Credo: I don't know their story

I am a geek, so I follow Will Wheaton. Much as I like Will Wheaton, I am no longer fond of his catchphrase "don't be a dick".

Don't get me wrong. I agree that dickishness is more than plentiful and less would be better, but DBAD seems to be something that is only said to other people. That is not really the problem. In most of the situations where I would apply DBAD, I am involved. I am often even a contributor. Despite my best efforts and those of my beloved wife and upbringing I am sometimes a dick. Sometimes people and things Rub Me the Wrong Way (pause for double-entendre) and I am a nasty, judgemental, sarcastic meany-trousers. It's not very often, but sometimes my dice land that way.

Stil, even when people are not being very nice to me, I have the opportunity and even obligation to take the better path and higher ground and sometimes I do. That is the heavy lifting. That is when a gorilla get it's wings, I get a year off purgatory and extra shiny karma.

The greatest challenge is that moment of judgement. The moment when I decide that someone is wrong, bad and a drain on the species: "cut me up in traffic!", "took it without asking!", "got in my way for no reason!", "looked at me funny!". That is when I could say "don't be a dick" to them and skip away secure in my own perfection, but it is harder, but I think better, to say "you don't know their story". You don't. I once sat in a very intensive coaching session with twelve ordinary-looking, well-paid professionals and discovered how much sadness, grief and suffering lurked in their lives. There is a lot of suffering out there that people who look no different to you are just dealing with. You have no idea, I certainly didn't.

The rude guy in the supermarket had just had a hell of day with his abusive boss. The dithering lady in the car ahead is dealing with the death of a friend but still has to pick up her children. The kid that pushed in front of you got humiliated in front of all his friends and maybe Will Wheaton's power-mad flight attendant can never have children, is facing redundancy, or  just got out of bed the wrong side this morning.

Judgement without information is just stroking off my ego and licencing me to be horrid. If we know the story, see at a real person in the wrack and fury of their world we might feel differently. We might get it, show compassion and let it ride. Life is too short.

It's a short ride on this spinning globe sweethearts: no one gets out alive. You may bump into me on this whirligig and I may be a complete dick at that time, so please remember: you don't know my story and I don't know yours. Until we do, judgement is not ours.

with Love, Tim


Of Tomatoes and Discipline

Discipline. Now that's an old-fashioned word. It conjures up images of strict parents, being stood in the corner, being unable to do what you want; but there is another side. Any skill that takes dedication and focus is also called a "discipline". The image there is of perfecting a movement, refining your understanding, excluding distraction. The common theme is focus, excluding one thing so that another can be successful, pouring your energy into one bright spot, rather than dissipating it over a wide field. Read more...


Uses of the truth

I got used last week.

But that's ok. Here is how it happened.

At the moment I spend part of my time in an environment were there is fear and lack of candour. People feel threatened and powerless and unable to connect to each other. Such situations are anathema to me, they dampen down our fire and life and infect us with secrecy and doubt. Anger and complaints do not counter this. Bitching around the coffee machine does not help. The only cure for fear is truth: gentle, unremitting personal truth. So I told the truth about what was happening to me (I am going to leave) but that I was fine and would be happy to talk to anyone about my situation. This undoubtedly helped the manager concerned to avoid a confrontation with his staff. He used what I said to paper over growing concerns. So he will probably not properly resolve the situation. That is a shame, but I stand by my principle. I knew that I would be used and did it anyway because, as I tell my sons very often, I wish to behave according to my own best principles rather than responding to other's worst actions. I hope that some of my co-workers will feel a little easier, a little stronger and less alone. It was for them. I was a small thing I could do.

So what am I telling you? For me, it does not matter if others would put your actions to bad use. Tell the truth. It really will set you free.


Why do we fall?

As Bruce Wayne's father says "So that we can learn to pick ourselves up."

It is a hard thing to do, perhaps the hardest thing. Coming back for something that really hurts you, really makes you doubt: very hard. But if you can do it, you will be stronger, simply because you know that you can. You will have done something that you will remember every time you get knocked down. I do not believe that suffering ennobles people. But surmounting it does. It opens up possibilities.

I recently read a blog post by a creative writer who fell on his face, was utterly incompetent in front of a group because he was not properly prepared. It almost crushed him, but he summoned up from somewhere the anger and spirit to "get back on the horse" and try again. As I wrote to him, I believe from the bottom of my heart that such moments are magnificent, they are triumphs of the human spirit and beautiful in the eyes of God. I do not wish you adversity, but I do wish you the strength to surmount it and a long and powerful memory of having done so.

Why do we fall? So that we learn how to pick ourselves up.


Sorting by shape

Whenever I give a Getting Things Done training course I start with a funny little exercise I developed. I spread out a pack of "e-mail" cards on the table, labeled "urgent", "from your boss", "from a colleague you do not like" and so on on the table. On the other side of the cards is a money amount representing the value of handling the e-mail. People home in on the Boss and Urgent e-mails and find tiny or even negative amounts on the reverse of the card. Naturally, some of the least appealing cards have very high values. , making this a game that is hard to win.

Once a couple of people have failed to "score" by picking random e-mails I show them that the only way to truly win is to turn over all the cards. You cannot choose what to do until you have Once you have found out what something means, to you, you can decide about priorities.

