Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Examination of Conscience and Getting Things Done: The Balance of Prayer and Productivity

I'm a big advocate of Getting Things Done, a productivity process laid out in the book of the same name, by the consultant David Allen. GTD is a popular method amongst the Old-Lifehacker/Hipster PDA/Moleskine crowd. The whole process is certainly enough to fill a book and I'd be remiss if I were to explain it in detail, not to mention likely violating a law or two, or at least the spirit of that law. I found my copy for ten dollars at my local big-box book store. It's been worth every penny.

What is relevant to this discussion, and what you really need to know for this comparison to make sense, is that the method focuses on moving as much as possible out of mind, while keeping it readily accessible, achieving the business equivalent of the focus-high common to professional athletes. The idea is that you aren't wasting mental energy trying to remember everything, and you trust your system enough that you know you won't forget anything. It has the rigidity of a full organizational scheme while maintaining the flexibility of real-time prioritizing... but the main element is the "review".

You review to find anything you might be missing and refresh your memory about your longer-term commitments and goals. Mr. Allen suggests doing so weekly in order to truly benefit from it. You search your mind for anything actionable or quasi-actionable and put it together into some readily-referenced format. That gets it off your mind, into the hands of something much more capable, and frees you to work on what you need to work... the areas you identified by doing a review!

Today I realized there was a similarity between this practice, and the Catholic practice of an Examination of Conscience, one of the necessary steps to prepare for confession. In an Examination, one consults one's own conscience, often with the aid of a list, and calls to mind the state of one's soul. Most Examinations focus on Mortal Sins only, which is fair, as these are the only ones we are required to confess, though some people more experienced than me tell me it's helpful to confess venial sins too. That's a topic for another time.

With the Examination though, I find there's a side that is often overlooked. We think of Confession as wiping the slate clean, and it does, but many mortal sins are sins of habit. Let's face it, if we know something is wrong and we do it anyway, it's not because we want to be bad, it's because we've associated that bad thing with some sort of positive outcome. I think paying attention to your Examinations, and maybe even keeping any done within, say, a two-month period, would be helpful in allowing you to identify areas where you're having some trouble... sometimes they aren't always as obvious as a major addiction.

I'd leave you with a dilbert comic, but I can't afford the licensing fees. Instead, I merely ask that you try and find the origin of the statement "I intend to fuse six sigma with lean methods to close the gap between our practices and our goals."

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