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So I'm one of the longest running implementors of GTD (almost twenty years now). I'm also one of least into "productivity pr0n." I switched from a Palm Pilot to OmniFocus, and that was my only major shift. I dread when I leave macOS and have to shift again. I've tweaked the system a bit, and it's been many years since I've read any of David Allen's books, though I've corresponded with him a bit, so I don't know how far I've diverged.

It's interesting that Cal Newport chooses to mention GTD in his title, because what he's complaining about is stuff that David Allen has complained about, too...and, to be honest, Merlin Mann and that whole community never understood. It's not about the task lists or tickler files or whatever.

It's about being able to take complete stock of your life on a regular basis.

Everything else is based on that. You get everything captured and in one place so you can look at it and say, "Okay, is this working?" David Allen explicitly suggests similar activities for teams, and high functioning teams generally do this.

I think Newport is absolutely right about the chaos and distraction that characterizes so much white collar work today. I'm not sure how fair it is to lay it at Drucker's feet. My view from the software world is that there are twin gaps in strategy and leadership in most organizations. Strategy provides the framework in which groups deploy tactics. Leadership provides the framework in which groups adopt tactics to deploy.

> It's about being able to take complete stock of your life on a regular basis.

Yes! This so much! I spend time in r/gtd, and I see that kind of misunderstanding (“productivity pr0n”) not infrequently. People want a system they can use to tell them what to do, and that’s not what GTD is about. I usually reply with something along what you said, paraphrasing David Allen: GTD is not about getting things done; it’s about being engaged appropriately in your life.

My first implementations were clumsy because I wanted to get fancy with my system with sequential projects and deeply nested tasks (in OmniFocus), but I eventually evolved to realize that the book really was right. I use a fairly minimal system that hews closely to what the book says. The most liberating thing was understanding that I _shouldn’t_ necessarily plan all my future actions out. I can document things I know I need in my support material, but those aren’t next actions, and GTD is about capturing and clarifying next actions.

Another comment here mentions that the book sometimes isn’t easy reading. I can definitely agree with that. There are places where it gets into the details before it properly introduces a concept and why it’s useful. Contexts are widely misunderstood because of this. The book leads with what they are (tools, people, places, etc), and people conclude that since we’re connected almost all the time, we don’t have contexts. The reality is contexts are just filters, and they’re useful because they help you manage having lots of next actions.

> GTD is not about getting things done; it’s about being engaged appropriately in your life

It seems awkward to have to explain that "Getting things done" is not about getting things done :P

Well, it is, but it’s not in the productivity pr0n sense. It’s not about compiling lists of tasks and planning everything out, so you can churn through them like a machine. The point isn’t to maximize how many things you do. The hyperbole gives me an opportunity to address that misconception.

When I first met my wife, she commented on how I would capture everything. To her, it seemed like I had to plan everything out, so how could I be spontaneous? It’s actually the opposite. By knowing my landscape, I knew what I had to hand off at work while I was away visiting her, and what I could let wait until I got back.

I barely engaged with my system while I was visiting her, but that’s okay. It was still there keeping all my responsibilities safe while I was away, so I could focus on my time with her instead.

And to be fair, sometimes people want a method that tells them what to do or how to make decisions. GTD isn’t that method, but it can help you manage your next actions once you figure what they are.

I heard David Allen on a podcast muse about this and whether he had chosen the right title for his book. I think in his mind, the really important thing is the "stress-free" in the byline.

"It's about being able to take complete stock of your life on a regular basis."

Yes! Merlin is very entertaining but for someone who spends so much time talking about his life, it's amazing how little of it he seems to grok.

One of the best things that has really kicked into gear my utilization of GTD and also helping with my ADHD is learning about and incorporating the Pomodoro technique with my use of Omni Focus. I found a great little play/work timer on Amazon for under $20 - 30 minutes on the right side, 5 minute on the left side and a big toggle button on top that reminds me of a chess timer. It's very satisfying to whack the physical button (no stupid touch controls here - tactile feedback baby!) at the end of a session to start the other. Once you get into a rhythm it's amazing what you can accomplish.

I also block time on my calendar with meetings to give me chunks of time when I need to get stuff done. Meeting creep is real, especially now that the former hallway wanderers can only do virtual drive by's :p

I realize I've subconsciously ended up doing this with spaces on Mac OS. I have a set of "Productivity" spaces and a "Goof off" space and I've been trying to toggle between the two in 5/25 minute splits. I even end up running a work browser and a personal browser. It's ended up working really well, but the addition of a chess timer seems like a brilliant idea to keep me from getting too drilled into Wikipedia rabbit holes.

As someone who has been following productivity/GTD for 10 years, this is the clearest explanation of the "why" behind GTD I've seen. Thanks so much for sharing it.

So much of the productivity world is still lifehacks or tricks to get an "extra edge". Anyone who has gone down that path knows it only goes so far. Same for the folks who focus solely on the tools, except that path is an endless circle.

Yet what matters most is being able to embrace the process of life, recognize where you are now, and make adjustments on the way to improve.

I dreaded leaving my desktop Mac as well due to OmniFocus but they have a web based version that's ok https://web.omnifocus.com/

I am a new user of GTD.

"It's about being able to take complete stock of your life on a regular basis"

Is it then enough to leave everything in Inbox and declutter Inbox periodically to delete items since done?

There's a lot missing from that. How do you track things you are waiting for or that will take many steps over potentially months? How do you look at how much is going on in your life and decide how to trim that if needed? How do you use that inbox to judge whether you're working toward things you want? Where do you put things that you would like to do at some point but not right now?

Again, that's what a lot of people miss. When you have everything in front of you, you can look at it as a whole and say, "Alright, what do I want to be different?"

Well, not really. Taking stock is the activity, but the goal is to relieve you of the stress of keeping many things in your head (and fearing dropping some). The open loops, as they say. By leaving stuff in your inbox (say, a bill to pay), you never really put that loop to rest unless you actually pay the bill. With projects support, context lists and a regular review process, you can still get it out of your way and know with confidence that you won't forget to pay that bill in time because you trust your system.

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