Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 14th 2016 Contents A26
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, March 14, 2016
The new hot trend in Silicon Valley office culture
is a Buddh-ish encouragement of workplace mind-
fulness. Guided meditation is the new free cafeteria
meals. But David Allen, the author of the international
bestselling productivity bible, Getting Things Done,
has been teaching people how to reach higher levels
of cognitive thinking for almost two decades. Like
Eastern mindfulness, his solution is simple but chal-
lenging to fully implement.
Clear your mind If that doesn t raise any follow-up
questions you can stop reading and get to it. But the
truth is most people don t know how to clear their
mind. Buddhism encourages you to focus on the breath
or a single thought to calm the mad monkey screeching
in your skull. Such practice has been empirically shown
to strengthen emotional resilience and increase hap-
piness. But then the nagging thoughts start to creep
in. You know the ones. Not big thoughts, but the mun-
dane, seemingly benign nagging mental memos. "Did
I send that email?" "I need to tell my boss something
before the meeting." "What was that idea I had this
morning in the shower?" "I know I m forgetting some-
"We have to shut the mundane up," Allen said to
me in a phone interview a few months after we met
on a stage in Austin, Texas, in the US at the South by
Southwest (SXSW) festival to discuss his well-known
productivity method. Allen s route to freeing the mind
of its detritus is a more practical one than prescribed
by most religions.
"The strange paradox is you actually have to use
your mind to shut your mind up," he said. But not by
meditation or mantras. "You can t shut it up by trying
to shut it off. What you have to do is ask yourself,
Why is this on my mind? "
Our brain is a poor and unreliable repository of all
the little (and big) things we try to cram into it. These
thoughts clutter our headspace. And those marvelous,
convenient and addictive mobile phones and social
networks are making the problem worse. By living a
life of quiet distraction (with apologies to Thoreau),
we are crowding out the deeper and creative thoughts,
along with any hope of real quiet.
To extricate the things that don t belong in your
brain, you need a systematic approach, Allen contends.
His book and its concept, abbreviated among the life-
hacker-ati as GTD, is a detailed prescription to fix this
problem that I will over-simplify into four steps:
1) Adopt a reliable capture method (Evernote, voice
memos, a Moleskin notebook, etc) to get thoughts out
of your head.
2) Distill them to actionable items and next steps
("send receipts to Finance," "call a kick-off meeting
for an office-wide re-org") on your daily to-do list.
3) Dedicate yourself to multiple reviews in which
you put these action items into the right buckets ("must
be done today," "phone calls when I m on the train").
4) Do the things on the list, when you have time,
prioritising as you go.
GTD offers many hacks and habit-starters to help
facilitate this method, but they all come down to one
thing: effectively dealing with everything that modern
life throws at you in a way that doesn t stress you out
or bury you.
What does a clutter-free mind feel like? I read GTD
in February and began adopting and adapting it to my
life. In the span of four months, I have enjoyed occa-
sional, fleeting moments in which I realise, "I don t
have anything I need to think about!"
When it happens, a more creative or big picture idea
often enters to fill the void. I also experience increased
focus on a project (such as this column) when I m
unfettered by mental loops reminding me to act on
something else. To be fair, other things didn t work
for me. Keeping up with the weekly long-term-goals
reviews fell off and I still procrastinate when a task is
emotionally unpleasant (that is, I don t like talking to
a certain person because they are unpleasant).
"Getting things done" as an aspiration is deceptively
practical because mastering it can be personally lib-
Allen likens a pre-GTD mind to a car
stuck in first gear---slow and taxing on
the engine. His method aims to facilitate
"higher gear" thinking. Some uphill tasks
require lower gears, but they will slow
you down for more creative or big picture
ones. So the aim is not to shut out
thought, but give you the mental agility
to accurately assess any given situation.
That, in turn leads to informed judgments
about how to act. Allen often asks himself
if he s appropriately engaged with what s
on his mind---without attaching worry
and stress which tend to cloud judgment.
The military calls this "situational aware-
ness" and in combat being proficient at
it can save your life. In the office, it can
save your sanity.
"The ability to know I can get control...
is a certain level of Zen-like freedom,"
said Allen. "Because I know I can get
control, then I don t need to be in control
all the time." (cnn.com)
Zen and the art of getting things done
By living a life of quiet distraction, we are crowding
out the deeper and creative thoughts, along with any
hope of real quiet.
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
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