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

    Here is an article that, while emphasizing the overall merits of GTD, points out a few areas where the author feels that the GTD methodology could be improved or clarified in order to have a wider appeal.

    http://www.lifehack.org/articles/pro...-with-gtd.html

    The article claims that GTD methodology may seem simple, but actually isn't. I can actually imagine that being very true for the vast majority of mankind. I would guess that the most common types of methodology, in order of popularity, are:

    Method 1) The age-old intuitive method to "simply do what you know that you must do". No lists, no calendars, no nothing, basically - if something stands out as particularly important, use a fridge magnet or post-it sticker or something, and if you are going for a vacation, write a packing list. But that's it. I am convinced that this is the predominant method.

    Method 2) Entering all important or urgent things on a calendar (scheduling / time planning). This is very intuitive for all those who already use calendars for other reasons (appointments etc). It also goes very well with all familiar forms of organized teamwork etc, where you are accustomed to having activities scheduled by date, and it is natural to continue in the same vein with your individual tasks. Things that are not urgent or important can go on separate lists without dates. I firmly believe this to be the predominant method among those who impose some kind of structure.

    Method 3) Avoiding fixed dates and fixed sequences to the farthest extent possible (GTD), and instead organize by "context" etc and analyze what is "actionable". Pick things to do based on "context", "energy" etc to make the best use of each moment. I can easily imagine this sounding abstract and academic to the vast majority, perhaps even a bit "hippie". This is the method we here all prefer.

    If we continue a step further and look at those people who have vast numbers of tasks, what do methods 2 and 3 offer? Method 2 has been extensively covered and refined in scholarly work for ages. There is any level of solutions, approaches and optimizations available (resource/time optimizations, critical path analysis, Gantt charts and so on). Method 3 generally just offers the advice to keep it simple and use your gut (which might sound more like an escape back to method 1 than as a more refined version of method 3). The absence of a more advanced methodological layer probably contributes to making GTD look difficult to implement for those who feel they would have needed that.

    Why do some people have such long lists, anyway? We are all limited to our 24 hours a day, so what makes some people end up with so many things? I think some of the possible answers are:

    - a more fragmented life - many small things, not so many time consuming things
    - a desire for depth and detail, and a need to remember every detail (anxiety about forgetting)
    - a long-range and/or strategic mindset

    But whatever the reason, people with lots of tasks can be expected to have more advanced requirements on the methodology and on the tools.

    So, if someone has an overwhelming number of Next actions (in each of a number of contexts), is there a better way to deal with this than to just attack them all at once flat out with your gut (method 1 inspired)? And without escaping into scheduling and fixed sequencing (method 2 inspired)? I believe there is - especially if the constraint is lifted that it must be possible and easy to implement using paper - the fundamental concepts of GTD are robust and effective enough to be able to be taken to a more refined level for those who wish.

  • #2
    Originally posted by Folke View Post
    Here is an article that, while emphasizing the overall merits of GTD, points out a few areas where the author feels that the GTD methodology could be improved or clarified in order to have a wider appeal.

    http://www.lifehack.org/articles/pro...-with-gtd.html

    The article claims that GTD methodology may seem simple, but actually isn't. I can actually imagine that being very true for the vast majority of mankind.
    GTD is simple. Doing GTD can be hard. Radical honesty with one's self can be extremely difficult. Giving up habitual patterns of avoidance and cherished illusions can be overwhelming. Freedom to choose in the moment is downright terrifying.

    Imagine moving to someday-maybe reconciling with a former close friend, or checking off pursue cure from a project list and adding r&d hospice care- it's life that is difficult, not GTD.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
      Imagine moving to someday-maybe reconciling with a former close friend, or checking off pursue cure from a project list and adding r&d hospice care- it's life that is difficult, not GTD.
      Great insight. Thanks for your post.

      Comment


      • #4
        Radical honesty with one's self can be extremely difficult.

        Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
        GTD is simple. Doing GTD can be hard. Radical honesty with one's self can be extremely difficult. Giving up habitual patterns of avoidance and cherished illusions can be overwhelming. Freedom to choose in the moment is downright terrifying.

        Imagine moving to someday-maybe reconciling with a former close friend, or checking off pursue cure from a project list and adding r&d hospice care- it's life that is difficult, not GTD.
        Radical honesty with one's self can be extremely difficult.

        Yes, that's what I wanted to write. That's the most difficult part of the GTD methodology. Your lists must reflect how good or evil you are...

        Comment


        • #5
          How frustrating ...

          because GTD does deal with priorities and does deal with the big picture.

          sigh

          Comment


          • #6
            To add to what TesTeq and mcogilvie so utterly awesomely have said:

            To overcome anxiety, you need to boost it's opposing force, which is courage. You have to find the courage.

