GTD is a wonderful methodology. I’ve been using it for more than 3 years and the benefits are unquestionable. I implemented it in several formats, from pen and paper to digital, and I can confess it really works. I’m productive and more efficient. But – you know, there is a but here – being productive and more efficient is not always enough.
GTD is a methodology for getting things done, period. But there’s so much more to life than just doing. For instance, how you get to know which are the things you want to do? How you know if it’s ok to do those things and not other stuff? How can you assess your overall progress, your internal growth? Certainly, GTD falls short here.
I assume that creating a life management framework wasn’t David Allen’s initial goal. All he wanted to do was to create a tool for making things happening and he succeeded wonderfully. Ironically, he opened a path which eventually made his tool obsolete, at least for me. I already wrote what I kept and what I left out from the GTD hype. And the reason why GTD is obsolete for me now is because I need something more:
A Life Management Framework
Doing stuff is ok. Constantly and effectively getting things done is even better. Is feeding you with self-respect and creates accountability. You have something to show, you did something. But after a while, I don’t care much about doing things. I already created this habit and I’m doing it easier. Sometimes without even thinking, which makes me believe I reached that “mind like water” inner state.
Then why I still feel frustrated? Why I still feel the need for something more? Why I’m not happy anymore just by doing things? Because I need a new paradigm. One that can accommodate my effectiveness with my doubts. My productivity with my laziness (which is not always laziness, maybe is contemplation or meditation). I need a framework to acceptably balance every aspect of my life, not just the doing part.
A life management framework should do that. A life management framework is not a methodology, is not a software, is not a sequence of steps you follow blindly to your presumable redemption. Is just a framework, a wire frame for your own implementation. A life management framework should be light enough to be remembered in one sentence, but powerful enough to sustain your day to day activity as well as your long term goals.
It’s been several months since I came up with my own life management framework. I briefly noted in one of my posts (when I got back from my trip to Thailand) that I will like to share something important for me. The reason I’m doing it only now is because I wanted to put it to test first. As a concept, as a mental projection sounded fine, but I needed to make an implementation for at least a couple of months.
Introducing “Assess Decide Do” Life Management Framework
As you may already guessed, ADD comes from Assess, Decide, Do. I will start with a brief explanation of the concepts and then I’ll talk about each specificÂ part .
At every given moment I can find myself in only one of these three stages: assessing, deciding or doing. I’m assessing my current options, I decide what I have to do, and then I do it. From the smallest context in which I may be, up to the long term goals, my overall activity will fall into one of these categories: assess decide do.
Every time I have a constant flow between assessing, deciding and doing, I’m managing my life correctly. Every time I have an imbalance in one of these stage, I have difficulties.
If I stay too long in an assessment stage I might lose opportunities or I might lose interest in the desired outcome. If I stay too short in the assessment stage I might lose some precious info, putting at risk my next steps: decision and doing.
If I stay too much in the decision part I may never actually doing what I already assessed and decided. If I stay too little, the outcome might be different from what I wanted.
And finally, if I’m not actually doing it – as in getting things done – the first initial phases were in vain.
A successful ADD life management framework implementation should take care of only two things:
- identify each of your current stage correctly: assessing, deciding or doing
- assure a smooth flow between the current and the next stage
It’s not a big philosophy, but it’s much harder to implement it then to write it. In programming, especially in OOP (Object Oriented Programming) tailoring this ADD framework to your needs would be called: “implementing the abstract class”. Those are just principles, abstract notions and it’s the task of the ADD life management framework to create an understandable, coherent wrapper on top of them.
As a wire-frame, this life management framework should be defined in only 3 words: Assess, Decide, Do.
Now let’s talk about each of those 3 fundamental stages or realms.
You don’t have to do everything on your agenda, unless you’re a robot with no free will. You have to assess everything around and take into account as many information as you can about any specific task. Assessing is one of the most ignored states of the contemporary, modern individual. When you run furiously in your own rat race trap, you really don’t have time to assess, you just run.
I find assessing vital for a successful outcome of any task, goal or activity I start. If I’m not assessing it enough, if I’m not integrating it into my own personal system of values, bad things are happening. I might get that thing done, but I won’t be pretty happy about it. To say the least. Doing something against your personal values is one of the worst things you can do to yourself.
