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Lifehack: Is GTD generally too difficult for people to use?

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  • #31
    It is probably a bit cultural, but even if people understand the language they might be less receptive because it is so laden with that type of language. It became difficult because English is my second language, but that has not stopped me from enjoying technical books. I thought more than once "cut the crap and get to the point". The information is great, how it is presented/written makes it just more challenging. A quick Google search will reveal that people have issue with exactly that, the way the book it is written.
    Last edited by theilluminated; 10-27-2013, 07:39 AM. Reason: Grammar.

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    • #32
      We certainly aren't the majority as you say

      I read it with blank sheets. No system of my own to hang on to. I've used systems that were work-specific, but nothing that would really be applicable in my private life.

      The different ways people read that book, based on knowledge and previous experience, would determine how they view the information. I see the books a bit difficult as pure reference material when I have had issues, because of reasons previously stated. It became obvious after a little time that I had to translate (mind-map with notes) the steps, with comments and annotations to really get a bit more into it.

      I had to engage and take some time to realize how to work with it a bit more, while still doing some of the stuff on my lists or I would feel it had stagnated. Early on I would get the feeling that "I can't do anything now until the system is in order" when it came to GTD (again, perfectionism :/ ), so falling off the wagon became easy, only to revisit after a certain time.

      I'd like to revisit habits. Simply learning a new habit can still be overwhelming even if you are eager. The same concept where people start going to the gym and stop after three visits. They stop at that fourth time because they might feel a bit tired today, they don't go and then go back to old habits. Changing the neural pathways to the brain to react differently with more ease takes time, after 25 it becomes even more difficult since myelin (wraps around pathways to make signals go faster) decline with age.

      GTD is a systematic approach. If you have no system already and aren't used to thinking that way, it would be severely more difficult to obtain the habits unless you had a practice partner / teacher. Emotional engagement with the system would also help or make it difficult. I'm trying to condense a lot of information from the book "The Talent Code" (which is all about how we learn), but I'm not sure how well I am re-telling it.

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      • #33
        Originally posted by theilluminated View Post
        This is my current peeve with Making It All Work, it tries to make everything sound rosy and fantastic with small puns and stuff here and there about the business of life and game of work (if I remember correctly). I'm simply in no way receptive for such language (nope, I'm not even grumpy now!
        I think it's better for work to be fun. People can look for opportunities to switch to a different job that's more fun for them. Or, people can make a boring job more fun by adding things to it like keeping count of how many times something happens, like a kind of game, or trying to improve their skill on some aspect of the job even if it's not important to anyone else. Or, people can try to change their workplace or the whole society so that workers have more control over the details of their own work. When work is more fun, there's less need for leisure activities outside of work.

        and Getting Things Done book is so ingrained with business language
        It sounded like simple language to me as far as I remember, but maybe I just happen to have the vocabulary. Except for one or two words I had to look up, like "credenza" or something. But I can imagine if I had to look up a couple of words, some people might have had to look up lots of words, and maybe some words or phrases aren't easily found in dictionaries. So, yeah, that could be frustrating. The book's hard enough to understand and learn from even if you do understand all the words!

        GTD isn't difficult, but I feel there is little room for practice.
        Yes: also, it could have more about how to start, especially how to start gradually: how to make your life a little more GTD-ish for a while without changing a lot of things.

        The lack of examples is also an issue
        I agree: I'd like to see a lot more examples in the books. However, perhaps examples can be found in places such as this forum.

        Something I have lately discovered with myself is how my feelings change about a certain goal after some time. Let's say I write "buy pants" on my list of errands. If I wait too long before doing something about it, it seems irrelevant to me (unless I needed it for a specific occasion).
        I think that after using GTD-like systems over a significant time period, I've gradually learned so that to some extent at least, I can predict the priority level things will have over the long term. Some routine things like paying the electricity bill have a surprisingly high priority level if you think about what would happen if you never did it, and that isn't likely to change.

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        • #34
          I incubated the "dusting my room" project, mom!

          Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
          It sounded like simple language to me as far as I remember, but maybe I just happen to have the vocabulary. Except for one or two words I had to look up, like "credenza" or something. But I can imagine if I had to look up a couple of words, some people might have had to look up lots of words, and maybe some words or phrases aren't easily found in dictionaries. So, yeah, that could be frustrating. The book's hard enough to understand and learn from even if you do understand all the words!
          It's not about understanding the words. It's about their specific usage. It may seem awkward to many non-business people to call "dusting the room" or "buying a new TV" a project. Or to incubate these projects...

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          • #35
            Originally posted by TesTeq View Post
            It may seem awkward to many non-business people to call "dusting the room" or "buying a new TV" a project. Or to incubate these projects...
            Yes, indeed

            And even to business people etc it may seem awkward. The typical 10 k GTD projects would usually (in normal language) still be called just actions (or action points or tasks etc). A project (in normal language) is usually something much bigger, sometimes even as big as a 30 k objective.

            I am not sure what the best terminology would have been. I believe David Allen, with his choice of the word project, is trying to emphasize the fact that the GTD 10 k projects are non-permanent, composite "things to get done" that will be fully completed one day - just like a project is (or as an action is); a project is not some kind of general "classification" of "types of things" (such as books to read, gardening etc), which seems to be a very common misunderstanding in various app forums. The distinction David is making is an important one. Maybe a word such as "composite action" or "stepped action" would have been the clearest, both for business and non-business people - but it would have been a bit long.

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            • #36
              Originally posted by bcmyers2112
              No, it's not complicated. It's difficult, though. As has been said by other forum members, practicing GTD makes explicit all of the external and internal commitments we've made, including those that were implicit. I think some people recoil from that and the choices they have to face if they are honest with themselves about all of their commitments. Some people blame the GTD methodology and abandon it as a result. But writing things down didn't create the commitments, and not writing them down won't make them go away.



              Well, if I'm at the airport I can't grab marketing collateral at the office for a client. If I'm at the office I can't repair a broken toilet at home. If my boss is in all-day meetings I can't talk to him. Even though I have a phone with me all the time I'm highly unlikely to call anyone at eleven o'clock at night, but there are other things I might want to do at that hour. So are contexts still relevant? I think so.
              I would say time is pretty relevant to all those examples. If you're at an airport you can't just turn up any time you feel like it. If you are at work then you still need to be able to contact the person who will fix your toilet at a certain time. Then depending on what time you call them, you might pay extra depending on whether it's a weekday or a weekend. Time is money as the saying goes. It is never a side issue.

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              • #37
                @AJS and @bcmyers2112

                I think the truth is that all kinds of aspects of the situation can have a decisive influence on our decisions.

                This "total context" (i.e. the combined characteristics of the situation) is what I believe DA is trying to put his finger on when he splits it up into context, energy, time and priority. (DA is using the word context in a narrower sense than usual: mainly tools, locations etc.)

                The main point is that it all matters to some extent, and it is often relatively easy to weigh and balance these in your gut. Where it becomes difficult is when we try to define - and agree - on exact principles and formulations for when and to what extent each such contextual factor should have what kind of influence on our decisions.

                Time, people, energy (mental context), surroundings (physical context), relative importance of other tasks, etc are all relevant types of characteristics of the task and the situation - and they can have a different degree of relevance at different times.

                For example, it would seem that for very short-term decisions (next few minutes or hours) the task's importance (priority) often matters relatively little compared with context etc, whereas for slightly longer-term decisions priority is often the dominant factor.

                One of the trickier bits, apparently, and a source of much disagreement, seems to be how to balance importance against context etc in "medium-short" time perspectives (say 4-24 hours), where both aspects often need to be given full consideration at the same time.

                This seems to have led people to invent interpretations along a very wide scale, from the "ultra-anti-priority" people at the one end, unrealistically denying virtually any practical relevance at all of priority in any form under any circumstances, or "GTD denouncers", who reject GTD as a whole just because they have perceived it as "ultra-anti-priority".

                Personally, I do not have a problem with this. I mark my tasks by priority in a medium-term sense (to make them easy to spot in the list), and I weight this medium-term priority against the current contextual factors (also marked in the list) when selecting the next few tasks to do (using my gut).

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                • #38
                  Originally posted by bcmyers2112
                  I never said context is the be-all and end-all. I'm simply arguing that the concept is still relevant.
                  I agree wholeheartedly.

