Learning to think in evolution, not revolution

I just recently finished The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore. Partly inspired by that book, I’ve made a bunch of changes to my organization, prioritization, and habits.

These changes are working out pretty well so far. I’m at the “revolutionary point” right now. The point in implementing a new system where there is a strong temptation to tell people about all the changes I’ve made, and how great they are.

Realistically though, these new practices won’t last. Not in their present form, anyway. This is what I learn from observing myself in the past. I’ll shirk one habit, and abbreviate another, and eventually the whole system will unravel, at least for a while.

The dark side of the “revolutionary point” is the ensuing “… then everything fell apart” narrative. For instance, years ago I read, and embraced, Getting Things Done by David Allen. For a while I practiced the tenets of his system religiously. But my systems don’t reflect orthodox GTD so much anymore. Looking back, I could easily tell myself “yeah, you thought it was revolutionary, but then everything fell apart”.

The trouble with this narrative is that it’s untrue, and unfair to myself. The reality is that reading GTD moved the “base competency level” of my personal management upwards.

These days, when I “hit bottom”—frazzled, stressed, my TODO list neglected, my email overflowing, my nights late—I have a shortcut to recovery. I don’t first survey the literature for a workable system to reorganize my life by, or sit and agonize for hours on how to do it “right”.

Instead, I revert to what David Allen taught me. I consolidate my inboxes. I write down every thought buzzing around in my head somewhere I will later review or act on it, so I don’t have to keep juggling those thoughts in my mind. I process my email and TODO-up anything that will take me more than 2 minutes to deal with. And so on.

My point is not that GTD is the best. My point is that it’s a system, and it has stuck with me. The truth is, I’ve taken lasting lessons from GTD and other personal improvement books, lessons that have lasted past the initial “revolutionary point”.

I’m making a concerted effort not to think in terms of revolutions anymore. No, the present state of affairs won’t remain static. I will “backslide”, or simply discard practices that don’t seem to be working anymore. But that doesn’t mean that “then everything fell apart”. It doesn’t mean I failed.

It just means that I practiced the skills and mental models long enough to add them to my permanent repertoire. There they’ll stay, ready to hand when I need them. The revolution was just a stage in my evolution.

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One Comment

  1. I should write a post about this. I’ve been practicing at GTD for years and it has been hugely helpful. However, I’ve always (and will likely always) struggle a the point where I have to look at all of my lists and make a decision about ‘what to do right now’. So I gave up. Until, of all things, I read a quote by Andre Agassi, “…regardless of the score, the most important point is that next point.” It had that feeling of wisdom that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, so I read Agassi’s biography. I read his coach’s biography. I watched his coach do interviews at Google. I’ve come away with something that is helpful for me – I removed the step where I review my lists. I wrote a to do list app that doesn’t show me the list. Instead – there is a single button called ‘next’ – I click it and it tells me what to do. The wisdom might be something like this: athletes have coachs. One thing a coach is necessary for is to tell the player what to do so the player can focus all of their attention on doing it. There’s more to it of course but while I’m writing here, I’m not clicking on next /grin.

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