Dear Crucial Skills,
It seems to me that focus and productivity are different concepts that often get conflated. When people think of productivity, they seem to think of doing more, faster. When people think of focus, they seem to think of doing less, more deliberately. Doing more faster, in my view, simply means being more efficiently frenzied, and it appears a lot of people are chasing this ideal. Doing less with focus, however, seems to be truly valuable. It appears GTD as a theory and practice favors increased productivity—efficient frenzy. How do you see it? Where does focus fit in the GTD equation, and can GTD help with doing less, not more?
Dear Getting Philosophical,
I understand your question and the potential discrepancy between focus and productivity. In fact, they are not opposites but rather two sides of the same coin. If you observe someone that is highly productive, about anything, you’ll see that they’re highly focused on what they’re doing. The problem you mention arises from the unfortunate legacy of “productivity.”
It’s natural for people to think of that as busyness. In truth, being productive simply means achieving some desired result—an output or an experience. If you go to a party to have fun and you don’t have fun, that’s an unproductive experience. You might turn it into something productive if you decide you won’t go to that kind of party anymore.
GTD is not about being busy—it’s about being appropriately engaged with whatever you’re doing, in life or work. That may look busy, because at times being actively involved in something is the thing you tell yourself you should be doing. If you encounter someone who has really incorporated the GTD principles and practices, however, you will probably notice that they’re more relaxed, they enjoy more quality reflective time, and, when they do engage with whatever they choose, it’s with undistracted focus. They’re more likely to experience “flow,” whether they’re meditating, cooking, or working on a tough business issue.
In a way, if you’re conscious (and maybe even when you’re not) you can’t not be busy. I’m busy when I take a nap, walk the dog, or craft this response to your question. The challenge is to ensure that you are busy about the right thing, at the right time. That’s GTD.