                  I think the concept of context - both in the narrower GTD sense and the wider everyday sense - holds the key to powerful GTD practices and systems. Just because some of the original sample contexts are not relevant to everybody, the concept of context is still as valid as ever, just as you say.

                  And you said something else very well, too:

                  Originally posted by bcmyers2112
                  In that case I only want to see options that are available to me where I am. I can eliminate Home, Office, and Errands right off the bat
                  The key word here, IMO, is elimination. This is a very reliable process. I'd be inclined to say that GTD already uses a kind of "elimination" when creating the Next list in the first place (all maybes and yet-impossibles etc are "eliminated" - put on separate lists), and it is only natural to continue the selection process by using "elimination" to further narrow down the choices when you are in a given situation.

                  When using long paper lists I believe most of us probably use "elimination" without perhaps even thinking about it - "no, that would take too long", "no, wrong place"; "no, not important", "no, too tired" etc. With a paper system I am sure it would be possible to color code tasks with a pen to make this process quicker (filter ocularly by color rather than have to read the words). With a computer app, which normally have tags etc built in, all it would take to be able to use a process of elimination is a simple NOT filter, i.e. the option exclude certain types of tasks (contexts, tags, ...) rather than just being able to "positively" select one.

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                  • #39
                    Originally posted by bcmyers2112
                    That's absolutely true. But once I'm at the airport, if my flight is running late (I know, I know -- whoever heard of an airline running behind?) I might want to use the time to get some work done. In that case I only want to see options that are available to me where I am. I can eliminate Home, Office, and Errands right off the bat -- but only if I have lists that are subdivided by context.

                    I never said context is the be-all and end-all. I'm simply arguing that the concept is still relevant. You seemed to be suggesting otherwise, and I have seen many people in many forums suggest the same thing. I disagree -- I think context is still a very useful way to sort my next actions lists.

                    If I'm wrong about what you meant, by the way, I apologize.
                    No, I think that's fair enough, I can see how context could be useful, and the concept as David Allen explains it is very logical. I still use four myself, one for my work location, one for home, one for my home office and one for errands. But I still like to see these on a Today list so I can see everything on my plate other than the work location which I keep separate.

                    That's probably where I deviate slightly from pure GTD, I don't find looking at long lists of task in separate contexts helpful, I prefer to focus on what I've already decided to do for the most part. Also when I experimented with Any.do I found it quite liberating not to have to think about contexts and it worked surprisingly well, although in the end I didn't stick with it.

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                    • #40
                      Originally posted by Folke View Post
                      When using long paper lists I believe most of us probably use "elimination" without perhaps even thinking about it - "no, that would take too long", "no, wrong place"; "no, not important", "no, too tired" etc.
                      Sure; but one of the big advantages for me when I switched to GTD was doing less of that. Looking at an action and thinking "no" for one reason or another attaches negative thoughts and feelings to the action and can become a habit, so that one automatically thinks "no" (and perhaps finds a way to rationalize that) even when there eventually is a real opportunity to do it. With GTD, there's a high proportion of doable actions on the lists you look at. For me, this made a huge difference. It feels freeing.

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                      • #41
                        Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                        Looking at an action and thinking "no" for one reason or another attaches negative thoughts and feelings to the action and can become a habit, so that one automatically thinks "no" (and perhaps finds a way to rationalize that) even when there eventually is a real opportunity to do it.
                        Sure, there are risks with everything, even with good things. But wouldn't you agree that the selection process could be seen as consisting of two phases - first making a short list (elimination) and then making the final (positive) selection?

                        Suppose you have 50 items on your Next list. It would simply be too much mental effort to compare all of those carefully (and positively) from all the aspects of Context, Energy, Time required and Priority (every single time you need to pick a few more actions). You need to get the number of choices down to maybe 10 or whatever your brain can handle. Many tasks are simply out of the question for quite objective reasons, wouldn't you say?

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                        • #42
                          Originally posted by Folke View Post
                          Sure, there are risks with everything, even with good things. But wouldn't you agree that the selection process could be seen as consisting of two phases - first making a short list (elimination) and then making the final (positive) selection?
                          Sorry. I'm not sure what you're getting at. Do you disagree with something I said? Are you asking me to clarify something I said?

