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Is GTD Right For Me? It's Creating More Stress, Not Less

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  • Is GTD Right For Me? It's Creating More Stress, Not Less

    Let me start by saying that I'm a fan of GTD. It's made me better organized, and I know from reading these forums that it works for lots of people.

    But . . .

    I'm beginning to notice that keeping track of all of my open loops is creating more stress in my life, not less. It might be a matter of personality type. I'm not really a "Type A" person. Like Thoreau, I like to keep a wide margin of free space/time in my life, and I have little trouble saying no to things, letting committments slide, and generally not worrying too much about the details.

    When I'm not doing GTD (and I confess I keep getting on and off the bandwagon over and over again), I tend to let the "open loops" just wash right through me, mostly undone. If something catches my attention, I might do it. Or I might just let it go for a while, and see if it becomes more urgent or (more often) just disappears. I wouldn't say I have a "mind like water" by any stretch, but I'm just not the sort of person who sits up at night thinking, "I forgot the milk!" Sometimes I wish I was that way, but for better or worse, it's just not me.

    The downside of this, though, and the thing that keeps bringing me back to GTD, is that I don't get some things done that I'd like to get done. It's not that they plague me -- it's just that I look back a year later and think, "I missed a chance to do X." And there's no question that working the GTD system helps me to close more of the open loops and get more done.

    But GTD -- the lists, the reviews -- also increases my stress. It's not so much the effort of maintaining it all. I've done it enough that it's pretty automatic for me now. Rather, it's the mental drain of knowing that the lists are there, of knowing that there are bright lines between what I have and have not committed to. I suspect these are the aspects that many people find most appealing, but I sometimes dread the thought of looking at the lists. I sometimes think to myself, as long as I get a few big things right in my life, does it really matter whether I check off these fifty items?

    As I say, I really am a fan of GTD, but I'm wondering whether anyone else has this reaction? Does this stress eventually go away with time? Is GTD just not right for me? Or perhaps this is a sign that I'm committing to things on my lists that don't really reflect my values and should really be struck? I'm willing to entertain that possibility, but those lists would become radically shorter if I was really disciplined about only including things that truly matter to me. I'm the sort of person who finds it much easier to just deal with not having any milk (or forgetting to pack a toothbrush, or forgetting the name of that book I wanted to read, or whatever) than to devote any mental energy worrying about remembering all that stuff.

    Can anyone relate to this? Any thoughts or suggestions?

  • #2
    Hello there,

    I'd say you are in the "post-workout fatigue" period. Ever go a long time without working out, then you do and you are dead-dog tired the next day? And some part of you questions if working out is really the best thing to be doing?? I'd say that's the phase you're in with GTD, Give it time. Your muscles need to get used to the moves. It WILL get easier, I promise. Just stick with it. You likely have some strong habits holding on and are still building self-trust with letting go and trusting your new GTD systems.

    The next Productive Living newsletter has an article that is specifically about this too. It comes out on April 12.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by ccoleman99 View Post
      Let me start by saying that I'm a fan of GTD. It's made me better organized, and I know from reading these forums that it works for lots of people.

      But . . .

      I'm beginning to notice that keeping track of all of my open loops is creating more stress in my life, not less. It might be a matter of personality type. I'm not really a "Type A" person. Like Thoreau, I like to keep a wide margin of free space/time in my life, and I have little trouble saying no to things, letting committments slide, and generally not worrying too much about the details.
      Oh yeah, I can relate. My preferred work style is pretty fluid, but a lot of attention seems to get paid in these forums to setting up lists, and this program or that program, checklists for everything, et cetera, so GTD can seem extremely regimented. I don't think it's supposed to be. The idea is to get stuff out of your head and forget about it until you want to do it. If the type-A folks want to lay out multistep checklists to get out the door in the morning, good for them. What I need more is to honestly look at my areas of focus, and realize they are not equally important. Renegotiate commitments instead of letting them slide and throw some open loops into the trash heap. I have started a Dismiss? context for stuff I want to review weekly for dismissal. May not work out, but it feels pretty good to have it. I think you just need to find your GTD style.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by ccoleman99 View Post
        Or perhaps this is a sign that I'm committing to things on my lists that don't really reflect my values and should really be struck? I'm willing to entertain that possibility, but those lists would become radically shorter if I was really disciplined about only including things that truly matter to me.
        That's fine -- my lists seem to be a lot shorter than those of other practitioners.

