GTD has had a profoundly positive impact on my life, both personally and professionally. The story of my introduction to GTD was published on the David Allen Company’s blog, GTD Times in 2009 and I was interviewed by David Allen himself later that year as part of the “In Conversation” series.
I recently shared the benefits of this approach with the International Coach Federation (ICF), Vancouver Chapter and with an enthusiastic group of coaches and consultants at a local Meetup.com gathering. Through my coaching business, Coaching Life, I work with people to navigate GTD and to develop their own systems. My consulting business, Technically Simple, has a strong focus on productivity and I provide consultant and training in Mac® and iOS® technologies that are designed to implement GTD – specifically OmniFocus and Daylite.
A Snapshot of Your Life
If you’ve ever worked with a life coach, you’re likely intimately familiar with the “Wheel of Life”. For those of you who are new to this concept, the Wheel of Life is a coaching tool that allows you to take a visual snapshot of your life as it exists in the present moment.
Life is, by it’s very nature, multifaceted. The most powerful and lasting approaches to growth and healing encompass all aspects of your being. Taking stock of your life and acknowledging and accepting where you are right now is a requisite first step to engaging in transformation.
The Wheel of Life includes all major areas of life, typically: career, money, health, friends & family, significant other/romance, personal growth, fun & recreation and physical environment.
The exercise is to assign a rating from one to ten for each of these areas. A score of one indicates that you’re thoroughly unsatisfied in this area and a score of ten indicates that this part of your life is off-the-charts amazing. And, there’s all the scores in between, with five often being expressed as an uninspired “fine”. A common trap is to label lower scores as “bad” and higher score as “good”. I encourage you to approach this exercise from a very neutral place and accept life exactly as it exists in the present. The ancient yogis called this “Santosha” – contentment with the way things are.
“Career” in Modern Times
I frequently remind my coaching clients (and myself) that the labels associated with the Wheel of Life are arbitrary. If a specific term doesn’t fit it can always be substituted with a different, more empowering label. The goal is to create an all-encompassing view of life and not to fit a pre-defined mould.
The one label that has never really worked for me is “career”. I have struggled over the years to define my career, with varying levels of success and plenty of frustration. I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one who faces this dilemma.
In the past, a common scenario was that you’d receive an education in a given field and then spend the next 25 years or more working in that area, perhaps even for the same company. For better or worst, our modern life doesn’t always work that way. Our world is changing at such a rapid rate that industries that existed twenty, or even ten years ago may already be yesterday’s news. And we’re exposed to a wealth of information and have many opportunities to learn that simply didn’t exist in years past. The result is that it’s common to have several different “careers” over the course of our lives and many of us are in a seemingly constant state of learning and training.
The concept of “career” doesn’t work the way it used to. Perhaps it’s time for a new paradigm.
Introducing the Wheel of Life Work™
Earlier this year I started working with a talented and highly creative coach, Phil Askew. During one of our calls I mentioned my challenges around the word “career”. As an experiment, we substituted career with a term which fit much more naturally – “life work”.
I believe that each of us has a purpose for being here on the planet and that we each have unique gifts to offer. Our level of happiness and fulfillment is proportional to the degree to which we’re able to live this purpose and share these gifts (I’m tempted to insert a mathematical formula and graph at this point, but I’ll resist).
There’s a practical side to life that requires us to earn money in order to support ourselves and our family…and perhaps indulge in some of the finer things in life. Ideally the work that you get paid for is completely in alignment with your life work. This isn’t always the case and, especially in earlier stages of life, your purpose and “life work” may be somewhat (or completely) undefined.
As a minimum, hopefully your paid employment satisfies at least some aspects of your life work. And with a little creativity this is almost possible, regardless of circumstances. Those aspects that aren’t met by a traditional career can still be cultivated in other areas of your life, with or without financial gain. Sometimes rewards for carrying out your life work can exist in the form of fulfillment or as an experience of deep connection with the world around you.
So how does the Wheel of Life Work apply in practical terms? Read on.
