You Don’t fix Hard Not Complicated Problems – they fix you

You know, when David Allen, the creator of Getting Things Done (GTD for short) says that it takes about a year to “get this stuff”, in reference to GTD, it’s easy to imagine that by this he means that GTD is complicated. It’s not. In fact, it’s very simple. That, of course, doesn’t mean it isn’t hard.

I’m coming to the belief that the biggest things we have to deal with in life – family, friends, love, loss, death, peace of mind, purpose, the whole general mishmash of existence – largely fall into the Hard Not Complicated bucket. Which is great for me from a philosophical perspective (life appears to be very “on brand” right now) and also interesting from a how we learn perspective.

The question at hand, the thing that I’ve just sort of got my head around, is the difference between actions at projects and, more specifically, how to manage them.

I’ve had an “action” in my list for a while now, waiting to be acted on. This “action” was “Arrange dinner with Laura”. I’ve placed the word “action” in inverted commas because I’ve now realised this isn’t, in fact, an action.

In GTD they say that an action is the next, visible step and it has to be something you can do in one go. Arranging a dinner doesn’t fit this definition because, despite being a small and relatively simple outcome, it still breaks down into smaller actions. Furthermore, it isn’t entirely clear what all those actions will be from the outset.

It could go like this:

  1. Send email to Laura suggesting dinner
  2. Read email response with suggested dates
  3. Ask wife about availability
  4. Respond to Laura with preferences
  5. Read email response and confirm with wife
  6. Confirmation email to Laura
  7. Add to calendar
  8. Buy bottle of wine to take

On the other hand it could go like this:

  1. Send email to Laura suggesting dinner
  2. Call to follow up email after three days as no response
  3. Find out that Laura has had to go out of town on business
  4. Defer action until Laura comes back in two weeks

And there are, potentially, endless other ways that this could go. Even here, something that looks like an action is in fact a project with multiple steps and since one cannot do a project and can only do an action it’s unsurprising that so many lists that are, on first glance, full of actions, end up being hard to engage with.

Separating out the thinking and the doing is one of those Hard Not Complicated things that take discipline and time, not talent or brains. And when this is the case it seems that the only reliable path to success is through a period of immersion and multiple passes at the same question.

Hard Not Complicated things are problems that require a change takes place in you rather than a change taking place in the thing you’re trying to solve. You don’t so much solve a Hard Not Complicated problem – you adapt to it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s