Mastery vs. GTD | Targetprocess - Visual management software

Brief summary of this article:

Mastery by George Leonard is one of my most-cherished-books-of-all-times. I've seen this book mentioned on a tennis web-site, and not even once, as I've been digging the web for some nuggets of information on what in the world do people do to make their game perfect and enjoy it. Ironically, now I can see that these 2 searches are absolutely irrelevant.

I wouldn't say that this book has unveiled some unknown truths. It gently reminds of the basics for any learning making readers aware that the mass culture quest for scoring, quick wins and quick fixes at any rate proves wrong in the long run and brings along the consequences more grave than one can imagine.

aikido dojo
Calm face and full concentration. Check large size

There're some important conclusions I have made for myself out of this book, to name a few:

Mastery is Enjoying

The first and most prerequisite for practicing any art or hobby or job is that you got to enjoy it. Love doing it. Not reading about it, not writing about, not showing off before others, not thinking about the competition. George Leonard cites various examples of this sustained desire to just enjoy it, for example: Aikido black belts are never bored to practice simple moves finding newer and newer shades in what they do, going into focused trance, whereas boredom and hasty search for more tips and tricks are characteristic of shallow students looking to feed their vanity on the rich texture of any given sport or art.

Craftsmanship movement in software development tries to apply similar practices via coding dojo and katas. It is not clear whether this direct transition is good enough, but it definitely looks interesting.

Mastery is Unrewarding

Mastery is an unrewarding process. It's not about getting 100% results.  It's about following this path. Master is the one who deliberately takes on the fool's mask, like court jesters. The point is that if you think of yourself as an expert in any given field — you're full. There's no more room for novelty. So, you've got to pour out of this glass of attained expertise to keep fit as an agile apprentice. The luggage of expertise steals the ability to enjoy your path of mastery.

Have you met agile experts that know everything and have confident answer to every question? Have you met agile experts that deny new things and believe in a defined set of principles? Beginner's Mind is a great way to keep learning.

I've mused quite a lot on the Mastery book. I do have several hobbies -arts or sports- that I feel like I should practice, because I got talent for them — and I've actually practiced them for quite a long time — and I should definitely keep up with them. At some point I just got stuck. I couldn't figure for myself how one can fit several hobbies and sports, and their diligent practice to a busy schedule — after all, there's a job that I also love doing! How do I fit all these loves into a limited time?

I also noticed that in the process of getting stuck with this dilemma I seemed to stop actually enjoying those masteries. I would spend countless hours on the web, reading everything I could find on getting things done, finding focus, feeling superior to bloggers describing things that I know very well how to do.


The problem of choice has been chasing me all the time. Finally, it all came out simple. I also noticed that even if you read countless how-to's, countless blogs, no matter of how many of those how-to's you read, and how well laid out they are — it inevitably takes time for things to go home. Reading about something and understanding something from within are two different things. That's why all the "getting things done" blogs and books are nothing more than someone else's experience reports. Reading someone's blogs will not solve your problems of gaining focus and concentration. It's a substitute for what it's all about — for practicing. I've seen people making a big deal out of GTD. All these GTD software, gadgets, hacks to block interruptions, you name it. Making a religion of GTD gives no more time to practice your mastery, that's the point.

You've got to sit down and decide for yourself: what is it that you actually love doing? Once you listen to your inner voice — it all gets in place, like in a puzzle. There's no need to think any more. If you really enjoy what you do, setting priorities is absolutely irrelevant, because what you enjoy doing now is the best thing you could do right here, right now.

If you still find yourself digging in how to's and blogs, there's nothing wrong about it. Probably your research reflex isn't yet saturated, and you feel more at ease in a research, in a familiar comfort zone of consuming information on a soft couch.

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