Integrating a specific task in your personal system of values is of course only one of the things you may want to do in the assessment stage, you can have tons of other things to assess, like the short or long term benefits, the opportunity, the resources availability and so on. You do this on the Assessment realm.
I realized that assessing has a cumulative structure. I put together pieces of information, emotions, memories, until I come up with a specific object. When I can’t add to it anymore, when it looks the same to me regardless of my standpoint, I know it’s time to make a decision. Then, and only then, I can move to the decision realm.
As opposed to assessing, decision is a one point structure. Once you can’t assess anything anymore, you decide what to do about it. You have only 2 options:
- do it
- don’t do it
If you decide to do it, you’ll move to the Doing realm. If you decide not to do it, you’ll discard the task completely. The nice thing about this dual attitude is that you won’t have to postpone it. You simply decide you ain’t gonna do it, period. You have the freedom to discard it completely or to move it back to the Assessment realm. If you can’t do it now, maybe the future will bring some more info and you’ll be in a better position to make a decision. But you made a decision about it, you can move on.
If I know I have to make a decision about a specific topic I usually do it within a very small time span. Several minutes up to maximum 24 hours. I’m talking about regular, normal tasks like blogging or business. There are some situations in which the decision part can last several months, like moving to a new country or relationship decisions. But if there’s something within my current time horizon, I don’t delay it more than 24 hours.
Being in the Assessment realm before has a very big advantage: I already have all the info I need to work with. Now, if I decided I’ll go further, all I have to do is to move into the Doing realm.
Here is the place for methodologies like GTD. Here is the place in which I make lists and schedule tasks and actually check them as done. If there’s something on my Do list, I know I already passed through 2 filters: Assess and Decide, so I don’t have anything left to do about that task. Except doing it, of course.
The Do realm can be repetitive and can last days or months. It’s not a cumulative structure, although it can produce visible results, and it’s not a one point structure. It’s more like a flow. It’s not unusual to be in the Doing stage for months, if I have a larger project, coding, for instance. Every Do activity or project can be planned and/or managed from within the Do realm, or at least I did it with good results.
Whenever I finish doing some task or project, I go back to the Assessment realm, closing the circle. At this point, I finished an ADD cycle. In this cycle I included a lot of activities, from assessment, to decision making and to actually doing the specific project. Usually, whenever I finish an ADD cycle I have a very deep and powerful sense of well being. Every cycle I finish add to my self-respect in a way I never experienced before. Every ADD cycle is far more than a checked task on a list, is more like reaching the next level on a spiral path.
I couldn’t finish this introductory article about ADD Life Management Framework- yeap, there will be more – without a short section dedicated to ADD possible imbalances.
Assessing Stage Imbalances
One of the most common assessing imbalances is the “analysis paralysis” syndrome. You keep thinking and thinking and don’t do anything. You never move from that realm, you never get to decide what to do with all the information that you gathered so far. All you do is crunching information, in the hope that at some point that information will be useful to you.
Another common assessing imbalance is the “I didn’t know” excuse. You didn’t know that your business was entering a crowded market so you went bankrupt in the first 6 months. Or you didn’t know you’re approaching an aggressive or lazy partner and your relationship is a mess now. If only you took some time to assess…
Deciding Stage Imbalances
The most common deciding imbalance is the “one day I’ll have my own business” syndrome. In this case you took the decision but you aren’t really doing anything to move further. Your decision is strong, you trust yourself and your hopes are high. But you’re not doing anything, you just took a decision and never moved from there.
Another deciding imbalance is very close to shyness: I’m not going to do this, because it won’t matter or because I will feel terribly bad if everybody will look at me. Your assessment was complete, you moved to the point where you can actually start doing it, but you decide to quit.
Doing Stage Imbalances
The most common doing imbalance is the obsessed productivity freak. The guy that does stuff without thinking, just to be able to check some tasks done. This is the biggest productivity trap you can ever hit, and I saw quite often many promising careers falling down because of this. Just doing, without assessing and making the right decisions is a sure path to the underground world of the “still smiling but completely burned down inside” people.
That was the introductory article about my life management framework. There will be more, because I am just scratching the surface with this one. But until then, I would love to hear your opinions, comments and suggestions. Do you believe in a life management framework? Do you recognize those 3 fundamental states in your activity: assessing, deciding, doing? Do you experience imbalances in any of the stages?