How (Not) To Focus

Feb 02 2009

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Don’t give your brain too much credit. I posted about this recently on the Getting Things Done forum: the Dangers of the Projects List.

A little background: A GTD user manages work through a couple of different lists, that track work on several different levels: larger Roles in life, specific Projects identified with actual end results, and nitty-gritty Actions. Nearly all of one’s Actions should be in service of Projects, and most Projects should fit into the larger Roles. Meanwhile, day-to-day, one works off one’s Actions.

I’ve been experimenting for a few weeks with a tweak: I kept my list of Projects visible all the time. Ideally, I’d want to work on my Actions more if I could immediately relate them to Projects. So I could see where I was going.

It didn’t work. To my surprise, I found that my brain would get distracted by my larger goals, leaving me unable to concentrate on my day-to-day Actions. It was like a runner constantly thinking about the marathon, and not about daily training.

It’s a strange aspect of the brain: Allow it to focus, and beautiful worlds open up out of the simplest subject. Give it too much to think about, and it goes haywire, leaping from topic to topic without dwelling on any of them enough to move forward.

Beware the Projects list.

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