Do or do not. There is not GTD.

In the years since high school and undergrad, I learned a lot about different systems for managing work, but I don’t know how much of that translated into knowing more about managing myself.

Lately I’m craving simple solutions.

We’re in year three of a pandemic. I’ve got two young kids. A heap of responsibilities in different buckets to juggle. I don’t have time to learn calligraphy to make an attractive bullet journal or craft a set of 57 nested tags for a perfect GTD machine.

The other day I tried to remember what my system was to manage my task list when I was in school… and I couldn’t.

Part of that was privilege. With few external pressures or obligations, I kept focused on schoolwork.

There was also the clarity of being a student.

At every level, school had small blocks of work that added up to a coherent whole:

Do these assignments by these deadlines to pass these classes and earn this degree.

Stepping out of that environment left a vacuum.

I wasn’t submitting to someone else’s syllabus. Making your own choices about what to focus on requires a leap of faith.

Maybe the most direct answer, though not the easiest one, is to focus less on organizing to-do lists or articulating methods, and more on developing trust in my ability to set priorities.

What is important? What is important right now?

If I can learn to answer those questions quickly and confidently, shutting out everything else in order to focus might be easier.

Update: The Sans Case Experiment

It’s been about three weeks since I took the case off my phone.

I’m still treating my phone gingerly and making choices about when it’s worthwhile and safe to take it out.

My average daily phone use dropped around 25%.

The biggest decline in individual app usage: social media apps. I haven’t stopped using them, but I’m using them less as a pause between other things.

It may seem silly to buy an expensive tool and then work to use it less, but it’s also silly to try to use a drill as a hammer.

Am I paying for the quantity of tasks the phone can do, or should I judge its value based on the quality of the tasks it can perform?

I could trade in my iPhone for a retro Nokia, but this phone gives me valuable features—turn-by-turn navigation, a great camera for pictures of my family (and easy ways to share those photos), quick access to email, and contactless payment.

In a small way, directly feeling its design under my fingers reminds me my phone was built as a tool, not a toy.

Occam’s Razr

Instead of trying new Screen Time cutoffs or another self-control building app, I took my phone out of its case.

It’s an experiment. I look at my phone too much, and not usually to do anything that really matters to me.

If the phone feels less durable and protected, will I pull it out less frequently?

Every time I reach for the phone becomes a risk calculation:

  • Is what I’m about to do important enough to risk dropping and damaging the phone?
  • Is this the best time and place to do this with my phone, or should I wait?
  • Am I feeling an urgent need to do this particular thing, or just an urgent need to do something?

After a week, my average pickups per day hasn’t dropped much, but average screen time per day is down over 30%.

I’ll see if this trend continues or if I get more comfortable with not using a case and taking more risks.

I’ve tried lots of fussy lifehacks and productivity tricks before. I’m learning to appreciate simple solutions.

Yelling won’t make the moles come off

My son loves taking things apart and putting them back together. Lego minifigures. Puzzles. If you give him some stickers, he’ll rip them into smaller pieces so that he can put them back together again.

Today he noticed the mole on my neck, just behind my ear.

“Come off?” he asked, picking at it.

I assured him that the mole was part of me and wouldn’t come off.

I hoped this would go smoothly, like the conversation during his bath a few days before about his head. Thinking about the heads on his Star Wars Legos, he turned his head back and forth and pretended to give it a gentle yank.

“Mine head come off?” he asked. “No,” I said. “You’re not a toy. You’re a person. Your head doesn’t come off.”

“Oh…” He sat with that for a minute. “Stormtroopers toys. Heads come off!”

After that conversation in the tub, it seemed like he’d found the line between how toys and human bodies work.

But after a few attempts to convince him that my moles were staying put, he came back yelling “Mole come off!”

Many, many times.

He needed a snack. In the end, it probably wasn’t about my moles at all.

Thinking back on it now, being two doesn’t seem to be the only explanation.

Frustration and anger create loops: This thing is wrong, and it is still wrong once I’ve noticed how wrong it is.

I spent part of my morning venting and retweeting about the most recent school shooting in this country. Raging about the people so convinced that the only right that matters is individual freedom, and that being asked to make any concession for the good of the group is a non-starter.

Their altar to unfettered personal freedom sits under a gnarled tree fed with the blood of children. It is forever thirsty.

But these are just words.

I might as well have been yelling about being angry that I can’t pull a mole off my neck with my fingers like I’m a Lego person.

This isn’t to say that people can’t change, or that hearts and minds can’t be won over. I don’t want to toss up my hands in some nihilistic shrug that this is just how we have to live.

But spending time online venting about it did nothing. Appeals for change or action pass unacknowledged into the void.

Any action that’s going to create real change won’t come through a survey, contact form, or social media post. The channels are built to let you feel heard, not to make sure you’re listened to.

I don’t know what that next step is yet. But I know our children aren’t toys. They can’t just be put back together or replaced if they’re damaged beyond repair.