Scribe out of work at a loss for words: the wisdom of Getting Things Done (GTD)

Reducing stress caused by information overload is both a science and art.

Getting Things Done (GTD) is a simple, flexible method for managing day-to-day tasks or activities, with the purpose to maximize personal productivity. The intended result is increased capability to maintain a high workflow in a relaxed manner. The main principle is to recognize what is pulling on your mental attention and get into a trusted external memory (file system), so that you can stay focused on what you actually have to do now, rather than on various ideas, plans and commitments that are later. To achieve this, GTD provides a compilation of tips and tools, organized around a central flowchart.


Conventionally, organized people use calendars, to-do lists, note-taking devices, and other tools. What GTD adds is a method or practice for using those tools systematically together. Allen distinguishes five basic phases in our work: We (1) collect things that command our attention; (2) process what they mean and what to do with them; and (3) organize the results, which we (4) review as options for what we choose to (5) do.

The wisdom of GTD identifies three choices of doing different things when you work:

  • Pre-defined work is what you would be doing all day if you received no new input or interruptions of any sort
  • Ad hoc work (as it appears) at some level defines and requires our total focus beyond the pre-defined work.
  • Defining your work is processing and emptying your in-basket, your email, your meeting notes, etc.—assessing the new inputs and making decisions about what needs to be done about them

Allen in GTD recommends,

The key is how efficiently and effectively you know how to process new stuff, and how functional your system is for maintaining and reviewing your inventory of commitments. Then you accept and manage the input processing as a critical component, you review the whole game frequently enough to know (in your gut) how to evaluate the surprises and unexpected work, and you have a sufficiently functional system for capturing and managing all the various rivers and streams of this complex environment, to feel at least OK about what you’re not doing.

In terms of projects, most (about 80%) can be done in your head; about 15% might require a little external brainstorming, etc.; and about 5% may need the deliberate application of one or more clarity—a shifting up towards purpose. Allen proposes a “vertical control”, what he calls the “Natural Planning Model,” a model of creatively planning things in our daily lives.

  1. Purpose and Principles—Purpose asks the “why?” question. Defines success, creates decision-making criteria, aligns resources, motivates, clarifies focus, and expands options. Principles are the standards and values that define the criteria for excellence in behavior and parameters for action.
  2. Vision and Outcome—The “what?” question. Having clarity and focus about your vision and outcomes helps your brain’s reticular activating system (RAS) to start making you aware of how it can happen. The RAS is the part of your brain that is responsible for self-fulfilling prophecies, as well as the effect where once you become aware of something you start seeing it everywhere.
  3. Brainstorming—Can be done internally or externally (mind-mapping, white boards, etc.) but external helps you to see everything without having to remember it all. Keys to good brainstorming: don’t judge, challenge, evaluate, or criticize; go for quantity, not quality; and put analysis and organization in the background.
  4. Organizing—Identify major pieces and sort by one or more: components, sequences, priorities. And do detail only to the degree necessary to determine next actions.
  5. Next Actions—All actions that can be taken now should be identified; dependent ones can wait until the steps they depend on have been completed. If you have trouble with this step check that you’ve spent enough time on previous steps to be clear, and that you’re truly committed to the project in general (as opposed to it being a “Someday/Maybe” project).

Source: David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Penguin Books, 2003.


The Disclosing Self-Man

The dead preside
In the mind’s eyes
Whose lens time bends
For us to see them
As we see the light
Shed by dead stars
Telescopes enlarge
– Samuel Menashe, “Telescoped”

* *

2017 emerges from a reorienting possibility felt as a force for good, a perception
configuring and imagining my world as a self-governing[1] agent further honing a niche via practices and good routines which promote (cultivate, nurture, foster) good days and a good life overall.[2]  I will build on the knowledge, awareness, skill, projects and practices (individuation) that grew and influenced me during the previous season’s intention.starfish

To define and expand my thinning niche that unfolds via formation and among pursued and embraced, reverend objects, which while lying buried deep within me, rise immeasurably high above me, above what I wontedly perceive to be “I.”

I resume the adventure of Ana-theism with the possibility of its libido, Bārāq, viz., the capacity or perhaps the energy/spirit (geist) to endure with faithfulness and prosperity (a rich Hebraic idea that does not sync with the consumerism of our day). It alludes to the things that feed “generativity[3] versus stagnation” and “integrity verses despair.” [4]

This living process includes noticing the challenges, conflicts, growth and ongoing engagement via the rigor of reflection, exegeting, creative dissent and other vital practices with the inverted realms (worlds of existence, experience, and possibility)—essentially individuation.


[1] With a] Self-control and Regulation, Caution, b] Prudence and Discretion, and c] Industry, Diligence, Perseverance being the core of my constellation of virtues

[2] Using “good” in the Aristotelian spirit with an intention of discovering and living near /at the mean good.

