Interesting David Allen's remark about GTD applications
Yes that comment "rang a bell" with me. I understand what he is saying. It's the reason after trying many different software options, I settled on Palm Desktop. It's not perfect but it's a good list maker.
All the other software I've tried is either not compatable in some way or adds more sophistication than I need, or is slower or has sync issues.
I've been on the GTD trail for nearly four years and wasted so much time in the first two and half, experimenting and tweaking my system instead of getting things done!
David Allen made the following remark during his GTD Connect interview with Mike Williams:
He forgot to mention that its fun.
Having said that, my experience is that the software rarely adds complexity. People do. Sometimes software offers features that aren't necessary but you don't actually have to use them. Ninety nine percent of the time if the person implementing the system has his or her head on straight, very complex software can easily be used in a very simple, straight forward way.
Looking at many of the posts to this group and others over the years I'd say more often than not, its the person that's making things unnecessarily complicated and that goes for people using anything from paper to IBM's Big Blue. Just a little dose of common sense usually can go a long way.
A friend of mine overcomplicated Notepad. He's very smart and has a lot of things on the go at the same time, so he had a to-do directory-of-directories of text files! Worked for him. I bought him the GTD book and now he uses mail primarily. Works for him and it's a lot simpler.
One big GTD-app problem is that there is enough fuzziness in how you should implement it. This is great because you can just follow the principles in your own way, but it also allows so many interpretations.
Problem #2 is that people are different. So your "simple" is not my "simple". Then a developer follows the workflow exactly and they get comments about "too rigid". I saw one reviewer say a product was not "GTD" because it had search and GTD people obviously don't need search. Another refuses to use an app without search. That's okay, it just means they'll use different applications.
As Richard just wrote, it's quite possible to complicate even the simplest bit of software (or paper) which is a human issue. A number of years ago, an adviser to my company (who's become a trusted sounding board since) told me that he believed there were two kinds of people in the world: simplifiers and complexifiers. I've come to believe that and also feel that part of my GTD journey has been to find balance along that axis (I'm a born complexifier).
That said, there are, in fact, complex applications that I've evauated and run away from because they take something that is, at its essence, simple and make it much more complex than it needs to be. FWIW, my current choice is iGTD on the Mac because it is a simple app for managing my projects and NAs. It has a lot of extra bells and whistles for automation that I suppose are very nice if you're into that but they do not intrude on what is an elegantly simple UI that works very nicely.
I've also been using a set of Levenger notebooks to organize my reference materials and as capture devices for my various consulting and writing projects. The ease with which I can modify their contents won me over as did their ability to be folded completely over (unlike a hard bound journal or binder).
I'm pretty happy with the simplicity level I've achieved but continue to look for ways to refine the balance between maintaining the system and working it.
I've been on the GTD trail for 15 years, with varying degrees of success - ironically, my highest degree of success was in the mid 90's with the Time Design system. Software does promote complexity because it has more functionality. A paper list does nothing but hold written notes. It encourages simplicity.
From personal experience and this forum have convinced me that most of the complexity with which people struggle, on paper or on software, comes from trying to do Project Management within the GTD system. That doesn't work. PM is very complex and requires a lot more resources than lists of next actions. It requires precedence relationships and critical path analysis. GTD helps do projects, but the emphasis is on atomic actions, not the big picture. GTD provides lists of NA's organized by context and readily available and current, but there is no inherent relationship between lists, or actions, in a GTD system.
At the GTD seminar I attended people kept pushing DA for PALM software recommendations to manage this and that (usually PM type activities). DA help firm. He uses PALM straight out of the box; NA list, contacts, calendar and notes. The goal is to keep you focused on executing NAs and to avoid distractions of with maintaining the system.
I could be completely wrong, of course. I currently struggling to get back into GTD after a 2+ year absence. Feel free to suggest corrections.
I'm completely the opposite. I've been around computers my whole life but I have not found anything I was personally comfortable with. In the end I wrote a tool for myself which I use on my Pocket PC.
I have tried the paper route and for me that didn't work because I lost the bits of paper. A system is only useful if it's all there, and losing a piece of paper reduced my mental trust in the system as a whole as it was all of a sudden incomplete.
If I lost my Pocket PC I would have that feeling only temporarily as whenever I sync at night, my nActionr file is backed up by Missing Sync.
What's vitally important for any one person is to find something that they can live with. That could be paper, or it could be a laptop they carry around with them all the time or it could be their PDA-capable mobile phone. Unless they can live with it its not going to get used, no matter how simple or complicated it is.
Despite being an ex-software developer (or perhaps that should read "software ex-developer"!), and a total geek, I've stuck with paper.
The reason? I've never found a software app that (1) feels GTD enough for me, and (2) there's a learning curve that I'm not willing to climb, at least not until I've a mind like water.
Software rarely "feels" GTD anymore than paper does. If its flexible, it can be made to be so in the same way that you might organize a paper notebook. As someone pointed out above, this flexibility is necessary. What "feels" GTD for one person might be a rigid interpretation that doesn't feel right to another. In fact, I'm guessing it won't feel right to more people than not.
I do sympathize with the learning curve comment, though. Sometimes it can be a pain to sift through the features to find the ones you need. Often you find that you are only using about 10% of what the software can do. As I said, I personally kind of like messing around with that kind of thing so it isn't a big deal for me.
The main disadvantage I think many GTD apps have is that they focus on organizing information rather than helping users process it in accordance with the GTD workflow. I ended up designing my own GTD app for the mac as a result of my own frustrations. The advantage it affords me and others is that it focuses more on "process" and coaching users through GTD. Check out the sub-section in the backstory I wrote about it here called "The Downside of Lists and the Power of One At-A-Time."
I definitely agree that a lot of the software applications add more complexity then required being that they are not usually portable and they simply add to systems rather then streamline them.
I think for something to be an enhancement it has to add functionality that will bring steps together into a synergistic(Sp?) whole rather then add more crap on top of existing crap. I definitely don't need 5 more steps added to a one step process just because it helps me pick a next action.
I do enjoy a lot of non-software developments that assist with GTD. Examples:
1. The moleskine notebooks
2. Hipster PDAs
3. DIY planner
These either add things systems can be applied to or are systems implementing GTD in their own right.
P.S. my favorite hipster mod is the hipster shuffle.
I think that for me the essence of this issue goes back to what DA said in the book that whatever system you use must be one that you will use all the time. I have used low tech in the past and have used a PPC for several years now. I personally have had much greater success with the PPC than I ever did with a paper-based system. For me the GTD methodology provided me with a better means of utilizing my PPC that I already used, rather than the other way around. For those who are more comfortable with paper, stick with what you are going to use. No system, high or low tech, is going to help you implement if you are not comfortable with it.
That said, I do try to keep my electronic system as simple as possible. I use Pocket Informant or Agenda Fusion (I am a registered user of both and interchange depending on my moods) for my calendar and task/NA lists, I use Phatnotes for note taking, and then use PocketBreeze on the today screen to show it all at a glance. Everything is then synced back to Outlook where I am currently using the GTD addon (although I am not sure how much longer I will continue). I have looked at other possibilities in the past such as PocketThinker, but felt that adding additional or different software would simply complicate my system. For someone else, that may be the perfect solution. It all comes down to the fact that it is your system, there is no right or wrong system, use what works for you.