Back when my beloved wife and I were DINKs (Double Income No Kids) we had a cleaning lady called Norma. She was a smart and capable lady but had a tendency to store anything we left lying on a surface in any random, nearby place into which it fitted.  This made things so hard to find that even now, years later, we  we call any situation in which something has been carefully put away in the wrong place "Normalized".  Norma was no dummy, but of course did not know where to put our random items because she did not know what they meant, to us. To give an example, nobody could know where to put the cinnamon away in my kitchen, unless you know I like cinnamon on my raisin-toast in the morning (habit I picked up in Australia).

The point of this is that if you do not know what something means, what action it demands of you, you will be unable to store it correctly, let alone attempt to prioritize it with respect to other things in your world. 


Gentleness is a super-power


There is something that I want to say, somewhat out of the ordinary for this blog, please be patient while I find a way to say it.

I am a scarily cheerful person almost all of the time, particularly on diamond-bright blue-skied winter days like today. Things are actually pretty grim in the Netherlands, where I live, right now. The economy has taken a hit under the waterline and people are losing jobs, businesses and houses. Such times are of course sent to try us and they have one gift to give: perspective, they force you to focus on what is truly important.

I may lose my job.

But, I have a close and loving relationship with my wife and children. I am healthy (though a little overweight right now) and live in comfort and safety. I consider myself fortunate beyond all reckoning.  If was going to have a problem with something I would definately have chosen the economy and work. I am therefore filthy rich in any coin worth counting.

In these times it is tempting to "turtle", pull the covers over your head and wait for it all to blow over, but that is not what we are for. If you do have perspective and strength this is the time to reach out to others. I spent various moments this week with people who are overstretched by their work, put at financial risk, or worse dunked in confusion and sadness by turmoil and tough decisions in their personal lives. There is little you can do but listen attentively and perhaps offer a little practical help and perspective. You can be gentle. So that is what the title is about. Even now, even when money markets lurch around like drunken giants there is no force, no dictum greater than love and the ability to care for your fellow-person.

Gentleness is your super-power. Use it for good.

Use it.


Training e-mail


I recently ran a course for a group of colleagues on e-mail handling. Though this is one of the classic benefits of GTD,  getting to grips with e-mail, it is one I have slightly avoided teaching or coaching. For me the chief benefit of GTD is that it clarifies your thinking; as a result you do not get snowed under so easily. Many e-mail handling courses are merely "go-faster" tricks for Outlook and fancy macros. That covers up the real problem. To handle e-mail, voicemail, drive-by bosses and a day chock-full of meetings you do not need macros or short-cut keys. You need to be able to think clearly and productively about one thing. Finish that thinking, store the result and refocus rapidly on the next thing. Read more...


Time of change

I have not posted in my blog for quite a while, which is strange because I enjoy writing.  I did some thinking and realized that though I still use GTD and coach others about it, I have little need to blog about it: any more than I would blog about cleaning my teeth. I still have insights and make mistakes of course and I shall bring those here, but I shall be moving this blog gently in a more personal direction. I feel the need for a journal...

Given that I live and breathe personal development there will be plenty of that in my journal. But I may also just talk about my kids and my job.

I may also post a few cartoons and illustrations: I have a creative side that needs to get out and play occasionally. I hope that there will be things for you to use and relish.

One of the things that has got my attention now is happiness. How can it be achieved and why are people not often focussed on achieving it!? I get a lot of insights into this from The Happiness Project.


Personal effectiveness does not mean you suck...

Now if you are going to disagree with someone to make a point, you need to pick someone who's opinion is worth considering. So I am going to pick on the thoughtful and helpful Merlin Mann.

Now I have been gettingt lots of useful information about how to get yourself moving on things, how to handle forgetfulness and distraction, from 43 folders, but an alarm bell went off when Merlin started saying that we all "suck at something". I just hate the focus on weaknesses. Well of course he is right. I am pretty solid at GTD these days, I love and work hard at facilitation, coaching and clarifying communications but.... I am kind of terrible at short-term, common-sense logistics. The kind of stuff my way smarter wife effortlessly juggles when we need to shop, drop the car off at the garage, get someone a haircut, take a kid to a play-date and truck another one to a swimming lesson in one afternoon.

But it is certainly not just Merlin.

Lots of the personal effectiveness stuff I read is focussed on dealing with common human weaknesses like that. The only trouble is that spending all your time working on your weaknesses is rather depressing. I have been reading about focussing on strengths recently and the basic wisdom there is that you should spend most of your time investing in the things you do well and just do minimal "damage control" on the weaknesses that really hamper you.

For every hour of effort and attention put into handling something you are not good at you can get ten times the results by extending and deepening an existing strength. The time you focus on weaknesses is when they fundamentally prevent you from deploying a strength, given the context you are in, the work you are doing.

They way Getting Things Done fits into this for me is that it is an "enabler". It allows me to get clear of the anxiety that I am not sufficiently in control, missing something important and leaves me room for creativity, for fun. It clears my head, so I do feel more able to use my skills. It is a catalyst. My personal strengths lie in first contact with new people, communication, finetuning, and connectedness. Feeling in control helps me have the confidence to lean into these strengths and apply them.

So I am still still dedicated to self-improvement and any and all methods that let me achieve that. The kicker is that you need to make sure that your self-improvement effort is focussed on your strengths, no your weaknesses


Being inspired

Sometimes I write things on this blog that am almost ashamed to admit it took me years to realise. I find that the great revelations for me appear not as a flash of light but a slap on the forehead. The corollory of that is that I also hesitate to tell you guys what I learned because...well.... you probably all worked it out long ago....