My Wheel of Life Work
To further illustrate this concept, here’s my own Wheel of Life Work as it exists today:
In my case, I came up with eight personas and gifts that bring great fulfillment and allow me to make a positive contribution to the world. Some of these exist as part of paid work, while others aren’t attached to a financial income stream, yet bring great joy. In my case, I’ve discovered that the specifics of the work I’m doing is less important than the results that are created. For example, as a public speaker I enjoy engaging a group in a way that leaves them inspired and willing to look at their life in a new, positive light. The specific topic of the speech is less important than the impact that is delivered.
I’ve also noticed that none of the areas of my Wheel of Life Work exist in isolation. For example, as a Technology Consultant I’m motivated to share ways in which technology can be used to bring positive changes to our lives and our communities. I might express this enthusiasm and knowledge as a Writer, Teacher or Workshop Leader and may draw upon my training as a Yoga Teacher to inject some ancient yogic wisdom into the conversation.
I frequently revisit my Wheel of Life Work to ensure that each of these areas is getting “fed”. If an area is being neglected I put a plan in place to shift this area. I also use the Wheel of Life Work when evaluating new employment opportunities. If the opportunity doesn’t satisfy at least a few segments of my Life Work it’s time to look elsewhere.
Now It’s Your Turn…
Enough about me. Now it’s your turn to explore your own Wheel of Life Work.
Set aside some quiet time – 20-30 minutes will likely be sufficient – and define the various facets that make up your own life work. It’s useful to look back on your life and identify moments where you felt particularly fulfilled and content. These could be moments spent in the context of a job or they could be activities you’ve pursued for the sheer enjoyment they bring.
The key here is not to over-think the process. Often the first thought that pops into your head is the most relevant one. It may help to do this exercise with a coach or a friend. Let their curiosity around your life work help you clarify the various activities and roles that light you up and are aligned with your core essence. In some cases, it’s as much about your gift of being as your talents at doing. For example, you may have an enthusiasm that is contagious to everyone around you or your mere presence may instil a sense of calm.
Your labels may exist as personas, as mine did, or they may be more topical in nature. For example, sustainability and the environment may be a key component of your life work. You may come up with eight facets, or you may have more…or fewer. There may be some aspects that are crystal clear, while others may be foggy or even invisible at this stage. Identifying what is clear is a good first step that can allow clarity in the other areas to unfold naturally. It’s also important to keep in mind that none of this is cast in stone. Allow yourself the freedom to evolve your Wheel of Life Work over time.
Once you identify the various facets of your Wheel of Life Work, rate each of them on a scale from one to ten based on your current satisfaction in each area. Imagine what each area would look like if it were a ten – even if the means to achieving this level of satisfaction is unclear.
To help ground this exercise, take three areas from your Wheel of Life Work and commit to the rating you’d like to have in each of these areas three months from now. The key is to come up with measurable indicators. For example, if you currently aren’t putting any significant energy into a key part of your life and rate it at at two – a measurable quality that would make it a five might be that you’re spending two hours a week in this area or have identified jobs that would feed this part of your work life.
Creating accountability is a key aspect of coaching. I encourage you to share your Wheel of Life Work and goals with a friend or coach. And, if you’re feeling particularly brave, share a summary of your discovery in the comments below. Publicly revealing your gifts and ambitions can be a powerful way of setting the stage for a fulfilling life.
Procrastination is one of those words that, for many, elicits feelings of guilt and powerlessness. I love tearing apart scary words and looking at what they really mean. This word has reportedly been part of our English vanacular since Shakespeare’s time and, roughly translated from its Latin roots, means “push it forward…because this belongs to tomorrow”.
Consider that there’s nothing inherently wrong with procrastinating and that sometimes it’s very much appropriate to push something forward to tomorrow. On the flipside, it’s important to remember that our human existence only affords us so many tomorrows and that by putting important things off indefinitely we’re depriving ourselves of the joy and fulfillment that accomplishments can bring. Issues that we face on a global scale, notably the health of our planet, have a very timely component and there’s a real cost to inaction.
