Ditching Dry January & How it Relates to GTD
Ditching Dry January & How it Relates to GTD

Ditching Dry January & How it Relates to GTD

01/26/2024 by Andrew Fretwell
What does Dry January have to do with GTD? Find out with two experts.

As we conclude the first month of the new year, many people are eagerly waiting to turn the calendar to February and the successful conclusion of Dry January, a trendy month-long pledge to abstain from alcohol as part of a post-holiday detoxing, and along with it a well-earned, long-sought first glass of wine in 2024.

The two of us will not.

Let me pause to introduce my co-author: esteemed GTD® expert and Arkus Delivery Team Manager, Amanda Blue. As frequent “Dry January,” adherents, Amanda and I each decided to ditch it, and so did many other Americans. While well-intentioned, the concept of Dry January has come under criticism for advancing a common thought distortion: all-or-nothing thinking.

One month without alcohol consumption is good for your body, but not if it means that it justifies over-drinking the other 11 months of the year. While many are best served by totally avoiding alcohol, the key for many others is not abstinence, but moderation. If having no drinks today means I permit myself to have too many tomorrow, my system is not working. That is why many people, ourselves included, are opting instead for “Damp January.”

Cool, but what does this have to do with GTD? An important piece of breaking with all-or-nothing thinking is embracing the fluctuations of your adherence to your dedicated practices. We are not robots. Expecting total consistency sets us up to fail. Forgiving yourself, and planning for what to do when you’ve been less than totally faithful, ensures that a bump in the road doesn’t jostle the wheels off your car!

This applies to all areas of wellness and life — nutrition, exercise, sleep, relationships, financial management, and also applies to your GTD practices. If we set out to reserve two hours a week for a weekly review, carry an iPad everywhere for constant capture, and commit to the daily ten-minute free-form takeaway-capturing practice known as a brain dump, we must have a plan for when we fall short. Here are some components we recommend for that plan:

Start with an “Oh well,” statement

First, remind yourself it’s ok that you’ve fallen behind; don’t curse yourself into a shame spiral. Simply, say “Oh well, I’ve fallen behind,” or “Oh well, this was a tougher-than-usual week”. Another great one is “Oh well, I’ve got a little more work to do to catch up.” However you finish the sentence, starting with “Oh well…” sets the magnitude of your problem in perspective and keeps you from veering into a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

Turn “I’ve failed” into “I’ve learned”

Missteps are only failures when we don’t learn from them. If you can use them to learn about yourself, you leverage a blip and make it a growth opportunity. Change “I failed because I had so many back-to-back meetings,” into “I learned that when I schedule too many back-to-back meetings, I tend to fall behind.” How much more useful is that reflection!?!

Start Back Small

A mind sweep is a powerful practice to catch all the things that are slipping through the cracks. But it can also be an intimidating and exhausting practice — enough so to push someone to avoid it altogether. So again, let us break away from all-or-nothing thinking. A 10-minute mind sweep will go a long way, even if it doesn’t accomplish as much as a 2-hour mind sweep. Likewise, a full weekly review might feel like a lot. So instead of planning to do a full one, start one and cap the time at 25 minutes and see where that gets you. Right now you want progress, not perfection.

Adapt Your System or Build in a Reward

Maybe, when considering why you fell off your dedicated practices, you will realize that you don’t enjoy the practice itself. If that is the case, that is an important lesson and requires action to address it. There are a few ways you can reinfuse something enjoyable or satisfying into your GTD practices — get a labeler or a new pen. You can always purchase a beautiful new notebook that you enjoy looking at and flipping through. Or you can always play around with OmniFocus, or whatever software you use for task and project management.

If you cannot figure out how to build some joy into the practice or tools themselves, build a reward that is linked to your practices. Maybe you only allow yourself that second cup of coffee after a morning review. Perhaps your weekly sushi dinner is contingent on finishing your weekly review. Bundling a reward with a practice provides that little boost to keep on track.

Seek Accountability

Ever heard of the “Hawthorne Effect? It is a psychological fact that people act differently when they know they are being observed. It’s like the Uncertainty Principle of quantum physics — it is true for physical objects and true for our minds too: you cannot observe something without also inherently changing the thing you are observing.

This is why accountability is such an important driving force in shaping our behavior. If we make a secret commitment to ourselves to do something we will act differently than if we make that commitment public.

So if you want to improve your chance of enacting your plan, don’t just commit to yourself — tell someone. And when you tell that person, ask them to follow up with you in a week and ask if you’ve done it. That by itself will motivate you to follow through. And if you want to really turn the dial up, choose a person who might ask you a few follow-up questions if you don’t fulfill the commitment.

Celebrate Your Progress

For every step of your plan to get back on track, put a little celebration into it. That can be as little as texting a friend to say you’re proud of yourself for deferring a couple of projects that you don’t need to work on right now, or as big as treating yourself to a nice dinner when you’ve completed all the steps in your plan. And if it’s your thing — maybe even kick back and enjoy a nice glass of Bordeaux, even if the calendar says it’s still January!

Do you have any advice you would like to share about how to get back on track when you’re falling behind? We’d love to hear from you. Find Andrew or Amanda on LinkedIn or reach out to Arkus!