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A Beginner´s Guide to Getting Things Done (zenkit.com)
550 points by PeOe 31 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 229 comments



This was mercifully shorter than the Cal Newport book. That's about all I can say for it.

Ivan Sutherland had the secret, and it only took one paragraph to share it:

'I used to hate washing dishes. I would delay as long as possible. Eyeing the daunting pile of dishes, I would say to myself, “I'll be here forever at this dumb task.” The enormity of the task deterred me from starting. I still dislike washing dishes, but I now get the dishes done promptly because I learned a simple procedure for doing the job from my wife's uncle. The procedure starts out “Wash first dish...” I have a similar procedure for starting travel vouchers, it goes “Record first expense...”'

edit: his rationale was equally short and sweet:

'Each of my little procedures embodies two different aids to getting started. By invoking a familiar procedure I reduce my need for courage. By breaking the task into smaller tasks through emphasizing that only the first dish need be washed or the first expense need be recorded, I reduce my estimate of risk. Both mechanisms work. These sources of courage are sometimes called “discipline,” especially when being taught to the young. Discipline relies on a practiced use of routine subgoals to avoid defeat by fear. Its highest form comes when the Lieutenant, charging up a heavily defended hill, says, “Follow me men!”—and they do.'


In college a friend of mine gave me a book on Zen Buddhism once as a joke more or less. I read it cover to cover, what you describe is very zen ( well it is as much as it isn't I suppose ;) ).

When i was reading that book i was in college and I remember dreading and dreading studying for a particular boring class. I was miserable thinking about it and then it just sort of dawned on me, i got up and went to the library and studied.

It's hard to put in words but you only dread these dreary tasks when you're dreading them.


The GTD book gets into this very directly. It talks a lot about the principal borrowed from martial arts of having a "mind like water." When a pebble disturbs the water, the water responds instantly with exactly the right amount of force and then returns to stillness. GTD is big on the idea of responding to emails, ideas, projects, new work items, etc, with exactly the right amount of response and then letting the problem slip out of your mind once you're confident that the thing to be done is filed and therefore will get done.

The trick to making the whole thing work is that you need to have confidence that, once something is on the list, it will get done. That's what allows you to stop fretting about the stuff on the list. But to get that confidence, you need to regularly do the stuff on the list.


"you only dread these dreary tasks when you're dreading them"

That is remarkably insightful and memorable. Thanks!


Do you remember the name of the book?


Not the OP but The Wisdom Of Insecurity by Alan Watts is a total life changer in my experience.


Yes, Alan Watts comes to mind in the context of Zen and dish washing :)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qx4fUpalvTU


I looked and looked but couldn't find it online. it was just called Zen Buddhism but the author had a very western name. The book had a pretty big impact on me but not in a religious or hooky "one with the cosmos" sort of way. More like it just sort of clicked with me, which is as good a description of the concept as any really. I may still have the book somewhere, if I find I'll post it here.



Just seconding my interest in the book, if you manage to find it. Perhaps you could ask your friend if he remembers?


There is a second step to this: 'You can stop if you want to.'

Just washing one plate does not mean I have to wash all of them. Stopping after only half of them is acceptable and preferable to not starting. So I can pick up and wash one without worrying about the full task.


A similar trick works for avoiding sugary treats: don't strongly oppose this desire - instead say to yourself you can eat it at a later time and move your mind to something else.

(When you finally eat whatever it was you so much desired, you didn't really fail, because you are only consuming 1 unit for those 3/5/whatever days, instead of one every day...)


The cafe where I buy my lunchtime salad also sells a range of excellent cakes, which are very tempting. I've learned to tell myself that I only need to exercise self-control (and not buy a cake) while I'm in the queue to be served. It sounds obvious, but consciously reminding myself that the situation I'm trying to avoid is time-limited is a great help.


Hah, until you cave and get back in the queue ;)

Sorry, projecting a bit. I have absolutely zero discipline when it comes to cake.


I use this trick when I want to buy something online which I don't absolutely need. I'll add it to a wish list on Amazon (or even put it in my cart) and then leave the site. When I come back a few days or weeks later, I often find myself asking why I ever wanted that thing in the first place and remove it.


The same approach works for unimportant tasks/ideas as well. Put them on a list, and if after a few days you don't care about them anymore, just delete them and be happy that you didn't waste your time on that.


This is actually my entire approach to spending. It got started when I was a kid or teen. When you want that stupid frivolous pair of $150 sunglasses but can't afford them, you can't help but put it off. If, at some point in the future, you have the money (or close to it) and you've been thinking about the same stupid thing for a year or two, maybe it's not so stupid! Or at least maybe it's worth splurging to make yourself happy. It would seem that postponing a purchase accomplishes nothing, but actually, sometimes you end up not making the purchase at all. And if you do, you're more satisfied by it, and have gone a longer time between satisfying those spending urges, and you spend less per year. The times when I say "ah, I'm just gonna have to buy all this stuff eventually, might as well just do it all at once" are sure to be the most wasteful.


Added benefit: sometimes when you leave a site with something still in your cart, the site will later email you to tell you that the item is on sale.


An AFK analogue that I’m fond of is taking a photo of the box with the price visible. Unfailingly I see the photo days later and have the same puzzled thought.


But can you leave your friends behind cause they don't stop and if they don't stop they're no friends of mine?

The beauty of telling yourself "I can stop" comes in when you're really just lying to yourself to reduce the barrier of the first dish. "Oh, I'll just do a couple and then stop. Well I only have a few left..."


I am not quite sure but are you talking about something other than dishes? :)


The first paragraph is a reference to this gem from the 80's called "Safety Dance"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjPau5QYtYs


You can dish if you want to


Works great for exercise too: "just run for five minutes, then see how you feel", "just do the warm-up sets". Even if you stop, it's better than vegging on the couch.


Tell that to my wife/boss/whomever is depending on me getting the whole job done.


Personally I used the same approach to start running: “just lace the shoes”. After you finish this, you are almost running.


This works very well for me. The trick is put the gym clothes without thinking about your feelings and thoughts. Then proceed to walk out the door with the same attitude, supressing the internal chatter..


Would you say one should just do it?


This is exactly how I've done every insane, amazing, stupid, disgusting, crazy, dangerous, phenomenal thing in my entire life. From eating balut to asking my wife out to maneuvering under fire.


Please describe the balut, and if you'd recommend the experience.


I ate it right out of the shell deep in the Filipino jungle. I knew for years what it was and had preconceived notions. Besides the texture of certain parts I could identify while chewing (e.g. feet, beak), it really just honestly tasted like a kind of hard-boiled egg. If I didn't know what I was eating, I wouldn't have second-guessed it at all. I do recommend it, for the adventure. The Filipino guys that gave it to me said it gives you a big burst of energy, and I thought they were full of it, but indeed, it gave me a kind of heady feeling. I think that just might have been getting a ton of calories all at once?


I absolutely recommend it if you get the chance. The age of the egg is important. A day or 2 either way can make all the difference so make sure you try it with someone who knows who they are doing. The richer hard boiled egg description is pretty spot on.


A richer hard boiled egg with some texture. I liked it a lot. Ate it with a spoon and some sort of sauce. It was definitely different. Would probably do again.


That's way too hard, it doesn't work. The trick is to just start doing it.


No, that is far too active and directed,

just live the natural and inevitable path

toward a future where it has happened.


like water flowing to the sea


Haha! that´s genius. Could technically be applied to lots of unpleasant tasks. I sometimes have difficulties with getting out of bed in the morning. Might a "just stand up" help with that problem? I will test that tomorrow.


I'm an expert at getting out of bed, walking across the room to snooze the alarm, walking back, and getting back in bed. Sometimes for hours!

That said, I sort of rely on this process where each time I wake up I'm slightly less likely to fall back asleep. Sometimes I grab my phone and figure I'll just look at a few things while I lounge in bed, and within a minute or two my brain is awake and I realize I'm past the hump and may as well just get up. Whereas when I'm less alert, falling back asleep seems FAR easier than just getting up.


I find there's something you can do even before standing up that helps get you closer to your goal of getting out of bed. If you stretch a bit while still in bed it gets your blood running and gives you the 'kick' you need. Feels good and requires no effort.


I eventually improved that by reframing the problem. I found I really don't have difficulty getting out of bed, unless I went to sleep far too late. Got somewhat better at that (but not much).


I might test that today!


Somebody [else] has a hacker news first thing in the morning habit...


For me it’s “just take off the covers”.


