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GTD sucks for creative work. Here’s an alternative system (heydave.org)
156 points by pmoriarty on Dec 20, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 79 comments

It's funny how some people lambaste GTD and then proceed to offer a productivity solution that's basically GTD plus some extra steps or tools. The basic tenets of GTD are sound and not new. David Allen just simplified the process and provided some psychological justifications to why they work. So as long as you collect everything out of your head and into a system where you can review and prioritize, that's GTD for everyone regardless of your station in life.

GTD is NOT for everyone.

A productivity system that doesn't make you feel good about your daily life is not be sustainable in the long run. It doesn't matter how effective it is, that's not a life you want to be living.

What makes you feel better about your daily life will depend on your temperament. The author of this blog post found that GTD resulted in his feeling like he had a never-ending river of stress ahead of him. GTD failed for him.

Another example where GTD fails is for anyone who is doing sustained creative work. As Paul Graham describes in http://www.paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html, it is very important for those people to have large blocks of time set aside for focused work. GTD's focus on breaking things into simple tasks whose execution is routine is the antithesis of how work needs to be organized for a maker.

That said, GTD is life-changing for many people. If it works for you, by all means do it. But don't make the mistake of trying to convert everyone else to it. It isn't always right.

GTD IS for everyone. All GTD is, is acknowledging how our brains function at a very fundamental level, and then building a trustable system around that.

Why can't create tasks work in GTD? GTD methodology doesn't say that you HAVE TO break everything up into 2-minute chunks. It can be 2 hours set aside for creativity.

Saying "X doesn't work for everyone" sounds nice, as does "everything in moderation." But I get skeptical when someone uses "everything in moderation" to excuse their smoking habit, or "___ is NOT for everyone" . Hundreds of years ago I'm sure there were people arguing that "reading and writing is not for everyone." Eating vegetables is not for everyone, etc.

GTD principles are universally applicable. The system itself caters to those on the manager schedule. Those on the maker schedule need to create their own system using the principles because nobody else's is going to work, not even other makers'.

I get skeptical when people are so enthusiastic about some newfangled anything that they compare it to reading and eating vegetables. GTD could be that good but it's an extraordinary claim and it deserves to be scrutinized accordingly.

As you should. It's not my job to sell Gtd to you. But I have to challenge your emotional intelligence if you let other peoples' enthusiasm cloud your own view.

I base it off my my own experience getting enthusiastic about things.

lol, but isn't your own enthusiasm at least somewhat affected by other peoples' enthusiasm or lack there of?

Sure. I'm not sure what your point is, maybe my point wasn't clear. I'm just saying that I've been in the position at least once where I was excited about something and I overblew its potential in solving problems. So when I see others doing it, I can relate, but know that they're likely clouded in their judgement.

You have theories that say that GTD should work for everyone. I have many first hand accounts from people I know well who tried to make GTD work and failed. I'm going to believe actual experience over your theories. I described their most common failure reasons.

Also your belief that creativity can be scheduled in 2 hour chunks demonstrates that there is a lot you don't understand about creativity.

btilly I did not mean to fight you, I am sorry for coming off in a manor.

What I mean to say is that meditation works for everyone, even though there are many people who have tried it and concluded that it does not work for them. But we know that meditation works for everyone because we have studied it enough to see how it is fundamental to the way every humans' mind-body operates. For thousands of years, before science, I think many teachers of meditation knew in their hearts that anyone could learn how to meditate. And many others knew it in their hearts that they could not learn how to.

Maybe I'm wrong, and there is no way we can read each other's minds, but what if a system like GTD, maybe not even specifically GTD itself, was also fundamental enough to work for anyone? The way David Allen presents the system, which can be in a very elitist tone sometimes, is that GTD is all about doing what we already do as people, but in a differently-ordered way.

As for addressing that creativity can be scheduled in 2 hour chunks, I was not correct in making that flaky statement and you are right to make a point of it.

GTD has some useful parts and advice, for sure, but it also has a lot of bookkeeping that just gets cumbersome once you lose enthusiasm. Like, why do I need to tag all my todo items with a context? Just make different todo lists according to category, who cares if there's overlap? But the advice to start each todo item with a verb is great.

The author acknowledges this:

> Though I still appreciate some of GTD’s principles (next action, desired outcome as project, brain dumping, etc)

His issue is with GTD as a complete approach, and I very much agree with him. And while David Allen himself might give his blessing to 'partial' implementation (although his comment on the article suggests otherwise), the most common response I get when I talk about taking the best bits of GTD is that GTD only works if you implement all of it.