[3] Generativity refers to “making your mark” on the world through caring for others as well as creating and accomplishing things that make the world a better place. While Stagnation refers to the failure to find a way to contribute, the sense of one who is disconnected or uninvolved with their community and with (one’s) society as a whole (broader niche).

[4] Bārāq, the capacity that grows out of humility to listen to the universal wisdom that is resident in traditions (“Let one who hears, hear.”) and to respond meaningfully with the gift of life (intentionality) among the stranger(s) while living in a politically saturated (mediated) society that holds to a common script that continues to delude the masses over time. Bārāq is the needed spiritual libido of the “great reversal; Ana-theism is the adventure of theism in the post-modern world. Both phenomena in tradition bring understanding to faith and unfold into practice (see Beatitudes). See

Image: Andrew Wyeth, “Starfish”

Honing Disclosive Organizational Communication

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change.  But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

William Stafford, The Way it is[1]


The other day I had an experience at work where some information was conveyed by a staff person tasked to ‘train’ other staff on a procedural or instrumental shift with respect to documentation with the aim of ensuring certain aspects of practice would be recorded in a case file system. I ascertained that it had become evident to the organization that specific practices that are germane to the engagement offered to customers needed to be more consistently and lucidly documented in a manner that would ensure an authorized person (auditor, outside echelon of monitors and data driven corners of the organization) could read and extract the language for quality assurance and pecuniary ends.  While I perceived this need contextually and was willing to take on the change adaptively, at the same time, I expected and humanly require the opportunity to dialectically work at understanding the procedural intention so that it fits synthetically and does not obstruct my pattern of meaningful awareness, the territory of self care, nor at the cost of obfuscating the centrality of meaningful, person-centered practice that seeks to restore the ‘lifeworld’ in practice and healthy balance between it and the ‘system’.

The looming tension here for me is how during organization communication, we might promote and protect both the ‘system’ (organizational needs) and the ‘lifeworld’[2] in the work as a meaningful counterpoise. As a trained, self-aware practitioner, my first intention is to strengthen interventions that draw on the ‘lifeworld’ (self and other). It is my view that phenomenology provides the crucial lens for exploring the nature of the ‘lifeworld’ and how we might intervene meaningfully within it. Phenomenology recasts human life as something dynamic in nature, a verb-like happening (vs. static)—an unfolding experience. In this rubric the role and task of phenomenological practice is to facilitate new horizons of meaning so that, in Sartrean terms, people burst forth into their ‘lifeworlds’.

At the same time, a self-aware person’s caution is along the lines of sociologist Jürgen Habermas’ expression, recalling the historical and existing danger of the ‘system’ that had colonized the lifeworld bringing all manner of social pathologies—loss of meaning, alienation, disenchantment and impoverished social interaction—in its wake.[3] This force still exists whether we admit it or not. Thus the question emerges, how are we keep going forward in the spirit of phenomenology. A mediocre response to the above like scenario is the low expectation of being simply “edified” (passive role). The high road is giving via active, rigorous thought, reflection and openness to living processes that over time bear qualitative leaps.[4]

Since the colonizing spirit still resides in the human psyche, we thus should take cognizance of the nature of human consciousness as a first step as we approach new theories and needed adjustments that respond to the larger social construction that feeds into the organization. The managerial staff and the practitioner do well to respect each other’s habitus, which shapes how one expresses oneself in social life (vocational/avocational), as well as their “species of capital.”[5]

It is true, the interplay between managerial and practitioner can be taxing at times, especially if they engage in a dialectic that includes mutual and natural opposition both in form and content. One solicits the other and the other solicits the one alternatively—two forces ideally thinking vigorously and not just hearing or simply being solicited. Each may take issue and solicit back alternately while listening to the other, still working out their expression of their own notion of force (being for self and for other). The dialectical exchange, if vigorous and allowed time, may well lead to duplicating terms, notions, and aspects that can offer promise of a working synthesis. This is the spirit of phenomenological, the reciprocity of force that leads to understanding.

* *

[1] The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, Graywolf Press (Saint Paul, MN), 1998

[2] environment of competences, practices, and attitudes representable in terms of one’s cognitive horizon (or consciousness)

[3] For me this is also about a needed understanding, distinction and appropriation of the classical Aristotelian contrast between techne and praxis of critical social theory.  Habermas’s theory is first about the conditions of legitimacy crisis (how communicative action has become colonized, and how that colonization undermines legitimacy).  The second part of his theory attempts to describe the conditions that would be adequate to the “ideal speech situation” that might restore legitimacy.  My concern here is with the issue of colonization. And he helps us to see the need for the lens of the philosophical as well as the sociological, as his work constantly blurs the boundary between the two; for Habermas, each requires the other.

