Occasionally I’m asked how I get my work done and the process and methods by which I accomplish the many tasks that are required of me during the day.
The honest truth is that it changes. All the time. I’m not as regimented as people believe and I’m not sold out to any particular for of GTD or productivity app. I’ll try this and that, experiment here, try that app there, but you’ll really never hear me consistently extolling the virtues of one over another, especially over a consistent amount of time.
I’m not systematic although I do enjoy and need systems. And I definitely can’t do what one of our partners have done where they are able to create complex systems and stick with them and make them work. That is not me.
I do have a few core philosophies, though, that I adhere to and have always seem to come back to when I’m managing my work and prioritizing my day, let alone my specific effort. I centers strategically and simply on the art and science of “play.”
And this theory is rooted in a quick study of anthropology. Ready to be educated (for a brief moment, mind you)?
Agriculture and the Hunt
I studied a little bit of sociology and anthropology during my undergraduate and graduate studies. Sadly, now that I look back on both (I completed two Master degrees) and I wish I had spent more time in these two areas because they are so important in understanding human behavior and it’s application to business.
Traditionally you may have been told (or assumed) that the agricultural lifestyle and even hunter-gatherer type ecosystems are nothing but work.
You are right in so far as work if you simply hold the definition of work as:
Anything that I don’t like to do but that I have to do.
This is sad because that would be highly inaccurate. A far better definition actually has nothing to do with the way you feel about the activity:
Any productive or useful activity, regardless of its pleasantness or unpleasantness.
What people are looking for is comparison between not work vs play but rather toil vs play. What’s fascinating is that from an anthropological and sociological perspective, hunter-gathers do not experience toil either. It is simply work.
Toil is any unpleasant activity.
But, what they do have is the freedom to join in a party to go hunt for food or they can do nothing, staying in camp and resting.
Now that we’ve defined work, let’s look at play:
Children play and gradually, as their play becomes increasingly skilled, the activities become more productive.
This has everything to do with how we perceive and understand work and play and our own skills in the activities that we’ve chosen to pursue.
The Modern Work Environment
I immediately think back to the times where I was stuck in a cubicle from 8:00am until 6:00pm, waiting anxiously for the time on the clock to tick away so that I could go home and play – or do whatever else I’d much rather be doing.
Play is almost non-existent in most of today’s modern work environments. It is work, surely, but most people now accurately would describe it as toil. We should do all that we can to eliminate it. Eradicate it. Completely. We should make work less toil and more like play.
Freedom to discover and pursue activities and work that is productive and allows play (increased skill development) is the goal. Sadly, over time, this has not been the case. For example, in 1847, the English parliament passed the 10hr law. The result? More work per day increased. Although it was seen as a restriction the result was the opposite.
What happened? We came about to the 8hr work day which was seen to increase productivity. Less time working > productivity? Who would have thought!
Back to the hunter-gather economies, it is reported that the average amount of work per week is between 40-45hrs per week in those ecosystems, including “housekeeping,” cleaning, food preparation, and such other chores. Compare that to the existing modern work environment where you work at least 40-45hrs per week not including housekeeping, cleaning, food preparation, and other chores. Think of how much time you spend shopping at your local supermarket for food including the travel time. Yikes.
Some companies, like Google and 37signals, have rejected this trend towards more work hours and instituted such things like the 4 day work week:
The benefits of a six-month schedule with three-day weekends are obvious. But there’s one surprising effect of the changed schedule: better work gets done in four days than in five.
When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.
You knew this though, right? More hours does not equate with greater productivity. There are exceptions, at times, but not universally. In an incredible work Daniel Pink dissects much of this and proposes that three things are vital for personal and corporate success: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.
I would highly recommend reading this if you’re interested in personally and corporately improving your work environment.
And as you can see, just like 37signals, combine a work philosophy with an actual tangible work environment and you have a winning combination. That’s what we’re trying to do with our office as we build it out, like adding in a video game arcade machine as just one of many things.
Thus, My Strategy
So, how does this relate to my GTD philosophy (or lack thereof) and how I get the stuff that I need to get done, done? It has everything to do with it and it all moves back towards the idea of combining work with play, at a very intimate level.
Again, this is different between work and toil. I want to do work that matters, an inherently useful activity with the elements of play, allowing me to become better at what I’m doing. I want the freedom to do it, the autonomy to make my own judgments on how I should do it and when and with whom.
As long as these things exist then I can do my best work and I do not need to be entirely rigid with any GTD process, method, or application. As long as myself and my team are focused on creating value, working together for an agreed collective purpose, and take time to view work as play, we all seem to do quite well.
Do not be fooled though – we all work very hard at what we do, but it’s not toil by any stretch of the imagination and we love it. Our customers, our readers here seem to enjoy it as well.
And, How About for WP Daily?
Which leads me to a final note about how I get stuff done as one of the editors here on this growing blog – I see it as work (creating great value through a functionally useful endeavor) as play (opportunities for increased development of skill and achievement) which means that I don’t have to be in the same location all the time or even write and edit at the same time during the day.
I’m in and out, here and there, editing our contributor’s work, diving deep into articles that I’m interested in writing about, researching for stories, and taking pictures and images and other media everywhere and all the time. It is part of my editorial craft – it is work as play.
We have a system that helps facilitate this for productivity because without it we’d be in chaos, but this is just a guideline of sorts – not a dogmatic institutionalized process map that limits any opportunity for deviation. It’s just a blog (and yet it’s more than a blog) and we’re having a lot of fun.
So, does this explanation make some sense? How do you process GTD and how is it implemented, philosophically? Where is it rooted out of?