That works for you? Haha! I think I´d just keep sleeping after that. Although it does get colder once the sheets are gone.


I also use the thought: "I have to have a shower anyway, so why not go for a run first".


I searched for the quote and did find it in "Technology and Courage", by Ivan Sutherland (https://www.seas.harvard.edu/profdev/spring09/TechnologyCour...). It's a very interesting reading, sometimes quite illuminating things are hidden among other, more common, things.. Thanks for the quotation!


As much as I respect Mr Newport, a lot of books like his could be one long form blog post (or paragraph!) instead of a 200~ page book.


This is true, however he is trying to explain the idea to multiple people, so he's explaining his ideas in multiple ways.

So no, it could not be a long form blog post.


Is the idea that complicated? Can it not clearly and concisely be explained in a way that makes sense to a large audience? We see more complex ideas explained more concisely all the time.

It's not just Cal Newport, it's self-help and productivity authors in general. They have an idea, and then they repeat it over and over again until they have a book.

Maybe the repetition benefits the reader. Maybe it's easier to internalize an idea when it is hammered into your skull. Or maybe books are just more profitable than blog posts.


I find this even in well-respected and oft-recommended but relatively light non-fic outside the self help genre. Sagan's A Demon Haunted World and Cialdini's Influence both struck me as being twice as long as they had any reason to be, but they're nigh-classics in certain circles. It makes me reluctant to read non-fic, which tends either to be very specialized and ultra-dense (i.e. beyond my reach with a reasonable time investment) or fluffy trash.

However, better small-scale (paragraph to paragraph) structure of the text and somewhat higher info-density, or simply being more entertainingly-written, can go a long way. See Graeber's Debt for the former and Fussell's Class for the latter.


It's not just exposition, it's rhetoric. Self-help books take a lot of words because they're exhorting you to an ideology, not just explaining things.


I think you meant David Allen, rather than Cal Newport.

Cal Newport seems to think GTD is flawed because it doesn't help you prioritize meaningful work: http://calnewport.com/blog/2012/12/21/getting-unremarkable-t...


Nope. I meant Cal Newport. After reading "Deep Work," I gained a new insight into why hametz is forbidden on Passover.


You just reminded me of a song from one of my favorite childhood shows... "Put One Foot in Front of the Other" from a stop-motion film titled "Santa Claus is comin' to Town".

Put one foot in front of the other

And soon you'll be walking 'cross the floor.

You put one foot in front of the other

And soon you'll be walking out the door.


This was a mantra both my brothers used while going through Marine Corps bootcamp. You don't have to get to the end of the 50-mile-hike. Just take one more step. I always remember this when facing my own seemingly impossible tasks. Mental or physical.


I do something similar when running. When I feel like stopping and walking the rest of the route I'll pick a landmark up ahead, like a telephone pole or a mailbox, and say to myself, "I'll just run to that." Once I get to the landmark though, I feel I can still go on a bit so I pick another landmark up ahead that I'll run to. And so on.


You can also follow a structured procrastination approach to dishes:

Identify the dish you dread washing; the dirty pot with baked on grime.

Wash the all other dishes in an effort to avoid the disgusting pot.

Throw out the pot.


a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step (c) Laozi


Ha! Love it!


Thanks for sharing - this is a wonderfully succinct way to say something I've been trying to model my "to-do" process around for years now. I have spend more time than it's worth switching between to-do apps and processes; I've used calendars, notepads, all sorts of things. Finally, and recently, I've come to the conclusion that at the end of the day, you've got to just do the thing that is bothering you the most, and keep a record of the things that are also bothering you. Beyond that, it doesn't really matter how you keep track of what needs be done, just so long as you take the first step on something.


> Its highest form comes when the Lieutenant, charging up a heavily defended hill, says, “Follow me men!”—and they do.

That doesn't really endear me to the concept...


Had the same feeling on that part.

I give Sutherland the benefit of the doubt on that one though. He's closer to the WWII generation than the kill-brown-people for "reasons" generations that came before and after.


I used this numerous times. It works often but not always.


That´s interesting. In which case hasn´t it helped you? I mean, breaking up tasks into smaller pieces does make the "big task" way more manageable.


I was mostly commenting on the start slow and simple and get going.

Sometimes having a low entry barrier and then have some inertia in the activity does create a good rhythm/regular schedule. But sometimes I just give up.

Other times what I need is some god damn good old drive to start rolling up my sleeve and get done with that pile of whatever.

So yes in theory, breaking things down is good, but it's not always the determining factor. I hope it's a bit clearer.


Yeah, true! I see your point now! I guess the determining factor is a mix of motivation and drive combined with "getting started". Breaking tasks up into smaller tasks doesn´t really do anything if you have no motivation and don´t get started.


Sometimes I think we should have resistance training. Just to get used to slightly unpleasant things, done a dozen times.


There's a book called "The War of Art" that addresses exactly that: "resistance"


oh what a surprise, thanks


It's great. I highly recommend it.


Would definitely benefit the motivational factor a lot. In fact, people nowadays would describe most tasks as "unpleasant". "Necessary" or "has to be done" are often categorized as unpleasant.


Yeah, sometimes a task is so boring or unpleasant to me or I'm so unmotivated that I'll do the first step and then just give up.

Other times, I don't even have to break the project down into steps. I just dive into it and crank it out, thoroughly enjoying the productivity I'm experiencing.


Cal Newport wrote the book "Deep Work". David Allen wrote "Getting Things Done". Do you mean David Allen instead of Cal Newport?


See reply to danial


Just read reply. I'm confused then because both books are about different things. I guess we could also say it was "mercifully shorter than Leo Tolstoy's book".


In specifics, different. In general, the same. Both are ultimately productivity books.


The difficulty lies in identifying that first dish or in having to keep too many plates spinning because their tasks depends on someone else.


I read David Allen's book in 2002 and immediately started implementing it. At first it felt like godsend. Capturing every "open loop" (everything that is not the way it should be = everything with a delta between current and desired state) and deciding for each of them if there is any action that I need to take and if so, what the very next step was - that practice alone released a ton of energy and gave me a sense of control. Prior to that I felt overwhelmed, had a sense of anxiety that there are things in my life that should be different.

Over time I realized that what GTD was missing (or not stressing enough) was the insight that in addition to knowing your commitments and deciding what we need to do to make them move forward we need to constantly remind us that resources are limited and priorities are not distributed equally but rather very asymmetrically. Only a few activities will have a major impact on our lives. The key is to focus on a few activities and deliberately ignore the other "80%". And while we ignore the other activities we have to learn to deal with the stress of not doing the other activities.

David Allen's method encourages people to keep lists of open issues. That's a very good practice. But it lacks the advice to implement a filter: To ignore 80% of the potential issues before we let them onto our lists. And to endure the stress that is caused by ignoring most of the things that want our attention.

Tl;dr: GTD does not stress making decisions and setting priorities enough (even though it mentions it in many chapters).


The key takeaway I got from GTD was just in capturing the thought, and therefore stopping it from cropping back up in thinking, and causing stress about stuff NOT getting done. This, in an of itself, helped me greatly.

Then, one random morning, as I was thinking in the shower (as one does), I had a sudden revelation: As someone who frequently suffered from intrusive thoughts over past pain (as many of us do), could this "mind like water" approach be applied to these thoughts as well?

I started writing out all the things that bothered me on a continually recurring basis. All the bad things I had done. All the bad things that had happened. This wasn't anything special; I just journaled the events, with an attempt to identify why these memories stuck with me, and still caused me pain, and what, if anything, I had learned from the experience. Within weeks, I was mostly finished. It's a Word doc, weighing in at about 25 pages, last I checked.

The difference was nearly miraculous. There's very little else that has changed my life so profoundly, and none so quickly. It's been, probably, 8-10 years ago now. I almost never have intrusive thoughts now. I still do things I regret, of course, but, with experience, I make smaller mistakes now, and my maturity in handling them has caught up to their magnitude, and there's no longer a huge gap between the action and reaction. To use a computer analogy, I cleaned out all my old core files, and now I use a garbage collected language anyway, so I'm not wasting all that disk space any more.

I'm relating this in the off chance that someone like me could see it, and benefit from this as well.


Thank you for this. I thought about how I handled my intrusive thoughts (also about eight years ago) and I realized I wrote songs about it.

I have never been as prolific as a songwriter since I became generally happy, but reading your comment gave me strength in remembering how much pain I used to be in and how things turned out not so bad after all.