My deepest learning around procrastination came in a less than subtle form. In the summer of 2008 I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and there were times when I wondered if I would live to see Christmas. A wave of sadness fell over me as I faced the possibility of not having many more tomorrows and I became mindful of all the things that I wished that I’d done over the past forty years. Fortunately I ended the year with a clean bill of health…and a new lease on life.
All of this begs the question. Why do we procrastinate? Fear is often a key component. There’s the fear of failure and the embarrassment that that might follow, and the lesser recognized fear of success – hiding out in the shadows might be more of a challenge once the world witnesses how amazing you are. Procrastination is also a common reaction when something feels too big or when the path to our dreams is unclear. And sometimes the things we put off are just not that important.
The first step to overcoming procrastination is to look your reasons square in the eye. Sometimes the source of the resistance is not obvious and it helps to talk with a friend or work with a life coach to clearly see your patterns. Bringing awareness to your reasons puts you in a place of choice.
Taking things on in life can be scary and uncomfortable and I invite you to move boldly forward, staying mindful of what’s at stake. If something seems too big, consider taking one small step, even if the rest of the path is unclear, and invite others to share your journey. Let go of things that aren’t important, be kind to yourself and be weary of that deamon called “perfection”.
In the words of Mark Twain – “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Something from my training with Landmark Education that has stuck with me over the years is the power of being unreasonable. What do I mean by being unreasonable? It’s very simple – it’s all about having reasons not to do something…and then doing it anyway.
Sometimes there are perfectly valid reasons for not taking something on. For example, if I were about to set out on a road trip and learned that there’s freezing rain in the short-term forecast I’d likely choose to change my travel plans. I’ve driven in freezing rain before and know how hazardous this condition can be. In this case my reason for staying put is based on valuable experiences from the past.
I’m going to focus on the other type of reasons that keep us from cruising down the highway of life – those reasons that are born out of ingrained patterns stemming from events in our pasts and cultural conditioning. Sometimes these patterns are so subtle that we’re not even aware of the reasons that are holding us back. By bringing a heightened level of awareness to our actions and inactions there’s an opportunity to experience life at a whole new level and to serve as a role model for others.
When I think about being unreasonable in my own life one example that comes to mind is my decision to participate in the Ride to Conquer Cancer in 2009, a 260km (160 mile) cycling trip from Vancouver to Seattle to raise money for the BC Cancer Foundation. What made this decision particularly unreasonable is that at the time I was going through an aggressive course of chemotherapy and was facing a major surgery. Some days I barely had enough energy to walk more than a few steps and wasn’t even completely sure that I was going to survive long enough to even attempt this athletic challenge. I had a laundry list of reasons not to register and went ahead and registered anyway. Having the boldness to register induced feelings of optimism and excitement. I committed to training for this challenge and to honouring my health throughout the process. All that I really had to lose was the registration fee and perhaps an ounce of pride.
Within weeks of completing my cancer treatments I enlisted the services of a personal trainer and began the process of getting back into shape. It was slow going at first, but I gradually started to feel my strength come back and continued to focus on my goal. After being given the thumbs up from my oncologist I set out on my cycling journey with 1,700 other unreasonable people. I’ll never forget the feeling of exhilaration that I experienced as I crossed the finish line and hope that my personal victory served to inspire others who come face-to-face with cancer.
I continue to practice being unreasonable and continue to reap the rewards. Sometimes it’s something as simple as having a conversation with someone that I had reasons not to have and saying “yes” to something that takes me outside my comfort zone. I’m inspired to create positive change in the world and realize that this is an inherently unreasonable ambition. All the more reason to continue practicing being unreasonable.
The next time you notice yourself feeling stuck I invite you to take a good look at the reasons that are holding you back. Assuming there’s no freezing rain in the forecast, why not set aside your reasons and notice what’s possible once they’re out of the way? And then boldly move forward and experience the freedom and fulfilment of life on the open road.
The following poem was written by a 19th centry American poet by the name of John Godfrey Saxe. It recounts the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant that has been told by Sufis, Jainists, Buddhists and Hindus over the years.
