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Ascete, Punk, Otaku – 3 approaches to a productivity system

22263932619_7942fbf934_bFrom card games to motor cars, the side effect of popularity is proliferation of choices, hacks or “homebrew” varieties. This works in business, in pedagogy, and in effective management. Today, I’m thinking about a popular productivity system – and through three personas, I will try to analyse different ways of applying that system in your life. Getting things done, as it turns out, may mean different things to different folks.

GTD, again (but not only that)

Yes, I know there are different productivity systems out there. And yes, I know David Allen wrote the books some time ago and we’ve moved on since then. But listen, this doesn’t have to be about GTD. (If you haven’t yet discovered GTD, head over to find more about it, and then carry on reading)
If you look carefully, you’ll see similar things happening wherever you go. Wherever there’s a catchphrase present – a particularly popular way of doing things – there will be folks reacting to it differently, and producing their own remixes. So whilst we’re working with GTD here, this point should be made: you can be an Ascete, a Punk or an Otaku about any way of learning, working, teaching, managing…
What would these three personas look like? What are their strong points, what are they missing out on?

Ascete: perfect, bare minimum

GTD has helped sell more office gear than any productivity system I know of. I saw scanners, folders, label makers – all advertised as helpful in achieving David-Allen-style perfection. The Ascete will have none of that. What’s more, in this connected age the Ascete will likely go against the grain – choosing instead to go offline and analog for the tools and systems they can completely trust.
The word “trust” is a key part of most systems. If you want to be organised, you need to trust you’re not forgetting something important. If you’re keen to learn something new, it’s important to trust that the people and resources you encounter serve that purpose. So for an Ascete, the trust they put in their tools means they need to be sure they won’t run out of batteries – or stop working then the wi-fi is down – or shut down once a company decides they won’t offer a service any more.
What would this look like? Well, recipes for Pen & Paper GTD abound, and they all try to achieve the same aim. Taking the system offline and making it portable means that you can trust the most basic tools to do their job. It also means you’re being less distracted as you organize your day. In the most extreme version, an A4 sheet of paper can even serve as your whole organiser. I tried this recently during a busy conference where wi-fi (predictably) flopped on the first morning – and it saved my day!
The shortcomings are connected with the Ascete’s tools of choice. Paper notebooks don’t come for free. They’re not easy to share with others. They must be present if you want to use them (try guessing how often I forgot mine…) – and finally, it may be hard for an Ascete to convince others to work the same way. Not that they’re likely to care!

Punk: freedom to hack, freedom to customize

This approach is somewhere between the absolute minimalism of an Ascete and the enthusiasm of Otaku adopters. Like others, it may seem superficial, but there is actually a great degree of praxis involved in anything a GTD Punk (or a learning Punk, a management Punk…) would do to achieve their aims.
The key word for this category seems to be free. This doesn’t have to mean that GTD Punks refuse to pay for their tools. But they will insist on being free to modify, share and / or research what they use. This idea is similar to those favoured by the Open Source / Free Software movement. For personal systems, this philosophy hasn’t yet developed in the same way; still, we can say it matters for most GTD Punks that the way they use their tools and systems is free, open and not tied to any closed / restrictive system. In practice, several Open Source GTD alternatives have appeared – although a Creative Commons – based productivity system could be even more effective here. I reviewed Zim Wiki in a previous post.
The emphasis on freedom means that Punks are willing to experiment, modify, cut or expand things until they fit them perfectly. Leo Babauta’s “Zen to Done” is a great example here. As for the disadvantages of such approach – the most obvious problem is the scarcity of really high-quality solutions. It’s great when Punks and hackers manage to deliver a fix that works for their small community – more often than not, though, they will fail to reach the widest audience with what they did (often also for legal reasons).

Otaku: all systems go, all the time

Seth Godin’s riff on Otaku applies to everything these days. If it exists, it has a fanbase. English language teaching methods have their Otaku. Positive Psychology has discussion clubs (and they’re fun). Productivity systems? You bet.
An Otaku is an uber-fan. Someone who will adopt often and early. Someone who is willing to invest time, money and effort to use or experience something they believe in. For GTD, this is good news – the biggest Otaku probably spend time with David Allen himself, or one of his coaches, learning the art of productivity first-hand. For the less afluent circles, there are some swanky options available, too. Facile Things impressed me recently: it integrates with Evernote and Google Calendar (finally!), works well with browsers and doesn’t clutter your environment needlessly.
The strong point for most Otaku is the cutting-edge: they have access to the latest, most polished thing. They are frequently the ones who test, develop, and influence the way their area of expertise is going. So the GTD Otaku will be the power users – those for whom productivity is not just an empty word.
The cost? Why, it’s literal. Being faithful to a system means you’re willing to pay. Sometimes this means budgeting more money – sometimes this can mean refusing to shift to another way of doing things. GTD folks are almost like a cult, sometimes: Friday is for reviewing, and that’s that!

You? Who else?

Do you see yourself in any of these categories? Would you be happy to apply them to anything else you do? Maybe there’s a category missing?
Let me know – I’m on LinkedIn and Twitter. Thanks for reading!
Photo Credit: kmwongdotcom via Compfight cc

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