That's why I've combined GTD lists with Eisenhower Matrix (prioritizing over Urgent-Important quadrants). Random but good video explaining it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tT89OZ7TNwc

I did run a software product once that was combining GTD and Eisenhower Matrix, which worked quite well. It's now discontinued but a short video in case interested is still online, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22S_1Qjq2J0


I independently developed a similar system in college, but it had a specific ranking for tasks. I put each task into two lists: the first sorted only by urgency/due date and the second sorted by importance. Then for each task I multiplied the rankings from the two lists to get the final task order.

This worked well for me because things naturally rose in ranking as the due dates got closer. That way I had plenty of time to work on really important projects, without jeopardizing moderately important things that suddenly became urgent at the last minute.


I do the same thing in Trello. Trello is amazing for GTD lists, and i use an eisenhower matrix on them. It's amazing how little I actually do and am happy, and I don't have to look at "not urgent, not important" since it is on a different board. I also do not use "urgent, not important", those go into the calendar and I do them or lose them. They aren't important.


During one of the most productive times of my life, I organized my tasks this way in Outlook 2007, of all places, using custom fields and its form designer.


Hey, thanks for your comment. I also think so. GTD is more keeping track and less actually defining priorities or what to do first. Nonetheless, it´s a very efficient system if you already know where you´re headed and know where your priorities lie.

My favourite author, Tim Ferris, has brought the 80/20 analysis to my attention. It´s really great for determining how to set priorities and deciding what to focus on. It´s simply, asking youself "What 20% of sources are resulting in 80% or my desired outcomes & happiness?".


I do agree that GTD helps to start learning to keep track of all the moving parts in our lives. That's the micromanagement part. Many people I know do not have a clue how to tackle this part of their lives (some of them are excellent at getting results, at macro managing their lives, but if you look at the details of their lives: there is a total mess)

Re 80/20 (Preto Principle): There is also a book from Richard Koch named "The 80/20 principle" that'll help to see how some activities will have a huge leverage and others will contribute almost nothing to our big goals. Be it that we read a book (and try to focus on the nuggets instead of reading every chapter) or trying to do every item on our lists vs selecting only one or two for a day and blocking a huge amount of time to get this activity done.

Also Peter Drucker has written a great book about this topic: "The Effective Executive".

I keep reminding myself that in life things are not distributed equally. Wealth, intelligence, insightful books, the contribution of activities to my goals, etc


+1 for “The Effective Executive”. Excellent reading for managers and individual contributors alike.


Cool! Thanks for the book recommendations. I will make sure to get my hands on them and check them out.

As per the inequal distribution - that´s very true! Personally, I find it to be a huge motivator for myself. To strive to get a bigger piece of the cake, specifically because of the unequal distribution. Of course, with topics like the wealth gap it isn´t such a pleasant fact. I guess it really depends on the angle you look at it.


I had the same issue. This is why I now prefer a kanban board.

As much as I dislike overhyped "lean" in software, in the TPS spirit I think it's a great way to prioritize and avoid planning waste.

With GTD I found I spend too much time writing task lists that would become outdated soon. WIP limits bring focus.


I've found something similar. Kanban boards have probably made me more effective, but more than that, they've made work a lot more enjoyable by helping me limit the number of open projects at once.


Do you use any particular kanban implementation?


Trello is great. Lightweight (compared to Jira + Addon), super fast (also via keyboard shortcuts) and fun to use


Trello's the best I've found


kanbanflow


What do you mean by "WIP" in this context? Work in progress? If that's the case, what does "WIP limits" mean?


WIP = work in progress.

Generally, in process management/improvement texts like on Lean or Theory of Constraints, you want to limit your work in progress to prevent backlogs and problems.

I have 100 books I want to read, that's probably an underestimate. I have 10 open right now at home (I cannot read one book straight through most of the time). I will not open another book until I have finished one of those 10.

Since I can only read one book at a time (the actual act of reading) and I only have about 2 hours a day to read, if I let my list grow larger I'd never finish. Many of these take approximately 1 hour/chapter and have 10-20 chapters. So I've got around 100-200 hours of work ahead of me, spread over 50-100 days. Adding another book to the queue means another 10 hours, or 5 days, to clear the list.

(Until I wrote this I actually hadn't put this much thought into my reading, but this is approximately what I do.)

In order to keep moving on any project you have to limit the amount of concurrent activities that you are doing so that progress can continue.


Too late to edit, and just reread.

Addendum:

> if I let my list grow larger I'd never finish

I'd never finish any books. As there's always something new to read the task of reading will never be done. But if I start new books without considering the number currently being read, then the odds of getting back to and finishing any other book is pretty low.


I used GTD religiously for a while, but I ran into the same issue of having difficulty deciding what to do right now. After trying a bunch of different approaches to how to set up 'contexts', I eventually came across Mark Forster's 'AutoFocus', which after a bunch of adjustments turned into this:

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

Key paragraph that explains why this worked better for me than GTD did:

> 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.

I still use a rudimentary GTD approach for collecting stuff (various inboxes) and keeping track of a project as a whole, but I've so far this 'AutoFocus' (or rather the unfortunately named 'Final Version') approach has been the only one that didn't fall apart quickly.


I actually disagree. By being explicit about all of your decisions to do things, and how much time it will take, you learn over time about the tradeoffs and stop doing worthless things. If you capture, review, plan, and think about where you're going long-term, you will stop doing things that have no value to you. (At least it worked for me.)

Whether it works for everyone, I don't know, but the first step is to get control of all the necessary information. Then you can decide if you need something more.


Try to review all your lists (or one list in a given context) every time you sit down to do work and choose the one that is the right one at a given time, energy level, context.

Personally, I find that overwhelming. Also I don't wait to be in a context (at phone, at computer, ...) Rather, I define my context, sit down and focus on one project single mindedly for hours and days to get this project done.

Of course I have my groceries list, my errands list, my "talk to dev team" list, Trello and JIRA and whatnot: all sorts of lists. But when I want to get work done, I ignore all these lists, get in tunnel-view-mode and forget about everything else.

When I have the time or when all the C-Prio tasks can't wait no more, I will turn to them and batch process them to get as many of them done das possible.


> review all your lists (or one list in a given context) every time you sit down to do work

That's the opposite of GTD. One of the goals of GTD is that you get to a point that you don't make decisions about what to do while you're working.

> when I want to get work done, I ignore all these lists, get in tunnel-view-mode and forget about everything else.

The ability to do that is the benefit of GTD.


You always have to decide. Say you are in the context "at office" and have a list with twenty action items on a list called @office. Which one will you do? You have to choose. Based upon your energy level, time available, etc.

David Allen (DA) outlines a process where you sit down (way before you start implementing a project), brainstorm / think through / clarify / define the endgame, and finally come up with "atomic" action items for that project. This is a fantastic advice.

Then these items are kept in various lists (that represent contexts; for instance "tasks I can do while I am at a phone" or "tasks I can do while I am at a computer / online / doing errands / ...".

Now you have a bunch of unrelated items distributed horizontally across various lists. As if "talk to my boss" [on the list: at agendas] or "draft the architecture for the platform" [on the list: at computer] is as important as "talk to neighbour re his barking dog at night" [on the list: at agendas] - And since DA recommends not to organise lists by priority you always have to review your lists to choose an action item. That means you'll have super important items buried in lists with trivial action items.

My issue with GTD is that it wants us to capture everything. Why does it want that? For inner peace! - DA thinks that whatever is nagging on me (internally or externally) needs to be captured / clarified / put on a list (to be dealt with asap or someday/maybe). As if my resources are unlimited. Why not take a decision way before and learn to clear things in advance, internally or externally (by saying the magic word: "no"), decide, that I don't want to follow up on that thing. Instead of having various lists with endless "open loops" that I want to close asap / someday/maybe. And by doing that, loosing focus.

I believe (like Peter Drucker in his book "The Effective Executive") that in order to accomplish anything of significance we need to focus our resources, "close the door", block as many hours as possible to work single mindedly on very few tasks. This is not what GTD says. It wants us to tackle everything that lands on my lists (sooner or later). And that is an illusion, that we can do a myriad of things and get significant results in our lives.


> DA recommends not to organise lists by priority

I agree with his advice. You are either going to complete a task or not complete it. If you define one task to be important and another to be trivial, they shouldn't be on the same list, or if they are, you should put the important task on the top. Things that have to get done should really go on your calendar.

> Why not take a decision way before and learn to clear things in advance, internally or externally (by saying the magic word: "no"), decide, that I don't want to follow up on that thing. Instead of having various lists with endless "open loops" that I want to close asap / someday/maybe.

