OGTD, Original Gangsta

GTD is the new TCB.

As you might have guessed from the subtitle of this weblog, I am amused by declarations of the form “X is the new Y.” I have lately been informed, for example, that organic is the new kosher, Google is the new Netscape, quiet is the new loud, Clarendon font is the new Helvetica, chili fries are the new onion rings (Lisa rendered this verdict, but neglected to provide a link), Thursday is the new Friday, but Friday, once the new Saturday, is now the new Tuesday, and everything you can possibly think of, from anal sex to zombies, is the new black.

I was less amused to learn that, according to the Boston Globe, “getting organized is the new dieting.” I am pretty much immune to the siren song of dieting fads and gurus. But I cannot say the same thing about my resistance to the peddlers of organizational devices and schemes.

I write To Do list upon To Do list, with sublists nested within master lists detailing all the To Do lists I have yet to write. I watch “Clean Sweep” on TLC when L is out of town. I drool over the “Hold Everything” catalog, pure tidiness porn with its gleaming magazine butlers and Swedish media storage units and stackable Hapao baskets—all unspeakably beautiful because, in the catalog, they contain no unsightly magazines or Swedish media. I dream that there exists some secret wisdom of tickler folders and contextual To Do lists that will transform me from a flailing Pig-Pen of Post-It notes into a prolific academic superstar. In other words: I’m an easy mark.

The big name in organization porn today is David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Getting Things Done is a system of time-saving and time-organizing tips known to its many devotees as “GTD.” (See how they save time by saying that?)

The best introduction I’ve seen to GTD is at a weblog called 43 Folders. 43 Folders is a great resource for all manner of life hacks and time-saving tips in general, GTD-flavored and otherwise. (Though you’d think the very first time management tip any sane person might offer would be, “Don’t keep a weblog.”)

GTD obviously has a lot of appeal for people who like systems, for people who like thinking about how they think, and for people who want to preserve those non-renewable, zero-sum resources: their attention and their time. (Again, “Don’t go starting a weblog” comes to mind.) GTD has, not surprisingly, taken the geek world by storm. And I know I’m on the verge of drinking the Kool-Aid myself too. But I have so far resisted buying David Allen’s GTD. I’m reluctant to buy a glossy corporate-style self-help book with a picture of the author on the cover—there’s a very real danger such books will choke all other forms of literature out of the bookstore ecosystem entirely. So I did what I always do in these situations: I went to the library.

(That reminds me: 43 Folders also turned me on to a nifty-looking bookmarklet that lets you jump with one click from any book page on Amazon to the listing for it, if it exists, at your local library. This would be huge for me, if I could only get it to work for Hollis.)

What I found at the library was not David Allen’s GTD, but another book on exactly the same subject, with exactly the same title, published in 1938: Getting Things Done, or G.T.D., by Captain P.R. Creed. Rock! Now I can get organized and read a musty old library book—two of my favorite activities—at the same time. How’s that for GTD?

The Golden Age GTD was written (and autographed) by, as I say, a Briton named P.R. Creed. He won me over with his author bio on page one, which begins with this crucial information: “Educated at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Cambridge, England. Made 211 runs at Cricket at Lord’s Ground in London. This score holds the schoolboy record.” Can David Allen say that? From there on in, Creed sounds a little like a character in somebody’s Edwardian-era role-playing game. He joined the Rifle Brigade and won a place in the Regimental Polo Team, leading his squad to the all Army championship in India. (War is hell.) He then organized the Ministry of Munitions for Lords Kitchener and Asquith, but also found time to be the Polo Correspondent for the Times of London from 1909 to 1921. (See above, re: war, hell.)

I don’t know if this version of GTD is going to change my life, but I have enjoyed reading it. A lot of it is basic midcentury self-improvement advice: keep a healthy diet, “early to bed, early to rise,” avoid gypsies and the Irish… But Creed does have a number of eccentricities that keep things lively. First, his tendency to Capitalize important Nouns (generally a good sign that you are approaching Crankville):

In my view Capital Letters were made for the Author and not the Author for Capital Letters. So I use them at my own discretion … in order to catch the Eye of the Reader’s Mind, and in the hope that the word dressed in Capital Letters … may make a dent in the Mind which will stay put.

Then, there’s his cheerful dismissal of democracy as “bunk”—the world, Creed says, is run by hidden “Wire-pullers”:

The world is run by the Wire-pullers. When Mr. Henry Ford said that “history is bunk”—he probably had drawn the same conclusion … As regards the inner workings of how and why things are made to happen the Historians are in the dark. The Wire-pullers do not keep diaries in which they exhibit their art to the public gaze. … It is nonsense to babble about “Democracy” and to tell the people that they govern themselves because they have votes.

Finally, there’s his judgment that the ultimate key to getting things done lies in tensing your abdominal muscles.

STAND AND SIT TALL is an excellent Slogan. You will accomplish this by the simple procedure of the firm drawing up of the Abdominal Muscles, in other words a firm and constant Belly Up.

Belly Up! Join the B.U. Brigade, an honorable but anonymous circle of Kindred Spirits who are out for G.T.D. and Victory. No Committees, No Program, No Red Tape, No Yardsticks, No Gadgets—not even a button by which you might know the Elect! Here is one pie into which poor old Stereotype cannot stick his destroying finger. The Game is between YOU and your Abdominal Muscles and no man can see what you are doing to each other. … Atta Boy!—or Girl! GO TO IT! The Winged Victory beckons and where she leads nothing can turn you back.