And I actually agree with that. I've 'religiously' applied GTD for years, but I kept falling off the wagon and forgot to do my weekly review, or some other crucial part of it. And without exception, the results were disastrous. Sure, there's bits and pieces that are useful, very useful maybe, but they're isolated enough to not be considered GTD anymore. If you do next actions the GTD way, you pretty much need to do the weekly review the GTD way, and you pretty much need to keep tabs on your inboxes without leaving any slack. That in itself can work against the more creative professions.

> So as long as you collect everything out of your head and into a system where you can review and prioritize, that's GTD for everyone regardless of your station in life.

If that's GTD, then I'd argue most productivity systems are GTD. Which makes GTD an empty signifier.

On a more positive note: even though I abandoned GTD as a whole, I did learn a lot of valuable things. And it did work very well in certain periods of my life when I had a lot of disparate things on my plate. And I might very well start using the system again if my work becomes more managerial or otherwise fit for GTD.

tl;dr: GTD in any meaningful sense means applying it as a whole. That's what sets it apart from other approaches. And for many of us, it doesn't work for a variety of reasons. For others it does, and that's okay too.

I don't think that was a failure of GTD. I think that was a failure to understand your own limitations and what you're realistically going to be able to accomplish in any given timeframe. It really sounds like a fundamental failure to properly understand GTD.

If you actually read the book--rather than the BusinessInsider, et. al. listicles summarizing it--Allen makes the point that the most important feature of any task tracking system be that it is not cumbersome. All else be damned. If whatever system you're using to keep track of what you need to do is getting in the way of keeping track of what you need to do, then it is no good.

He also makes the point that nobody is meant to do everything in the book. The book is meant to be a cookbook, you are meant to try different things in the book up to the point of gaining control of your work and then put the book down. You're supposed to stop reading GTD when you start to get things done. Don't mess with a good recipe.

I keep a single sheet of paper as my TODO list. If it doesn't fit on the paper, it doesn't go on the list. It's one list for both work and personal issues, because I only have one life, I can't clone myself and work on two lists in parallel. I scratch things off and reuse the paper until it's full. I then rewrite the list on a new sheet of paper, with items that have gone undone for a long time naturally bubbling up to the top of the list.

And if something has been ignored at the top of the list for a long time, I just throw it away. If it didn't get done in the last month, clearly it's not that important. If it were more important, I would have made the time to do it.

Get better about throwing away your emotional baggage.

I too find GTD unsuitable for creative work, mostly because it doesn't handle open-ended, non-tickboxy tasks well, though I can't say that I was using GTD properly -- for example, I couldn't bring myself to do weekly reviews. Overall, GTD felt like it requires too much willpower to run.

Have you tried Mark Forster's Autofocus or Final Version Perfected systems? If not, you owe yourself a try. The systems, at their core, are very simple:

1. You have a long list of tasks (the same 'ubiquitous capture' principle as in GTD and other systems) 2. You scan the list for tasks that 'stand out' for you as 'ripe' to be done / worked on. This means that you're mentally ready to do these tasks. 3. Work these tasks for as long as you feel like. It's not necessary to finish these tasks. 4. After you've dont with a task, you either cross it off the list, or re-append it to the end of the list.

I found his systems much more tolerant of creative work, and much less willpower hungry. A downside of these systems is that they're not capable of handling tasks with start / due dates.

Also, regarding de-cluttering todo lists, I firmly believe that:

1. ALL your tasks and actionable thoughts must be captured in your system. 2. Your current todo list must only show items that you are ready to do right now, at the moment. For example, your todo list shouldn't show the task 'Vacuum the floor' if you're not at home. Therefore, there must be ways of de-cluttering your todo list that allow you to defer the tasks until your external (or internal!) conditions are more conducive to working on these tasks.

(I got fed up with the inability of most todo apps to do the above, so I'm working on my own todo app).

This is actually a perfect application of GTD. Most people don't realize how flexible GTD is, and feel like everythin must be well define, and have a time frame. It doesn't. You have the reviews for that. You have the "projects" list for that. You have "waiting for" for that.

"Spending time on 'creative job x'" is actually a perfectly good task name to add to your "project" list.

In your daily review, you scan the one you want to work and and you add the ones you feel like to your "next" list.