But that's what you're doing with GTD. You capture everything that requires a decision, then at the end of the day or week, you make a decision about it. One of the motivations for GTD is that anything that needs a decision with either be floating around inside your brain, or inside a trusted system, and if you put it in a trusted system (where you know it will be reviewed soon enough) you free your brain to do work.


I usually have a project that is about ~30 tasks total, to be done mostly sequentially, with a deadline in a month. Maybe a week of work all together.

I never got that sort of thing to work with GTD, viewing only some number of "next actions" hides the fact that all those actions need to be done by some date.


I agree there isn't an emphasis on priorities in GTD. I keep my project list in rank order of importance, which he says is unnecessary but it is helpful to me.


GTD is bottom up. You have to collect everything you have already committed to and know your commitments and actions. Then you keep moving up the idea is to get to a place where your goals and life choices are driving all the decisions on what you commit to in the future.

If you implemented GTD you only captured and identified what you were already agreeing to do.

This is where the 50K foot view stuff comes in.

http://gettingthingsdone.com/2011/01/the-6-horizons-of-focus...

BTW i don't follow GTD strictly any more because it lacks a proper way to manage projects in my mind BUT it was designed around committing to the things you have to and the things that align with you.


> But it lacks the advice to implement a filter: To ignore 80% of the potential issues before we let them onto our lists.

Is there a problem with just capturing, moving on, then filtering later? I find my anxiety much reduced and my focus much increased if I just org-capture random idea, then get back to the task at hand. Version control of my org files and feeling free to archive, even going so far as setting status to DEFERRED or CANCELLED, but it's still written down (and no longer cluttering my mind) keeps me saner.


I recently started making small handwritten TODO lists that I keep in my pocket. It has significantly improved my productivity. Every morning while I'm getting ready, I usually think of about seven or eight things I really want to get done that day, and if I'm lucky, I'll actually do one or two. With this method I find I'm getting about four or five things done.

I find that the act of actually handwriting the TODO lists helps solidify exactly what needs to be done and in what order. Keeping it in my pocket is also a nice mnemonic. I'm always feeling the paper when I reach for my wallet or something so I don't forget. I keep a pen in my pocket too so I can add stuff to the list and cross things off as I finish, which is really satisfying. It's also useful for capturing various little thoughts, observations, project ideas, and other things that float into my mind at random points.

It works better than task management apps or calendar reminders on my phone. It's a pain to configure those sorts of things and I actively try to avoid staring at my phone too much. Sometimes the old-fashioned approaches are the best.


I do this too!

I have never been fond of task management applications.

I have an urgent list I carry in my pocket, and a future and someday list stapled to my wall where my desk is at home.

As mentioned above, it’s best to write and start with small tasks like “make my bed” since confidence is built on accomplishment and you’ll feel good about it.

I though would like o state that sleep and being well-rested is the backbone of getting things done. Some may even add exercise to the mix.


Exactly. It helps narrowing down things to do with less brain activity on it but sometimes in the downside it can increase anxiety and frustration since the feedback of not done anything is constantly reminded. but that works. Very much like how reinforcement learning is successful. https://hackernoon.com/this-is-how-i-waste-my-day-with-lapto...


This is what I do too. I have a pad of sticky notes on my desk and each morning I write what I want to work on today in order of priority. Then I schedule some time in my calendar to work on each thing. I cross off the things I finish, so on the following morning I can see what I didn't finish the day before and add it to the current day if need be before throwing the note out and starting the next one.


Same, except I do it every 4 hours or so.


> pneumonic

mnemonic?


Thanks!


While I most probably don't follow the tactics of GTD (haven't read them and don't want to) I aggressively follow a strategy that really works for me : reducing cognitive load. I make a point to commit nothing except the task on hand to my working memory.

When I say "I should remember to", I immediately stop and use a Messenger bot I coded for that purpose

When my wife say "Can you remember to" I immediately ask her to put it into our shared calendar, or I add it to the same bot

When a coworker says "can you do X", we add it as a trello card with the appropriate priority

People start to get used to it, they probably assume that I have very bad memory or that I'm weird, and we make it work :-) I feel very light since I started enforcing these procedures


"commit nothing except the task on hand to my working memory" is essentially the summary of GTD done approach.


What character did you insert after "G" in "GxTD?" It's not rendering on my browser, weirdly.


I wondered the same thing. It shows up in Chromium but not Firefox. It is apprently character 0x14, or ASCII for "Device control 4". First time I come across this character !


There's a good tl;dr image in the article.

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/2000/1*rZ_jJWwI9t_p-Cl3K...


One of the keys to GTD is capturing tasks, which is precisely what you describe. After they're captured, you can plan them. This is the second thing you describe (putting something on a calendar, or into a work queue like your trello card).

If you do that, you're already getting most of the benefits of GTD. Getting everything out of your head so you can remain focused on the immediate task at hand.


I'm a novice programmer and have been building my own small personal web app for remembering references[0]. I'd love to take a look and learn from your bot if you're able to share the code!

[0]https://github.com/brianzelip/refrem


The bot is freely usable at https://www.facebook.com/botremindme (it also had a landing page, but, smart me, I did not renew the domain and now it's squatted by a porn site).

I need to take an hour to open source the code, that's clear. But feel free to try and let me know if you have any question!


GTD is the utopia of productivity. Everyone attempts to reach it but almost no one (if any) ever will. Those who get the closest realize that you can't live your life like that.

In my world GTD become a goal in itself rather than a way to better manage your life.

With a few exception (calendar) I lived my life in a way that would make a GTD enthusiast cringe.

I am always impressed by those who attempt to do it but never surprised when they finally give up.


I think GTD can be dangerous for people who like systems too much; a bit like people who play RPGs because of the rules around bookkeeping of stats and deciding of battles, rather than for the imagined world the bookkeeping keeps honest.

I'm highly task-oriented in my work, but mostly it's just a list of lists, maintained in a text file with infinite persistent undo. Every task starts out as a line, gets a few sub-lines when it acquires some definition, and gets broken up into multiple separate tasks if it's too big, or it only gets partially done and other tasks remain.

I don't live like that much outside of work (unless there's a specific longer-lived process, like moving house or something), and my process is very light weight. I think GTD starts out too heavy; it would be better done iteratively, starting with something very simple that works 80% of the time, and then adding more if you're so busy that you need the extra process. You could then start reading the book and put it down early on with enough to get by, but still be able to pick it up if you need more.


I tried GTD years ago, and I went down a crazy rabbit hole and lost any productivity I had.

Pomodoro isn't as much of a black hole for me, but I do better just closing browser windows/turning off wifi/putting in earplugs instead of headphones, and focusing until I get to a point where I'm ready/need to take a break. And that's usually 30-60 minutes as it is.

tl;dr: GTD is bad for me, disconnecting, earplugs, and punctuated focused periods of effort are good.


> maintained in a text file with infinite persistent undo

How? Is this persistence a function of your text editor?


I wrote a notepad app that tracks document history indefinitely to a log file - https://github.com/barrkel/scratch


> Those who get the closest realize that you can't live your life like that.

This has been my experience. After a while I had to realize that it is too "top-down" for real life. It also made me realize time and again that I often didn't have a clear goal. And when I had one then I was so committed that there was no need for any system except the occasional sticky note.

It's a classic example of a great solution (it really is a neat system) to a problem that does not really exist. I could imagine that people with an extremely poor memory would profit from using a well done implementation of gtd. Maybe it would also work for those who have extremely little uncertainty in their (professional) life.


I used to use GTD, but nowadays I mostly just use the "capture" part, a.k.a LET IT GO OUT OF MY SYSTEM DAMMIT. The remaining steps just sort themselves out as things are falling into very different buckets: a. very general life goals (non actionable by themselves due to their large scale, virtual nature, and can only be achieved by habit as well as internalising what I truly want, but certainly not with reminders), b. whatever I fancy doing when I happen to have some free time (for which I may go back to a quickly jotted draft of step 1, and since I'm in the mood for it, well, I just do it), c. very concrete errands and other mundane tasks.

GTD is a worthy attempt at formalising things but in doing so it's way too generic and thus doesn't pragmatically cater for the very different situations above. IOW theory and practice are the same... in theory.


My personal method is partially inspired by GTD. I apply it in a way that suits my own work context and it works well.

There is no universal solution. GTD works well for some people in some contexts.


One of the smallest parts of GTD had a pretty big impact in my life. If doing something will take only two minutes, then just do it. Don't put it off, don't add it to a list, just do it.


