The hidden danger of successful productivity systems

One of the reasons that someone (read: me) would start in on a personal productivity system, such as GTD, is because he feels that his quote-unquote "important work" is not getting done, that there is a gnat-like cloud of buzzing little tasks which occlude his vision and his capability.

Each of these buzzing little tasks cannot be waved away; they must get done, or at least be dealt with. If this can happen, then, ah, clarity!, and then our life can begin.

What we're talking about is the tension between being externally directed and being internally directed in our work. The feeling is that, all of these Things that the world keeps throwing at me! How am I supposed to find the time to do The Things That I Want To Do? I need a system to make all of these things go away.

All of this pre-implementation thinking presupposes two things. First, it presupposes that The Things That I Want To Do are worthwhile. Second, it presupposes that The Things That I Want To Do actually exist.

So you implement The System. You pull out all the stops and get all the gear, and after a couple years, the thing actually appears to be working. There it is, your entire externally directed life, out there on the table, all properly sorted into lists, folders, bins, and notebooks. All of your buzzing little gnat-tasks are getting done almost without effort, and now you finally have time for The Things That I Want To Do.

It's at this moment that you truly know yourself. You're face-to-face with the gaping maw of your own potential.

The problem is, what you see may not amount to much. You may, in fact, turn out to be a dull, slow-witted, unimaginative, soulless, directionless, skill-less, short-sighted, ham-fisted moron, with no better idea about how to run a human life than an ear of corn. I'm speaking hypothetically.

The (sometimes not-so) hidden purpose of any personal productivity system is to remove all of the familiar and comfortable sources of stress which bind you to the physical world, and force you to confront the deepest questions of your existence.

Obviously this is a much better use of my time than sweating about how I'll ever find time to get my oil changed, and oh geez I've got that conference next week, and doh my fucking shoelace broke, and the GODDAMN SKY IS FALLING IN. The more meaningful and authentic way for me to be engaged with the world is with a truer knowledge of myself and what makes me and those around me happy.

But it hurts. It was not until GTD laid out my life in front of me that I realized how empty it was. It was full of stuff but not meaning. Like many other people, I had been depending on my layers of life-cruft to insulate me from the horrors of being. But once the cruft was cleared away, there was nothing left.

What is it that I want out of life? All those years of working towards increased independence and sovereignty and personal power…to quote Eugene O'Neil, I wonder what it was that I wanted to buy?

After all of those years of "task-living" and the fetishism of completion and accomplishment and "life products", all of my wishing and dreaming and hoping muscles have atrophied. My soul-nerves have been blackened and cauterized in the heat of the struggle to be productive. Being productive is no longer a struggle, but the damage has been done.

The challenge now is to reroute and regrow all of those progressive-creative-thinking pathways so that I can see the world as the canvas-slash-playground that it is, instead of a trough of tasks. It's like reteaching my soul to walk.

And worst of all, now there are no further levels of tips and tricks for me to implement. There is no other higher system that I can call upon to help me.

Oh wait. Yes there is. It's called religion. Shit.

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