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Why GTD just isn't for me

Why GTD Is not for me

Back in 2007, I ran a series of posts called “GTD: Back to Basics” where I went through what “Getting Things Done” was and how to apply it in your everyday lives.

I first read David Allen’s Getting Things Done* back in 2005, and there’s an updated version in 2015 that is apparently completely re-written to make it more suitable for its audience in this technological day and age that the original 2002 version didn’t (and couldn’t) take into account.

Initially when I heard he was releasing a new version of the book I was really interested in seeing how he’d changed it to cope with the prevalence of technology such as email and smartphones (the original GTD was very much a paper-based productivity tool in my opinion), but the more I thought about it I realised that I rarely followed any of the “rules” of GTD any more. In fact you might say that I’ve grown out of it in a way.

What Is GTD

For those of you not familiar with the concept of “Getting Things Done”, you can check out my “GTD Back To Basics” Series. In my GTD Back To Basics Round-Up post I link to all of the posts in the series and some other useful resources but for those of you who don’t have the time (or the inclination) here are the basics in a nutshell:

  1. Two Minute Rule: If it takes less than 2 minutes, just do it.
  2. Collect: You don’t know what you need to do unless you sit down an collect everything that’s praying on your mind. It’s basically a massive brainstorming session to get all of those things out of your head and your in-tray/inbox.
  3. Context: Once you’ve collected everything, you need to sort it. This is done by filtering everything into “Contexts”. Contexts are essentially areas of your life that things need to be done in such as “Home”, “Work”, “Shopping”, “Computer” etc. Each item that you have found should have a context.
  4. Next Actions: What is the next action you need to take in order to complete the task.
  5. Projects: Anything that takes more that one step to complete is a project. Project items can run across multiple contexts but you shouldn’t be working on more than one to-do item from a project at once.
  6. Defer/Delegate: A list of items you’ve passed (or could pass) to other people.
  7. Waiting For: Items that have been actioned but are waiting on someone else.
  8. Calendar: Anything time that needs to be done at a certain time on a specific date is a calendar item. Tasks don’t belong here, just things like meetings and doctors appointments.
  9. Someday/Maybe List: Anything that you might want to get around to at some point but it’s not desperate.
  10. Weekly Review: Pick a time each week to sit down and go through all of your projects,contexts and outstanding items. Things can be moved from one context to another or to your Someday/Maybe list.
  11. Tickler File: This is based on the concept of 43 folders. You have a folder for each month (12), and one for each possible day of the month (31). Any items that need looking at on a certain day/month gets put in your tickler file. This keeps things like “Pay Gas Bill” out of your calendar.

Some of you may be thinking “Okay Katy, that looks awesome for organising tasks, what’s your problem?”. Well, let me elaborate…

The Project Issue

My big issue was the way that GTD handled “projects”.

Anything with more that one action is defined as a project. Therefore something as simple as “Changing the battery in my torch” could become a project as:

  1. Need to check what batteries the torch needs
  2. When at store purchase batteries
  3. When at home fit batteries

Because there could conceivably be 3 (or more) steps, this becomes a project in the eyes of GTD. To me this is a simple to-do (buy torch batteries). A project in my mind is a complex series of events that must happen in a certain order (or in tandem) to achieve your end goal.

Okay, so our torch battery example is a series of events, but is it complex? Not really. As a brief example of what I would regard a project, using my recent FlipPlan Printable Planner as an example:

  1. Research other planners
  2. Determine Specs for basic version (month/week), size, layout
  3. Print weeks successfully
  4. Format Weeks into page styles
  5. Allow for day of the week start change
  6. Allow for date start change
  7. Allow for front cover to be added
  8. Allow for size change

The above is a simple version of the steps taken to achieve a release of the FlipPlan Planner. There are in reality far more steps but I’m sure this highlights the differences (and discrepancies) between the two ideas of what a “project” is. To me getting torch batteries is simply a trip to the store, not a “project”.

The Context Issue

Initially, the idea of contexts made complete sense to me. You could break stuff down into different areas of your life such as “home”, “work”, “shopping” etc. Within GTD David Allen also suggested we have a “Computer” context which, given the fact the book was written ages ago and most people were not in a 100% computer-based environment made sense.

Now, as we’re completely connected to email all of the time and can edit documents anytime, anywhere thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones and the cloud the “Work” context and “Computer” context are blurred. Also, because of our ability to work from home the “Work” and “Home” contexts are blurred. We can shop online so “Home/Work” and “Shopping” and “Computer” contexts are blurred also.

I get that the idea of contexts is to stop us worrying about things that we can’t control as we’re not in that particular place such as why worry about cleaning the oven when you’re at work, but I’ve decided that I like to have a complete overview of what needs to be done.

Maybe your system was at fault

Perhaps it was, but I tried many systems from the DIYPlanner version, to moleskines and printable inserts, to setting up my own Filofax (yes, I am that old before any of you say anything!), to software specifically designed for GTD but nothing seemed to be flexible enough.

You know what? I find a whacking great big long list works for me at the moment.

If it’s job, place or time specific I put a note by it or stick it in my calendar but apart from that, it’s just one long list of items I need to look at. This may seem daunting at first but the minute I start crossing items off, I automatically want to cross more off, having these items broken down into “contexts” and “projects” I think would really limit productivity and proactivity.

Am I ruling GTD out completely?

No, not at all. I’m still really interested in seeing how David Allen has updated Getting Things Done in order to incorporate our always-connected almost contextless selves. Maybe reading this new version will rekindle my love affair with one of the most popular productivity techniques out there… we’ll see!

What do you think?

Am I being to harsh? Am I missing the point? Have you read the revised version of the book? Let me know your thoughts on Getting Things Done in the comments below, I’d love to hear your take on it.

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One Response

  • Anon says:

    I’ve been using GTD for several mohtns now. It’s working pretty well for me. I had several false starts in coming up with a way to handle my various to do lists, but eventually found TaskToy which I have set as my browser home page. That’s a big help for me. Every time I go on the web, I have to confront a reminder of what I ought to be doing. I also use a paper calendar and keep a handful of 3 5 cards handy at all times. I love the new mindset I have in taking care of the small tasks immediately. Overall, I’m happy with the system.

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