You make the bizarre claim that nobody successfully follows GTD because you’ve never done so, and you know many others who have also failed to do so.

That’s like a fat dude looking around at the donut shop and saying “nobody ever sticks to their diets, haha!”

I’ve used GTD for years. I just shattered your claim.


>That’s like a fat dude looking around at the donut shop and saying “nobody ever sticks to their diets, haha!”

And the fat dude would be right statistically.

>I’ve used GTD for years. I just shattered your claim.

Not necessarily. You could still be an outlier (generally when people say "nobody does X" in casual conversation, they allow for statistical noise level outliers).

Or not have very hard workloads to begin with.


As a side note: diet doesn't work long term:

> After about five years, 41 percent of dieters gain back more weight than they lost. Long-term studies show dieters are more likely than non-dieters to become obese over the next one to 15 years.

> ... The study found that a single diet increased the odds of becoming overweight by a factor of two in men and three in women. Women who had gone on two or more diets during the study were five times as likely to become overweight.

More [earlier]:

> men with severe obesity have only one chance in 1,290 of reaching the normal weight range within a year; severely obese women have one chance in 677. A vast majority of those who beat the odds are likely to end up gaining the weight back over the next five years...

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/opinion/sunday/why-you-ca...


>men with severe obesity have only one chance in 1,290 of reaching the normal weight range within a year

Based on my personal experiences, a pool of anecdotes from friends, and the generally accepted advice of the medical community: sustained weight loss of more than 1 lb per week is incredibly difficult and not realistic for most dieters.

Since, by definition, most "severely obese" people are more than 52lb from a "healthy" weight, statistics like this seem inevitable even if the person does everything perfectly and achieves results that they're satisfied with.

Example: I've totally transformed my body with diet and exercise. But I've failed by this metric, because it took longer than a year, and I'm significantly heavier now than at my lowest weight (albeit much more muscular)


So 59% of dieters sustain their weight loss over 5+ years? That doesn't sound like "doesn't work" to me.

Also there's a big difference between controlling your diet and "dieting". The latter is explicitly a temporary thing, and so of course doesn't have a permanent effect.


You’re right — most people will fail to stick with diets, exercise, and personal organization. Frankly, it feels hilarious that researchers had to spend time proving that claim. Just look around!

On the other hand, there’s a powerful minority of people who do stay disciplined. They get a lot of stuff done.

Lastly, although it’s easy to fail, it is possible to join that powerful minority.


It's not only possible, it's so much easier than most think. It's just a case of just doing it, like cleaning your room or washing your dishes.


"Just doing it" seems to be the solution to a lot of things. Whether it´s trying new things or starting a business. I´ve learnt the hard way that overthinking and then not doing is worse than just doing and then failing. Out of failing you actually learn and get better. Out of overthinking comes .. literally ..nothing.

Gary Vaynerchuk always preaches the "concept" of putting in the actual work. Also a variation of "just doing it" but with the side-note of "actually go out and do something"! Really important stuff because most of the people nowadays don´t get that and think success will somehow come around the corner one day.


I don't really get what you are trying to say. Those who are obese are more likely to be obese again? That seems intuitive. It's also equally as true that not all obese people stay obese. What is your solution to weight loss? I think it depends on the definition of diet is used. Fads don't work, but something has to. In my experience, it's just a lack of commitment and the availability of delicious high caloric food.


> Those who are obese are more likely to be obese again?

Read the link. It answers your question explicitly (twin studies).


I'm assuming that 'diet' refers to implementing a calorie restriction into their diet. In which case it obviously does work, but people not doing it is the issue.

I actually believe education in nutrition and specifically weight manipulation would help a lot. From my experience in talking with others, the average person's views on these topics is almost in the realm of magic due to being bombarded with false information from media and product companies.

With a solid understanding in these topics, one can implement changes into their diet and very easily assess why they are or aren't making progress towards their goals. As it stands the average weight loss attempt with the understanding of weight loss as some form of black magic tends to result in temporary success or outright failure, with no way of being able to assess why or what to do about it. It is then usually concluded that one's 'genetics' are at fault.


I’m think the number of self-defeating replies, on this forum of high achievers, is sad.

What if I listed studies showing how hard it is to stop smoking. Would you say, “well, there it is — pass me the tobacco.” No — most of you would acknowledge that it was difficult, but you’d find a way to quit.

Maybe GTD isn’t your style of personal time management. But time management is an extremely important skill if you want to excel in life.

To dismiss it by pointing to failure statistics is sad.


Diet works just fine.

Human willpower doesn't work long term.


As a tech exec and certified personal trainer, I say: Exactly.


Did you read what i wrote? You proved my point :) you dont do it anymore.


I realize English is an ambiguous messy language, but "have used for x years" usually implies that you have been and still are using it.


I’m not seeing your joke. Confused.

Maybe you’re like an evil hypnotist. “You will stop following your diet. You will stop following your diet. You will stop following your diet.” :-)

Seriously though — I think these two claims are both frequent and harmful:

1. It’s impossible to stay disciplined in the long run.

2. Discipline sucks the joy out of life. On the contrary, I think discipline gives you freedom.


Relying on discipline alone is whats harmful. Studies repeatedly show that most people can not reach their goals by only relying on willpower. Good systems/diets etc define strategies that _reduce_ the amount of discipline required to stick to it.

Saying "be disciplined" is roughly in the same category as telling someone to "be happy". It's a great goal, but no help at all for someone who is not already there.


If there's something missing from the discipline and willpower equation, it's habit formation. Discipline is good, but it means a constant struggle. You have to make good habits the new normal with a cue>routine>reward loop. There's a lot of good stuff about this in the book "The Power of Habit" by Duhigg


Yeah! I consider discipline a conscious thing and that only works for so long. What you actually want to achieve is that tasks that require discipline eventually become a habit. Because then you´ve internalized the task and relaxation and peace of mind become part of the equation.


I misread what you wrote my apologies.

Anyway, I don't see how you shattered anything.

First of all, I never attempted to do GTD exactly because I never saw the value. So I didn't fail at it I simply decided not to do it once I realized what it required.

Second of all that you have used GTD for years doesn't mean you are going to continue using it. Lets talk in 10 years and see.


Maybe. But I think the method is not supposed to be applied word by word. Reading the book taught me some very important lessons nevertheless. What is an actionable item. Tasks must be clear. Small task should taken care of right away. etc.


> Reading the book taught me some very important lessons nevertheless. What is an actionable item. Tasks must be clear.

So you never wrote a function before reading GTD? ;)


Every time I tried to do GTD it just makes me unhappy.

It is something related with encoding all the little things, put them into boxes, organize. And ultimately becoming the robot executing the tasks that I have set for myself. The list becomes the things I have to do, it grows larger and larger, there is never enough time.

Instead, let the brain do what it does best; forget. Put the really important things in the calendar, like Tax and VAT returns. All the rest in not important. Then pick two tasks for the day. It's all a bit fuzzy and that's what I like the best; it leaves room for my creativity.


Sounds like you'd like Zen to Done, a modified version of GTD.

The basics is here: https://zenhabits.net/zen-to-done-ztd-the-ultimate-simple-pr... (and there's a longer ebook version for sale, too).


> The list becomes the things I have to do, it grows larger and larger, there is never enough time.

I'd argue that you're not doing GTD the right way if that's the case. If you're doing GTD, you should be making decisions about what you should and shouldn't be doing.

> Instead, let the brain do what it does best; forget. Put the really important things in the calendar, like Tax and VAT returns. All the rest in not important. Then pick two tasks for the day. It's all a bit fuzzy and that's what I like the best; it leaves room for my creativity.

That's what should happen if you're doing GTD. There's no way you can "forget" if you know there are dozens of open loops floating around. If you're not explicit about the things you have to do and the things you're not going to do, there's no way you are going to be able to focus on your work.


GTD is more or less a real world event loop of tasks implemented on individual human beings.


In theory, GTD is great.

In practice, it comes up short in several ways.

TLDR - For some years now, I use a system called Agile Results [1]. It's a method (with less marketing behind it than GTD) which has been gaining traction for a lot of good reasons. I couldn't be happier with it.

I won't get into the details, but its biggest edge against GTD is the flexibility. With Agile Results, you can let go for a couple of hours or days, and the system doesn't fall apart, it's more organic. It's oriented towards Results in several domains of life, in a balanced way. The manner in which it breaks down the hierarchy of projects, temporal horizons and relative importance of tasks is the real key. It solves the same problems as GTD (eg, your mind is for thinking not remembering [of course, you can still incorporate spaced repetition for what you want to remember long term]). But it solves them in a way which is more organic, focused and iterative. If you only implement a portion of it, it has the proportional benefits - it's not all or nothing. It also lets you integrate parts of other productivity systems.

