Last Updated Aug 17, 2010 3:50 PM EDT
If as a rule you operate with a high control factor but lack
you will likely place an inordinate emphasis on structure, process, and
system — the characteristic traits of a Micromanager. You will have a
tendency to overorganize, trying to maintain more control than is really
necessary to get where you’re going. Form, in other words, will
overtake function. This is the natural domain of the proverbial bean-counter,
the financial guy who, if he wields too much power, strangles a company by cutting off investment in innovation, design, and research.
At some point there will be no more beans to count. Publicly traded
companies always risk long-term growth and survival when they are too
focused on controlling their stock price by managing only toward the
next quarterly earnings report. Another typical example of this
sort of thinking is the person who spends a
large portion of his day building systems for replenishing paper clips at the
expense of the bigger game he should be playing.
This perspective creates an ironic situation: Being
too controlled actually means being out of control. If your grip
is too tight on a golf club, you will lose control of your swing. If your
rules are too strict for your kids, they will rebel. A boxer or karate
master will attempt to coax his opponent to fear losing control, which
causes the opponent to tense up and overreact. (The tactic is called a “fake.”)
If your policies and procedures are draconian, you will wind up
only stifling creativity, flexibility, and momentum in your
Though there are many people who are chronically
overstructured, we all slip into this arena regularly. How often have you
avoided some particularly distasteful task at your desk by “getting
more prepared,” that is, rearranging your notes, changing your font style,
filling your printer with paper, and then playing a quick game (or two)
of solitaire as a break from your intense preparations?
How much structure is “enough”? Most of the time-management formats that have been designed and promoted
in the last half century simply overdid a good thing. The
original Day-Timer featured dated pages with fifteen-minute increments because
it was designed by an attorney who needed a good way to track
fifteen-minute chunks of billable time. The “ABC”
priority-coding system became popular as a way to train a workforce that was being
introduced to discretionary time. Daily to-do lists made sense when the world moved slowly enough to ensure that they could remain
valid all day, and your environment was quiet enough for people to be
able to pay attention to them.
Even the raft of sophisticated software designers who have
attempted to create the “latest and greatest” GTD
implementation applications have overshot the bounds of real-life functionality. Most of them missed the mark by requiring too much mental
effort to make life fit into their supplied forms.
On the Positive Side
We do have to have some degree of structure, and we must
constantly be able to “fill in the blanks,” that
is, execute. And in fact, to get anything done, we must ultimately “complete the form”
by arranging physical assets as needed. The very process of taking
action requires some predetermination and design. We organize ourselves to
fulfill our directives, whether that’s simply talking or
creating a whole corporation.
Realistically, a majority of our days are actually spent
doing things that either we or someone else has laid out for us to
accomplish. There are also times when our energies should primarily be
focused on processes and systems — on upgrading structures
to handle what we have put in motion.
When you’re in the structure and fulfillment mode,
you can’t also be in the visioning and outcome-thinking frame of mind. It
is impossible to focus consciously on your life purpose and thread a
needle at the same time. If you really operate professionally at the
most sophisticated level, you may be able to quickly refer to your company’s
values in your mind while you’re chatting with a problem
employee. And if you’re really tuned in and lined up with
your life, you may manage to keep your long-term vision for a retirement
lifestyle in mind while you’re fixing the coffee grinder. But
in both of those circumstances it would be almost impossible to also be
thinking about all sixty-five of your other projects, along with your
You can switch between any of these horizons rapidly, but
they can’t occupy the same space simultaneously in the psyche. So in
reality we all lose some degree of perspective every time we act or
engage ourselves in anything, at any level. When you focus in, you filter
out: that is the very nature of our consciousness.
The key here is maintaining the capability to unhook from
and/or change the form or structure that’s guiding you,
as soon as it has served its purpose. Knowing when to refocus from another
viewpoint, and when to sacrifice a system that has begun to constrain
expansion and expression, is a sign of mastership.
Adapted from "Making It All Work" by David Allen, by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.