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The Key Success Factor in Getting Things Done?

Do It Now!

When it comes to getting things done (GTD), what would you say is the key success factor?

Better planning? Clarifying objectives? Prioritising? Having a system in place to manage more effectively? What about buying a PDA or MDA to help you get organised, or perhaps getting your workplace tidy?

No doubt all would be useful but perhaps a clue comes from the Lord of the Rings author, J.R.R. Tolkien. Did he hit on the answer when he observed:

“It’s a job that’s never started that takes the longest to finish.”

Perhaps the key success factor in getting things done couldn’t be more straightforward:

Just do it!

Yet the simplest things are often the hardest to do. Jack Canfield captures the tendency we all have to put things off:

“It’s time to quit waiting for: perfection; inspiration; permission; reassurance; someone to change; the right person to come along; the kids to leave home; a more favourable horoscope; the new administration to take over; an absence of risk; someone to discover you; a clear set of instructions.”

We’re Not Interested in What you Didn’t Do!

Peter Drucker tells this anecdotal story in his book: “the Practice of Management”.

William Pitt the younger was Britain’s Prime Minister at the age of 24. He led the country in it’s resistance to Napoleon, during the bleak years when the Britain stood alone against the conquering dictator. Pitt the younger prided himself in his personal piety and probity. In an age where corruption was rife, he was scrupulously honest, where immorality was accepted, he remained faithful. When he died, still a young man,

the story goes that he found himself standing before the Pearly gates of Heaven greeted by St Peter. “What makes a politician like you think that you belong here?” St Peter inquired. Pitt the Younger proceeded to make his case pointing out he hadn’t taken bribes, or had any mistresses. Before he could continue St Peter interrupted him sharply:

“We aren’t interested in what you didn’t do: tell us what you did do!”

Drucker concludes with two main points from the story: “One cannot do anything with what one cannot do. One cannot achieve anything with what one does not do.”

What then would be the key success factor in getting things done? The straightforward answer is simple. Do them! This is one of Drucker’s points: you can only achieve by doing.

However, Drucker also reminds us of the importance of considering our strengths when trying to get things done. If you can’t do it, or you aren’t good at doing it, then it probably won’t get done. More likely it may eventually be done, but done poorly. Drucker argues that “the greatest mistake is to try to build on weakness”. You can only build on strengths.

So, the key success factor in getting things done is to do them, but to do them using your strengths.

David Allen makes a similar point when he stresses that: “the key to managing all of your stuff, is managing your actions. …. The real issue is how to make appropriate choices about what to do, at any point in time. The real solution is how we manage actions.” Allen’s “getting things done” process is based on action.

As Henry Ford has pointedly expressed:

“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”

What then is the key success factor in getting things done?

The essence is to do them: to act!

However that should be balanced by first identifying those actions you can take that are based on your strengths. Actions which use your strengths typically:

  • are easier to do,
  • are usually what you want to do
  • you enjoy do-ing.
  • and you are good at do -ing them

In the words of the great philosopher Plato:

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”

Or perhaps you prefer the words of another “famous” philosopher, the master Jedi, Yoda:

“Do or do not….there is no try.”


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