Be Ready, But Not Tense: David Allen’s Warrior Mindset

Hey guys, this week’s #ThrowbackTuesday is author of Getting Things Done, David Allen.

I have to admit I haven’t read the book yet, but just got it on audible.

But as far as I can gather, Getting Things Done has two foundational components.

First the brain dump. Just allowing whatever is in your head to come out on paper.

Secondly, the next action step, which is identifying the most effective thing to get the ball rolling on your list of goals, ideas and chores.

The simplicity of it masks the fact we are very resistant to both these things, and I’ll get into the reasons for that later. But basically, we don’t like brain dumping because it is scary, and we are not trained to start taking action on our ideas.The ultimate end of David Allen’s methodology is to create space in our lives. To free up our minds to be fully present and express ourselves more authentically and completely.

David says the ideas for his method came partly from his experience in martial arts training. He describes martial arts as “successful overcoming”.

Like martial arts, GTD is not a compartmentalised system. It’s is a mindset for life, a “way” in the classic Taoist sense of the word.

The aim is to create clarity, flow and openness, so that we no longer live in fear, but we live from a place of expansion and preparedness.

There’s a cool quote Brian uses from Bruce Lee: “A martial artist is not tense, but ready.”

David is clear he doesn’t see his method as being analogous to the martial arts, but very much part of them.

The reason is that GTD is a way of recalibrating your mind to be able to deal with change and unforeseen events.

When we are just winging it, just hoping for the best and taking and using ideas as and when we can, then we are effective so long as there are no big surprises.

But as soon as we have a major tax bill, a death in the family or even just an insurance bill on the car, we are thrown completely out of our flow. Life becomes a state of catch up.

And let’s face it, life feels like that quite a lot.

David’s aim is to eradicate that feeling. If we “manage the flow of life’s work”, there’s no need to rely on anxiety and stress to get things done.

I think my take away from this idea is that often our next action steps are counterintuitive.

For instance, if you are a painter, and you have the ongoing masterpiece on the brain, you might feel inclined to drop everything just to get to the canvas.

David says that might not be the best way.

Sometimes paying the bills, calling your mum or doing your washing are the first action steps, because no painter can see the beauty of a blue sky in paint while they are still freaking out over life’s mundane details.

Again, it’s about creating space. Martial artists train vigorously for the sole reason that when they are faced with their enemy, they are not worried about technique.

They want to be responsive and alive to possibilities, not playing catchup with a knife coming their way.I don’t know about you guys, but I am the worst person for putting off the boring necessities of life, and I tell myself there is virtue in being disorganised.

I’d rather spend my time and energy on the life mission, the masterpiece, than worry that I have clean socks for tomorrow.

But the truth is, it is disempowering. If I have to invoice someone, or I have to pay a phone bill, the poetry and beauty of life is not allowed to flow.

But David talks about procrastination too, saying that often the most imaginative and talented people procrastinate the most.

Music to our ears right?!

The trick for these people (most of us) is to “dumb down”. Instead of freaking out about what might or might not happen, creating all these negative fantasies about a future that hasn’t happened yet, a simple next action step will neutralise the procrastination.

Let’s take cleaning socks, before we hit the canvas and the paints. A next action step would be just getting your dirty clothes together and making a pile on the bed.

You might not have done the righteous thing, but you have taken action. Your mind is now free to paint, because you are not overwhelmed.

Like David says, it’s really less about getting everything done, but about managing your tasks so that the poetry of life is allowed to come through.

This all makes a lot of sense, but why don’t we naturally do it? Why is so much of David’s method counterintuitive.

Well, he says it is because we are actually addicted to control. And this is really a game-changer for me.

Not acting on our ideas, not brain-dumping and keeping our ideas bottled up is in a very crude sense easier and safer.

We have the illusion of control, if we hide our ideas away. As soon as we get it out there on the page or the whiteboard, there is a slight terror there. We fear what it means.

But David says we are less in control if we repress our ideas, because they start to interfere with our lives. They start to control us from the subconscious.

This is so important for entrepreneurs and creatives. You might think of yourself as a brilliant ideas person, and the chances are you very much are if you want to work for yourself.

But if you are like me, and you have lots of unfinished masterpieces crowding around in your brain, then maybe you are not facing up to a bit of control freakery.

David really made me think here. I am that guy, for sure, though I would have denied it six months ago.

Ideas scare us, because ideas are the opposite of our comfort zones.

That’s writer’s’ block right there. That’s Marianne Williamson’s fear of success. It is exactly what Dan Pena means when he talks about wasted potential.

We’re addicted to the perceived control that unleashed potential gives us.

Does any of this hit a nerve for you? David Allen is so damn calm and at peace with himself that what he says has to be right.
Leave a comment and let me know your big takeaway from this great episode.

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Gustaf Halldinandy-wilkinson Recent comment authors
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As I once hear a saying, alot of us are on emergency break & afraid to take the brake off to be the best we truly can be .

Gustaf Halldin
Gustaf Halldin

This powerful methodology has totally changed my life for the better – I advice everyone in the community to invest a lot of time in learning GTD – you will be highly rewarded, that´s my take on it at least. Thanks Brian for a great post.