Do You Have "Response-Ability"?

Written by Harold S. Mars III on Monday, 27 March 2017. Posted in Productivity

Cultivating an Ability to Respond Well to What Life Throws at You.

Productivity Mind Like Water 9 Web

Making day-by-day, moment-by-moment action decisions is a major part of all our lives ... no exceptions. None of us, if you count yourself a part of the human race, can escape that reality. There are so many inputs coming at us from all directions and every context, criss-crossing both our personal and work lives. We have to constantly assess and make decisions on what to do, and not to do, at any given moment. We all need an effective Response-ability in the face of it all ... an agility to handle what comes at us, often with lightening-type speed.

Response-ability is an action verb (very different from its rigid and wooden noun form - responsibility). It's the ability to respond totally appropriately to any and all environments we find ourselves engaged in, and to any and all circumstances that come our way. With it, we can cultivate a "mind like water," 1/ where we don't over-react or under-react ... we absorb and respond appropriately to the given input. To achieve this, we must have both an effective intrinsic power to draw on and a functionally productive outer mechanism for activity management ... an inner flame coursing within and an outer tangible framework that enables us to confidently and productively make choices in the heat of every-day activity. Both function as anchors, if you will, that can cut deep into the tumultuous waters of daily activity and securely dig into the underlying bedrock of an uncluttered and clear mind, empowering us to deal with the churning tasks and interactions as they occur and not be thrown off course in the process.

I've found two such anchors that provide that crucial response-ability.

My Inner Anchor - A "Circle of Priorities" Perspective

I am that I am. I will be who I will be. I am a verb! I am alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving. I am a being verb ... I give you an ability to respond and your response is to be free to love and serve in every situation, and therefore each moment is different and unique and wonderful. Because I am your ability to respond, I have to be present in you. If I simply gave you a responsibility, I would not have to be with you at all. It would now be a task to perform, an obligation to be met, something to fail. 2/


I'm unabashedly a follower of Jesus Christ and in-debted to Dr. J. Grant Howard, a brilliant and grounded theology professor, for helping me to see a different perspective on life's priorities and relationships.3/ Largely due to his enlightening insights, I've come to view my life as consisting of three concentrically arranged segments - one being centrally at the core and the other two equal in relational importance to each other and tethered to the core4/:

  1. Loving and interacting with my God (central and integrated with Nos. 2 & 3).
  2. Loving and treating myself well (equal with No. 3).
  3. Loving my "neighbors" as well as I do myself (equal with No. 2).


Circles of Priorities Diagram



God is the only being who exists without a first cause. He is active and involved in the lives of his created humanity. He is the Author of life, and therefore at the center of my life. He provides the "operating manual" for my life.  He has transformed me and infused me with His very essence ... He is present with me (whether I consciously and consistently avail myself of that fact, or not). I've come to understand that without a full recognition of His reality and centrality in my life, my thinking and my actions risk being skewed and distorted. And, if He indeed is "The Lord of Life" (as He informs me in the Judeo-Christian source documents), I need to take that seriously.

I show the reality and centrality of His existence in my life through His placement in the inner circle. He is to be loved with my entirety - mind, body, emotions and vitality. And, that love is reciprocal ... in coming to know my Creator, I understand that He loves me with His entirety - unconditionally and not dependent on my performance. My worth is not based on rule-keeping (the noun form of responsibility) or living up to the expectations of others.


I view myself in an active and connected relationship to God ... when He is central, He touches and becomes significant in every aspect and area of me as a person, and I relate and respond to every aspect of who He is. God's desire is to be involved and significant in every area of my life, and every facet of who I am is important and significant to my Creator.

My relationship with and to God is depicted by an adjacent circle that touches the center circle on all sides. Arrows stretching from the center circle through the self circle reflect that God and I relate in various ways to touch the significant "neighbor" segments in the diagram. He desires to work in and through me to touch those areas. And, as God is honored and central in my life and its activity, I benefit and grow ... personally, professionally, spiritually and otherwise.