[4] GWF Hegel. Phenomenology of Spirit, preface.

[5] Phrase used by Pierre Bourdieu which refers to what enables one/group to appropriate social energy in the form of reified or living labor. Examples include cultural (e.g., possessed instruments, networks), practical assets, education (formal, specific/unique and often missed is noticing those who engage in continuous learning and what they read), artistic, philosophical substructure (e.g., ethical, epistemological, hermeneutical), quality of interior work (individuation).


Embodied Niche: Journeying through Life

cyclingjourneyingI steer in search of something

while the haze of this age

thickens the scene,

and the way is hard to see;

Scanning solitary maps,

variants of my routine path,

distant foldouts—

an ellipse of faith and doubt.

I contemplate sources,

unravel obscure texts,


during the quiet of a ride.

[From the “The Ride” D. Seifert]

Journeying is an instinctual, embodied function that may well fall within the domain of transcendence with aspects of spirituality and the human quest for meaning.  Since I was a child, I have engaged in physical practices that support becoming rooted in the ground of being, the inner person seeking to be connected to the earth while moving by foot, sweating and breathing deeply. Journeying facilitates the embodied search by use of formative ways of movement that inform an ongoing development of language and expressions, meaning-making and relationships.

While my personal development and sense of journeying began in childhood, it has resumed more consciously through adulthood, especially mid-life.  Cycling, hiking and walking have become the primary modes of movement where the sense of human search and an instinctual connection with primitive human roots have evolved into modes of scripting, transitioning, discovering, and self-care. In mid-life the cultivated practice of cycling is for me a living, dynamic metaphor that embodies the spirit of journeying.

A stanza from an autobiographical poem while reflecting after mother’s death.

Mythic ventures of

riding bikes hours at a time,

primitive camping, building fires,

climbing spires of nature—

training the senses to find one’s way.

Gentle Cynicism: Honing the Human Self

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

Mahatma Gandhi

The roots of gentle cynicism go back a ways for me beginning with the reading of its ancient roots and an episodic impetus of my experience in the military between 2003-8 when I had the an encounter which called for serious engagement and relinquishment from the dominant American script. See “From Soldier to Conscientious Objector”.

Gentle Cynicism has become a dynamic filter of sorts (dialectical in aspect, phenomenological in mind) between one’s self and the world that in a way sifts chaff from wheat, e.g., what is accepted from what is best, what misses the mark from what is actually participating with or working toward a higher ideal/vision (Shalom, the Way, Tao, The Middle Way) [a personal nomenclature]

GC Logo

Logo for Society of Gentle Cynics

After more than twelve years  “Gentle Cynicism” has become for me a way of moving through (not stepping away from) tensions where there is a complex array of easy-to-get-to thin practices, answers and ideals on one side; while on the other, profound, thick sources of questions and insights that invite persistent souls toward the way of becoming more fully human. The task is one of becoming comfortable with doubt, negation and integration via dialectic process knowing that forms are dynamic and developing in time.

In the more recent season this lively practice has supported a focus around how I work and live in the day-to-day, being aware of the challenges that come from living in a society that widely turns a blind eye, is ensnared by the technological craze at the expense of their minds (geist); taking on the dominant story, for they have no story; and realizing that I need and want to be and stay awake/alive in a way that surmounts the dark reality expressed by Thomas Merton in The New Man.

“The flesh and passions, of themselves, tend to anarchy, being at the mercy of sense stimulation, and hence responding blindly and automatically to every stimulus that presents itself . . . the psyche of man struggles in a thousand ways to silence the secret voice of anxiety.”

Some past musing and inner projects are captured in my ongoing public journal Notes of a Gentle Cynic

The Art and Honing of Self

One of the inherent frustrations among Westerns in modernity is the quest to discover one’s purpose, sustainable contentment, and further making a livelihood out of meaningful work. Daily we are subject to an overwhelming barrage of scripts that promise to make us safe and happy yet fail to do so.  Hence the notion of happiness is generally connected to moments in a day that must be maintained by rising above boredom or repressing chronic, internal anxieties or stress that would quickly exhaust the average person if it were not for material consumption, the technologies created to “save time” and the need to be always doing something.

Carl Jung said that with all this resistance and distraction, consciousness is still pressing forward “to its own inertia, but the unconscious lags behind, because the strength and inner resolve needed for further expansion have been sapped.” Hence there is a disunity with oneself that breeds discontent. A critical atmosphere thus must develop—the necessary prelude to conscious realization. This is a quiet call from within to listen, to pay attention to the hidden, to possess the secret imprisoned in inescapable egotism yet gradually to be revealed by way of discovery, a natural progression within all of us that often goes unnoticed or unheard until it is late in life. It is the inner voice that begs your reflection now and over time and promises wholeness, completeness, human flourishing.