As the title implies, the poem tells the story of six blind men who went to see an elephant, “though all of them were blind”. Each man touches a different part of the elephant and comes to his own conclusion. For example, one touches the side of an elephant and decides the elephant is like a wall and another feels its mighty tusk and likens the elephant to a spear.
As humans we have a tendency to define our own realities based on our education, cultural background and experience combined with input from our five senses. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of believing we know the truth, when all we can ever hope to grasp at an intellectual level is an aspect of the truth. If we approach life solely from a perspective of intellectual understanding we’re inherently limiting ourselves and inviting inner and outer conflict.
I have always had a fascination with science and technology. I went through a period in my life where I sought to understand the world and tended to dismiss anything that couldn’t be scientifically proven. It was when I engaged in practices such as yoga and reiki that I started to open myself to an experiential world that transcends the intellect. It was a major breakthrough for me to be willing to engage in an and accept an experience for what it was – without the need to understand it scientifically. In the words of Albert Einstein:
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.
Another perspective on these teachings was summed up very succinctly by a coach who led one of my leadership training programs:
To be happy you have to give up being right.
Imagine what the world would be like if everyone, or even a sizeable percentage of the population adopted this philosophy. There would be harmony in relationships and wars over cultural ideologies and religious dogma would be a thing of the past. Instead we would open ourselves up to the realities seen through others’ eyes and maybe one day even catch a glimpse of the entire elephant.
Without further ado here’s the poem:
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approach’d the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -“Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”
The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he,
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
– John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)
Baby elephants living in captivity are often secured using a chain. Elephants like to roam around by nature, and the young elephant instinctively tugs and pulls at the chain in an attempt to gain its freedom. Eventually the small elephant grows tired and concedes defeat – it’s not yet strong enough to free itself from its shackles.
What’s interesting is that the same chain can be used to restrain the elephant even after it reaches its full size. At this point the elephant is strong enough to snap the chain and maybe even uproot the tree it’s attached to, but the powerful animal doesn’t even attempt an escape. It remembers its futile efforts in the past and believes it’s incapable of breaking free.
As humans we all define our own limitations, often in very subtle ways. Something happens in our life, usually during our formative adolescent years, and we make a decision about ourselves and the nature of life. These patterns become so engrained that they become part of our reality. It is only by realizing that these patterns exist that we can consciously choose to break free of our own self-created shackles.
Seeing our own patterns is not always easy as they become part of our identity. Even after coming face to face with our self-fabricated limitations, letting go of patterns that hold us back is often confronting to our ego. The tendency is to take the path of least resistance and accept the status quo. The cost is that our freedom, self expression and potential for happiness and fulfilment remains limited.
I’ve identified many of my own patterns over the years. In many cases the patterns are still there, but I’ve become more practiced at recognizing them and more adept at breaking free. I have been practicing meditation for many years and have found this ancient practice to be a valuable tool for bringing unconscious thought patterns into my conscious mind. I have also found coaching to be an effective tool in this realm. Working both one-on-one with a coach and in group contexts I’ve been able to identify many of my own “saboteurs” and have been called forth to set them aside and experience my own potential.
I invite you to expose your own self-limiting beliefs…and experience the exhilaration of boldly breaking free!
The Getting Things Done® methodology, commonly abbreviated as GTD®, was created by renowned coach and author, David Allen who went on to form the highly successful David Allen Company.
David Allen asserts that our minds are a great place to create thoughts, but a lousy place to store them. The GTD methodology involves taking all the “stuff” that’s stored in our minds, which often commands our attention at inopportune times, such as when we’re trying to sleep, and putting it all into a trusted system. Ultimately this creates what David Allen describes as a “mind like water” mental state where there’s literally nothing on our mind. This is a highly creative space – one that allows us to be productive without feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
I have tried using traditional task management approaches over the years and always found that my to-do lists quickly got out of control and even contributed to my feelings of overwhelm rather than helping me maintain a sense of control. In my experience, the GTD methodology is much better suited to our modern world where we tend to have a lot of demands on our time and attention and a vast amount of information to deal with. It provides a structured, but not too structured, approach to managing all of the actions that ultimately move us forward towards our dreams and in the process helps bring clarity to both short-term and long-term aspirations.