These are the important segments in my life for which I have significant relationships in some way shape or form 5/ ... my natural family, spiritual family (church), various levels of governmental authority, the world/culture at large and my life's work and those I relate to in the performance of my work. Each segment is important, a God-given area of importance where I need to rely on my Creator's resources to empower me with the ability to respond well. I live and work in the context of these five important areas of relationship, acting and inter-relating with and through the aid of the intrinsic and present power of God.

As mentioned, the above segments are concentrically arranged in a circle of priorities and relationships. There's not a traditional first, second, or third ranking here. I don't attempt to give more time to one because it's of higher importance than the other, and vice versa. Instead, priorities and activities become dynamically wrapped around my intrinsically powerful spiritual core in a moving and active inter-relationship with one another. There is a recognition that all of life is an integration, with an ebb and flow to it that simply prohibits operating from a sequential or hierarchical viewpoint.

At one moment, life demands your attention in one area ... at another moment, you may have to quickly switch to another area, spending more or less time than the first. Then there are times when you'll have to work through a list of time or day sensitive tasks that span multiple areas, again with differing time and attention. Because of this reality, the better way to constructively and effectively handle life is to think in concentric circles, with an appropriately placed center that permeates and infiltrates all that I am and all that I do.


Seeking God 13 WebOk ... so what's the point of all this metaphysical stuff (you may be asking)? C'mon ... why the need? Alright, straight up (not that I haven't tried to be already) ... to have effective response-ability in the ebb and flow of life, we MUST have an appropriate concentric perspective on life, an embracing of the relationships that are important to the Creator who made us, an understanding of our role in connection with those important relationships, and a grasp on how to dynamically inter-relate with each important segment. To move fluidly and confidently in and through those concentric circles of inter-relationships, we need to be armed with a real and vibrate power that drives and fuels the inner self forward. It's how we were designed to function. Sure, you can attempt to rely on "positive thinking," "the universe," or some other nebulous and inanimate motivational concept ... those things are all well and good, but they aren't dynamic and alive, and can't be relied upon to consistently fuel you when the going gets tough, when things aren't going as expected, and when you have to work through the hard and rugged slug-fest that's frequently called for in the real everyday crucible of living, doing and relating with others. We need an intrinsic power that's living and dynamic to enable our ability to respond well. Reliance on the Creator of the universe and everything in it, the Giver of breath and life, the Sustainer of our souls within us (without whom there would be a void) and the Author of our very being (who we are as individuals) is what we need to tap into. The defining essence of The Creator is that of action ("I AM" 6/) ... therefore, we're assured of being empowered with response-ability as we rely and trust in that real and defining power to work within us.

My Outer Achor - A Wonderfully Functional GTD® Methodology

There has been a missing piece in our new culture of knowledge work: a system with a coherent set of behaviors and tools that functions effectively at the level at which work really happens. It must incorporate the results of big-picture thinking as well as the smallest of open details. It must manage multiple tiers of priorities. It must maintain control over hundreds of new inputs daily. It must save a lot more time and effort than are needed to maintain it. It must make it easier to get things done. 7/

 Anything that can enhance your awareness of the environment, speed up your response time, and balance your internal system (to eliminate over- and under-reactions) will provide competitive advantage and improve performance. Sensitivity to input with adaptability to change contributes to the survival of a species, a fighter pilot, and a product line. 8/


To become action-oriented with an effective response-ability, not only do we need the appropriate and essential intrinsic power, but we need to come to grips with two additional realities concerning ourselves:

  1. Though our minds are fearfully and wonderfully designed, they're non-the-less poor "file cabinets." They are made principally for the generation of ideas, creative thoughts, working through effective planning, and incredibly equipped for evaluative reasoning ... but, our minds are not designed for being a placeholder for the output of all that. So to be action-oriented with an effective response-ability, we're in need of an external framework that provides a way to manage the inputs that come into our day-to-day radar and one that can be used in tandem with an effective "repository" tool for the management of its output .. a method and mechanism that relieves the mind of the placeholder function.
  2. Most of the stress, or "angst", that we as thinking and functioning human beings experience is related to inappropriately managing the commitments we make ... to ourselves and to others in our concentric circles of life as referenced above. We also tend to place unfair, or at least not well thought-through, expectations on ourselves. We create what David Allen refers to as "open loops" in our lives, for many of us hundreds of them, and we don't have a functionally systematic way of managing it all and deciding what, if anything, I need to do with it ... either when it arrives on our plates, or tracking them after-the-fact. 


