Patterns of GTD #5 - Delaying Meaningfully

So this is the last article in my Patterns of GTD series. Today let's look at the idea of delaying decisions, actions, and planning in a meaningful way.

At any given time you have many things you want to do or have to do. The problem is you either don't have enough time or resources to do all them. You can't learn Japanese, and finish that little app you're working on, and go bungee jumping all on the same day. The solution is obvious, you delay those actions until you can do them.

Meaningful delay

As a GTDer you have get an overview of all your commitments, all the things you need and want to do, and this lets you delay projects and actions with confidence. You know you can move these pieces around and the world won't end. Or at least it won't be your fault if it does.

For example, should you plan a birthday coming up in three months or worry about clearing the attic first?

You can move projects and tasks around to suit the circumstances and your own inner wants and intuition. If you can't clean up your code because there's a big meeting coming, make a note of it, and get to it later. If you don't want to write that blog article now, make note of it, and see how you feel later in your Weekly Review.

Now, there is a difference between meaningfully delaying and procrastination. The key is intentionality. You are chosing to move something around until the right time. It's a choice based on wanting to get things done in the best possible way. Procrastination is usually about avoiding discomfort.

This concept has been helpful to me when planning projects and making decisions. Don't think about the colour of the walls, when the baby room still doesn't have windows.

If you're waiting for some information or actions from others, avoid thinking about every eventuality. It's likely that reality will be different by the time you have to make the final decision.

You might spend weeks or even months trying to map out how everything is going to work out, only to have a single e-mail make 99% of those plans irrelevant.

Contrary to what marketing companies would have you believe, our brains don't handle many options well. If you have one options, even if you dislike it, you won't feel like you've made the wrong decision. You have no choice. Having options means you might make the wrong decision, and that can bring a bunch of anxiety. Delay making decisions until you have to, whenever possible.

Try whenever possible strive for methods and actions that afford you flexibility and let you decide later.

There is an interesting concept in programming known as an interface. It's the thing which connects different components together. You can think of this as an electrical plug. The toaster doesn't depend on exactly how the electricity was produced, and your electrical company doesn't care about how your toaster works. You could switch to a bigger toaster or use wind turbines for electricity. Either way you'll get toast in the morning.

An interface gives programmers enough flexibility to make up their minds later about large parts of their application. The initial planning phase is shorter, you waste less time if circumstances change, and because you start doing, you can gather practical experience to help your decision-making later on.

When you're making slides or writing document, consider using styles or themes so you can change the look and feel of the document easily. You don't need to worry about what the font is going to be before you've even written a first draft.

Markup languages like Markdown and Latex have an interface between the style and the content. That means that you can write first and then later change the style very easily.

Delaying actions is also useful. For example, I don't write blog post excerpts until after I finish the article, since my ideas about the topic I'm covering will change by the time I'm done writing.

If you don't have to think about it right now, don't. Try to reduce the number of decisions you have to make early on by using methods that give you flexibility. If there are too many possibilities wait until you have more information to narrow those before you start driving yourself crazy.

In the end, thinking is hard. Why do it if you don't have to?

Thanks for reading, I hope this was helpful. Let me know what techniques you use to delay actions and decisions?

Have a good one. Until next time.

-- Jay Blanco