"Opportunity is lost by most people because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work" - Thomas Edison
"It is the failure to discover where we are at any moment that keeps us from realizing where we most want to go." - Larry Crabb
Maintaining a strong physical core is an all-important part of a well-rounded fitness program. Muscles around your trunk and pelvis area, your body's core, are often the most neglected ... yet they are key to both getting in and maintaining good shape. Why? Because doing core exercises train your lower back, abdomen, and hips to work in harmony with each other, and that plays a leading role in contributing to better balance and stability for your entire body. Your body depends on a stabile and strong core ... it's mundane and drudingly painstaking work, but it pays off in big-time health benefits.
Just like your physical core, you need to pay attention to your day-to-day management "core." What do I mean by that? Well, it's the central fundamentals of the Getting Things Done® (or, GTD®), methodology. C-C-O-R-E to be exact ... a consistent, day-to-day working through of five key steps: Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect (Review) and Engage (Execute). It's mundane and disciplined work to learn to cultivate (it gets progressively easier), but it pays off in big-time productivity and health benefits. Let's take a look at each exercise element.
You've probably got a lot of stuff you're juggling in your life ... a lot that your thinking about at any given moment. Where is that "stuff" parked? Most likely, it's rolling around in your head, and your head is a poor file cabinet. We do need to collect the things that are commanding our attention, but the place to do that needs to be outside of our mind to free it up from the energy-sapping task of trying to maintain and categorize it all, which your mind naturally gravitates to when you keep stuff there. So there needs to be some external placeholders to capture everything that comes into your minds radar ... there needs to be identified "collection buckets." They can be as low- or high-tech as you're comfortable with, but you should have only as many as you need and as few as you can get by with. Examples are a wire-mesh in-basket, a notepad (electronic or paper), a voice recorder, or email inboxes. Using these tools, you'll need to corral everything that could be said to be "incomplete" in your world, across both your personal and work life. Then you need to regularly review the items and do something with them ... regularly empty your collection tools. To wit, the next core activity.
Ok, you've emptied your head and collected your inventory of open items, "psychic" and otherwise ... now what? Well, you take everything you've captured, then process, or clarify, what it means to you by asking the following: Is this something actionable ... do I need to do something with it?
If the answer is "No," there are three options:
- Trash It (If it's no longer needed).
- Incubate It (no action is needed right at the moment, but something might need to be done later).
- Reference It (put in a reference placeholder; might be useful for something else sometime down the road).
If the answer is "Yes," you need to specifically identify what the very next action to be accomplished is (David Allen defines a next action as "the next physical, visible behavior, without exception, on every open loop"). Then decide:
- Will it take less than 2 minutes to do? If so, Do It.
- Can it be passed to someone else to do? If so, Delegate It (and track it).
- Will it take longer than 2 minutes, and I'm the right one to do it? If so, Defer It (and track it).
If the answer is "Yes," but what needs to be done will require multiple actions, or steps, then the item becomes a project where you ask yourself "what's the desired outcome"? You'll then capture that outcome on a Projects list, and put a stake in the ground by identifying the potential actions and what might be the very next action to get things underway. You'll then review the project weekly for progress, tick off accomplished action(s), and identify what action is next to move the project along. Ohhh yeahh! You're really rolling now ... how about the tracking and placeholder mechanisms?
Alright ... for those non-actionable items, you've either tossed it, filed it for later reminder (a "tickler" file of sorts), or have put it in a reference system of some sort (a file cabinet or portable folder rack on your desk). For those now clarified actionable items, you now have to think about what the most appropriate set of reviewable reminder vehicles will be. These will constitute your action reminder lists and other support-type elements. You'll need:
- A calendar
- A reminder list for projects.
- Storage or files for project support materials.
- Reminder lists for your deferred and project next actions.
- A reminder list for those actions you are waiting for from others.
- A someday/maybe list for items to consider acting on in the future.