            However, if you are lying to yourself on your lists, all the courage you master to tackle that list is ultimately in vain. And you subconsciously know this. Even if, again you are lying to yourself about it, you subconsciously still know that your list is not your real list.

            Now, the solution to this cannot be to shuffle your lists and calling this a "hack". The solution is to be courageous enough to be honest with yourself. And that is damn hard.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by bcmyers2112
              Very, very well said.

              I would add that these articles that purport to find flaws in GTD always misrepresent the material.

              ...

              I have no problem with someone deciding GTD isn't for them. I have a problem when anything is misrepresented.

              I hear you. It's one of my pet peeves, too.


              BTW, priority as part of the for criteria is defined by the contents of youf HOFs.

              Comment


              • #8
                Very good insights about life:

                Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                Radical honesty with one's self can be extremely difficult. Giving up habitual patterns of avoidance and cherished illusions can be overwhelming. Freedom to choose in the moment is downright terrifying.
                Originally posted by TesTeq View Post
                Radical honesty with one's self can be extremely difficult.
                This is very true. And probably always equally difficult, regardless of which task management methodology you use. And I doubt that any particular philosophy or task management methodology can claim ownership to such universal insights.

                Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                GTD is simple. Doing GTD can be hard.
                I agree. Very well said. That's one point I tried to make in my initial comment to the article - and that it can probably also appear harder than it is, and appear more controversial than it is, and appear more vague. Now, why is that? Possibly for the same reason that a simple instruction like "cook this steak until it is just nice" might appear unfathomable to some people and totally obvious to others.

                Originally posted by bcmyers2112
                ... this article repeats the canard that GTD eschews prioritization.
                So true. Or is it? Priority appears to be a difficult subject (or rather a fuzzy word). Even in this forum there appear to be remarkable differences of interpretation from time to time. No wonder if other (non-GTD) people can get it all "wrong". Especially where the rubber meets the road - where the higher horizon (acknowledged) priorities must give way in an orderly fashion to a balanced assessment of all four factors, where only one of the them, context, is "hard coded" (different lists), which often renders context misrepresented as having absolute "priority" (sic) over energy, time and priority.

                Be that as it may. I like GTD. But I think I can understand, or at least guess, why so many have difficulties with it.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Wow - what is GTD

                  Originally posted by bcmyers2112
                  ... discussing the failure rate for any kind of self-improvement efforts ...
                  I see! Is that how many of you see GTD? That explains a lot! I confess I had never even thought of that. Self-improvement! Nothing wrong with that at all, just that I had never thought of GTD in that way.

                  For me, GTD has represented something quite different - a belated but finally well formulated total revolt against the incumbent "Time Fascists"

                  I really want to give full credit to David Allen for his efforts. To me, he is the Gandhi or Che Guevara of task management, ruled for so long by the "Time Fascists". David's views and teachings are not really new under the sun, but it is the first time (to my knowledge) that anyone speaks up so forcefully and coherently, and gives us, the "rebellious minority", a flag we can call our own.

                  I used "proto-GTD" (similar to GTD; and on paper, almost TesTeq style) already during the 80's and most of the 90's. I had whole files of "complete stuff" (DA would have called it "project support"). I had lists of specific concrete things that I needed to do now or in the near future (DA would have called those "Next actions".) And since I had many such actions I kept them listed on separate sheets, e.g. one list of miscellaneous stuff to do at the office desk, another one to do when I got home, other ones for larger numbers of actions that shared a common purpose (DA would have called these "contexts" and "projects"). And I noticed plenty of people seemed to have a similar kind of approach. Generally no dates were used, except appointments in the calendar or true hard deadlines etc.

                  But we were a minority, it seemed. And we were less vocal than the majority, and did not necessarily have much in common other than the fact that we were silent dissenters. And we would have been underequipped for a debate, anyway, without a common philosophy and terminology. The dominating trend in those days was Time Management, and still is, as far as I can judge. I remember all those people who went to courses learning the importance of allocating time quotas and time slots, prioritizing etc, all with a view to taking control of the most scarce and precious asset of all, your time. That philosophy can be difficult to argue with, if you are not well prepared, but it just feels wrong. Many of those people would walk around with their huge Time Manager "bibles", and from there would unfold all kinds of magic charts and lists, and many people were deeply impressed, and adopted those time based methods, or at least much of the spirit and terminology of it, like "I'll schedule some budget work for Tuesday". Even today we see those people around us, although no one carries a Time Manager with them any more - they now use Google Calendar integration, Gantt chart add-ons to Asana, reminders and beeps, and what have you.

