HACK / MAKE

Paradox and Perspective

I had thought I’d found some place of enlightenment. A quite little place in my head where I recognized that my practice of managing the things that need to get done in my life wasn’t important and I could just move on. I could just walk away from the 5 step process and be free.

Distancing myself from that has felt like I’ve distanced myself from one of the only things I’m good at. It’s heartbreaking as I realize while typing this that GTD is one of the lone things in my life I’ve been working to master. Not being a socialite, not some extreme sport, not the cello—I’ve been focusing on getting arbitrary things checked off a list so I’d have more room to do other arbitrary things. I do feel like this method has led me to some valuable accomplishments but there has to be more to it than this.

So I started to spend less time reading, writing, and generally practicing towards mastering the way I work to spend more time mastering the way I live. Through this, I have began to unveil more of life but often feel left as the master of nothing.

Maybe it’s a paradox of passion. I still have feelings for the way I used to manage my work. I’ve stripped it all down but I don’t think I’ve quite let it go. There’s been a thread through everything I’ve done for almost a decade and moving on from that can leave a sting. I feel less sharp, less on top of things, and sometimes less driven to get work done because I want to let life happen.

The trusted system I’ve long worked on is pretty much abandoned. Having a trusted system means you gain the mental capacity to take on more but do we always have the human capacity to take on more? Our goal when we organize our lives and work is so that any time we sit down with our list of things we want to do, it’s clear what needs to happen and we can jump right in. But the most rewarding stuff in life doesn’t manifest itself on a list, so our focus on organizing life is futile.

I’ve been struggling with this balance: organized enough that the tasks get captured—out of my head—and done, but freeing myself from the grips of obsessive organization to give me the mental and human capacity to live.


The above was a draft that I was struggling to shape over a week or two, sitting in my drafts folder mocking me that not only had I slipped from my comfortable perch as a productivity guru but also as a productivity blogger—unable to connect the ideas and simplify it so you could digest it, flipping through your RSS feeds while sipping your particularly brewed morning joe. It just wasn’t meshing. I couldn’t grasp where I wanted the article to go. I couldn’t find where I wanted to find myself in the article, what hacking on the keyboard could teach myself. So I left it. I went to the woods for a weekend away and while reading on Sunday morning, held down in the little wood shelter in the Adirondacks by the down-pouring morning rain, something shifted. The above remains unedited from where I left it and the below is the part that matters.


Stephen Covey in the introductory paragraphs of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

It becomes obvious that if we want to make relatively minor changes in our lives we can perhaps appropriately focus on our attitudes and behaviors. But if we want to make significant, quantum change, we need to work on our basic paradigms.

Forgive his use of paradigm. Originally published in ‘89, it was much before the modern-day marketers and executives got a hold of the word and made it meaningless. The way I read it, Covey uses paradigm like perspective.

My perspective was self-serving and the basic way I saw things needed to change. Productivity was only ever about myself and though I’ve been seeking something more significant, clinging on to old “attitudes and behaviors” held me to minor changes in how I can impact others.

It wasn’t that those habits were containing me. The angst in Strip It Down was directed at the way I was working so I tried to strip away those behaviors to make way for change. The behaviors or attitudes themselves weren’t to blame but the focus on them was distracting me from putting in the work to see things from a new perspective.

I want to change the way I look at my life, the people around me, and the way I work and these are a few ideas that I want to build my new perspective on:

  • Just stay above water enough with the tasks I have to do to give people in my life the time and respect they deserve—it’s probably much more than I’m giving them right now. Try to shift my perspective of mastery and craftsmanship of bits and lists, to people and relationships.
  • Use the scaffolding I’ve built to better grow and support these human relationships.
  • The more I bow to others, the more I’ll be able to bow to myself, and somewhere mixed in, I’ll be granted the time and ability to make great things.
  • Pay less attention to tracking and accomplishing what happens day-to-day and figure out how to see patterns year-to-year—that’s the timeframe where big things will happen.

When I go back and read old posts, like 20,000 Feet from two years ago, I recognize that including the needs of the people around me has always been baked in to the way I structure my tasks. And then I write sentances like that and know where everything is wrong.

Me, one sentence ago:

I recognize that including the needs of the people around me has always been baked in to the way I structure my tasks.

What this needs to be is:

People are important to me and I need to structure my life so I put them first.

That’s a different paradigm and I need more vision to do that than paper or lists can handle.

Thoughts or comments? Let's talk on Twitter or send me an email.