“I embrace GTD for organizing shallow work. It is, as many will attest, devastatingly effective for this purpose. But I think of deep work as something different altogether. A philosophy of life that requires its own strategies.” – Cal Newport
On the MBTI, I test approximately 100% J, and I’ve always been a fairly organized guy. But when I finally read David Allen’s Getting Things Done an attended a GTD training at McKinsey around June 2011, it blew my mind. It was exactly the sort of system I had organically evolved myself over the years, but much better thought through and structured in many key respects.[Ironically, I actually bought GTD the book in 2009 at the same time as I bought The Four-hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. I started to read the latter and hated it, and didn’t circle back to GTD until two years later.]
Converts make the most zealous proselytizers, and I implemented GTD with fervor and preached the GTD gospel with equal passion to anyone who would listen. In December 2011, a Business Analyst on my team asked me to teach him my email system, and I figured it would be easiest just to write it out in PowerPoint in 16 point font… so I wrote a document that went internally viral and has been downloaded over 1,000 times.
GTD has its limits, though, as Cal so eloquently describes on his Study Hacks blog. It can become a game of constantly getting your inbox and checklists to zero and focusing on the easiest things to do, rather than the most important. And it can make it easy to be stay busy (so busy!) and feel productive without getting the hardest and most important things done.
The transition from Engagement Manager to Associate Principal exposed this weakness for me. EM is essentially an execution role – you have a scope and a constellation of stakeholders, and you optimize for client impact, building client relationships and giving your team a great experience. Entrepreneurship and opportunity creation are by nature vaguer and hard to break down into a string of next steps that can be accomplished in bite-sized chunks of time. This is “deep work’ in our context (for another time: I think it requires much different techniques to succeed than what works for Cal as an academic).
This post is already long and there is much more to explore, so I’ll stop for now with this advice. Learn GTD and use it – it will help you be a great Associate or EM and not get tripped up on tactical process stuff. But there is much, much more to achieving personal peak productivity… and I’m excited to piece that together bit by bit in a way that is specific to our work context.