        A fairly-commonish hack is to break up Someday/Maybe into groups with higher resolution; you might find that useful.



        Cheers,
        Roger

        Comment


        • #5
          99%, or 100%?

          Per of one of David's PDFs -- Go the Distance to a "Mind Like Water" -- perhaps (?) what you are encountering is a lack of FULL trust in your system. If there is any doubt in your mind that you're capturing all that's important into your trusted system, then the system truly isn't trusted. And, that will cause you lots of pain, as your brain will then attempt to supersede your external, 'trusted' system.

          Of course, I'm one to talk. That's the state I'm currently experiencing.

          Comment


          • #6
            If you find that the discipline of the workflow is of limited value in keeping your life running, but you sometimes don't achieve the big things you'd like to, then how about starting with the Natural Planning Method on something that you've started a couple of times but not finished? Or an opportunity you see coming up, that you'd feel sad to have missed.

            Just do that part for a goal ( 3-24 months ) and break it down to projects and next actions and see if you succeed this time. Getting really into the NPM can be a lot of fun as you really interact with something that gets you excited. Focus on high-quality at every stage, which is easier when you are into the material.

            Then use the system to get you to the result you always wanted, instead of using it to run your life. After that, who knows what you might do with it next?
            Last edited by pxt; 04-04-2011, 02:28 PM.

            Comment


            • #7
              Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see...

              Originally posted by ccoleman99 View Post
              I'm beginning to notice that keeping track of all of my open loops is creating more stress in my life, not less.
              I've got a quote for you:
              Originally posted by The Beatles: "Strawberry Fields Forever"
              Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see...
              You can close your eyes and pretend that there's no world outside your head. But the world will not disappear, the world will wake you up sooner than you think...

              Comment


              • #8
                ccoleman99!

                What a engaging challange!

                Here is my take on it:

                You mention that the keeping track aspect of GTD is draining your energy.
                Whenever I feel drained about this I ask myself how often do I focus on keeping track on things and why do I do this?

                Some days when I feel down and tired I will look through my lists for comforting "easy" actions. Doing this does get me into a better mood, but it also makes me more tense because i will be browsing through all the other actions which are much more energy demanding.

                How would it be to examine your behavior around how often and why you "check your lists"?

                Wish you all the best!

                /Swedishguy

                Comment


                • #9
                  Good post and discussion. GTD is simple in concept, but is counter intuitive, so getting good at it becomes something of an art form.

                  Getting Things Done offers more productivity with less stress. If your life is going through an uncomplicated phase, you might not need more productivity. GTD applies to complicated modern lives that are full of knowledge based work, where the work has to be defined before it can be done. With a simpler life, the tasks to be done are self evident, and do not have to be organized into a system. Does that describe you?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Good post and discussion. GTD is simple in concept, but is counter intuitive, so getting good at it becomes something of an art form.

                    Getting Things Done offers more productivity with less stress. If your life is going through an uncomplicated phase, you might not need more productivity. GTD applies to complicated modern lives that are full of knowledge based work, where the work has to be defined before it can be done. With a simpler life, the tasks to be done are self evident, and do not have to be organized into a system. Does that describe you?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Hey Coleman!

                      Have you assigned too many things into your 'to-do'/action/projects lists?

                      I remember getting physically ill when I felt there was TOO MUCH STUFF that I 'needed' to do... The GTD approach that I read about later in the GTD Connect area is to put only stuff for 'this week' into 'next actions', the rest goes into 'Projects' or Someday/Maybe (or 'Later' or 'This Month' or 'in 3 months' or 'this year' or whatever works for you, like mentioned above..)

                      So this may help to ease the mind...? (And inbox/lists...?)

                      Or just make a schedule of when you do GTD and when not.. (The 'unschedule' approach, where you give yourself a certain amount of hours/fun times/relax time per week, and give 'boundaries' to your 'GTD Time'...?)

                      I've been on and off with GTD too.. I know it's good to come back to it when I'm ready.. The 'weekly review' has A LOT to do with it!! You may find stuff you actually don't wanna do anymore or can put into ARCHIVES or Someday/Later/Maybe files... So, the approach is 'what don't I have to do this week/month?' (The Asian approach to 'eliminate the unnecessary/unimportant'... If that makes sense? That concept alone has helped me a lot..)