There's a book about it [1], and a 30 day program to getting started incrementally [2].

I realize it sounds like hyperbole, but, after some years using it, I consider the problem of productivity essentially solved.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Getting-Results-Agile-Way-Personal/dp...

[2] http://www.30daysofgettingresults.com/

[3]http://www.asianefficiency.com/agile-results/


So I just read through your [2].

The first part seemed good and reasonable, though towards the end (from day 10 onwards) I felt like the guy was kind of just trying to come up with stuff to excite the reader, and which in my mind cluttered the simplicity of the rest, i.e. the 3 things a week, 3 things a day, hotspots, monday vision and friday reflection (+ dump your brain, but everyone says that).

Would you mind giving a more concrete telling of how you have implemented this system in your life and which parts of this 30 days-thing you find to be indispensable and which are just fluff?


Has anyone low in conscientiousness had any success with GTD? It seems to me like this system is amazing for people who are already very conscientious but not well organised.


The hardest part for me is consulting my lists.

Does anyone ever get so bored (or motivated?) that they say "hey, I wonder where I could find a huge list of tasks to choose from!"?

I email myself reminders. I put items in my google calendar. I've occasionally used google todo lists. I use Remember The Milk. I have iCloud notes and text files. I have Jira tickets.

I never look at these things. Or at least, I never consult them with proper regularity.

Working with todo lists has reduced my mental burden, but I STILL have those things hanging out in my head that I know I need to do, yet aren't written down. Or maybe they are, but they also occupy space in my mind. Again, far less than before I had a "system", but even with the "system", I don't find much relief.

I have maybe 30-40 items in my RememberTheMilk list. Some have dates, many don't. Many of the ones with dates I've been postponing for 6+ months. Which means to consult the list (which I do only every 3-5 days) is a burden in and of itself, because now I have to re-schedule a lot of things. I could leave these items without a date, but then they'll be even LESS likely to get done, because they're down somewhere at the bottom. And the list is too long for me to regularly look over and feel I have a handle on. So I create calendar items with reminders for things I really need to do, say, sometime this afternoon. But maybe 2pm was a bad choice because I got involved in something, so I'll ignore the alert. now I have to look back at the calendar and see there was a think I was supposed to do in the past.

I don't know -- I'm getting better, I guess, but the difficulty still seems to be the actual DOING.


I'm the same exact way... Tasks and reminders are spread across multiple services, but I never check them.

Have you tried offline notes?

It's not sexy and it doesn't sync with all of your devices, but for computer-related tasks the only to-do list I've had consistent success with is large post-it notes. It's always next to my keyboard so the effort required to consult the list is next to none.


Yeah, I've bought and used notebooks, but my best results are with post-it notes.


NOTE: If you find GTD "too technical" or "too overwhelming" give a try to ZTD, zen to done.

It's a modified version that keeps goals and main tasks for the day front and center.

https://zenhabits.net/zen-to-done-ztd-the-ultimate-simple-pr...


>Lastly, if something might require action someday, but not now, it is added to the someday list. These are things that you want to remember, but shouldn’t be cluttering up your ‘next actions’ list. Things like ‘Learn Japanese’ or ‘write a book’ go here.

So let's take "learn Japanese" as the example, because that is a goal of mine and I already am engaged in achieving this goal.

Before having any awareness of this GTD concept, I simply have been studying flashcards daily (anki, 5 new words a day), and when I get a chance read and do exercises from a Japanese grammar book I bought. Down the road, I know I need to at some point engage in watching Japanese TV, listening to radio, and finding Japanese speakers to engage with in conversations to improve my reading ability.

I know these things because I already learned Chinese and I figured out the smaller steps to break down, but how on earth would I break these into "actions" (from the article - "Every project should have an "next action") if I had no concept of how to learn a language?

For example, another goal I have is "become a dank ass motorcyclist - drag knee!" Right now I just putt around in the Santa Cruz mountains and do what I can, but what would I put for "next action" for this project? I guess schedule a track day?

Basically, how do I learn to break large tasks I know nothing about into "actionable items?"


> how on earth would I break these into "actions" [...] if I had no concept of how to learn a language?

If you don't know how to break a larger task into actions, you are simply unable to perform the task, regardless of whether you use GTD or not. What GTD does is make you consciously aware of the process of breaking down larger tasks into smaller actions.

> Right now I just putt around in the Santa Cruz mountains and do what I can, but what would I put for "next action" for this project? I guess schedule a track day?

It sounds like you think that the "next action" needs to be different from the previous one. It is not. If you want to learn the piano, you can just perform the action "practice the piano for 30 minutes" every day, unless you decide that you want to take a different "next action" at some point.


So in the GTD system, an action can be a permanent, do-every-day thing? How would you decide it's "done" then? (assuming lots of long-term goals require "practice x for y/times per z" events)


You may pick a piece you want to play of modest complexity and difficulty. You're "done" when you can play it. But are you really? No, you just pick another, harder, piece.

The practice is to get you to that skill level. If you simply enjoy playing, you may never be done. But you know that each day you have allocated 30 minutes or so to practice.


Your next action might be, "research steps to becoming a dank ass motorcyclist".

And if that's too broad, could break it down to "look for beginner motorcyclist YouTube channels / subreddits", or "look for motorcycle coach"


I'm using zim [0] for implementing my task management. But I'm honestly not very convinced of GTD. I know GTD for years and was pretty motivated in implementing it, but later in combination with software tools like Redmine it felt like a burden to me. Maintaining the system itself was kinda time wasting. Now I at least have my zim desktop wiki, which centralizes all my TODOs (adding dates to TODOs is possible).

[0] http://zim-wiki.org/manual/Usage/Getting_Things_Done.html


tiny reminder that emacs org mode is somehow pretty suited to implement GTD https://duckduckgo.com/?q=emacs+gtd&t=ffsb&atb=v84-7&ia=web


Nicolas Petton (maintainer of Indium) wrote a great blog post about his org-mode GTD workflow: https://emacs.cafe/emacs/orgmode/gtd/2017/06/30/orgmode-gtd....


There's no magic bullets for this sort of thing. Try something and see if it works. If it doesn't work, try something else. Incrementally improve your processes.


The guide being an ace with the GTD technique is some thing the book answers quite well at the end of it.

Its a thing called 'Constancy of purpose', its simply a way of saying you can be productive, only if you do work that is satisfying to you. Once you find such work, and you get drowned by it, GTD helps you be organized and work through it in sanity.

The problem for most people is working through boring drudgery day in and out, until boredom becomes routine. Brain begins to largely see what it has memorized as pointless to be played out on paper, and sooner than you realize you drop out of GTD. So to an extent you need to be doing new, exciting and at least satisfying stuff to get your GTD regimen going.

Once you are involved with such work. GTD is plainly simple. Just list out all tasks in the order of urgency and goals. That is life, decade, yearly, monthly and weekly goals. Then at weekly level, write down stuff and prioritize them. Anything that can be addressed in 5 minutes, just do that right then. Other stuff goes in the order of priority. You review your list every week, and lastly the important concept of deadlines. Once you commit to a job, finish it within a timeline or it becomes irrelevant after a while.

The other stuff to GTD is your regular discipline of being motivated, focused etc.


Great explanation! The part with the satisfying stuff is really important. No system works properly if you don´t want to get stuff done.

Purpose combined with "actually doing stuff" is the point I guess. One without the other equally results in nothing meaningful.


Getting Things Done is by far the most influential book I've read. It has changed the way I think about everything.

However, I have never been able to find a good implementation of the system. I know that David Allen (GTD) and Charles Simonyi (Intentional Software) were working on something at some point, but I haven't heard anything since.


I have a homemade implementation in Google Sheets that sort of works. I use it sometimes more, sometimes less. Template at https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1YUG6--8BOk_TdxDTSY9A... - feel free to try.


In over a decade of fiddling with manual / desktop OS / Palm / Palm / Palm / Android versions of tool after tool, I finally realized the only important part of GTD is the "write down enough thoughts to ease the stress of forgetting, in a system you trust". Everything else is jump starting detail, valuable to get going toward less stress but will be adjusted & customized by everyone eventually.

Like another answerer to this comment, I finally rolled a custom Sheets layout that works the way I think about things, and over the last few months, have slowly tweaked it closer and closer to my personal thoughtflow.

