Post Academic

Reading Getting Things Done So You Don’t Have To: Taking Action … Or Not

Posted in Crib Notes,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on October 1, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension,not usedGetting Things Done is all about moving from gathering information to taking action on that information. David Allen advises that once a task comes on your radar, you have three options: Do it, Delegate it or Defer it. He does not mention an option that comes up repeatedly throughout the book–Ditch it. Let’s go through each option:

“Do It”: Finishing a task will make you feel much better. Of course, that’s easy for a hamster to say, and a dissertation or a job application is a different matter altogether. Allen recommends that, whenever you gather up and process your tasks for the day, you do anything that can be done within two minutes. Otherwise, you’ll never get around to it.

“Delegate It”: So you’re a grad student or an underpaid academic. “Delegate it” is off the table. Your school doesn’t have the funds for delegating.

“Defer It”: You’ll want to defer the task, especially if it is a big one. But before you defer it, ask yourself if there’s a chunk of the task that you can do in under two minutes. See Post Academic’s past entry on breaking large tasks into small chunks.

Read about the “ditch it” option after the jump! Image from the German Federal Archive, Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

“Ditch It”: Ask yourself if the task is really that essential. Don’t make a commitment if it does not fit with your overall purpose for being in academia or in a hamster job.

But won’t my boss hate me for saying no, you ask? Will someone deny me tenure for saying no? And why is this crazy GTD system making me track everything? Doesn’t that mean I have to say “yes” to more stuff?

Eh. Not necessarily. Allen writes about some people he’s worked with before and how GTD made it easier for them to say no: “The discipline of putting everything he had his attention on into his in-basket caused him to reconsider what he really wanted to do anything about. If he wasn’t willing to toss a note about it into ‘in,’ he just let it go!”

Take it from someone who’s been laid off … you can let some stuff go. If someone’s determined to lay you off, chances are that a) it’s beyond your control and b) it has nothing to do with you. I could have worked my fingers to the bone, and I still would have been laid off. (Long story short: I was a small hamster working for a large online media group. One change at the very top meant success or failure for the small divisions, and I was in one of those divisions.) Doing the best you can for you and making sure you work on projects that enhance your resume is the best insurance against a job setback, and I did get a job soon after being laid off.

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