Books On the Go

I have two books on the go right now, both very much books for go-getters. The first, as I mentioned earlier, is “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. All this week I’ve been busily revamping my filing system and setting up the GTD “workflow” (with much help from Staples). The GTD system is actually quite simple and straightforward, which is probably why it works. Nothing more than file folders, paper, and in/out trays are required, though it can certainly be adapted electronically for those who must take their office with them. Allen also strongly recommends getting an electronic labeller and I have to agree with him. My new toy makes creating files a breeze and looking things up quick and easy.

The GTD idea is basically to get all your mental “to do” lists out of your head and onto paper that is filed in a system that will remind you of the right things at the right time. Having one simple “airtight” system lets you “forget” the five million things you need to do in the forseeable future and lets you focus on what you are doing right this moment. As a result, your performance and productivity improves and your stress level drops, plus you become one of those sick people with an empty inbox, a clean desk, and lean, organized files.

Why am I doing this? The answer relates to the second book I’m reading. You see I have M.E. (aka chronic fatigue syndrome) which, among other unpleasantnesses, causes me to have the memory retention of a nematode. I really needed some way to remember and prioritize all the things I have to do to keep my life (such as it is) going. If I don’t write it down I will forget, guaranteed, and ad hoc lists in calendars or on post-its just wasn’t cutting it. I was forgetting to write, and forgetting to look. This system makes it easy and, dare I say, fun to look and see what’s on the agenda for the day/week/month/etc., as well as dealing with what comes in in an efficient manner. When you have M.E. you have to get efficient so you have energy left over for the fun stuff, and that is what “Getting Things Done” is all about.

While I’m crashed out from all the filing (yes, filing can be exhausting) I’m reading is “Standing Fast: Battles of a Champion” about Michelle Akers’ struggle to play world-class soccer with chronic fatigue syndrome. I watched her play in the ’99 World Cup and had no idea of what she was going through. IV drips at half time and after games, her teammates carrying her luggage through airports, the special food she had to take with her everywhere, and playing on autopilot because she didn’t have the energy to think.

Even though she is an elite athlete, her experience is basically the same as every M.E. sufferer. She does have the one advantage in that she was always such a fierce competitor and workaholic that no one ever questioned her illness. Actually for a long time few people knew she was ill because she kept her commitments and then “went home and died.” It’s agonizing to read how much she suffered for the game she loves, but really her story is typical of M.E. people, and many others with disabilities and debilitating illnesses. We refuse to give up our dreams entirely and will push and sacrifice and suffer to achieve whatever is humanly possible, and perhaps more. Akers attributes much of her success to her faith in God.

“Mac [Shannon MacMillan] scored the goal, and all I could think was, we did it—I did it!” Michelle says. “I had lasted. I believe it was a miracle. It was God’s strength that carried me through that match. Doc Adams told me he didn’t know how I did it. He said it had to be a miracle. There was no other explanation.”

I must say that whenever I watch David Beckham take a free kick I know there is a God, and so I don’t doubt that there was divine intervention on Michelle Akers’ behalf too. Indeed there have been times when my prayers are the only thing that got me through a situation; as Akers said, there was no other explanation.

This is not just a book for fellow M.E. sufferers, though. It’s a nicely crafted biography, with drama and humour, multiple viewpoints, and victory as well as agony. And it is inspiring, as it was meant to be. Now, I’m not about to hit the soccer pitch (although I’m dying to!), but it does motivate me to at least think about sacrificing my (relative) comfort for something greater than survival. With both of these books backing me up I just might be able to do more than I thought I could.

And thanks, Michelle.

Michelle Akers