Friday, March 28, 2008

Getting Things Done: Taxes & Root Canals

Taxes are finally complete, sent off through cyberspace and satisfyingly checked off my Getting Things Done (GTD) list**. Getting tax stuff done with a lot less stress is one of many examples of how tedious chore type stuff has gone more smoothly for me since I've been using the system...and I have to say, I don't tend to be much of a personal organization "system" type of guy. If I'm able to use it productively, that means that most people would be successful with it. Anyway, getting taxes for the season wrapped up and turned in always feels good no matter what the news turns out to be. Completing taxes happens to be one of the year's bigger "closed loops" for me, as David Allen would put it. And I know from what clients and friends report that I am not the only one who finds it a biggie. Allen describes "loops" as those unfinished tasks, chores, plans, etc. that take up our mental RAM when we haven't taken the time to mentally download them into our system, with the next physical action to be taken identified (the key to having your mental RAM free for creativity, better decision making, and just enjoying yourself).

A couple days ago Erin, my wife, told me that she ended up with both our accountant appointment and her root canal slated for the same day. Instead of Ben Franklin's familiar quip "death and taxes" being the only certainties in life, it's "dental work and taxes". Seems equally true, doesn't it? And maybe one notch less depressing. Anyway, her day was not one most of us would be looking forward to on own calendars. She ended up having a pretty good day all in all, though she did say there was a bit of shoe shopping toward the end of the day for self-soothing purposes. Though I'm sure that the shoes helped, I think something else was going on with her good mood after a day of serious dentistry and reckoning with Uncle Sam. And I think it illustrates a truth that's worth reflecting on. It's based on a tidbit I learned about years ago from from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (there will be a spelling test at the end of this post) the expert on the major part that flow experiences contribute to our overall happiness. The tidbit is that getting an unpleasant chore done tends to leave us relaxed and with a sense of happiness, whereas engaging in some sort of passive entertainment like watching television leaves us on average in a lower mood by the time we're done. In fact with television (again, on average) the more of it we watch, the worse we feel. Getting something out of the way on the other hand just feels good. By the way, Csikszentmihalyi's info is based, among other sources, on his now famous study where he hooked grad students up with beepers and paged them throughout the day reminding them to record their moods in real time during their normal activities.

Somehow this post that was just supposed to be a quick quip on "dental work and taxes" has become my intro post for Getting Things Done as well, as a tidbit about flow. I guess it is good to get it out there since I think most of my clients, as well as the small contingency of readers of Awareness * Connection around the globe, would find that GTD helps with making life a bit smoother right away. And "a bit smoother right away", is a phrase that is pretty central to the work I do with most clients. If you often find yourself feel stressed out about what you have coming up, I think you stand a good chance of reducing your stress level a good deal by experimenting with GTD and adopting the pieces that fit for you.***

**I do my work on a Mac so I use an Omni Group version of Getting Things Done called Omni Focus, but on David Allen's site, he sells Windows compatible versions of his system on software. The same version is also compatible with Macs. It is worth noting that Getting Things Done can be done in any medium. You could do it on 4 x 6 cards, in a Moleskine notebook or on a fridge with sticky notes. But as with many other tasks the computer lends itself to your system being a bit more lean and clean. The only downside being that you'll want to back up your data regularly. I just visited Allen's website and he now has detailed tips available (whitepapers) about using Outlook, Entourage and Lotus Notes effectively with the Getting Things Done system. His empire seems to be steadily growing. Looks like his system is working for him anyway.
***I don't work for or with David Allen. I'm genuinely enthusiastic about the effectiveness of the system. No kickbacks. Wouldn't be ethical to combine an arrangement like that with therapy...not that Mr. Allen has ever had such an arrangement with me on his GTD list.
****Okay, quick. How do you spell the name of the author of Flow? 'Told ya it'd be here.

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