Why GTD is so important to successful Work-Life integration

134086167In today’s world “Work-Life Balance” is an impossible fairy tale. If we are honest with ourselves, all we can strive for is successful “Work-Life Integration.” I say this because work-life balance implies that what you do professionally and what you do personally are somehow at odds – a zero-sum game that requires us to strike a 50-50 balance.

Work-life integration, by contrast, suggests that at the very best, what you do at work and what you do outside of it with family, friends, and community are driven by the same fundamental values and priorities. Ideally, you can bring your talents, strengths and personality to both arenas, making one’s work life and home life parts of a seamless whole. Then you find ways to fulfill and enjoy both your work and life demands at the same time.

The Harvard Business Review has a great article on the subject called “Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life” that states, “Work/life balance is at best an elusive ideal and at worst a complete myth, today’s senior executives will tell you. But by making deliberate choices about which opportunities they’ll pursue and which they’ll decline, rather than simply reacting to emergencies, leaders can and do engage meaningfully with work, family, and community.” 

Forbes Insights has a detailed research called “The @Work State of Mind Project” where they state “The barriers between personal and work time have crumbled. Executives have to be prepared to make decisions anywhere and at any time. Just 3% of the survey respondents said that they didn’t send or receive emails while on vacation. Only 2% said that they never worked weekends or nights. More than half the respondents (52%) said they receive information related to business decisions round-the-clock, including weekends.”

Work-life integration isn’t just about finding time at home to do work tasks and handling home tasks at work, even though that’s a popular perception. Instead of thinking “what work can I easily integrate into my home life”, focus on how you can integrate all areas of your life the best way you can. The ultimate goal is to optimize how you use your time so you can fulfill all of your daily needs, both in your work and in your personal life.

This is where GTD is so critical and I see many people make the mistake of setting up separate systems. Don’t attempt to separate your trusted systems into work and personal systems. You just have your life and all the associated commitments and stuff in your life, so you need a single trusted system. However, you should separate your contexts – what you can only do at the office and what you can only do at home when defining your next actions. That way, you only scan your next actions that are appropriate to the context of where you physical are at any given time.

If your trusted system up to date it is easy to leave work every day and feel like you accomplished exactly what you needed to do for that day. This allows you to drive home and decompress by tuning out and watching TV, reading a book, or whatever activity you like to do to relax and refresh. The ability to forget all the things you didn’t do that are still on your plate is essential to relieving stress and feeling like you are doing the appropriate things given your available time and context.

I recommend you do a “Daily Review” at the beginning of each day at the office. First, look at your calendar to see what hard commitments you have and how much discretionary time you have. Then, look at your Office Next Action list and decide what you realistically want to accomplish before you go home.

I stress the realistic part of this. Assign a “Today” tag to the next actions you want to accomplish today. Then filter your next actions on TODAY so you only see those items you decided you want to accomplish today. Once you can check off or delete all those things that you set out to accomplish in the morning at the office, go home. That way, you can feel good about accomplishing what you set out to accomplish at work and go home to be with your loved ones and focus on the priorities in your non-work life.


About Michael Keithley

11 Responses to Why GTD is so important to successful Work-Life integration

  1. Hi again Michael,

    I’ve been working to execute the “everything in one place” strategy, and I’ve discovered an obstacle: privacy.

    Let’s say I use software to manage both my work and personal life. For example, I’ve been exploring Evernote. This means the Evernote account will have notes about personal projects, medical information, family members, etc.. It’ll also have work projects, client information, and corporate intellectual property as well.

    When I access Evernote from both work and home, the account will synchronize my work and personal computers. This is the “one place” system’s point, right? It lets me do work from home and handle personal necessities at work. However, this scenario also means my office machine carries some personal information, and my personal machine stores some professional information.

    Hence my concern. If my employer’s IT department can access my private info, they may copy and use it as they see fit. For example, should my employer undergo a legal audit, my personal information could be seized. Similarly, valuable company info may escape the corporate environment. For example, should I travel with my personal computer, company info could be stolen via unsecured network or personal laptop loss. Both scenarios expose me to liability.

    So how do we achieve the “everything in one place” without compromising our personal privacy and professional confidentiality? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this puzzler. It seems Evernote is the wrong solution, as they don’t allow selective notebook syncing or offer nuanced security settings.

