A perennial topic in my world of researching and training the martial art of work: Where is the ideal
point between freedom and structure?

When is organized too organized, controlled too controlling, or construction constriction? On the
other hand, when does looseness lose, open-endedness exhaust, or carefree become careless?
We’re conditioned to think that boundaries limit us—“don’t fence me in.” But we’re also taught that
to get something done, we need to exert pressure and push hard to get a result—put our “nose
to the grindstone.”


This is not merely a theoretical or philosophical discussion. When daily you receive 400 emails,
100 voice mails, and 50 unexpected interruptions, you must confront the freedom vs. structure
issue. The freedom junkies are frustrated and disturbed that these inputs are there to begin with,
and would love to just ignore them (except the fun, easy, interesting and really “hot” ones). The control
freaks have rules, agents, and folders within folders within folders for every little detail and then
some, perhaps limiting the scope of their life out of fear of all the stuff a broader focus may generate.

All of us can relate to both sides. We want to have control, but not be constrained. The problem
has come from the negative connotation (and actual experience) that often accompanies the idea
of “control”—that it IS constraining and constrictive, like prisoners being kept in jail.

There is a way, though, to reap the benefits of both sides of the coin. It’s playing the game with two
basic moves—concentration and cooperation.

Those two vectors linked together give the freedom we want and the structure we need to maximize
our effectiveness.

Concentration is the key to power, in physics and in life, and cooperation is the lubricant for the efficient
flow of that energy.

Top athletes demonstrate this wonderfully. They’re mega-focused, and they pay extraordinary
attention to the realities of their environment and how to flow within them to their advantage.

To get through your email, you must concentrate. What are you doing and how is each communication
relevant to that? And you must cooperate. The emails are there—you’ve created or at least allowed
them—and you must develop a strategy and a process for dealing with them. One approach serves
the other. You must cooperate with yourself and your world in order to transcend resistance and
distraction, so you can concentrate. And you must concentrate to clarify the nature of things and
how to engage with them cooperatively.


David Allen

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