Chasing Rainbows

The following is a guest post by Tim Sprosen. Tim is a medical researcher at the University of Oxford and a long time GTDer. He writes about productivity at focusing on the higher-horizons and how they can add meaning, passion and purpose to our daily lives.

Are you chasing the rainbow?

As a kid were you ever amazed by the sudden miraculous appearance and beauty of a rainbow? I was and spent more than one summer day waiting at the window after rain and then, should one appear, dashing out towards it there on the horizon. Of course, I should have known better, but it has served me well as a reminder of the difference between knowing and actually doing something.

For too long, my productivity – which for me means making sure I spend my time and energy on those people and tasks that matter to me – was held back by my never ending quest to read yet another book that would show me the way or, more recently, to try that new app that would bring me salvation. The key word back then was “perfect”.

I’d say, ‘That system in that last book sounded great, but before I implement it lets read that other book just in case.” Or how about, “Let’s read a few more reviews about which apps folk are currently using.” There were clues – I would read the book, but not do the exercises at the end of the chapter or I would download the app, have a play, but not take the time to really get to know it. I was on an endless quest to find the perfect system, trying all the time to know more about being productive, when, in fact, what I needed to do was do Mike Vardy’s “doing productive rather than being productive”.

I now approach my productivity in a very different manner and, particularly in a manner that is much more akin in terms of mindset to what I actually do as a scientist. So, firstly, I do the research and look at the literature in terms of what is out there. For example, I’ve been drawn to the Bullet Journal and the rise to prominence of Evernote. The old me might have stopped there, but now I ask the follow-up question: How might these help my productivity?

For the Bullet Journal, I was already using a paper planner as my main system, so what I took from it was the sheer elegance of the approach and a few ideas to annotate my task lists to make them more attractive. For Evernote, I have a large amount of reference information and wanted to find a solution that was paperless, but which allowed me to retrieve it as effectively as paper. The next step was to commit to implement these changes and to observe whether or not they actually help my productivity, which again, is whether or not they actually help me spend more time and energy on those people and things that matter most to me. This is the experimental phase and it really helps me to systematically evaluate what works for me along similar lines to those of Sam Spurlin’s approach in his recent post here also about experimenting.

Finally, I’m reminded of the questions to me from yet to start would-be runners down the years, such as, “What shoes should I buy?” and “What about heart rate monitoring?”

My response: “Run.”

Doing things…rather than just knowing things.

Photo credit: xacemi via SXC.HU