Last Christmas I was given a gift so special I became teary-eyed. It was a book by my favourite author and inside the cover was a touching handwritten message from him to me. However, what I found even more remarkable about it, I realised only later, wasn’t the gift itself but the story behind it.
It was my daughter who’d had the idea, tracked him down with some sleuthing on the web, and asked the special favour. All seemingly straightforward, you might think, but in reality it involved a string of emails to negotiate logistics between the writer in Kyoto, his publisher in New York, and my daughter in Manchester.
When I saw these emails they revealed words even more lovely than the ones that had been written to me. There was kindness, thoughtfulness and a level of attention that seemed unusual from a complete stranger with a busy life spent travelling the globe and steadily producing beautiful books and articles.
Then an odd thought popped into my head… I wonder if he uses GTD®?
Why on earth would I think that? Well, it was one way to explain the ability to stop and give his complete attention to unbidden correspondence with a teenager on the other side of the world, not just once but several times, with the clock ticking down to Christmas.
It wasn’t normal. Normal to me, in the world of email communication with busy people, is unpredictable response times, hurried messages and chasing, chasing, chasing. To be fair, he’s an accomplished writer and therefore more practiced than most at shutting out the world but, nonetheless, it got me thinking – what other telltale signs might you notice that suggest the lurking presence of GTD in someone’s life?
They’re fully present with you. We’re hard-wired to notice the slightest sub-conscious signals of disengagement. You can see it in the eyes when someone’s mind is elsewhere. It’s not something you can fake for long. People who practice GTD are more able to disconnect from distractions and be fully with you because they know they have everything safely captured in the trusted ‘external brain’ of their GTD system. “In an age of distraction, nothing could feel more luxurious than paying attention” – the words of the author himself, from the book he signed.
They’re calm. It’s possible that the stressed-looking person running through your office clutching a piece of paper is a GTDer. After all, practitioners aren’t immune from the crises of work and life, but it’s unlikely to be their normal way of being. GTD tends to reduce the number of unnecessary panics in your life not only because things stop falling through the cracks, but also because it helps you regularly look up to see what’s coming. It’s no accident that our colleagues flying the GTD flag in India have called their company ‘Calm Achiever’. That’s where a journey with GTD takes you (calm achievement, not India!).
They do what they say they’re going to do. This was an observation from my colleague, Robert Peake, in one of our podcasts earlier in the year. It elegantly captures a key outcome of GTD practice; indeed, it’s probably the quality you might notice most in accomplished GTDers because it shows up repeatedly over time. If someone in your life is consistently delivering, you’ll know. It could be the person you just promoted. It could be the PA who holds your life together. It could be the sibling who’s the driving force behind the big family reunion every Christmas. You’ll know.
If someone is consistently ticking all these boxes, I start to get curious. In a world of constant pressure and overwhelm, these things don’t just happen by chance. They might have never heard of GTD, but they might well have arrived at GTD-esque best practices by another route, and that’s what’s coming through.
They might be capturing inputs consistently into a well-loved notebook that never leaves their side. They might be taking the time to review their work over a coffee once a week. They might have some simple means to manage digital interruption and protect their focus.
Each good habit will help, and if these good habits add up it might be because they have come across a comprehensive method for keeping life’s madness under control.