Two points on GTD that deal with this:
- Part of writing everything to down is to get it out of your head so you don't worry about it. If you have a bunch of big detailed lists and a lot to do, you don't have to get stressed out over it. That's frequently a hard choice for many to make, and the review process/50k foot view in GTD can help with this.
- GTD also encourages self assessment of what you feel up to doing. You need to be aware of what jobs you'd undertake given your amount of time and energy.
Treating GTD just as a way to empty the mind and organize your tasks is only a small part of the entire system. Half implementing it can definitely be more stressful than fully embracing some of the concepts.
1. I pick a couple of things each week that I need to focus on each week, and put them in a list I review every day. Generally, these are projects that I have on my project list, but that need some attention in a given week.
2. I maintain a daily todo list that is culled each morning from my master todo list. Each day I pre-pick a handful of things to do and put them on my list of tasks for the day. This act of preselecting my work isn't canonical GTD, but it works for me.
IMO GTD is a great starting point, but most people need to adapt it to their personal circumstances and working style.
1. Removing latent anxiety related to trying to keep track of all that needs to be done, which can in turn free one to focus on creative pursuits.
2. Making conscience decisions to defer certain projects and goals, which can also have quite a liberating effect.
Nobody starts out trusting. You have to see it work before you can stop worrying.
The busywork aspect can be mitigated by allocating the daily review time and then refusing to fiddle with it. You might still procrastinate in other ways, but one less way is still good.
It used to trouble me greatly, and I tried using Things, all sorts of custom text files, sticky notes, and many other devices to force myself into a predictable pattern of work. What I found though is that the natural system self corrects.
All the time spent on any project or interest is used to its maximum potential, as I am fully engaged, work at a brisk pace, and explore actively. At the cost of an unpredictable, slower schedule, I am able to extract very high quality output, across a wide variety of projects and interests. This combination of depth and breadth also sometimes allows connections to be made across fields, leading to possible value multipliers. And since the only constraint in the system is "until bored", it acts as an optimal Attention to Value Conversion Machine (AVCM).
1. Sit down and work on one thing, and nothing else, for two hours.
Prioritization is such a tiny part of success, creation, or work. Just do something, and keep doing something.
It's common and easy for me to sit down and work on one thing for two hours (or more), but if I'm not careful about what that thing is suddenly six hours have gone by and I've done a lot of (or learned a lot about) something, but I'm not much closer to getting anything that needs doing done.
E.g., a few examples of the kind of rabbit hole that I've run down, or at least started to run down, recently:
- exploring speedwords-style typewritten shorthand systems, and developing custom concordance/frequency analysis scripts to analyze samples of both my prose and my code
- hacking emacs org-mode to allow markdown style syntax, and to allow org-babel syntax within markdown-mode
These are fun to do and I learn a bit and they are even semi-productive in the "sharpening the saw" sense, but literally "just keep doing something" doesn't necessarily lead to "success" anymore than "just keep swimming" necessarily leads you to 42 Wallaby Way.
Focused effort, in and of itself, isn't so much the problem from me. From where I sit, it matters which shit is being done. Does that just happen automatically for you/others?
By preventing myself from seeing more than one task at a time, I'm forced to focus on the task at the top of the heap, or make a reasonable decision as to how far down in the heap I want to defer it. Personally, I only use one heap, but I imagine a heap per project might work.
I use a prototype I built for myself at http://taskthing.com/ . I've since pivoted to working on flashcard spaced repitition algorithms for use on mobile devices.
As is being suggested, deliberately limiting the number of projects that you record in your work flow management system doesn't seem to be the solution.
Limiting the projects on purpose while relieving stress does mean those other projects that are not recorded in the task management system will creep back into your mind, will suffer inefficient execution and will weigh us down.
However the author makes a good point about how creative work isn't suitable for the GTD system. Sometimes you just don't know what you want to do. You need to be able to experiment.
Firing up a pomodoro timer helps to keep me on task.
Well, regardless of whether it's new or derived, there does seem to be some merit to its focus methodology. Ironically, the thesis ends up being that one has to add rather than remove constraints to GTD to make it more suitable for creative work.
Combining that information with any kind of task tracking or TODO list has never worked for me, which means task tracking is of secondary importance for me compared to note-taking.
Also, the "capture now, process later" mindset is a great way of handling the emergence of random ideas and tasks on the fly, and asking myself "what is the next action?" when processing is great for getting clarity. I use this a lot in meetings - it forces everyone to get clarity on why we're there and what should happen next.
I've also found the "waiting for" and "someday/maybe" lists to be extremely really useful.
Obviously, you can envision someone benefiting from long term projects. But that is not the same thing as an actual person actually benefitting. You can't imagine it. You can't fake it. You need it.
So find some way to get real people involved in what you want to accomplish.
Your time and attention is finite, 'curating' your GTD lists is a necessity.
I switched to GTD a few years back and am much happier. I won't claim to be a perfect GTD adherent, but the brain dump + 0-inbox cycle theory works great in practice. I no longer constantly worry about "I need to remember to do X" since I have set up tools that allow me to place all action items in an appropriate place.
While I used to try to always do stuff quickly to get it out of the way, using GTD style to get it persisted somewhere allows me to be sure it's captured and then not care if I never get to it.
Where GTD falls down for me is that I have so much stuff in there to work on that it just can't prioritize for me. But it's not supposed to. My challenge since adopting GTD has been figuring out what context to be in.
I like TFA's comments about augmenting GTD with his technique to help decide what to work on. Context selection is prioritization and he has found an interesting approach to achieving focus that gives you power to ignore interrupts.