Sunday, March 26, 2006

Getting things done in the new world

Since early January, I've been asked several times about project management software and 'how do I maintain projects that don't have textbook examples or something to base timelines on, etc.'.

To my horror, I realized that besides MS Project (ya, that's the one I use) I don't do much external planning - it's much more of an internal sense of planning that works for me.

Quite in the same vane, David Allen, the author behind Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, spouts a brand of project management-speak that would sorta mimic my thoughts - but at the same time would also set most lefties teeth on edge.

By the way - no need to buy the book - google a bit and you'll get enough info.

To help you reach that crystalline consciousness, GTD (as the book is known to acolytes) employs a bottom-up approach to dealing with all the junk that's bugging you now, the crap on your desk, the nagging voices in your head, your closet clutter and your unrealized ambitions.

Each of these unprocessed items represents an 'open loop,' a commitment that your unconscious will hound you about until you record or reckon with it.

Once collected, this crud must be molded and sorted into categories: 'trash' (the most satisfying), 'reference' (sort of soothing) and 'projects' broken down into actionable items sorted by contexts like home, office or phone.

Review this project list each week. Performed religiously, this routine transforms an adrenaline-fueled daily grind into a game of strategy that reformats dead time into do-time. By emptying your psychic RAM into this structure, the book argues, you free your mind for creative thought and arm yourself for rapid response to the changing exigencies of life. (again - no need to buy the book - all the info is online)

So what? Here's your so what - this is perfect for the geek world; cult metaphors abound in the dozens of blogs, Wikis and software projects devoted to dissecting each phase of his method - check out http://del.icio.us/tag/gtd.

Wired writer Robert Andrews calls Getting Things Done, first published in 2001, a 'holy book for the information age,' while blogger Anil Dash praises Allen for delivering an 'aspirational digital lifestyle.' The term 'lifehack' has become so popular that the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary selected it as a runner-up for the 2005 Word of the Year.

Why has GTD generated such adulation with the technology crowd?

Merlin Mann at 43 Folders has become a hub for the GTD community, provides some insight.

True - we of the hybrid types are often disorganized or have a twisted skein of attention deficit disorders that crave actionable items and roll their eyes at 'mission statements' and lofty management patois, and have too many projects and lots and lots of stuff.

Sounds familiar to me in any case ...

Let's face it - technologists are the canaries in the New Economy's coalmine. Internet people and knowledge workers often operate as free agents in the digital economy: self-employed or contract workers with little job security and a constant need to reinvent themselves for new employers.

Working at home or remotely, they are overwhelmed by a barrage of emails and media inputs, lack the structure and community provided by conventional offices, and must erect or erase hard boundaries between their personal and professional lives. Such a vacuum of external supports and structures means that such workers must find new systems for setting goals, defining next steps, and managing the project of life.

In 1950, sociologist David Reisman noted a major cultural shift in his book, The Lonely Crowd. He argues that over the years, Westerners' social character has gone through three stages: the tradition-driven mode of the pre-modern era, the 'inner-directed' style associated with industrialists and pioneers, and the mass-society 'other-directedness' of the peer-driven consumer and office worker.

What is now being developed is a system that supports the emergence of yet a new character - what one might term the 'self-directed' global creative.

Increasingly missed by social safety nets, unbound from traditional familial and cultural ties, atomized by free-market philosophies and awash in a sea of niche-defined consumer and lifestyle choices, the 'self-directed' (and yes, Kobi, you are one of these) are wracked with anxiety.

New 'internal governance' systems supplants what Reisman described as the gyroscope of the inner-directed, that is to say, an internalized set of values inculcated by society - with an inner index of individualized choices, projects and goals.

This portfolio can then travel with you across jobs, cities, families, subcultures and life stages, absorbing anxiety along the way.

here's the deal - read this slowly:

If one imagines self-help culture not only as a means of social control but also as a symptom of social unrest that has not found a political context, then, given the exponential growth of self-help reading, there is no shortage of unrest or dissatisfaction. Understood in these terms, self-help culture could potentially offer an enormous opportunity for cultivating social change.

Read that again if you didn't quite get it - it's important ... I'll wait ....

The hook?

The capitalist demand is that one 'be all one can be': human capital, as with any other natural resource, is to be developed and exploited. Yet, at the same time the democratic demand is that one will get to 'be all one can be': a human being reaching his or her greatest potential can only be in association with others.

While this might read like a hybrid of soulless corporate disciplines like Total Quality Management and the deracinated Zen of stress-management retreats, it is surprisingly effective and often, and oddly, liberating.

These are internal tools not just for creating new ways to work, but for carving out time for internal expansion, leisure and reflection - how can I resist?

Why should you? In the end - it's all about you, baby.

6 Comments:

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Blogger wharfcanary said...

I think that you in part overemphasise the positive aspects of the self-help culture. Those who require and are willing to invest in those tomes of self-help material are often incapable of actually using the information or translating into their day to day lives.

For those who are able to appreciate the innumerous opportunities available to them,self-help books I' have seen struggle to overcome the 'overchoice which overwhelms them. I can think of no better reference than Alvin Toffler's reference text 'Future Shock', which relates not only to the sense of being overwhelmed by the commercial, but also the sense of being overwhelmed by the professional and personal opportunities, ultimately leading to paralysis and the opposite of the potential of the 'self-help' culture to which you prescribe.

1:15 PM, March 28, 2006  
Blogger wharfcanary said...

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive//1.05/toffler.html?person=alvin_toffler&topic_set=wiredpeople for more info.

1:22 PM, March 28, 2006  
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