                      You can be GTD even if you don't do everything on the list or even if you don't have lists (some lists are only reminders, or can be counterproductive if you think 'I've written about it so it's done' and then don't wanna do it.. different things work for different people..)

                      Also, if you hate your lists or system it can be stressful.. Or if you really don't want to do stuff on the list/s (then examining higher levels can be useful, or mind-mapping about it, or examining 'wishes' and 'obstacles' or splitting it into smaller steps or realizing it was a 'project' not a 'next step' yup..)

                      Also, is your environment/desk physically cluttered? This can create stress too (been there..)

                      If people around you don't mind being without milk too, or you live alone, you may not have much of a problem. If your wife or dentist constantly nags you about the toothbrush, or you have had teeth problems, you may wanna set up a system to remember it so that you avoid nagging/problems..

                      As for books to read, maybe you have had an overly complicated system? (A list to take to the library or a folder in the 'archives' area and on PC or 'favorites' on Amazon can be simpler, no?) Then you don't have to think about it.. Again, different things may work for different people, it's important to find stuff that is easiest for *you*...

                      Take care & tell us if it gets better!!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Ease up

                        I think I see the problem: you're thinking of things in your lists as things
                        you've committed to doing. If they're not written down, you don't think
                        of them as commitments.

                        How about easing up, and thinking of the things you've written down as
                        just reminders of things you might want to do -- having the same status
                        as thoughts that happen to occur to you from time to time?

                        I don't think of the actions on my lists as commitments. At any time, I
                        can decide to cross one off, or move it to someday/maybe, or modify it.

                        I wonder if it might work for you to divide things into two categories:
                        things you'll regret a year from now not having done, and things you
                        probably won't regret, and then just use GTD for things that fall
                        into one of the categories.

                        I guess I probably only write things down if I think I'll regret not
                        doing them. It might be a small regret, but enough to make the
                        effort of writing worthwhile. For you, the cutoff may be at a
                        different level.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                          I think I see the problem: you're thinking of things in your lists as things
                          you've committed to doing. If they're not written down, you don't think
                          of them as commitments.

                          How about easing up, and thinking of the things you've written down as
                          just reminders of things you might want to do -- having the same status
                          as thoughts that happen to occur to you from time to time?

                          I don't think of the actions on my lists as commitments. At any time, I
                          can decide to cross one off, or move it to someday/maybe, or modify it.
                          That's an interesting idea. I tend to feel a certain sense of failure at crossing things off a list without doing them. Perhaps I should think of it as a list of things I haven't yet decided not to do.

                          Thanks.

                          Michael

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                            I think I see the problem: you're thinking of things in your lists as things
                            you've committed to doing. If they're not written down, you don't think
                            of them as commitments......
                            I guess I probably only write things down if I think I'll regret not
                            doing them. It might be a small regret, but enough to make the
                            effort of writing worthwhile.
                            For me anything that is actually on a current active next actions context list is in fact something I've committed to doing. That doesn't mean I can't at some point later review it and decide I no longer want to do it, or move it to someday maybe as appropriate.

                            I am one who has to have the things written down to feel any connection to the task to get it done.

                            I also write down anything, from must do's to want to's to blue sky dreams that may never happen. No matter how small or insignificant the thought I will write it down and process it. When I tried to triage my thoughts and only capture the "important" ones I found that it caused far more stress and I lost track of things. For me the biggest benefit of GTD is the process of learning how to capture everything and then process it appropriately.

                            The way I handle crossing things off that I didn't get done is generally either to put the project as a whole into someday/maybe, if I have decided that I still think it may be good to do but just not now, or give myself the time to really think through whether I can in fact eliminate that entire project so that when I do delete it I am comfortable with that decision. I must say that I hardly ever delete a project, they nearly always get moved to someday/maybe. That seems to give my mind the calmness that if I decide to do that thing eventually it has been captured somewhere so I no longer have to think about it.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I can identify. Just stay with it!

                              I also get down and feel bogged down. I think the key is to stay with it and get the satisfaction of checking off those tasks that have to be done. To me it is all about inertia. I wish I had an answer to the fatigue part. I agree, a never ending list can be depressing! But actually if you stay with it you can somewhat easily stay somewhat current.

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