                          Hmm, that's interesting: your idea that the GTD method of selecting an action involves two types of steps: elimination steps and a positive selection step.

                          The point I was making was that elimination steps (saying "no" to an action) involve a psychological cost, especially when done repeatedly for the same action. I think David Allen understands this and designed the GTD system to reduce elimination steps, though he may not have taken this as far as I have (see the "Comparison of systems" section on my page here http://web.ncf.ca/an588/abc.html ).

                          If you have things tagged or classified as "do when at work" or "do when I expect at least 10 minutes uninterrupted time" etc., then you can eliminate a lot of things at once without having to consider each one individually. In that case, there's little or no psychological cost. But if you have to read over a list and for each item think "no, I don't have time", "no, I can't do that here", etc., then I think there is significant psychological cost. For some people, this may not matter much. For me, I really like how GTD has enabled me to look at a list and be able to think "hey, I can actually do a lot of these things, right now."

                          I prefer this way: when I first think of an action, I figure out where and under what circumstances I want to do it. That feels like a positive type of thinking: when do I want to do this? Then, ideally, only when those circumstances occur, I read the action on a list and have the opportunity to decide to do it then (or to do something else instead). Once I've defined the parameters the first time, from then on the system takes care of that automatically. It can be as simple as having it on a piece of paper which is only read in a certain context. In this way, I avoid having to repeatedly think about that action and decide "no".

                          Your question brings up an interesting idea: Is there something different psychologically between looking at an action and deciding "no, I can't do that here/now" etc., or looking at a list of actions and skipping over an action while selecting a different one? I think there is. I think one can do the second without actually thinking "no" to any actions. (See this page, where I talk about saying yes to one task without saying no to other tasks: http://woodgold.pbworks.com/w/page/6...rocrastination )

                          In my system, I have a lot of things written one per page, and I approach these with different purposes. Some piles of paper I go through with the intention of (usually) doing something with each page. Some are reminders, and the thing to do is just to read it: very easy. Others call for single actions which I'll usually do immediately before continuing to go through the pile (2-minute rule?).

                          But other piles contain actions which I don't normally expect myself to do at the time I go through them. The purpose of going through them is to remind myself that such actions will eventually need to get done, or to sort them or select some to be done soon. In that case, when I look at one and turn over the page, I don't have to think "no, I've decided I don't want to do this now", because the intention was just to read over the list, not to do every action immediately. I think there is nevertheless still a small psychological cost -- it still feels a bit like saying "no".

                          Suppose you have 50 items on your Next list. It would simply be too much mental effort to compare all of those carefully (and positively) from all the aspects of Context, Energy, Time required and Priority (every single time you need to pick a few more actions). You need to get the number of choices down to maybe 10 or whatever your brain can handle. Many tasks are simply out of the question for quite objective reasons, wouldn't you say?
                          I'm not sure whether you're talking about eliminating them with an automatic method (such as having them on a different piece of paper which you don't look at or tagging them electronically) or eliminating them by using your brain, reading each one and deciding it isn't appropriate to do at the moment. To me, these are very different things. To some people, it might not matter much. David Allen talks about people becoming numb to systems. If this doesn't happen to you, it might not be an important factor for you.

                          Certainly some tasks are out of the question for quite objective reasons. For these, it's usually feasible to eliminate them automatically (i.e. not even have them on the list you look at). Maybe what you mean is that even if they're on your list, there isn't much psychological cost or cost in time for eliminating them because your brain can eliminate them quickly and easily by thinking "no, I can't do that here" etc. That's fine if that works for you. For me, I like to try to maximize the doability of the actions on the lists I present myself with and minimize (preferably to zero) the number of times I say "no" to individual actions.

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                          • #43
                            @cwoodgold - I get the impression we agree on everything

                            It seems we both like to do as much as possible of the initial "elimination" automatically (using tags, lists, whatever our apps can support). If the list is still to long (not enough detail in the tags, or poor filtering mechanisms), I think for me it is quicker to first rule out some more actions based on whichever one of the factors is objectively not a good match now, than it is to directly aim to select the best final match based on all four criteria combined. I totally agree with you that such elimination should be objective due to the risk of otherwise creating emotional barriers if tasks are rejected just because they sound boring etc.

