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Control Or Spontaneity: The Paradox

Posted: 05/19/08 12:05 PM ET

When people discover the level of personal organization I work within, they often ask, "Gee, does this guy ever have any fun?! He's so organized!" My response is usually, "Who's not having fun?" Frankly, I organize for freedom, not for hard work.

Much of my personal system of organization was built and is constantly being refined by negative feedback--having to work harder than I need to, having something slip through a crack that caused inordinate pain, cost, or stress later on. Those are indicators of constriction, not freedom. When something like that shows up in my life, I'm always on the hunt for how to set up a system that will automatically prevent that kind of thing from ever happening again.

I just had lunch with a top management consultant who had just finished participating in my seminar. He confessed that in his 62 years of life, he had always equated his disorganization with "spontaneity." He humbly acknowledged that now he knew it was a pretense, and that having seen another level, he hoped he could change his habits to move to the more real freedom of relaxed control.

There is a freedom that is only approachable by the sacrifice of our attachments to anything, including our organization and commitments. That is the ultimate thrill, living without fear of consequences in the material world. ("Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose..." -- Kris Kristofferson.) My ideal scene would be to trust that I could walk up to a phone booth in the airport, and have the person I need to call and their number appear in my mind in full detail, exactly (and only) when I needed it.

I'm not there yet. If you are, let me know how you got there. Until then, I'll fumble along capturing my thoughts, commitments, and agreements with myself into objective, external systems, which I will review regularly, feeling absolutely fine with what I'm doing, and what I'm not doing.

People seldom complain that there is a line painted down the center of a crowded highway. Without that structure, we would likely be in constant stress going down the road, and we would not take advantage of the luxury of enjoying the beautiful scenery along the way.

I do as little as I can get by with, and as much as I need, to get to the place of no distraction, a clear head, and the ability to follow my moment-to-moment intuitive hunches.

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You can find out more about David Allen and GTD at www.davidco.com/.

The David Allen Company is a professional training, coaching, and management consulting organization, based in Ojai, California. Its purpose is to enhance performance and improve the quality of life by providing the world's best information, education, and products in the fields of personal productivity and work/life balance.