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.
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.
Also your belief that creativity can be scheduled in 2 hour chunks demonstrates that there is a lot you don't understand about creativity.
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.
> 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.
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.
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).
"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.
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.)
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:
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 , 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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
Basically, if you tell siri to remind you of something, it creates a task in the Reminders app. OF imports this, including due dates.
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.
-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.
 https://github.com/we-build-dreams/hamster-gtd (a simple implementation that you can use as a starting point)
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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'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 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!
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 fancy checklist system needs more than a year? Seems spurious to me.
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?"
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.
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.
> 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.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
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.