    I’m interested to find out what strategies or tools you’ve found that pass the privacy test!

    • Quick PS: Just had a moment when I looked at your previous post, “Why I use Evernote for my Trusted System.” Clearly you’ve found a way to make it work! Now I’m even more eager to hear how you manage to protect your personal and corporate information in Evernote.

    • Melissa – you bring up some good points and I’ll try to address them as best as I can. On mobile devices, you have the ability to decide which Notebooks are synced and which are not if you have the Premium edition. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be the ability to do this for the Mac and PC clients. Seems like a good feature they should add…

      They do offer a Business edition which allows for the separation of personal notes and business notes so when you leave the company you no longer have access to the business notes and you keep your personal notes.

      They also offer “two-factor authentication” which requires an additional code sent to your phone to log in from new devices.

      Assuming you keep your machine protected with a password, I don’t see how IT would be able to access your data.

      Like you, I keep personal private information in Evernote so this is a issue for me. I weigh the value of a single system that is friction-free for putting info in and getting it out across all of my devices vs. the privacy and security concerns and conclude it is worth the risks.

      Hope this helps!

      • Thanks for this thorough explanation, Michael!

        I agree it would be wonderful if Evernote supported selective synchronization in its desktop client. Folks have been asking for it for years.

        Regarding the EN Business edition, is this a product you’ve seen individuals buy for personal use? Is that what you’ve done for yourself?

        As far as IT access goes, I assume my employer’s IT department backs up data on any corporate machine. I’m not so concerned about someone physically logging into the computer. I am concerned that whatever the Evernote client downloads, my employer will back up to their network. And that will include my private info.

        I appreciate your honest assessment! This is a risk-versus-reward situation, and we each need to make our own call.

  2. I love your “integration” vs. “balance” philosophy, Michael! You’re right, “balance” does suggest work and life are at odds. This post has changed my mind about work vs. personal GTD systems.

    I have always maintained separate systems for these two life aspects. Your statement, “You just have your life,” hit home for me. You’re right. It’s all one, it’s all my life, and perhaps it all should be managed together.

    I was pleased to see you do the “today” tag thing. I do it as a star on to-do-today items. I find it helps prevent long-list overwhelm. In that vein, I’d love to hear more about how you define what’s “realistic” to achieve daily.

    I tend to set aggressive goals for my to-do-today list. If I’m “realistic” in the morning but super-productive throughout the day, I suffer the temptation to go home early. However, with my aggressive goals I find I don’t finish my to-do-today list at all. You said “Once you can check off or delete all those things that you set out to accomplish in the morning at the office, go home.” Does that mean I err by over-committing myself, or by not staying late enough at work?

    Thanks for this post!


    • Melissa – Thank you for the comments. It is feedback like this that make it all worth it for me.

      My approach to being realistic is to look at your calendar to see how much discretionary time you have to get stuff done and then with that in mind, I scan my next actions lists to see what is either a priority or has some kind of hard date for completion associated with it. I tend to try to set realistic goals for the stuff I’m going to accomplish and then add one more item to make it a bit of a stretch goal to get it all done.

      That way, once I complete everything I set out to do in the day, I feel great. I give myself permission to go home and do not try to stay longer to do more stuff. This is one of the most powerful side effects of GTD and a Daily Review to decide what you want to accomplish that day. The feeling that you accomplished everything you set out to do is a rush and it also allows you to feel good about the stuff you didn’t do.

      Do not over-commit yourself on a regular basis. If you do you will be robbing yourself of that positive hit of dopamine you get when your done for the day.

      I’d love any ideas you have for future posts.

      • I’m so glad you appreciated my feedback. It makes me happy when experts are willing to engage.

        I like your approach to setting realistic goals for the day. Of course the calendar’s “hard landscape” should come first, and then priorities and firm date commitments follow. I love your strategy of building a realistic list and then adding one special “stretch” item. This is a much more intentional way to set ambitious daily goals than how I’ve done it. I’m going to try your suggestion out!

        I’ll be happy to reach out with more GTD questions in the future!

  3. Uthman says:

    Reblogged this on Uthmanx.

  4. Uthman says:

    Reblogged this on Uthmanx.

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