I first put GTD through its paces when I was going through cancer treatments last year. Having this methodology at my disposal had such a profoundly positive impact that I wrote an account of my journey and sent it to the David Allen Company. I received a very positive response and my article was published on their blog. David Allen will also be interviewing me in the near future as part of the In Conversation series.
If you’re interested in learning more about GTD, a good first step is to pick up a copy of David Allen’s inaugural Gettings Things Done book, which is available through Amazon.ca and at most bookstores. There are also many resources on-line, such as GTD Times and GTD Connect, that provide a wealth of information, including real world examples of how people are “Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life”, as David Allen puts it.
I will also continue to report on more of my own experiences with GTD through this blog and frequently share this methodology with clients through my work as a coach, consultant and workshop leader. Stay tuned!
One of the exercises during my coaching training with the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) was to identify something that I couldn’t be with and then create opportunities to come face to face with this thing that I try to avoid at all costs. The idea is that, as a coach, we need to be able to be with those things that make us most uncomfortable in order to create a space where our clients can do the same.
We went around the circle and each person received some coaching from the group and course leaders to help them get crystal clear on that one thing they really couldn’t be with. Once identified, that most scary thing was written on a name tag that we wore for the rest of the day as we were challenged and called forth by the rest of the group. Sounds like fun, eh?
My name tag read “Uncertainty”. I discovered that I liked having assurance about how things were going to go in life and not knowing was a source of stress. It was quite a relief to take off my “Uncertainty” name tag at the end of the day. Little did I know that this lesson was far from complete.
Several months later I started to develop pain in my lower back and chest, which came and went in an unpredictable way. I saw four different doctors on five different occasions, but none seemed very certain about the cause of my grief. I had a number of sessions with a chiropractor who though that a spinal adjustment would help, but the pain continued to worsen and the uncertainty around my health continued to grow.
Eventually the pain got so intense that my wife, Christa took me into the emergency room of our local hospital. Despite having two teams of talented doctors assigned to my case the prognosis was far from clear – one was confident that it was a kidney stone and another mentioned the possibility of cancer. Many days and countless tests later it became increasingly evident that cancer was the source of my pain. Though, it wasn’t clear what kind of cancer it was and there was no sign of a tumour, which didn’t help. Eventually the doctors got to a point where they were reasonably certain they had an accurate diagnosis and recommended that I begin chemotherapy immediately so that the cancer didn’t have a chance to spread further.
The uncertainty continued. I didn’t know for sure if this was the right course of treatment, if I’d respond to the chemo and if I’d require surgery once the treatments were finished. There were even fleeting moments when I wondered if I’d live to see Christmas. Fortunately the year ended on a very positive note. After four intensive rounds of chemo and a major surgery I was given the gift of a clean bill of health, just in time for Christmas.
Through the process, I discovered that I could face major uncertainties in my life and live to tell the tale. Not knowing exactly how things were going to go created a state where I was very present and granted me a new appreciation for the gift of my life and for all the love that surrounds me. When faced with all this uncertainty my priorities in life became crystal clear – it’s amazing how certainty is born out of a state of uncertainty. But, I guess that’s how life works. Light can’t exist unless there’s darkness to be illuminated.
I welcomed in 2009 brimming with enthusiasm and gratitude. I still like having some certainty in my life, which must mean I’m human. At the same time I’ve come to see uncertainty as a gift. Deepak Chopra talks about uncertainty as the seed of creativity and ultimately it’s not knowing how things are going to go that makes life’s journey such a magical one. Uncertainty creates a space where anything is possible. I’m learning to trust myself and my intuition when the path ahead isn’t clear and know that whatever shows up there are always opportunities to learn and grow.
If you find you’re struggling when it comes to uncertainties in your life I invite you to try on a different perspective. Celebrate life’s uncertainty. Take it as a reminder that each moment in life is a sacred gift and bow to the teacher in all things.
Originally posted on CoachingLife.ca on February 4, 2009.