GTS itself must NEVER be applied as-is, and should be adapted to your line of work, rythm, life style and personnalité. And it's very good at it.

I guess I couldn't stomach the idea that GTD mandates dedicated review stages, while in Autofocus / FVP and in my own system review is a continuous process.

Ideally, I'd like to have the ability to do 'makeshift reviews' per-task, and on different timescales. For example, if I don't feel like doing Task X today, I'd defer it for 5 days, so its next review will happen in 5 days. But if there's another task I'll probably want to do tomorrow, I'd defer it to tomorrow, so I'll review it tomorrow.

On the other hand, I do seem to have a de-facto review stage. In the morning I usually go through my task list in Wunderlist (which I hate but use daily) and mark items I'd like to do today. But this is probably because Wunderlist doesn't offer a proper Defer / Hide Until ability that doesn't screw with tasks' due date.

(And I have a recurring task 'Review all items', a relic from a bygone era when I attempted to do GTD properly.)

This is exactly what I do - I have vague goals which I work towards with creative steps, eg 'take a couple of hours to think about what next with my open source project' and let my mind wander within that.

GTD deals explicitly with the creative process and how it helps by clearing your mind in an early chapter.

John Cleese talks about the importance of clearing your head before being creative here:


I read the FVP post [1]...I'm slightly incredulous: it's just a list. That you scan and pick things from. I'm not sure if I should be impressed or underwhelmed at the simplicity.

There are no categories, no contexts, no markers, no due dates...

I'm not sure what makes this is a "system". What's odd is that the author seems to have had previous incarnations/systems, that were actually more complex, e.g. had separate lists with review periods, curation, etc., but he seems to have evolved (which I really appreciate continual improvement) to "fuck it, just use one list".

I know I'm committing an error of logic, but his FVP stats seem to indicate he's basically retired/in a low stress environment [2], so perhaps all the regalia of GTD (which fwiw I don't practice) are more applicable in the corporate environments that spawned it.

However, if it works for you, that's great. It's been awhile since I've poked around in the "productivity system" space. Interesting stuff.

[1]: http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2015/5/21/the-final-...

[2]: http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2015/5/27/a-day-with...

What makes FVP a system, and what makes it stand out in comparison with GTD, is its emphasis on psychological readiness. Here's a quote from [1]:

There are three main requirements which have to be kept in balance. These are urgency, importance and psychological readiness. Traditional time management systems have tended to concentrate on the first two of these. The neglect of psychological readiness is probably the reason that most people don’t find time management systems particularly effective or congenial. The most distinctive feature of FVP is the way that its algorithm is primarily based on psychological readiness - this then opens the way to keeping urgency and importance in the best achievable balance.

In GTD, at least how I understand it, prioritization is rational and conscious. In Autofocus / FVP, prioritization is based on your 'gut feeling' towards the task at the moment when you look at it. This was a crucial difference in my case.

(As for due dates, the author explicitly states that his systems are incapable of handling dateful tasks).

Ha, I'm currently using FVP and started at around AutoFocus 2. It's not enough for all of what I do, but perfect for the crucial stuff. I've also been thinking about building my own tool that implements this. Let me know if you have something!

The app I'm working on is not a strict to-the-letter implementation of Autofocus / FVP, but it will certainly lend itself very well to similar systems. I'll let you know when I have an MVP to test.

This is more or less how I've been handling my work as well. Didn't know there were systems describing it. I use Asana, it's not perfect but it works.

I haven't tried Asana yet, but I guess I have to. As I understand it at the moment, Asana is mostly team-oriented. Mentally, I put Asana in the same conceptual bin as Trello, which is my primary teamwork tool.

What I was looking for, and couldn't find, is a personal productivity tool in the same category as Wunderlist, Todoist, Swipes, Things and countless others, but with much stronger todo de-cluttering abilities.

OmniFocus for iPhone auto filters through geofencing. I've tried every one you mentioned. For me, only OmniFocus handles all the essentials.

I wonder why geofencing doesn't spread through other todo apps like wildfire. As much as I'd like to try it out, I haven't had the opportunity yet. Among the apps I tried, only Remember the Milk implemented it, but I couldn't get it to work -- probably my fault, as I don't use RTM as a daily driver.

Also, I think that a proper todo app, in addition to geofencing, should include timefencing, people-proximity-fencing, external-condition-fencing and maybe even mood-fencing / energy-fencing. Though I guess some of these can be implemented via contexts.

http://2doapp.com can filter by location and tag. Tags can be paused/unpaused and there are SmartList (saved search filters). Available on Mac, iOS, Android and will sync to 3rd-party or self-hosted open-standard CalDav servers, in addition to the usual cloud services.

