Social capital, karma and getting things done

I’ve never been a big fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done® method – all that sorting and categorising of endless lists bores me. But I am a huge fan of getting stuff done. Many years ago after yet another time management course at work I realised that what helped me to get things done was to have a very short list of to-dos everyday.

MerrillCoveyMatrixIn a later course I realised it was an unconscious use of Steven Covey’s notion of assessing tasks in terms urgent/important.

It was then I realised that what I valued was getting stuff done. Not sitting down making lists and categorising. But rather clearly identifying actions that would lead towards achievement of my goals and objectives. Identifying the top three or four things I could do everyday to help to make those things happen.

But many of my goals, both business and personal, needed the assistance and cooperation of other people, and it became clear that social capital was an important consideration.

The bigger the goals the more likely it is that social capital will play a significant part in the process. The big question for getting stuff done is how to marshal sufficient resources (money, people, effort, time). But the next most important thing is how to turn ideas from just my ideas into our ideas. That is, ideas into which a group of people are willing to invest their resources.

This remains true for any group activity. It means that we get things done in a social economy and that we are constantly trading in social capital.

For most activities goodwill and intrinsic motivation are the things that get people involved. Even for projects where there is strong extrinsic reward it is my experience that those rewards do not motivate people in sustainable ways. This is borne out by research by Dan Pink.

We need to build good relationships and share social capital in order to be able to find and maintain collaborators.

Thus lists are only as good as the social capital that can be harnessed to get things done. It means that we need to be storing up goodwill, good karma, for when we need it.

Psychologists talk about the importance of reciprocity . It is interesting to consider how ideas like social capital and reciprocity are important for getting things done.

Author: Kate Carruthers

Kate Carruthers is Chief Data & Insights Officer for UNSW Sydney, and is also an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the School of Computer Science & Engineering. She is certified in information security and is currently undertaking postgraduate studies terrorism and security. Kate has extensive experience in senior roles in ICT, marketing, data and digital; and is a member of the NSW Government’s Data Analytics Centre Advisory Board. Kate is currently working at the intersection of data analytics, AI, ML, privacy, cyber security, and data protection.