Do the Things That Need Doing | 2143


The work of body one leaves behind after action, is not left behind in the past. It is a nest of materials that one unfolds into the future from within.

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Do the Things That Need Doing

Is there a genre of books that’s like crack to you? The ones you gravitate immediately toward on the front tables in a bookshop?

For me it’s time management and productivity self help books. Essentialism, Four ThoUSAnd Weeks, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, Atomic Habits, Deep Work, The War of Art, The Artists Way. The list goes on.. 

But are they worth reading? Like crack, the first hit is always the choicest. After that, it’s diminishing returns. 

There are only a few books that I can say that have changed my life. One of them is Getting Things Done by David Allen. My first rip on the productivity bong so to speak. 

I was in my early 20โ€™s. I wasnโ€™t drowning at work, I was actively failing. In deep way above my head. Iโ€™d had several diagonal job moves in fairly quick succession and found myself a consultant. Or rather, a technical implementation manager in a brand new team. I couldn’t manage my way out of a paper bag. 

I was still using the time management techniques I’d developed to survive school. That I later refined during university.

Which summed up was: “leave everything to the last minute and pray you donโ€™t fuck it up”.

I had no real idea about deadlines, planning, time, budget control, scope, or even effective communication. None of these concepts came naturally to me. My life at work and outside was and always had been a disorganised mess. 

It would all of course come later. Managing and delivering projects with budgets of millions whilst studying for my PMP. Eventually culminating in the skill set I have today. It’s all learned behaviour however.

Luckily the first behaviour I learned or rather discovered for myself was lists. Barely able to keep up and keep track of everything, dropping balls whilst wearing too many hats. It just seemed obvious to write it all down.

David Allenโ€™s Getting Things Done was therefor; a revelation.

It really did change my life. The cover promising โ€˜stress-free productivityโ€™. The book describes a very simple task management system. 

Simply put. GTD describes how to manage a to-do list. A 5 stage system: Capture, Clarify, Organize, Review and Engage. 

Beyond that workflow, it introduces two more ideas. I think – It’s been a long time since I’ve read the Ur text. 

The first is bundling items on the todo list by area of responsibility. The second is filtering by perspective. Is a task actually an action that needs doing right now?, or is it something upcoming? A medium term thing, or just a life goal?

From these simple steps you arrange the things on your todo list into a landscape. And begin to plot a route for tackling it all.

GTD is about storing, tracking, and retrieving the information related to the things that need to get done.

Reflecting back on the impact of GTD, the reason it hit home so hard is because I was already a list guy. Still am.

People think I’m joking when I say โ€œIf it’s not written down, it doesnโ€™t existโ€ or โ€œIf you didnโ€™t see me write it down, I’m not going to do itโ€. But I mean it. My brain isnโ€™t big enough to remember all the shit that want me to do, or that needs getting done. 

I tell zoomers who are struggling in their office role to read GTD. Partly because it helped me so much in my early 20โ€™s. But also because most productivity software out in the world has Allen’s GTD method at its core.

Anyone can of course be as organized as they want. With the best intentions. But my real problem is Doing The Work as Steven Pressfield says.

When things on my todo list are self driven, self directed, I just canโ€™t be bothered. I need external pressure. A commitment. 

If I start something and then lose momentum it’s basically all over. I need deadlines, targets, accountability. Discipline. 

My creative life is a semi tended graveyard of ideas not started, things tinkered, and projects half finished. 

Iโ€™ve written before about how the weekly discipline of making this podcast weekly poduces a satisfying body of work in its wake.

I realised recently, on holiday last month actually, that Iโ€™ve been beating myself up for not doing more for the wrong reasons. I’ve always felt that not doing something today is like stealing from your future self. But this is a consequence of hustle culture and Protestant industrialisation. Going to bed every night wishing youโ€™d done more is an unhealthy way to live. A manifestation of Marilynne Robinsonโ€™s term โ€˜Joyless Urgencyโ€™.

Instead Iโ€™ve begun to think differently. Time isnโ€™t spent, wasted, or ill used. Time is the medium in which action occurs. 

Iโ€™ve known this deep down for a long time. But it’s only really just come crashing over my ingrained life long mental patterns.

Only by acting in the present can anything be achieved. Crossing something off the to do list, however small, is a generous act. A gift. action in the present to be of use not in the future, but a later bigger present. 

The work of body one leaves behind after such action, is not left behind in the past at all. It is the nest of material that one unfolds into the future from within.

This isnโ€™t about preventing things from losing momentum. But about finding rhythm. Completing action within the unfolding of each and every day, so things can flower in the future.

One must use time, not make it, or spend it.

You use time to do the things that need doing when they need getting done.


The script above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in the audio due to time constraints.

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9 responses to “Do the Things That Need Doing | 2143”

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