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Beginner's Mind, Metropolis, and all our unnecessary parts

a million monkeys typing » The Beginner’s Mind

Metropolitan Clock

Douglas’s post reminds me of that unintentionally hilarious scene in Metropolis where the Beleaguered Iconic Worker is pushed to exhaustion in the clearly meaningless work of moving the clock hands around on the Big Futuristic Machine he’s charged to attend. (God, I wish I had a screengrab to share; it’s a stitch to watch. Found one. Thanks, Douglas.)

There have definitely been times in the past couple years when I’ve felt the same way about maintaining “my system”—driven as if by a motor from one list to another, dashing to connect all the pieces into some theoretically unified field theory of my life. It’s nutty.

The irony is that I, like many of you, tarry in this productivity sweat shop in order to achieve what David Allen has called “mind like water,” or the ability to adapt to change and disruption in a relaxed manner. So often, of course, the result is the virtual opposite. You get so stressed out about moving the meaningless clock hands on your Big Futuristic Machine that you forget what they’re supposed to be attached to.

I acknowledge that a certain amount of Byzantine organizational work is what keeps many of us interested in this stuff, but there is something very compelling about working to adopt Beginner’s Mind—in this case, the idea that you can achieve the higher goals of systems like GTD not by fretting endlessly over the minutiae of your personal ontology, but by exerting the absolute minimum amount of effort needed to get things off your mind and parked in the right place. That’s the sweet spot.

Or, to quote Strunk and White, in talking about writing:

A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

Maybe one good goal this week would be to remove the largest, most unnecessary part from each of our machines. It may not be pure “Beginner’s Mind,” but it’s an easy place to start.

TJIC's picture

I was blown away by...

I was blown away by GTD when I read it, and I eagerly started reading 43folders and other related blogs and google groups...but then it dawned on me (I'd like to say "slowly dawned on me", but it's not true) that there isn't a huge amount more to say on the topic...or at least, most of what was getting said NEAR the topic wasn't all that bottom-line useful.

GTD appealed to me because it embraced a few notions I already had in protean form: always empty your email box, maintain a to-do list, keep the workbench clear so that you can do projects (metaphorically speaking), etc., but it systemized them and extended them to some areas that I still had problems with.

I was a bit het up on GTD and was tempted to go off and code up an linux app (maybe an emacs mode?) to help me implement the system...but I decided to just try - at least for a while - the "next item, by context" lists AND the tickler file AND my list of projects, all in one big text file. I carry a cheap moleskine and a space pen (like every other GTD geek on the planet...at least those who aren't using Hipster PDAs). I note to-do items in the moleskine when I'm away from the computer. When I get back to the computer, I transfer everything into my Big Text File (tm).

...and you know what?

It works pretty darned well.

Having forced myself into a period of just-use-a-text-file, I've (a) stuck with it for 9 months; (b) watched with suprise (and a bit of alarm) as a lot of the folks who are in to GTD spiral down into their own navels (at least, that's how it looks from the outside).

I think you've hit the nail on the head: a lot of GTD folks are trying to complicate what's a pretty simple idea. Websites full of patterns to print on index cards? Special printers to dump the patterns onto hardcopy? Application this, scriptable tool that...it all has the feel of someone who used to obsess about her relationship with her parents, went into therapy to get over it...and now obsesses about her relationship with her therapist!

May I suggest that folks try not removing merely one part from their big machines (as you suggest), but instead try to fall all the way back to a few folders, one in basket, a notebook, and a pen? (Btw, the Metroplis scene you mention is a great analogy!)

Literally just-this-morning, bumbed that 43F had spiralled into it's navel, I unsubscribed from the RSS feed...then changed my mind, hoping that something clarifying, as opposed to complexifying and obscuring would come down the pike.

I think your post above is a step back towards clarifying and simplifying...go for it!




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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