I've been a GTD geek for a few years now and was a borderline religious user of Omnifocus. Its issue comes when you want to move from managing your task to collaborating on shared projects. Unfortunately, contexts just don't cut it when other team members or stakeholders can't see their tasks in the system because it put the onus on you to chase and keep your system in sync with other GTD/project tools.

I grudgingly switched to Asana a few months ago and haven't looked back. It supports a GTD workflow with the addition of excellent communication and integration with other tools. For example, I automate task creation with Zapier to follow-up on calendar events in my diary, follow up website leads, scanned biz cards, etc. Placing tasks in multiple projects is also super useful. Omnifocus still has a better mobile app UX, and I wish it would offline sync to make better use of precious planning time on my commute.

The part of this post that I already found useful in the few hours since I read it is adopting the Pomodoro time management technique. I found a neat OS X app that called PomoDone (http://pomodoneapp.com/) that syncs with Asana and many more task managers to keep focus in 25 min intervals followed by 5 min breaks. Thanks!

Do you put your personal todos in Asana? Because to me there always has to be a division between personal and collaborative tools since the needs are so different.

As I've grown from lead developer on a 3-person team to CTO of a 40-person company I've had to get more serious about my GTD practice. Where once I had several inboxes: OmniFocus for personal/recurring tasks, then Gmail, Pivotal, GitHub and Trello, now I've doubled down on OmniFocus as the source of truth for my workload. That doesn't mean projects are managed there, only my personal tasks related to the project that will take longer than 2 minutes make it there. Chucking things into OF from many different sources becomes very easy with Quick Entry and Clippings tools, and it is invaluable for planning each day and making sure things don't slip through the cracks. Typically I'm collecting things in OF all day and flagging important things, but at the beginning of the day I actually set a Focus on work projects, and write out in my notebook the list of priorities for that day. I know GTD is all about getting away from re-writing lists, but I find it helpful to have a hard copy of my foci sitting in front of me that doesn't take up screen real estate is impervious to the daily influx of distractions.

The siri integration is also amazing and, at least when I last checked, not supported by other task apps.

Basically, if you tell siri to remind you of something, it creates a task in the Reminders app. OF imports this, including due dates.

I've tried all of the above in different configurations. What works best for me is to use Workflowy to think and plan the overall picture, and to use Trello to manage active tasks.

I use Workflowy daily, as an idea capturing / brainstorming / work logging tool, but it is unsuitable as a todo app because it doesn't support items with dates, let alone recurring tasks. And Trello is my favorite app for teamwork and personal bookmarking, but I haven't tried it as a todo app - again because it doesn't support recurring tasks.

I've never had the need, but it should be really easy to write a small script that reads descriptions of recurring tasks and adds them to Trello usings its API, from a cron job. If that's the only thing...

I wish you all would explain why Asana, I really need some awesome tool as I have 10+ projects I am trying to organize. Asana is super annoying with blank tasks that show everywhere, you can't easily transfer task from one project to another.

What I really like is ability to break list in what I call 'milestones'. Also adding from email is surprisingly useful.

In the end, I just can't use it, because I need to shuffle things around and Asana doesn't seem to support that.

I'm not necessarily an Asana fanboy, it just works for me and so I haven't made an effort to research other platforms. But, since you asked, this is a basic overview of how I use it:

-It's just me (Asana is meant to be used with a team. That's not how I use it.)

-I don't split up projects in to Asana 'Projects.' I make one Asana Project for each client that I work for and a separate one for 'Personal'. I split up real life projects in to Headings with subtasks in the same Asana project. (All projects for Client A go in the Client A project.) This way I'm never trying to move tasks between projects.

-As tasks come up that I want to remember, I forward them to the email address for the correct Project (client). I usually change the subject line to be more descriptive of the task. This puts them at the top of the list for that client.

-In between tasks (usually every few hours while I'm working) I read over the list and categorize anything new that I've emailed in under the right heading. I also set the due-date to be the next time I want to work on that particular task.

-As I get started for the day on a certain client, I'll look at the list for that client sorted by due date and try to cross off or reschedule everything for that day.

-Sometimes I'll tag tasks with a name of the person I need to talk to or the location that something needs to be done. That way the next time I run in to JohnDoe I just say 'oh hang on I had a few things to talk to you about' then tap tap tap to the JohnDoe tag in Asana.

