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The Time Paradox – by Dean Acheson

We have contained in the processes of GTD the most basic essence of TIME. One could say there are three kinds of time – and you will recognize these: PAST time, PRESENT time and FUTURE time. And when we look at these three components square on, we get paradoxes. What do I mean? Well, let’s see if I can figure out where to begin. Logic doesn’t always follow along with the way things actually are, so I’ll try approaching this from a circuitous route and maybe we can sneak up on things before we realize what’s happening. Past time, in its raw form, appears to be an infinite; that is, no matter how far your imagination takes you into the past, there always seems to be something that existed earlier. (You might want to stop for a bit and think about that.) Future time, likewise, appears to be infinite. No matter how far you stretch your imagination into the future, it seems difficult to imagine an end point. It’s as though there will somehow be more of something later – somehow, somewhere, sometime. (You might want to stop for a bit and think about that one, also.) And, if you’ve stuck with me so far, and this way of looking at things sort of rings a bell, you will note that present time in actuality can seem like a micro slice – you no sooner perceive the now before it is already a split second later. (Be sure to get that one!) The paradox is that it’s this infinitesimal slice of “now” that is the ONLY time that we are ever in. So, with all that infinite past and all that infinite future, here we are – always actually existing in this tiny piece of continually changing, miniscule moment called “present”, and it is actually the ONLY moment. I mean, the past has already come and gone; the future hasn’t yet arrived; and the present is always with us. So the present is the tiny slice that always IS, and the infinite past and the infinite future are always NOT. Hmmm – seems like a paradox! The infinite continuousness of the infinitesimal now! So how does this relate to GTD? The underlying aspect of GTD that separates it from other systems is that it more or less ignores the concept of importance and addresses these three factors of time. Are some things more important than others? Of course. However, if one is to weigh actions according to importance, one has to evaluate lots of different realities and significances. Let’s slow way down and look at some of the factors that would be involved as criteria in selection of importance. 1. The Past: a. How long has the item been here? b. What other projects is the item connected with? c. What are those other projects connected with? d. How are those importances evaluated (i.e., evaluated regarding career? family? health? customer? boss? elementary survival?) e. What is the weight of this item compared to other items in the stack? (Many of which we have yet to take a look at…)

©2008 Dean Acheson Used by the David Allen Company with permission.

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Again. The Future: a. You simply trust yourself to decide.davidallengtd. and also the “complete”. Is this item even connected with a goal at all? d. how does this item relate to the others in terms of tomorrow’s importance? Well. Which goal area does this item support? b. Note the relevance to the three kinds of time – past. fall again into a time concept and have so many areas in which they are attempting to succeed. or “in process”. or 2. most people have been down so many roads. based on your own mental magical knowledge and your gut feel. every action item under the sun that belongs to that person is in one of three states: 1. is where the time is spent. and when an action has been declared to be complete. then you are in control.2. in reality. in charge of the “do”. For our online learning center. the action is complete. when you are in control of the whole action cycle. the action hasn’t been started. visit GTD Connect at gtdconnect. and the end or done or stop. It’s like we have to evaluate all the items against all of the criteria above in order to place our items in the correct order of importance. and of course we can’t really begin to do that until we look at all the items. along with so many other people they are attempting to impress or obey. Which goal area is more important? c. In truth. The time contained in “start” is instantaneous – it is that tiny slice of no time where one simply transitions from “not started” to “in process”. Perhaps you will find it interesting to note that there is even more to the time paradox. but that is grist for another ©2008 Dean Acheson Used by the David Allen Company with permission. In fact. and that is simply the cessation of “DO” when one declares the action complete. (And the action in “DO” is. you say. really. In this stack of stuff. Most fundamentals are. That concept has a significant element of truth in it. you are in control of time itself. “Is this item actionable?” You don’t sit and stew about whether it is actionable or not. However. www. By removing the significance of an item when processing it. The middle part. the action has been started and is in process. and simply asking the question. The mind. as well as all the future contemplations one could come up with to make one’s self feel This is not a “BHEC” (“Big Hairy Esoteric Concept”)! Pretty simple. this declaration is another tiny slice of no time between when something is still in process. would at times love to do the mental gymnastics of opening up the plethora of past experiences relating to an item. you are bypassing the questions having to do with relative importance. The declaration of “stop” happens in an infinitesimal slice of time. check out our GTD Products section at davidco. if you follow the concepts here. An action is either done or in process or not started. for each person. For more David Allen Company tools and educational content. that’s the genius of the human mind – it can do instant evaluations with all this complexity. simply the changing of the state or location of something.) Then there is the “end” or “stop” or “finish” or “completion”. Notice that there is no significance here. The starting and the doing (in process). so we can perform the comparative evaluation. or the “doing” stage. if given the chance. that each item can contain the potential of precipitating a mental avalanche. or 3. Seems like a rather impressive Catch-22. page 2 . Well. If you are in charge of the “start”. you get the idea. present and future.