                  Time really casts a spell on people. And it allows people to attain a - false, IMO - sense of control and overview. I do not deny even for a second that time is an extremely important factor in our lives, but I do believe that it is not a good approach for structuring your commitments at a fundamental level. Purpose, goals etc are, IMO, a better approach, and will indirectly control how much time and what priority (there's that tricky word again) you will give to the various things. And objective facts (such as hard agreed deadlines or ultimatums, situational/contextual requirements of all sorts) are a much more stable basis for managing tasks than are arbitrarily scheduled time slots and personal target deadlines.

                  But, to conclude, I believe GTD sometimes loses out to other (particularly time-based) methodologies partly because of its absence of detailed structure, rules and directions for those who want more of that. It simply does not work on everybody to say "use your gut". "What are we going to have for dinner - pizza or Chinese?"; "Follow our gut". It is the right answer but at the wrong time. When people ask detailed questions they tend to expect detailed answers.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Failure Rate or Nature of Forums, Articles?

                    I don't know if the data supports or even exists to support my theory but people rarely post about successes or stuff that works. You get a lot of negative and cursory critisism though.

                    From my experience GTD itself is very simple and does work. I won't go back.

                    But GTD does not solve problems in life or make them go away. And the result of a complete GTD system is a volume of things that most people have never seen or acknowledged to themselves.

                    GTD doesn't work. I will argue that point until someone makes a convincing case to the contrary.

                    But starting GTD does take a little getting used to and going from zero to 100% is a transition. But the stuff you externalize (write down) was living in your psyche and there's no evidence that keeping stuff in your head is a best practice.

                    Good thread discussion!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Data certainly exists to show that people are more vocal about problems and issues. Be it from GTD to electronics. My challenge with GTD has been confronting personal issues. I could write a lot and process my inboxes, but I had my fair share of "I don't look or do stuff from my lists". This is a character issue, not a GTD issue, it just really shows very fast with GTD because it is so straightforward!

                      It could be "I want to do X", and then "I don't want to really do X, but I think about that I want to do X", what is the real issue here? It was written down, processed and recognized as a project that could be undertaken now with a next action, yet there is resistance? Maybe not because of a lack of clarity (just go to the shops and buy X), but an underlying issue i.e. anxiety.

                      My issue (and still a bit stuck on that) is overthinking. Which actually goes back to dealing with health issues and instability for a long time, which really means I should plan ahead. This translates then into how I should deal with food, exercise, general lifestyle and entertainment. Simple things as changing up some of my schedule (get away from the computer more) and be more social. I'm also meditating which is helping a lot, and I have to remind myself that I get easily cranky if my blood sugar is low. So yeah, GTD isn't an issue for me at all, it is the fact that I have to confront some underlying core personality traits I want to change. And habit. It is so much about habit.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        GTD probably revolutionised my life as far as organisation goes. I still use a lot of those principles today, such as capture, clarify and most of the day to day stuff where David Allen provides most of the low level clarity that most other productivity systems leave out. In the digital era though I find the weekly review is probably the one stage that has added complication where structuring around dates is more useful. If I add a start date to a task it pops up automatically on my task manager to be seen when required, so weekly reviews can be a lot shorter if you don't need to scan a bunch of lists to make sure nothing has been missed.

                        Also, without assigning dates I feel like I have no structure to the week and this can lead me to leaving tasks when I don't feel like doing them...which is most of the time!. If I have given myself a list of tasks to be done tomorrow, I find I have a much clearer focus and things are more likely to get done.

                        To put it simply, I think GTD in a pure form makes a lot more sense using a paper system than it does a digital one. Even then I think it will vary according to personality. I looked at the Nirvanahq app again recently and saw they had fields to fill in for context, time and energy. I would think filling those in would take up more time and energy than actually doing the task! Not really the fault of GTD though, as DA himself has criticised software developers of losing sight of the wood for the trees.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Spending more time on the system itself than doing the tasks is a great way to get easily sad. I had a moment this week where I was reading Making It All Work, and although I like the book I became frustrated as I thought; I just really want to get stuff done.

                          Assigning dates may for some people be necessary if they are a procrastinator. I had to do that several times and simply say to myself that I will do these tasks because I promised myself. Unless there is a really good excuse for not doing so (something more critical happened), then I will do those tasks.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            The Lifehacker article misrepresents GTD in at least two ways: saying that GTD doesn't use priority, and implying that a project can only have one next action. I'm not sure the higher horizons were represented accurately either: is GTD actually bottom-up, or is that merely the order most people choose to implement it?

                            Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                            GTD is simple. Doing GTD can be hard. Radical honesty with one's self can be extremely difficult. Giving up habitual patterns of avoidance and cherished illusions can be overwhelming. Freedom to choose in the moment is downright terrifying.
                            I agree: mcogilvie said these things very, very well.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by bcmyers2112
                              Yeah, I know. I didn't think it was worth writing my own GTD primer, though. I think someone already did that.
                              Great to see we're all getting along really well with each other here. By the way: what's an HOF?

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