Thank you. That explains, it seems I use it in a way they didn't plan for or something. :)

You might want to check out taskwarrior, it's got a lot of tag and filtering capability that can just murder clutter

Alas, Taskwarrior is not for me, because I need a proper, fully-functional mobile app.

You could try IQTell, it does have an amazing amount of customizability and filtering options with which you can easily create those current todo lists by context or area for example. It was created for GTD but due to the customizability I can still recommend a look

Based on your needs here, I'll suggest "Swift To-Do List." It's not free.

It's only compatible with Windows. They offer no mobile app, which is a hard requirement for me. EDIT: They do offer them, the app links are buried in their Features section. The both iOS and Android apps look nice, I'll take a look.

From what I am reading, the author is saying they are effectively time slicing their week. Each day is like a "task", in the software sense, that gets to run and make progress to its goal. You have to consider all the things that you could do, but then decide which should be prioritized because it will deliver results towards the goal. This may be better for creative work, because it is easy to otherwise keep busy doing things that seem important, but if you think about it they do not really do enough to get you to your goal. (Like how easy it is to drift towards unnecessary feature work over maintenance.) At the same time, "next actions" may not quite work because the work is often non-linear (though I would not say they suck). It will be interesting to see how personal management plays out in the long, long run and how it develops against AI.

GTD is not for creative work. GTD is great to deal with type 2 procrastination [1] because not everybody can afford to have somebody doing their important errands. So it is just an efficient method of preventing my (your) life to become a mess. Listing every micro action in a fancy way (in my case I use Evernote [2]) would be wasted time (that is better spent deciding what is the next action or doing real work), a sheet of paper is more efficient for that.

[1] http://paulgraham.com/procrastination.html

[2] https://github.com/we-build-dreams/hamster-gtd (a simple implementation that you can use as a starting point)

I don't agree that it is not for creative work. I think most people just don't understand the process of creativity enough to be able to think about it on a meta level.

Your TODO list is meant to be an extension of your short-term memory, not long-term. It's not a log of activity. It's not a planning document for assigning deadlines and figuring out project length. It's low-friction reminders of whatever you need reminders for.

Haven't you ever been working on something and realized there were two different things that had to be done, but in different directions? If you write a TODO for one of them and start working on the other (without writing a TODO for it), then you won't have to break your flow just to remember the other item thereafter. It's okay for things you do to not be on the TODO list, and it's okay for TODO list items to only live for 15 minutes, so long as it is longer than it would live in your short-term memory.

A TODO list is not ever meant to be completed. Things go on it and come off it, it grows and shrinks over time, but it's meant to be a living document. If you're having problems with your tasks being too large and nebulous to appropriately use on a TODO list, then your first task is "break job down into more tasks."

Maybe I didn't explain well but In practice I do exactly what you say: I use GTD mostly to list delayed type 2 actions (ex: doctor appointments, bills to pay, etc), long term plans and project briefings. Small actions are listed roughly in a sheet of paper as an extension of my short term-memory and only if I have a lot of them in a given moment.

> Haven't you ever been working on something and realized there were two different things that had to be done, but in different directions?

Yes, but who ever needed a TODO to remember that other thing? It's all part of the whole that you're trying to build, you understand what it's going to look like and why you're doing it like this, and of course after this part that other part also still needs doing. You don't need to remember it, it's part of the bigger picture.

I write down reminders for things outside that, like people who wanted to ask a question, mails I need to answer, errands. Things that are hard to keep track of because they're not about the thing you want to be thinking of. The main thing you're trying to make doesn't need them.

The creative process progresses when ideas come out subconscious processes, like when you take a morning shower. Todo lists are very conscious things.

I don't know if I fully agree with the GP's idea that this is the canonical definition of a TODO list, but I don't think short-term memory alone is sufficient for the current project in all cases. For the creative process of design I tend to agree you usually don't need to keep notes, but for the creative process of code architecture I think external notes are often necessary, especially if there is any significant refactoring of existing code involved.

One problem is that creative tasks can't always be broken down into more tasks. The other problem is that the whole practice of religiously creating todo's is pure horror to some people.

Many of the more extreme 'artisty' types of people I know absolutely hate any form of task management beyond a simple list. Preferably on a post-it on the wall or on a scrap of paper. The way they feel about simple task/project management apps is probably how many 'less-extreme artisty' people feel about GTD. It just doesn't click for many people.