These can be paper-based (page lists), separate file folders, or a computerized program or management app. Again ... low-tech or high-tech, depending on your comfort level, ability to be flexible and nimble, and ensuring that you'll be motivated to review reminder vehicles. For the next actions reminder lists, you should formulate your lists according context ... defined by the physical environments you find yourself in (work, office, home, etc.), your proximity to a key tool (phone, computer, etc.), or times when your out-and-about (errands, community locations, etc.). The logic behind this is that when you have your cell phone with you, but you don't have access to your computer, you can address only those items that you can accomplish while on the phone ... if you have your actions list defined by that context, you can easily retrieve those and those only. If you have higher-tech capability to couple and define your next actions with other factors, you should consider adding an estimate of how much time the task may take (taking into account your time availabiity at any moment) and how much energy it make take (your "resource" requirement ... i.e., high, medium or low energy required). With these three key decision factors (context, time available and energy available), you'll be empowered to discern what action will yield you the highest payoff. Using this method consistently will hone your intuition and sharpen your judgement on what to do at any given point in time.
How about the calendar? You'll use it to track things that need to happen on a specific day or time. As David Allen puts it, your calendar serves as your "hard landscape" for time specific/day specific actions, and any day specific information you need to keep track of. These three things are on your calendar ... and nothing else!
Your someday/maybe list will constitute your "parking lot" for ideas and things that you might like to do, might like to buy, might like to read, might like to see, etc.. This gives you a review vehicle to track things that aren't of necessity to commit to now, yet you don't want to forget the possibility of engaging with it sometime later.
The reflect, or review, element of your day-to-day management core is essential ... indeed critical. It's where you afford yourself the opportunity to review the "whole picture" of your integrated life (both personal and work), your commitments made, and things for future consideration. Having done the work of properly collecting, clarifying and organizing, you can now look over your reminder vehicles as often as necessary to enable a determination of what you need to be doing next, coupled with an informed and adequate scan of the other options that should or could be on your radar. This is where you can effectively look at things from multiple levels, or "horizons of focus" (defined here, from lowest to highest):
- Runway - Next, physical and visible actions to take.
- 10,000 Ft - Your projects. Outcomes you want to achieve with multi-step actions.
- 20,000 Ft - Areas of focus and responsibilty. Your important spheres/roles in your personal and work life that need to be maintained.
- 30,000 Ft - Goals and objectives. What you need to accomplish over the short- to mid-range timeframe (12 to 24 months).
- 40,000 Ft - A vision of where you want to be, over a longer-range timeframe. What do you desire things to look like as you achieve "success" in your life goals?
- 50,000 Ft - Purpose and core values. Your concrete reasons, or intentions, for doing things; the principles you base your life on.
Focusing from the lowest horizon upward is an important perspective ... why? Because, you need to have a grasp of what's currently on your "plate" and knowing what to tackle at the ground level before you can constructively and creatively address the higher horizons. That's counter-intuitive to our culture's generally tops-down management perspective, but it absolutely is more effective to turn that thinking on its head.
Cultivate the habit of doing a weekly review to keep your review vehicles updated, clean, complete and to ensure that your mind is clear and focused. Try to consistently do your weekly review at the tail-end or beginning of a work week (Friday afternoons, Monday mornings, or over the weekend).
Last, but not least, you'll need to don your manager hat and execute on your next actions landscape. The better you've been at consistently working through the core management aspects above, the more confidently you'll be be able to trust your judgement because your inventory of actions is complete and current, with both your physical and mental faculties focused and integrated up and down the "horizon" ladder of priorities, vision and purpose. You can increasingly select from and take appropriate actions, having confidence in that complete and current inventory of informed, negotiated commitments you've made with yourself and the outside world.
Just as a strong physical core acts as a stabilizing linkage to both your upper and lower body, disciplining yourself to consistently work through your management core has a ripple effect horizontally and vertically ... in both the tactical and strategic direction. The more you work on clearing the decks of the seemingly mundane "runway" of the day-to-day inputs vying for your attention and commitment through the use of a great management system like GTD®, the more you'll be able to breathe the clear and elevated air afforded by increased energy, clarity, expansive and expressive thinking, and creative perspective about what lies on the road ahead. You'll be able to think better, relax more in the heat of day-to-day battle, and find yourself moving and engaging more effortlessly through the day's activities. As David Allen counsels, "The more complete your [management] system is, the more you'll trust it. And the more you trust it, the more you'll be motivated to keep it", and "Every decision to act is an intuitive one. The challenge is to migrate from hoping it's the right choice to trusting it's the right choice."
Now that's flying high ... that's working smarter ... that's living better ... that's engaging well with yourself and your world! So come on ... exercise that C.C.O.R.E.!
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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.