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


It's all really Peter Drukker

Having read that Peter Drukker was a major influence for aspects of GTD and having come across more Drukker-isms in the work of Steven Covey I decided a while ago to read "The Effective Executive" for myself. It is now forty years old and not in the least bit out of date. His examples refer to, now historical, figures but the situations he describes and the advice he provides is still cutting edge. I regularly see yet another "new insight" pop up in management and effectiveness forums that sends me off to my battered paperback copy to find the half-page he devoted to make precisely that point, forty year ago.

That is not to degrade the thinking of now. Mr Drucker is just a very, very hard act to follow and there is much valuable work to be done in getting those insights actually implemented in current behaviours and with recent technology. The latest case of this phenomenon is working from your strengths. The premise is simple and, for me, convincing: people spend much too much time trying to eliminate weaknesses when they should be leveraging their strengths. The "fully rounded" person who can handle every aspect of the job with ease is a myth. If someone looks like that they are almost certainly under-challenged. I have some strong and some weak suits. I use some behaviours, including GTD, to compensate for the weaknesses and put my coaching, facilitating and analytical skills into play at every opportunity. I cannot do everything well, but I can certainly arrange my situation so that everything is well done.


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....