I don't generally like to think of my TODO list as a scheduling tool, but I do like giving larger tasks greater representation on the TODO list. So even if all I had to do was "fill this entire notebook with hand-drawn squiggles", written as a single task doesn't convey the full weight of the task. So I will explicitly repeat the task on the page several times, until the "weight" of it feels more appropriate.

It's not explicitly scheduling the tasks, but it is at least giving a better representation of its relationship to the other tasks going on in my life. I can't say "I'll make lunch after I'm done with <this big task>" if the task will take more than a day to complete. But I can if I chunk it out in this way.

> Too many projects and too many next actions. It was information overload. I think my brain couldn’t handle my 50-100 ongoing projects and next actions.

IMHO, this isn't a problem with GTD as a system; it's more of a problem with the user's prioritization. Nobody should have to have 50-100 ongoing projects and next actions. Urgent/Important them, and junk the rest.

I agree. The whole point of dumping all these things out of your brain and into the system is so that you can let go off all that because you know it's in the system and the system works. If you're still fretting over the list of stuff then you probably don't trust the system. The most likely causes of distrust are 1) you haven't had enough chance to see it working, or 2) you haven't implemented/adapted the system correctly for you and the system really, actually isn't working. Weekly review is a fine place to assess and tune what you're doing in the larger sense, I think.

It would have been nice to give any reference to "GTD" in an introductory sentence so that readers don't have to google it and interfer from the context what's meant. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/GTD

Definitely agreed. I feel like I'm the only one who had no idea whether GTD was a product or service or some sort of TO-DO methodology...

GTD works fine for creative work when you get GTD. Most people don't. it actually takes quite some time (months/years) to do the needed click and understand what GTD is all about.

The part of the “xxx is not for creative work” argument that bothers me is the assumption that “creative work” cannot be organized and planned. Let’s call writing, programming, … simply “work,” not “creative work,” and we have to do them like other kinds of work.

Of course, some parts of everybody’s work need more focus/mental energy/physical energy/..., but that doesn’t mean they are special and can get away with being disorganized.

Van Morrison once said in an interview that when he has a song to write he simply sits down and works on it, whether he feels like it or not. Are our iOS apps more “creative” than his songs?

I agree that everyone needs some way of organizing. But is it really so hard to imagine that many people hate lists of tasks grouped by tag/project on a computer or in a filing system?

I've met so many people who do fine with - to me - the most haphazard, chaotic systems that I hesitate to judge them by my almost OCD-like and definitely autistic obsession with lists. Their brains just work differently.

I found GTD and I did not get along. For me, the result was the opposite of its name, or exactly the name if you define "things" to be all the pointless things in life that you shouldn't waste your time with.

I found the important/due date quadrant system espoused by Randy Pausch in his Time Managenent video to be the best way to get important things done. GTD didn't make that distinction and in my experience, it made it worse.

Disclaimer: I know how overzealous I was about GTD when I was using it, and I want to say that I'm not interested in talking about why you think I should try GTD again. I don't want to debate with anyone about GTD. This is only my experience with trying to use it in my life 5 years ago for about a year. It didn't mesh with my goals. I am excited for you if it's served you well, though!

Not debating you, asking so I can be aware of the pitfall when I try out GTD: Did you try not tracking the pointless things? Is tracking everything a philosophical aspect of the system?

It seemed like tracking the pointless things was the process, and the benefit was that they'd be out of your head. Made total sense in the moment, but looking back I just see it as a very effective psychological defense against real change.

Unless you're defining "pointless" incorrectly, you're wrong.

The start of the "inbox processing" step is to decide if something is worth doing. That filters the pointless things right at the start. Only then do you do it (if it's less than 2 minutes work), or add it into the rest of the GTD process: Delegate it, or defer it.

A year is not long enough.

Curious, why do you feel that way? What changed after a year? I feel like I know after a year if something is right for me or not, like my fiancé, lol...

A fancy checklist system needs more than a year? Seems spurious to me.

P.S. This does NOT mean we have to live our lives like robots! The goal is to have a system that frees our minds, allowing us to be ourselves. I would argue that running around, forgetting to do things, or trying to balance more than a few things in the mind at once, isn't human. That is not how we are supposed to live our only lives. The system should exist not to run our lives for us, but to take care of any thoughts we may have in our minds so that we can start with a blank canvas again and get back to our creative, spontaneous selves.

