Ocean of Possibility

David Allen, productivity consultant-guru, wrote a decade ago about the dangers of overthinking-and-rationalization, versus the value of decide-and-do:

Thinking can be counterproductive — at least what people sometimes parade as thinking. Real thinking is always a good thing, but many people pretend that replaying a tape in their head about something is actually thinking about it.

Many times our workflow coaching clients want to give us long involved stories about an e-mail sitting in their inbox. It's as if they're defending a doctoral thesis, going to great lengths to explain why it showed up, what it means, and why it's still sitting there. They want us to know their thinking. They seem to feel that if they tell us enough about it, it justifies the space it's taking up in their virtual and psychic world.

We listen attentively and then just ask, "What's the next action?" After a slight twitch ("Don't you care about all the reasons this is here?"), they swallow hard and engage in the executive decision-making that invariably ensues when they gear down to operational reality. Thinking is required, but at a different level. Continually thinking the same way about something (usually in frustration or irritation) is avoidance. Thinking about what has to happen to move something forward to resolution, clarity, or completion is highly functional. Well-analyzed "stuff" is still "stuff." It must yet be composted into the primary elements of the commitment you have about the result to be achieved and the next action required to fulfill that agreement with yourself. In other words, you need to figure out what it means and what you want to do about it.

But that kind of thinking generates a pledge to action, and that's risky business. When you start to move on making anything actually happen, you confront a subtle but significant angst — the project and the actions involved in it might never be as wonderful, as perfect, as solid, and as safe as in the sanctity of your imagination. It's like stepping off the end of the pier — and how deep is that water anyway?

But when you make that leap of faith and down shift into action, a weird thing happens. Real intelligence, creativity, and solidity show up — in a much greater way than ever it could, trying to be managed merely in your head. Putting the limitation of physicality onto what you're thinking about does not constrain the mind — it actually galvanizes it. The water's deep, but it's an ocean of possibility.

... it's the progression see → know → choose ... though of course one must not leap ahead to act and forget to analyze and assess!

(cf Knowing Choosing Doing (1999-05-29), Getting Things Done - Summarized (2012-05-14), David Allen Summarized (2014-04-29), Mantra - Mind Like Water (2015-05-04), Getting Things Done Practices (2018-10-10), ...) - ^z - 2019-12-04