                            Very interesting about the choosing of one without saying no to another. I'll have to give that some more thought. But I think out of habit I tend to tag my tasks with with they require, which means it is easy for me to rule tasks out quite unemotionally if that requirement objectively is not met in the present situation. Example: A certain task requires the assistance of Peter, and Peter is not here.

                            But you are indicating another interesting way of defining tags - as situations when you would like to do the task. This is a different angle than tagging for requirements. I'll need to give this some more thought, too.

                            Many thanks for your interesting thoughts.

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                            • #44
                              Originally posted by Folke View Post
                              @cwoodgold - I get the impression we agree on everything
                              Possibly.

                              It seems we both like to do as much as possible of the initial "elimination" automatically (using tags, lists, whatever our apps can support).
                              OK.

                              If the list is still to long (not enough detail in the tags, or poor filtering mechanisms), I think for me it is quicker to first rule out some more actions based on whichever one of the factors is objectively not a good match now, than it is to directly aim to select the best final match based on all four criteria combined.
                              OK. I think the GTD way is to select one of them based only on Priority. In some of my systems, I simply do things in the order they come up: the priority levels are similar and it isn't worthwhile taking the time to sort them, or I've pre-sorted them by priority, or I'm following the 2-minute rule.

                              "best match based on all four criteria combined": maybe. What would be a best match? http://woodgold.wordpress.com/2011/0...-required-etc/ Here I said that at work, I did the quicker actions first, while I at home, I did the actions requiring longer times first since long times seemed less often available. Both places I did the highest-energy task from among the tasks I had enough energy for.

                              I totally agree with you that such elimination should be objective due to the risk of otherwise creating emotional barriers if tasks are rejected just because they sound boring etc.
                              I don't think I said that, nor meant it.


                              Very interesting about the choosing of one without saying no to another. I'll have to give that some more thought. But I think out of habit I tend to tag my tasks with with they require, which means it is easy for me to rule tasks out quite unemotionally if that requirement objectively is not met in the present situation. Example: A certain task requires the assistance of Peter, and Peter is not here.
                              I believe that even that kind of elimination of a task has a psychological cost (though less than "because I don't feel like it" etc.) and tends to lead to a habit of rejecting that task and numbness to one's list. I believe David Allen understands this and set up GTD to reduce that.

                              But you are indicating another interesting way of defining tags - as situations when you would like to do the task.
                              I didn't realize I was doing that, but OK. That's part of GTD. For example, you're not supposed to put down an action like "Contact Lisa", but instead to decide on the details and then put more specifically "Phone Lisa" or "Email Lisa". I think I said "want", not "like": it's not quite the same thing. You don't have to enjoy the action; just intend to do it.

                              This is a different angle than tagging for requirements. I'll need to give this some more thought, too.

                              Many thanks for your interesting thoughts.
                              Likewise!

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                              • #45
                                Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                                I think the GTD way is to select one of them based only on Priority.
                                I usually look at (High) Priority before I even look at context, energy etc - I just might have to get myself somewhere else and/or into another frame of mind in a big rush, regardless of how poor the "match" is

                                But later, after some simple elimination within the chosen range of contexts, I think I look at all four factors combined.

                                I do not have an app that lets me sort tasks the way you describe in your blog, so I have to assess them mentally after filtering as best I can using tags, but my filtering capabilities are not too great. I have recently reduced my energy and time tags into a single "effort" tag (High or Low; or Normal= no tag) to simplify the practical handling of it, but I am suffering heavily from the absence of a NOT filter. During the final, mental, active selection phase, I think I look at all aspects (all four factors) combined.

                                Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                                I don't think I said that, nor meant it.
                                Sorry, I did not mean to misrepresent anything you said. I need to ponder this mental rejection a bit more. I do not believe, off-hand, that I am accruing negativity by rejecting tasks for objective reasons, but I am acutely aware of the other kind of negativity you mention, which is caused by being too unspecific about what, how, when or under what circumstances etc - but the good part is that this negativity becomes a trigger for analyzing and specifying the task better.

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