If someone reading this does not see themselves as creative or spontaneous I have to ask, "can you remember a single time in your life where you were creative and/or spontaneous?" And if you can think of one then you have to ask youself, "Why?"

I have spent over 23 minutes writing this, wtf is wrong with me? :

In my own (slightly bizarre) experience, it's more about the habits than the "fancy checklist" system. It's more than a checklist system, more than a calendar, etc. It's how these pieces work in concert with one another.

Whether through GTD or some other system of operating/thinking, we are all craving a way to have things taken care of for us and not having to worry about them. Imagine if you had a little robot friend that reminded you about your appointments. It would wake you up when you wanted to be woken up (and never failed you like an alarm clock). You could tell the robot to remind you of an idea you just had and want to think about at a different time & the robot would remind you at a good time.

This robot could be seen as an extension of the mind. Like the invention of ink & paper.

But this little robot doesn't exist yet. We have to use our own hands and minds, or we can delegate to other people. GTD is an attempt to do this.

Now I should admit that I do not follow GTD fully. I am using GTD plus some other pieces, but I do see GTD as one of the hearts.

And this took me 2-3 years before I started to reap the benefits. For the first 2 years it was an off-and-on thing. Things would run smoothly, and then a clog would get caught in the piping, leading to productivity relapse.

The problem with GTD is that there are too many integral pieces, and if any one of those pieces breaks down the whole system breaks down. I was fortunate enough to have health issues and not have a job at the time so I could pour countless hours into this on the faith that I would reach consistency.

In hindsight, the only reason why I bought into GTD religiously in the first place, inspiring me to put in retarded amounts of time was that I was reading heavily into willpower, and the importance of conserving mental energy, especially for decision making and other high-level brain functions. The book Willpower by Roy F. Baumeister had endorsed David Allen and GTD.

I respect Baumeister immensely as he is an opponent of the self-esteem movement, a movement that has really fucked up many peoples' ability to self-regulate their emotions and focus. As everyone was focusing on the promises of higher self-esteem (Baumeister also started in this area), he was researching things like self-control, emotional intelligence, focus and willpower.

> ... I was fortunate enough to have health issues and not have a job at the time so I could pour countless hours into this on the faith that I would reach consistency. ...

That was so jarring to read. Mostly because it's so common in my country (USA). Health problems should be nothing but unfortunate. If they're fortunate, it's because the system is broken.

I find the high level pieces of GTD to be done, but the formality and rigidity were not freeing to me as they were described. I've got a system that works amazingly well for me, and I'm happy. I definitely learned from GTD, which I'm so thankful. I'm sure I'm still using parts of it as a system, but it was more stuff that I found out didn't work for me, which definitely valuable.

I read David Allen's book back when the web was at version 2.0 and the one thing that has stuck with me is this: if something is going to take two minutes or less, just do it. That simple rule helped me immensely.

I'm a creative fella. I use GTD super heavily, because it lets me manage EVERYTHING in my head - all my creative efforts, in addition to the mundane.

> Most task/to-do software is based around the concept of projects and tasks. It’s really too bad. The tendency is to fill up your task software with dozens of projects and tasks under each project. But the more you look at your projects and tasks every day for the next few weeks, it gets discouraging. It feels like a never-ending river of stress.

These are things that are already open in your head in some way. you put them into a system you trust to get them out of your head, and you review them at varying intervals because they matter to you in some way, at some level.

> The most important thing for the creative innovator is not a ton of tasks to do but rather the ability to see what’s important to focus on and to focus on that deeply. The creative innovator needs to go deep on a feature or issue, and the deeper they go the more creativity they unleash.. thus creating lots of value to the end user.

GTD doesn't stop you from doing this. GTD helps you identify what's important and ensure it gets done.

> Personally, I can’t bear the thought of trying to organize my work with Things for Mac (or similar task management software). Typically, you create some projects and fill them with tasks, and before you know it you have so many projects and tasks that it’s overwhelming. The whole thing becomes a distraction and a drag. It makes work less enjoyable.

OK, I might agree with you there. I had abysmal luck in implementing GTD with Things and Omnifocus, so I built my own web app that does what I want: focus on capture, and make review possible from a variety of data points like creation, tags, metadata; even things like tag or word count.

Overall though, this author doesn't know what he's talking about, doesn't understand how to properly implement and manage their GTD, and that is simply NOT GTD's fault. that's theirs. If you're going to make such a bold title that "GTD sucks for creative work" you better back it up with some solid points and alternatives. This author did nothing of the sort.