It's not the details of the system that matter, it's the relieving of the stress that makes it worthwhile.


There are two implementations I find quite good.

1. ThinkingRock

It's a desktop client for all operating systems. There are two versions. A free one (v 2.x - still available on sourceforge [0]) and one you have to buy (v 3.x)[1]

2. Getting Things Gnome

I find it slightly less convincing than ThinkingRock. What's more, it appears not to be maintained anymore. The offical website is down and there have been no update on github[2] for a while. However, it might be just what you're looking for so you should also give it a try.

[0] https://sourceforge.net/projects/thinkingrock/

[1] https://www.trgtd.com.au

[2] https://github.com/getting-things-gnome/gtg


The only implementation I have found worthwhile is paper, and to a certain extent, plain markdown/org files in Dropbox. Everything else, like OmniFocus and whatnot has had severe issues with the flexibility inherently required.


Out of curiosity, what are your issues with OmniFocus?

I have some issues with it (primarily that it's hard to share information from it with other people), but otherwise I find it to be a fantastic personal tool for GTD (I'd use it for work, but my office is all Windows).

That said, I do like paper and org-mode at least as much. I definitely find paper best for writing down my intentions and clarifying them before I enter them into OmniFocus.


I currently still use Omnifocus for part of my system because it is still pretty great, and has excellent cross-device support, but my gripes are:

- The context support is weak. It ideally would be replaced by a tagging system, but I doubt that's coming at this point.

- No support for making sequentially dependent tasks -- I can't mark task A to be doable as soon as task B completes. (I guess I could, if I do a lot of sub-projects with sequential dependency)

- In addition to this, subprojects are janky. They're just kinda awful to use, from the awkward indentation to the fact that the side-bar projects view is not actually a full tree, and just works with folders. This would need to be changed to also expand/be usable for sub-projects, not just for folders and top-level projects.

- The system maintenance tools are lacking. One of the core tenets of GTD is to make sure that every project always has a next step, and OmniFocus has no support for this whatsoever, aside from manual review. I realise that paper also doesn't do this, but it seems like something a digital solution should have.

- No sharing information, as you said, aside from exporting things as TaskPaper.

- Support for deferments, but not for Tickler files, which are one of the handiest things about a paper-based system.

- Reference and storage, per nature of OmniFocus, has to be completely separated, which adds jank. I realise this is massive scope-bloat, so it's probably not fair to complain about.

Things I really like and will probably keep even after I drop OmniFocus:

- The dedicated mail drop. I think even after I move away from OF, this is going to be something I keep.

- The "due" list view. OmniFocus pushes you towards using this a lot, even if it's not completely in the spirit.

- The good integration between my laptop and phone is going to be hard to live without again.

I hope this shed some light on my gripes and issues with OmniFocus. :)


May I recommend http://zenkit.com It´s really easy to use, offers tons of different views on your data and grows with your product.

Disclaimer: I work at Zenkit.


I've tried many systems over the years for implementing GTD (Palm Pilot, MS Outlook, Evernote, One Note, paper) adding scripts and tools like autohotkey. For me by far the best system is org-mode in emacs, but getting proficient in emacs is not trivial. For me at least emacs also seems to work much better under linux, and org-mode works better if you use emacs as your email client. This is a good reference

http://doc.norang.ca/org-mode.html



Adding things to calendars is the biggest habit I've built from reading the book years ago. That's the one thing I recommend as the best takeaway if you only have one.


I haven't read the book, since this comes across as new to me...but doesn't this just makes you more alert/self-aware? Which is good but what is the point of adding things to do in a list or calendar if you don't actually go and make them? Is this discussed in the book?


It is discussed in the book. You should just read the book if you want to consider this seriously.

If you're just looking for a summary: there is very little point writing things in a list if you don't read the list, obvs.

The key to GTD is that if you actually do write everything in lists and calendars, then you are freed from having to remember things. If you can reach that inflection point, then it frees up a lot of mental capacity and is glorious. Remembering things is surprisingly mentally draining, as it basically consists of thinking about them every now and then.

Read the book.


It is in fact discussed in the book. GTD is great for procrastination if used wrongly, because only adding stuff to the lists isn´t going to complete the tasks. Also, it is important to note that GTD isn´t a fool proof system. Without constantly reviewing the tasks and checking whether tasks should be added to another list, the inbox piles up and then the system doesn´t make sense anymore.



I use OmniFocus as my tool.


Write down ideas...

I'm very skeptical that this would work, because I have ideas about all kinds of topics all the time. My list would be so crowded and mixed that it would be hard to prioritize anything. At the end I would see on paper that there is too much stuff going on in my head, something that I already know...


If lots of creative bits floating around in your head works for you, and doesn't distract from accomplishing the day to day things, then all good.

The thing I've seen most about "GTD doesn't work!" feelings is the assumption that 'doing GTD' is all or nothing. "record everything and become task robot" is one extreme.

The core idea is "use something other than your mind to keep track of the core things you want to be reminded of later, and the stress of 'what was that thought again?' can go away."

If you get to a point of not worrying about what might have fallen between the cracks, you've got enough of a system and I call that 'working'.

My "GTD" system doesn't look anything at all like DA explains it, but the concepts were enough to push me in the right direction and find what works to keep that worry at bay.


I get bugged with ideas during work constantly, mostly feature creep, sometimes good bugs. But almost always they don't require direct action at that point.

When I write these down and they go out of my head so I can focus on my tasks again.

I was able to adopt this behaviour after going Full Getting Things Done for a few months. My mind learned to trust that if I write something down, I will stumble upon it later and it no longer has to worry about it at that point. Although I'm cheating it a little bit I have a lot less going on at the same time (until my mind doesn't trust me anymore).


> At the end I would see on paper that there is too much stuff going on in my head, something that I already know...

The point is that you get it out of your head, and let it go, to focus on the task at hand. The fact that this physically accumulates outside of your head, is just a side effect, and just points out that you can't do everything, and so you have to let go of some task or idea, maybe for today, maybe forever.

I used to use GTD, but nowadays I mostly just use the "capture" part, a.k.a LET IT GO OUT OF MY SYSTEM DAMMIT. The remaining steps just sort themselves out as things are falling into very different buckets: a. very general life goals (non actionable by themselves due to their large scale, virtual nature, and can only be achieved by habit as well as internalising what I truly want, but certainly not with reminders), b. whatever I fancy doing when I happen to have some free time (for which I may go back to a quickly jotted draft of step 1, and since I'm in the mood for it, well, I just do it), c. very concrete errands and other mundane tasks.


Capturing ideas is only the first step. You then organize them, based on time, context, or horizons of focus (Runway, 10,000', 20,000', 30,000', 40,000', 50,000'). Review regularly.


While that advice is fine, I do not feel like I am getting things done. It feels more like I am getting things out of my way. And while I have to admit that getting things out of your way, is the first step towards getting things done, I still feel like my mind ist creating ideas/projects at a much higher rate than I can finish them.

This is probably because my mind loves great ideas and doesn't feel satisfied by small ones. Yet small ones are the only ones I am able to finish within an acceptable margin of time.

So the result is, I have a few large ideas I am working on from time to time and a list of smaller ones I barely even touch, because the price of time to finish one of them doesn't weight their value. And in the end I am getting nothing "done" ;-)

At least I have fun working on my own ideas :-)


Off topic, but I'm often puzzled and peeved by the characters that get used as apostrophes. The HN submission uses a standalone acute accent character (U+00B4), which renders with way too much spacing around it. The article itself uses a right single quotation mark (U+2019) in the page title and in the article body, but uses a genuine apostrophe (U+0027) in the author's name. The quotation mark at least renders more or less the same as an apostrophe would. The accent character must have been introduced by the HN poster using a misconfigured keyboard when they manually re-typed the title.


Seems like agile development for the individual. My only concern is that it will only work as well as it does for our company. To be fair, i do not think my company uses agile correctly (more rules than guidelines)


Here's the short version: make to do lists and folders and shut off your phone and email for an hour so you don't get interrupted. It's like weight loss techniques. They all work if you follow them.


Sure, but, in a more pessimistic view, what it's the meaning of 'they all work' if average people can't follow it?


A trick I used to use while in college was that if I ever dreaded the magnitude of the task that was in front of me (preparing for an exam, or working on my thesis or whatever), I'd spend half an hour making a very systematic time-table for it. So if it was preparing for an exam, I'd nicely spread all the chapters of the book I had to read into whatever time I had left. Even if the plan was a little unrealistic, the fact that I had made it made me feel in control of the situation and worked wonders for my mental state.


