The 20% Difference

Today I want to talk about something I read about in GTD-creator David Allen’s book Ready For Anything.

A key quote for me from his book is: “Nobody will even try to absorb and manage two hundred percent of what they can do. But they will take on enough to let themselves get ten percent behind their curve. And when you are ten percent behind, you feel like crap. But on the other hand, if you can manage to get ten percent ahead, you’re transformed and on top of your world.”

The idea he presented was that there is only a twenty percent difference between being ten percent ahead and ten percent behind, but the difference is huge*. Allen suggests that this 20% difference leads to feeling a general sense of ease and also the ability to think more strategically. Fighting fires does not lead to giving time to think more holistically.

My Thoughts

Compare: “Well, I said this milestone would be done on Wednesday, but really it is not going to be done until Friday” to “I said this milestone would be done on Wednesday, but I actually got it done today on Monday.” If you’re an hourly and/or standard weekly person, the difference between having Friday afternoon to work on personal projects or thinking great thoughts instead of being behind at work.

The idea can be useful when applied to projects. Asking which projects are slightly ahead of schedule, and which projects are slightly behind schedule and the acceptability of that state can clarify priorities in organizations and life.

The quote from the book above is useful for also realizing that we are for the most parts responsible for the amount of work that we choose to take on. Sometimes the right thing to do is to consciously drop a project or put it on the back burner to free up energy to get ahead on key projects.

I think the tone of the quote also suggests that each of us has our own curve. A state that is ten percent ahead to me might be fifty percent behind or ahead of another given person.

Sometimes now when I feel like procrastinating, I ask myself: “Would I rather be working toward ten percent ahead, or ten percent behind?” That usually helps me either get back to being on track, take a step back to unblock myself mentally, or take a dedicated break.

Ready For Anything Itself

As for the book itself, I recommend it because it covers ground between tactical, strategic, and philosophical. I found it easily readable and it had useful insights for my general approach to being more organized about the “stuff” in my life. It is best used as a supplement after you have read the GTD book. It has fifty-two very short chapters (about 3 pages each.) When I finished the book I left it around the house and would randomly open it up and read a chapter, which led me to a better sense of Allen’s thinking and writing styles. Plus, it’s like a penny used on Amazon (plus shipping, of course.) It’s pretty useful for figuring out what fundamentals I am goofing up. “Oh yeah, I guess if I didn’t do my weekly review, then I would have some things that got missed.”

End Note

Mathematicians: There are probably many ways to slice the percentages here. However, just focus on the high level concept. :)

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