Mind Like Water


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs I continue my journey through my own GTD implementation, I have started seeing the benefits more often.  I love GTD for the concepts and tools laid out on organization and complete capture of everything in one’s life. I have achieved a clean desk and email inbox from this system, and now so do some of my friends and colleagues.

What I love most about GTD is David Allen’s reference to a “Mind Like Water”. I have a long way to go toward achieving this state for extended periods of time, but GTD has brought me closer than anything else ever has.

From David Allen’s Getting Things Done:

In karate there is an image that’s used to define… “mind like water.” Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact…

The power in a karate punch comes from speed, not muscle… So the high levels of training in the martial arts teach and demand balance and relaxation as much as anything else. Clearing the mind and being flexible is key.

Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does. Responding inappropriately to your e-mail, your staff, your projects, your unread magazines… will lead to less effective results than you’d like.

These martial arts metaphors help convey the idea of a mind that is highly focused in the here and now, yet flexible enough to deal with the bigger picture, reflect on the bigger issues that we consider truly meaningful, and therefore keep our actions consistent with core values and crucial goals.

The best tool I have used to achieve this state is a simple notebook and pencil.  This crucial “capture tool” for all my thoughts has allowed everything to be in its place, and helped me empty my mind of busy work and junk. When “dump our brain” on paper, we leave ourselves ready and open for anything that comes our way.  I would argue that this process actually allows new thoughts and things to enter our brains as well.

What if everyone in our immediate life maintained a “mind like water”?


  1. I have a mind like mud most days, but I agree it helps to get everything out and on paper or on Google Drive or whatever medium you use. I’ve been stressing about getting our rental property renovation expenses all organized. They’ve been in a big folder of receipts for a few months. I finally did it this weekend and now have nice spreadsheets. I feel so much more calm and I’m not sure why I waited so long.

    • “Mind Like Mud”…I’ll have to post on that next! HA. Isn’t it incredible when you get something “off your mind”?

  2. Time to re-read GTD. I did so 5 years ago or so…as always you inspire me, cuz. New car – check. Cash system – wonky, but check. Bundled Internet phone and cable – check. Monthly expenditures down by at least 15% overall (must rework the spreadsheet). Next up: eBay. Gulp.

  3. I would recommend checking out http://www.Gtdagenda.com for an online GTD manager.

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote, and also comes with mobile-web version, and Android and iPhone apps.

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