While I have been on this path for many years, I recently came across an exercise in Friedrich Nietzsche’s  Schopenhauer as Educator that essentially was written to provide an a starting point to youth or any searching individual who is willing to chase a set of probing questions over time as a method to assist in the cardinal yet byzantine task of knowing oneself. Nietzsche begins, and I recommend as a threshold this project.

“How can one know himself? It is a dark, mysterious business: if a hare has seven skins, a individual may skin himself seventy times seven times without being able to say, “Now that is truly you; that is no longer your outside.” It is also an agonizing, hazardous undertaking thus to dig into oneself, to climb down toughly and directly into the tunnels of one’s being. How easy it is thereby to give oneself such injuries as no doctor can heal. Moreover, why should it even be necessary given that everything bears witness to our being – our friendships and animosities, our glances and handshakes, our memories and all that we forget, our books as well as our pens. For the most important inquiry, however, there is a method. Let the young soul survey its own life with a view of the following question:”

Here is Nietzsche’s method laid out in the form of questions. I suggest take several weeks to do this. Lay out your musings on paper or document; keep coming back to it and lay it out, expand it as described below.  The numbering is mine for which I recommend following before moving to the next phase. I have provided some alternative translations in the brackets.

‘[1] “What have you up to now truly loved, [2] what has drawn your soul upward, [3] mastered [dominated] it and blessed [uplifted] it too [at the same time]?” [4] Set up these things that you have honored [revered objects] before you, and, maybe, they will show you, in their being and their order, a law which is the fundamental law of your own self. [5] Compare these objects, consider how one completes and broadens and transcends and explains another, [6] how they form a ladder on which you have all the time been climbing to your [true] self: for your true being lies not deeply hidden in you, but an infinite height above you, or at least above that which you do commonly take to be yourself.’

Finally Nietzsche exhorts, “There may be other methods for finding oneself, for waking up to oneself out of the anesthesia in which we are commonly enshrouded as if in a gloomy cloud — but I know of none better than that of reflecting upon one’s educators and cultivators.” Here (the method above) Nietzsche gives us a place to start—consider those who have informed use over time, the various people and actions of others that have influenced us and have in part breathed life into us or imparted to us a model of what we intrinsically view as genuine and worthy of holding on to which may well inform us about the person we are and wish to be.

The Niche of Self-Employment

Even today, society still breeds an impression of serfdom in the common workplace. think about the terminology people use and how they act.

A 2013 Gallup poll showed 70% of workers report that they either hate their job or are actively disengaged from what they do. Only 30% said they like their bosses or enjoy their job. Those complaining about their jobs, of course, is not new. Complaining about “bosses from hell” is as reliable as death and taxes. People have sense little control, declining economic security, and are not experiencing a healthy balance between work and their home life and have less energy to pursue their avocations.

As a professional and committed to self care, I seek employment that allows wysecycles_webme to be close to home so that allows me at a healthy level have time and energy to engage in a mix of vocational and avocational pursuits. This is the sphere where I can “unite my avocation and my vocation as my two eyes are one in sight. . .  and the work is play for mortal stakes . . . ” (R. Frost, “Two Tramps in Mud Time”)

I also work at the unconscious level, e.g. with a power of language. As a professional I refuse to subscribe to the term “boss”. Firstly, it is a label that is commonly used by American minority groups to refer to white people (The Racial Slur Database). Secondly it fosters a position and practice of over dependence
on someone else that impairs growth and self development of e.g., one’s core virtues, and win/win arrangements.

Thirdly, I expect supervision to align to a basic understanding of Kadushin’s model of supervision where the primary foci is . . .

  • Administrative – the promotion and maintenance of good and healthy standards of work, co-ordination of practice with policies of administration, the assurance of an efficient and smooth-running office without over-taxing the organization;
  • Educational – the educational development of each individual worker on the staff in a manner calculated to evoke one fully to realizeone’s possibilities of usefulness while recognizing individual autonomy; and
  • Supportive – the maintenance of harmonious working relationships, the cultivation of espirt de corps.

Fourthly, within the hidden wholeness of human kind is a deep calling to grow into one’s own authentic self-hood. The world will be a better place when more organizations champion and individuals cultivate a sense of being “self employed” where one makes choices about their life, the work they do, how they do it, and how
they maneuver relationships and conduct them.

Detecting, pursuing and actualizing such vocation can become “the place where your deep gladness meets the worlds’s deep need” (F Buechner).

Photograph: Ben Wyse of Wyse Cycles who runs his own bicycle repair business out of his home while offering “self-propelled mobile bicycle repair service” to his customers.