Sometimes the basis for positive change in our lives comes from questioning or throwing out conventional assumptions or "rules of thumb". The 4-Hour Workweek is a great example, where author Timothy Ferriss questions the so-called deferred life plan which we all know: work hard now and defer living your dreams until you retire. I would take the premise of the 4-Hour Workweek even further: the notion that after high school you go to college, after which you work long and hard at your job to get ahead, is really just a socially reinforced mental state, a way of being that can limit your life and cause an apathetic, unfulfilling, and at times tedious, reality.
Premise of Time Management
So let's start questioning some rules of thumb or so called best practices in the more mundane sphere of things. I think the use of a good time management system would be considered by most as a worthwhile practice. Several schools of thought, books, and systems have been developed to address the issue of time management. Some, such as Habit 3: Put First Things First of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and Getting Things Done (GTD), are extremely popular. Getting Things Done in particular has recently developed an almost cult like following. Today I found myself very much inspired by an article at SaneLiving.org about common sense time management. Questioning the value of GTD leads to some interesting conclusions.
Specifically, what I liked about this article was an implied classification of the supposed things we need "to get done", each of which can be organized into one of the following four categories:
- Essential and Unforgettable (EU): Items that have to get done and will make an impact on your life. An example of this sort of thing might be a meeting with a new business partner or investor that has the potential to transform your life's work. These sorts of things are of the highest personal importance and really deserve mind space.
- Essential but Forgettable (EF): Items that need to get done, but will not really have an impact on your life. Changing the oil in your car probably falls into this category. These items ideally should not, but often do, consume mind space. All you really need for these is a reminder to do them at an appropriate time and place - nothing more, nothing less.
- Unessential but Unforgettable (UU): Items that don't need to get done, but which may provide a great deal of fun or lasting memories. These could be a family trip to a decidedly local destination, going out on a date, or playing a sport.
- Unessential and Forgettable (UF): Items for which no one is depending on you, and that do not impact your health or happiness. This sort of thing could be steam cleaning your carpets or dusting your bookshelves.
When you think about it, only the first two really warrant any attention from a "I need to get this done" perspective. However, it is also worth pointing out that the third category of "unessential but unforgettable" is often the stuff of happiness and deserves special attention - just not necessarily on a to-do list.
Four Quadrants of Life Management
The idea behind capture in GTD was developed so that items that needed to get done are logged externally so that they do not have to take up mind space. The problem is two-fold:
- Often, implementing GTD results in everything, from all four of the categories mentioned above, being captured.
- What do we do when we have freed up all this mind space we were "wasting" on mentally keeping track of our to-do's? After all, we have to think about something!
Let's visualize the four categories of things we supposedly need to "get done" as described above:
Why do we categorize our activities this way? Because we can relieve ourselves of the responsibility of capturing and managing anything unessential! That effectively cuts the time management effort in half. That is also why I have called it the four quadrants of life management as opposed to time management - only the "essential" quadrants truly need to be captured and time managed. You don't need to capture and manage everything. I like to call this the basis for Getting Essential Things Done (GETD), a sort of GTD "lite" if you will. It also suggests that we spend the freed up mind space on the essential.
The astute will notice that this looks a lot like the Time Management Matrix in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but it is different in one key aspect: urgency is not one of the coordinates. Only the essential could potentially be an urgent matter in the Seven Habits sense, and that is why you are capturing and managing them. The urgency is more a matter of where they end up on your calendar!
Eliminate & Automate
The above classification system is also crucial to followers of The 4-Hour Workweek. Specifically, you can start looking at things this way:
- Anything unessential and forgettable presents a pretty good opportunity for elimination. If no one is counting on you for it, and it doesn't mean anything to you, why are you doing it in the first place?
- Anything essential but forgettable should be automated as much as possible. These are the things, for example, that we want to outsource, delegate, or deal with using the least amount of time and effort, usually via a reminder to act immediately at the right time and place.
- Anything unforgettable deserves some attention and mind space. But unless it is essential, we don't have to capture it in our time management system (maybe you want to - hey it's a free country, and that's certainly ok! - all I'm suggesting is you don't have to time manage these).
Hopefully, this frees up a lot of time to have fun and basically do a lot more of the unessential yet unforgettable. As I proposed: we probably shouldn't bother spending a lot of time planning these sorts of things - it is almost the definition of spontaneity!
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