I will still say: GTD is awesome for creative work. I am easily 5x more creative after learning about GTD. I don't 1:1 implement it, but I take whats useful and discard what I don't, like inbox zero. Although now that i've been booking a lot of appointments via email, I might want to revisit that.

Do you have a link to your web app? I'm currently looking through organizational and time management programs.

It's a good insight that other systems may complement GTD for driving deep creative focus. Todd Henry covers this very well, both conceptually and tactically, in his book The Accidental Creative. He offers a flexible set of practices that work together as a system to help you put your money where your mouth is in terms of what you say is important in your creative work and how you spend your time and mental energy in light of that. He touches on a lot of the same principles as the OP but in book form. It's a good read and is backed by the author's personal experience and work experience helping others tackle their own creativity and productivity challenges.

One technique relevant to other commenters recognizing that a full task view is not always relevant for creative projects, or least for the creative aspect of projects, is to maintain a project list that focuses on the key challenges or questions that define the creative purpose or problem of the project. Review that regularly and set aside time to tackle the creative challenges. You can always use GTD or any other task list tool to track the concrete tasks generated from those times and work from those lists during pomodoros or heads down execution time. The point is nurturing creativity does require different techniques than task execution, but with some care you can manage it within the constraints of a given day, week, and month. The book says it much better and more comprehensively than I can and is highly recommended reading.

I find that often my interest in projects waxes and wanes periodically, and seemingly randomly. I like the organizational ideas of GTD, specifically the getting the ideas out of your head and collecting them into a known place, and breaking down TODOs into components until they're not so large and abstract as to cause paralysis -- but I agree that they can still be overwhelming.

This article made me think of an idea of mitigating the former issue; that is, instead of have a huge list of "next steps" that can cause their own form of analysis paralysis when I'm feeling indecisive, even if they're small and easy, but instead have a mechanism to choose and display a single, randomly chosen item from the list of items.

If I'm not interested in that, I could skip to another one. Otherwise, it catches my fancy and I now have something concrete to work on, without wasting any effort trying to figure out what to do myself.

Surely using the Pomodoro technique for creative work will break flow?

I use a simplified version of scrum for personal planning, with one day "sprints". Works pretty well.

GTD is a great managerial schedule. Creative work needs those 4 hour time boxes and singular mental focus.

TODO apps should have an upper-bound on the number of items to force the user to prioritize his tasks.

I noticed a pattern where the new shiny TODO app is adopted. Then it gets filled-up until it becomes depressing to open. Then the new-new TODO apps gets a round of applause. Repeat.

This reminds me of something I read a few weeks ago: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/nov/20/oliver-b...

"For us list addicts, Forster proposes a minimalist alternative system. On a piece of paper, write down only the five most important tasks you can think of. Then do them, in order, crossing them off as you go. (If you stop before completing one, add it again at the end.) Once the list is only two items long, add three more, to bring the total back to five. Then repeat.

"The point of this austere approach is that you’re regularly required to ask what really needs doing, since there are only five slots. With a conventional list, there are unlimited slots – and it’s hugely tempting to plough through inessential tasks, just to cross them off. But what if you forget crucial things, using Forster’s method, because you didn’t write them down? His response: they probably didn’t matter to begin with."

There's a nice extension to this idea - maybe someone can reply with the right credit as I've forgotten where I read this:

When the five things are done, you are done. Leisure or family time.

Even if you had a little juice left today, you keep some in the tank for the other parts of your life. This really helps with steady productivity and headspace for the long term.

The problem with that is that we will always attempt to circumvent artificial limitations. Natural limitations can't be circumvented, so you have to live with it. Which is why I stick to using paper: there isn't enough time in the day to use paper to keep track of the number of items that I used to track in Pivotal Tracker. Similar to Russel Monroe's "Log-scale graphs are for quitters".

One nice hack would be to make the base app free and allow to purchase additional slots for $99.- each. The idea would be to forces user to evaluate whenever the added items is really necessary or not while still giving the impression of choice.

I guess GTD sucks for creative types. The type that thinks that their needs are so special compared to other workers, are very sensitive towards whatever environmental factor makes them feel bad or discouraged, that any kind of externally imposed structure cramps their style, and that they should have the freedom to make up whatever ritual that makes their god-given creative juices flowing. Which are, again, very sensitive to petty environmental distractions.

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