I beg to differ from what author says. Am kind of reluctant to materialize all my thoughts, it can be good to note down the ideas but with what author suggests to take dump of my entire brain and its thought is bit over rated. My point being, when we note down too many things our capacity to remember things gets really bad. It's like am totally dependent on the notes for any action i want to do next. Over the period i feel we will have very poor memory.


Instead of having twelve tasks now you have 15, because you also need to keep track of the twelve tasks you are not doing. the problem is often more about getting started than getting done.


That is absolutely true. Wihtout actually getting started, nothing happens. No system can "make you" more productive. You make yourself more productive by implementing the system.


What a great article! I wanted to read the book for a long time but never had enough time. The article really seems to summarize it and makes it understandable. Well done! I´ve also stumbled upon this one on the same blog. It explains the implementation with Zenkit. I guess it would be worth a try. https://blog.zenkit.com/how-to-set-up-gtd-in-zenkit-902fa696...


Most important for me:

- remember nothing (clear head), write down everything (and with enough detail to really remember e.g. some decision instead of just jotting down a keyword)

I have yet to figure out how to handle too much to do though... Sure, just drop the less important stuff, but at some point something will break or someone else will depend on work I didn't do.


As far as processing the inbox goes, I feel like GTD has too much overhead. "Inbox Zero for Life" works better than anything I've ever tried:

https://xph.us/2013/01/22/inbox-zero-for-life.html


One thing that does increase my productivity is keeping track of what I do during the day.

I didn't have productivity in mind when I started doing that, but the fact is, as I want the data to be accurate, as soon as I hit the "Work" button I focus on work and only on work.

Not sure I recommend it thought...


What do you use to keep track of your data?


Atimelogger


To all the people with the little and big todo lists, live a little. Let life surprise you.


I guess that´s why many people don´t even start with trying to implement GTD into their lives. They fear being "too organized". What many people don´t get is that after "clearing your head" and really using GTD you have more space in your mind to actually live and be creative.


Wish I could upvote this twice. The problem people have is all the stuff that needs to be done - a mountain of email, Christmas shopping, personal projects, and such. Ignoring it won't make it go away.

If you can't work because a dog is biting you in the leg, one response is "I'm too busy to fight with a dog right now, and fighting with a dog isn't much fun, so I'll just ignore it and focus on my work instead." Not sure that's the best path to productivity.


I have a very flexible list, I use it to remind me of the things I have some commitment to , and the rest of my time I do what comes up... not either/or.


I just use google inbox. It's brilliant UX is guiding me through GTD without even knowing it.


The problem for me is habits, not projects. I've yet to find an acceptable solution to keeping habits going.


Does http://sidcha.com help?


I just wish that I had finished reading the implementation of CFRunloop so I could compare it with GTD.


I first encountered GTD in 2007. After about 8 years of trying, I finally accepted that GTD didn't work for me.

I think any workflow management has to be tailored to your personality. I digged that from the start and did not fall into the trap of being 100% David Allen compliant.

Some of my issues:

- My lists grow long. Way too long. I recall he suggests looking at the Someday/Maybe during the weekly review. That just overwhelmed me.

- Not enough attention is paid upon "upkeep". I know you're supposed to clean things out every week, but it was a lot of work, and mentally draining. David Allen did not seriously address cognitive load.

- I could never work out a system to handle "Waiting For" tasks. Managing it all on paper was impossible. And software never seemed to get it right.

- Although he talks about the 10000 ft view, etc - I felt he didn't give any real advice on looking at the bigger picture. GTD is an excellent way of focusing on minor projects while neglecting major ones. One needs to prioritize, and he just expects you to prioritize somehow.

Those are the ones I remember off the top of my head.

It definitely was not a waste of time, though. Some positives that came out of it:

- Not treating your Inbox as a TODO list

- Getting a filing cabinet (this paid dividends immediately)

- Making me learn more about org-mode customization in my attempts to implement GTD in it.

- Self knowledge about what works for me and what doesn't.

GTD is the flow that everyone goes through before encountering what works for them.

I later discovered the One Minute Todo List (http://www.michaellinenberger.com/TheOneMinuteTo-DoList-Eboo...). This filled in a lot of the gaps in GTD. His explanation of work stress in his book was very relevant to me.

However, even that didn't fully work for me, and I continue on my quest.

Lately, the thing I'm realizing one thing: As long as I don't control my inputs, nothing will work for me. Inputs are things like:

- Work my boss gives me

- RSS/Facebook/Twitter/News feeds

- Email

- Pretty much anything else that feeds into your TODO lists

Allowing a lot of stuff to get in to your inbox (GTD inbox, not email inbox) will make managing it much harder. Take a deep look at what category of items get in there, and start applying limits. I'm experimenting doing that with email by making incoming email based on whitelist only: If the sender's address is not in my whitelist, it will not show up in my inbox, and the the sender will get an email with instructions on how to get their quarantined email into my inbox (i.e. prove there is a human behind the email) as well as their email address in my whitelist.


What's a good tool for managing the various lists/projects? I've tried Google Docs, Apple Notes, and Txt files.

I'm good at making giant "inboxes". From there I move them into 20-30 separate files, but it's tedious -- trying to find the right GDocs tab in Chrome.

Then it's hard to pick out the top must-do items from the 20-30 lists.


>What's a good tool for managing the various lists/projects? I've tried Google Docs, Apple Notes, and Txt files.

Dunno, frankly. I use Org Mode. It's good enough. Others use TaskWarrior.

>Then it's hard to pick out the top must-do items from the 20-30 lists.

Which gets to my point of "If you don't limit inputs, nothing will work". I mean, you can make it work if you have huge lists, but your system will be heavy on maintenance. So for me the challenge isn't "How do I handle so much data?" but "How do I make sure my lists are not long?"

I'm debating switching to anti-TODO lists. Decide my focus for the next month/year/whatever. Pick a few projects I want to do in them. Everything else (incoming or in existing lists) go into a "Do not do" list. Once I'm done with my current projects, I'll examine that "Do not do" list and decide on another project. This way I don't spend too much time babysitting lists.

Yet another system to try.


I think GTD has the concept of a "Maybe Someday" list.

Edit: or "Someday Maybe": https://facilethings.com/blog/en/someday-maybes


Org mode or index cards, for me.


Here's how I get things done for tech related projects but it can be used for any other project. It's just what works for me but I am sharing it in case it can help someone else. Take what you want from it.

I maintain everything in notes, I use apple notes but you can use whatever as long as it's very quick to access and modify. I tried many tools / sites but I noticed that the moment the list is maintained on some service/site I start maintaining it less. With notes, it's one click away and accessible from my phone. I also avoided tools that require me to click to create a note, click to delete, or anything slightly complicated. I just need to move lines of text around with my keyboard.

Start by creating a new note for the project.

I define the begin/end boundaries of the project by creating a list of high level tasks. If you can go directly to low level tasks why not. Tasks can include define & create API endpoints, research tasks, modules to implement, devops stuff, docs, marketing, etc... I spend a good time creating the list. Sometimes days.

I start working on the tasks and while doing so I add/remove more detailed tasks as things become clearer and group related tasks. For example, I might have a group of tasks related to an HTTP API, and another group that lists the modules I need to implement. If a module is big enough it might become a new group and tasks related to it will be added.

  while more_tasks:
      new_tasks = execute_next_task()
      if new_tasks:
          add_tasks(new_tasks)

As I stumble on ideas while working on the project, I add them to a Backlog group sorted by priority. These tasks might need more thinking and can either get dropped or moved later to get implemented. What's important to me is to get these ideas/thoughts out so that they don't distract me.

Let's say you're creating a new saas product. When the project is complete, start creating new tasks related to running the business like 'research keywords', 'create adwords campaign', etc.

I also have a list of various personal todos, and a list called 'Context Switching' which I use to list the projects I am currently working on which includes work and non-work related projects. It clears my mind and feels less overwhelming when I can look at a note and know exactly what I am working on. It also help me not feel 'lost' and maintain priority. The main goal of this is not to keep tasks in my head.

What's important is to always know what you need to work on. If you don't know, then spend time (hours/days) figuring this out.

I live by these notes. The notes are of course useless if not constantly maintained.


Sounds exactly like 'How to get what you want' by Raymond Hull, 1967. Just that the system was reversed.


todo task: do GTD


tl;dr go read your old TODO notes.

dont't know what I was expecting...




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