Scale it down until you can do it: Applying the GTD rules to everyday life

Alice in Wonderland

I have a confession to make:  There are a lot of tasks in my life that I just can’t will myself to get done.  Do you have a list like this?  I’ve lived in my apartment for almost 5 years now and only managed to put permanent blinds in my windows this past weekend.  I just bought a coffee table.  I still don’t have a passport.  I’m not sure what keeps me from getting these (seemingly small) tasks accomplished, but somehow they feel ‘big’ in my brain, so I put them off.

As a digital strategist, I think sometimes that our clients and companies in general that are not yet engaging with their customers online feel like the prospect of “getting social media done” is a daunting prospect, and it ‘feels too big in their heads’ (whether they’re able to articulate it that way or not), and so come up with all kinds of rationales to not move forward (‘no resources’, ‘no time’, ‘legal wont let us’, ‘can’t justify the ROI’).

I think we all do ourselves a disservice when we try to respond to these individual points (though we have the best intentions) to quell the fears that exist rather than trying to address the underlying issue.  The same way that having someone say things like “well, you want to be able to travel, don’t you?” in order to encourage me to get a passport, saying things like “customers expect you to engage” won’t alleviate the underlying ‘this is too big to handle’ illusion.

Instead, what Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done system recommends is that we “Break tasks down into actionable steps.”

What this means to me in both cases is:  Scale it down until you can do it.

Too scared to start, monitor and maintain a multi-channel social network presence? Try a monthly blog.  Or a personal Twitter account.  Keep scaling it down until you feel like you can act on something.  Don’t worry about how much you took off the table.  Don’t worry about how much the competition is doing, or how many other things are on your list.  Tiny progress is exponentially better than no progress at all.

The dirty little secret is that even when you feel like you are pushing yourself outside your safezone, you really aren’t.  What you’ve done is realize that your safezone is bigger than you thought it was.

So, maybe I can’t put a “done” mark next to “Get Passport” just yet.  But maybe I can fill out the form so that when I’m ready to take that next step, there are fewer things getting in the way.

That I can do.