GTD 1 WebFor me, David Allen's Getting Things Done® methodology (or, GTD®) is the mechanism of choice that provides the outward framework to manage my commitments and activities with a confident response-ability. With a daily work out of my C.C.O.R.E., per David Allen's framework, I'm able to implement some basic behaviors and actions that help me effectively navigate my world across three modes 9/:

  • VISIONARY mode - I understand the reality that if something is on my mind, and stays there, my mind isn't clear to function as it was intended. Anything that I consider unfinished in any way (an "open loop" ... a stand-alone task, a project, a someday-maybe item, notes from a meeting) is captured in a trusted repository tool outside of my mind (for me, that tool is IQTELL). This trusted tool is my centralized "collection bucket"  for all of the daily inputs vying for my mental attention, as well as brainstorms and ideas that come to mind (sometimes at the oddest of hours and during involvement in personal activities).
  • EXECUTIVE mode - with all the inputs centrally collected (and my mind having been relieved of the stress of having to remember them), I can then take sufficient time, at appropriate and regularly recurring intervals, to clarify exactly what my commitment (if anything) may be and decide what I have to do to make progress toward fulfilling a commitment I agree to take on. Again, I know I'll consistently come back to my tool of choice to process, organize and review my clarified commitments for appropriate execution.
  • MANAGER mode - once I've decided on what all the actions are that I need to take to fulfill the commitments I've made to myself and otherse in my concentric circles of priorities, I execute on them, either right away (if they will take less than 2 minutes) or keep reminders of them on digital lists in my trusted repository tool for action at a later time.


Armed with the wonderfully efficient outer GTD® framework, and coupled with the intrinsic power to understand how I should relate to the reality of my Creator and my world from a proper concentric and inter-related viewpoint, I can fluidly and confidently handle the ebb and flow of my daily activity. I'm powerfully enabled to actively move forward with response-ability. My action choices become well-informed, I can increasingly trust my judgement on what to do or not do at any moment, leading to an experiencing of greater levels of mental and physical energy, clarity, expansive cognitive exploration and creative expression. THAT is a beautiful thing ... and so freeing and exhiliarating! Once you're in that zone, you'll never want to leave.

If you want to learn more about GTD® and our Productivity Coaching to help you with your response-ability, click here: Get Productive with GWPS.



1/- see "Getting Things Done," By David Allen (digital pgs. 30-31)
2/ - from "The Shack", by William P. Young (digital pgs. 170-172).
3/ - see "Balancing Life's Demands", by J. Grant Howard (Multnomah Press, 1994).
4/ - based on an understanding of what Jesus considered to be the most important commandment (as stated in Christianity's source documentation, Matthew 22:33-40).
5/ - based on the apostle Paul's understanding of what constitutes "neighbors" (as re-counted in Christianity's source documentation, the book of Ephesians).
6/ - from the Judeo-Christian source documentation, Exodus 3:14.
7/ - from "Getting Things Done", by David Allen (digital pgs. 29-30).
8/ - from "Ready for Anything", by David Allen (digital pg.107).
9/ - see "Getting Things Done", By David Allen (digital pgs. 33-35).

GTD® and Getting Things Done® are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company. Graywolf Productivity Solutions, LLC is not affiliated with the David Allen Company.


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About the Author

Harold S. Mars III

HMars1 Reduced 919x1000Harold is a consulting professional well versed in business finance, accounting and the principles of personal productivity, along with the latest in software and web tools available to manage these arenas of life well. He is founder and Chief Productivity Consultant for Graywolf Productivity Solutions LLC, a service entity existing to support those individuals and teams in small and mid-size businesses that desire growth and impact through increased productivity. With seasoned and professional expertise delivered through a personalized and engaging approach, he believes in helping his clients focus on doing what they do best through the use of outstanding business and personal productivity resources.

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