This page looks best with JavaScript enabled

Mind like water: a strategic goal for productivity

 ·  ☕ 4 min read  ·  ✍️ Caio Pavanelli

Mind like water

“Mind like water”, if you’re into martial arts this statement probably sounds familiar. It’s regarded as a state of mind in which an individual has maximum focus and responds to external stimulus at the most appropriate level. Therefore, if the response is correctly balanced, the task at hand is performed to the fullest of one’s capabilities. For martial arts it could be awareness of your surroundings and your opponent, but how does it relate to productivity ?

Mind like water: a strategic goal for productivity

The book Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen proposes an administration approach to diminish running thoughts and worries that get you sidetracked when doing a task. Be it any kind of task. In the book, the goal “mind like water” in a productivity context is to have all your projects, all your pending tasks, all your ideas, all your reminders, and literally everything that might use your memory power, personal and professional, to be stored in an organized, secured system. This way, the only things left are actions, and because you don’t have to worry about anything else, you can focus and perform to your fullest.

The method is pretty much straightforward. It consists of the administration of lists, each one with its own purpose. It seems simple but it is harder than it sounds.

The approach

How do you know what you should be doing right now ? You list it.

How do you know what you should be doing next ? You list it.

How do you know what projects you have running ? You list them.

How do you know what projects you’d like to do ? You list them.

How do you know what pending subjects other people have with you ? You got it, you list them.

How do you list everything ? You stop, think and collect.

How am I supposed to list everything in one go ? You don’t.

I dare it’s humanly impossible to list off the top of your head all projects, tasks and related matters and write it on paper in one go. The idea is to have a big old inbox where you put all the subjects you have to deal with and decide what’s the next action – it doesn’t matter which system you use as long as it’s reliable and you know you’ll get back to it without an effort. All external interactions expect a response. If you can make a decision at the moment, then do it, otherwise put it in your inbox.

The inbox

The inbox is not supposed to store anything, it’s just an inbox. What you decide to do with its content is the real catch. There are two possibilities, you might have to perform a physical action upon an input or not.

If you don’t have to act, the listing possibilities are:

  • Garbage – get rid of it;
  • Maybe one day – store for future involvement;
  • Store – for future reference.

If you do have to act:

  • Do it know – if it takes less than 2 minutes;
  • Delegate – give it to someone else do it (and list it);
  • Postpone – do it later at a specific time in the future or as soon as possible;
  • Project – list it in projects (multiple actions needed) and detail with support material and planning.

The next action

The listing doesn’t stop there. The catch is to have them at hand when you really need them. E.g., do you know those days when you leave something important next to your wallet the day before, so in the morning you don’t have to remember to collect it before leaving ? IT’S THE SAME IDEA! It’s suggested to group your next actions list for each context that makes sense to you. If you have lots of phone calls to do, group them as phone calls, and have it accessible for the times you are most available to call. Use as many groups or lists as needed, but do not overdo it. It by any means, the act of putting a record on a list, or accessing a given list starts to require an effort and becomes somewhat cumbersome, it’s time to stop, reevaluate and optimize your list.

The book says that once you get used to your system, which you now trust, your mind will let go of worrying thoughts related to the things you should or should not be doing. At this moment, your focus will improve tremendously, and so will your productivity. It’s a continuous work which you will have to do to keep your lists tidy, clear and up to date, but will pay off in a short time. This is a brief overview of the idea and the methods proposed in the book Getting things done, which I do recommend reading.

Photo by Thao Le Hoang on Unsplash

This text was originally posted at Simbiose blog.

Share on

Caio Pavanelli
Caio Pavanelli
Software Engineer