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K. Brian Kelley - Databases, Infrastructure, and Security

IT Security, MySQL, Perl, SQL Server, and Windows technologies.

The Danger of Agreements

I'm speaking in context of Getting Things Done, not a legal or contractual agreement.  What brought this up is me finishing the book up (I'm almost there) and thinking about the library book list I started to track how well I'm doing. I have a bad habit of checking out library books and not reading them. Obviously, this is counter productive. And that's where GTD comes in. GTD points out there are three things you can do with an agreement:

  • Don't make the agreement in the first place.
  • Complete the agreement.
  • Renegotiate the agreement.

So what's an agreement? It's anything you've committed to, whether to another person or to yourself. For instance, every time I check out one of those library books, I'm effectively making an agreement. I'm saying I'm going to read said book before it's due back (which is 3 weeks, with 2 renewals of 3 weeks if no one requests the book while I have it out). In many cases I have failed to complete the agreement. Why? Because I never accurately took stock of what I could actually deliver on. That's shows I have a problem. How do I fix this problem? I need to assess if I have the resources to finish the book as well as the desire to finish the book. If I don't to either question, I don't make the agreement: I don't check out the book in the first place.

In reality, every time I renew a book, I'm actually renegotiating the agreement. The initial agreement is for 3 weeks. I'm not guaranteed a renewal. The library has a policy that if you haven't renewed twice already and if no one has requested the book, you can renew. But someone can always request the book. If that's the case, then you have to turn it back in. You're not allowed to renew. So in reality, my actual agreement is with the initial due date. Every renewal after that is simply a renegotiation.

We do this in life with respect to just about everything. Sometimes the agreement is with ourselves (I'm going to exercise 4 times this week). Sometimes it is with others (I will put the Christmas decorations in the attic so my wife doesn't have to look at them). Part of developing trust with ourselves and building trust with others is to complete our agreements. And so that means we need to carefully think about the potential agreements we might take on. If it turns out we can't meet a particular agreement, it's important that we renegotiate it, if possible. Some you can't. For instance, if you promise your son you'll be at his quarterfinal baseball game and you aren't, there's no renegotiating. You've missed it. Even if we can renegotiate, we should limit that as much as possible. Otherwise, folks will still have trust issues with us.That's the danger of agreements, even if we have the best of intentions. Breaking an agreement breaks trust, whether it is with ourselves or with others. We need to try and only make agreements on things we believe we can deliver on. Then we've got to go out and actually deliver.

This is something I'm taking a very close look at this year. I've already made some professional decisions where I chose not to enter into an agreement because I simply don't have time right now. For instance, I need to work on the MCITP certifications. So I'm focusing on them and not worrying about the MCM videos for SQL Server. Later in the year, once I've achieved my MCITP certification goals (which are agreements), I can look at making an agreement to view the videos. But doing so now would be pre-mature. So I'll chose to make the agreements in the things I can complete, so that I can continue to build trust in myself and with others, and wait on the things I don't believe I can deliver on quite yet.  

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