made into a habit,
and what should be? It’s true that habits take time to develop – there is no
quick fix. But in the long run, instead of just getting things done, it means I will become a different person, a more
productive person. And that’s what I want my system to do.