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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.

Brian's picture

I get a sad pang...

I get a sad pang in my gut when I think of all the hours I've spent trying to achieve "mind-like-water."

Merlin, earlier you said (to losely paraphrase): One hallmark of a geek is that they're willing to spend 11-1/2 hours coding a script to do something that would take 12 hours to do by hand? But thru the pursuit of something like GTD methodology, I'm taking hours in the hundreds in the hope of saving a few dozen. he ratio has somehow gotten inverted: it takes 20 hours to accomplish thru a system what I could do in 11-1/2 if I just broke down and started stuffing the damned envelopes (metaphorically speaking).

I would rather be bored/boring and get my obligations out of the way so I have time to relax ... I would rather be frustrated/anxious but be struggling with procrastination face-to-face, rather than by channeling that energy into creating a system that will supposedly help me in the long term ... I would rather spend a HUNDRED hours learning to relax, let go, and be OK with making decisions that allow me to relax and enjoy my life NOW, rather than once all the "first things first" have been accomplished ... than I would spend any more time trying to get my system up and running.

Of course, this isn't to say I won't be back on your blog tomorrow morning -- you've got a zillion great "tricks," many of which I keep around (like an assortment of rachets) to get me unstuck.

But I am going to have to say goodbye to all this GTD stuff.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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