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  • An Epiphany: Why I Kept Failing at GTD

    I fell in love with GTD 5 years ago. It helped me get my head out of the clouds when it mattered, and get things done in a way I never had before.

    Then like many, I fell off the wagon. Then got back on. Then fell off. Then got back on and stayed for a while.

    I know I needed it - I even started GTDReviews.com in early 2010 to review and compare GTD apps and tools in hopes of helping others save time testing, and focus on actually getting things done instead.

    Then I fell off the wagon again. So much so that I stopped working on the blog.

    Then something happened about two months ago that changed everything. I had an epiphany. I gave it a few months to see if it would stick, and see what I could learn from it.

    The result is that I'm still on the wagon, and while I haven't been the perfect black belt every minute of every day, I've never felt like a Master & Commander to such an extent for so long as I have in these last few months.

    It has inspired me to get GTDReviews back up and running, and to kick things off right, I shared my epiphany and the resulting lessons in hopes that other GTDers can overcome the same challenges I faced.

    I would love to hear your feedback - what helps, what doesn't, what you like or don't like about how I write, etc. The blog, and this post is for you, so if I can do a better job of bringing value, I'd love to hear how.

    Please be kind, this was a very humbling thing to write!

    An Epiphany: Why I Kept Failing at GTD

  • #2
    Very good article!

    Life certainly can be a challenge, and the tips you are sharing are wise, for example (but not only) your advice to review more often, to review/reflect at higher levels, and to make use of Someday-Maybe.

    The only thing that strikes me as odd, as every so often in this forum and in other articles, is how common it is for people to somehow equate GTD with a (the) total life management philosophy rather than as just one of many alternative task management methodologies. If they are organized and happy they see themselves as "on the GTD wagon" and vice versa. The way I see it, all of life's pitfalls are there regardless of what methodologies and philosophies you have. If we are overcommitted, for example, one of the things you mention, we have probably lost some of our perspective on our lives as a whole, not just our grip on GTD. And many people manage to stay organized, efficient and happy using entirely different philosophies.

    Comment


    • #3
      Really good article, thanks for sharing. Reminds us GTD does not make us superman or superwoman and to trust our feelings more

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Suelin23 View Post
        Really good article, thanks for sharing. Reminds us GTD does not make us superman or superwoman and to trust our feelings more
        Yeah, that's just it! It's quite amazing how much happier I am now - and ironically more productive, now that I've got less on my plate!

        Thanks for reading!

        Comment


        • #5
          It's like looking into a mirror!

          Wow! I can't believe how close to home that hits, Evan. I think you perfectly summarized a LOT of people's reasons for constantly falling off the GTD wagon. We ARE overcommitted, plain and simple. I'm going to print your article and review it a couple more times through the end of this year, and make whatever adjustments are necessary to have LESS things to focus on.

          I'd also add that some people are much better delegators than others. It's something I constantly struggle with, especially as somebody who is good at "doing" a lot of different things. It's hard to let go. But, from my experience, many of the folks who are truly successful are the ones who have invested in others (or some type of automated system) to offload the "low-payoff" activities from their plates, which frees them up to pursue the "high-payoff" activities.

          A really smart guy I worked for once said, "Figure out what your DESIRED hourly rate of pay is. You can work backwards from the amount of money you'd like to make in a year. Let's say it's $200,000 per year. That translates to roughly $100/hr if you work 40 hours per week and take 2 weeks of vacation. Then, whenever you're doing something like filing papers or waiting in line, ask yourself if you'd pay someone else $100/hr to do that task. If the answer is NO, then you need to offload that task and find something that WILL pay $100/hr."

          It makes sense but it's hard to do. At least it gives us something to strive toward.

          Again, great article. Thanks for sharing. I'll definitely be exploring your blog as well. I'm particularly interested in learning about what kind of tools you are using to manage all of your tasks (the ones you have left, that is).

          Cheers,
          Tony Pinto

          Comment


          • #6
            Your post

            Your blog post was very well written and probably describes lots of people and their experience. I think "failing" is how you learn. I don't really think of anything in my life that didn't go well as failure...just more as feedback and course correction. Now some of that has been HARD feedback and IMMEDIATE course correction, but looking back most of what didn't go well really doesn't feel like failure.

            Comment


            • #7
              Thanks for sharing, GTDerEvan. One thing that helped me this year was to attend one of the Mastering Workflow seminars. It wasn't inexpensive but even though I thought I knew everything about GTD I found tremendous value in the seminar. It helped set me right when I needed it most.

              All the best in your journey!

              Comment


              • #8
                Something to think about

                GTDerEvan,

                It sounds like you really want to help others, thank you. All the other posts summed up the positives about your article/views pretty well, so let me just say thank you for taking the time!

                Young guns like you are the future of GTD. I very much respect that you asked for honest feed back and here it is:

                Some of your challenges and solutions, as described in the article, do not well represent the realities faced by the common man/woman. For instance, your solution for over-commitment was to pare back to only two thriving businesses to run.

                The average family faces challenges that are a lot more like a stalemate. If they scale back their efforts, they may well lose their house, etc... they probably have far fewer options than you did, yet they suffer the same, or greater, damage from over-whelm as you did. The solution path for most of us will require a careful, synergistic application of multiple strategies together, in just the right way.

                To make a real difference-- to bring powerful, insightful solutions & perspectives that greatly help others, you might consider approaching things as an anthropologist; you may want to study the nuances of the struggle. There are reasons why many, many people that already know the GTD concepts & constructs still struggle to make it all happen. Without this kind of understanding, you could eventually end up just repeating the generalities we hear all over the web already.

                Evan, we greatly need your talents, and thanks again for having a heart for service!!
                Last edited by Steele; 12-01-2013, 09:06 AM.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Neat. On a personal level, I think my own wagon-falling-offness stems from the opposite problem -- undercommitment. Interesting that the two modes of failure appear so similar.



                  Cheers,
                  Roger

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Roger View Post
                    Neat. On a personal level, I think my own wagon-falling-offness stems from the opposite problem -- undercommitment. Interesting that the two modes of failure appear so similar.
                    Maybe neither of them is the actual root of the problem?

                    Maybe it is more a matter of sheer overwhelm in the very number of unrelated commitments, like not seeing the forest for all the trees? In this case, the solution might be to get a better grip of the higher horizons and organize the commitments into a rare few well-defined overall goals.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      That's a really good point. I have never considered that the disconnectedness of tasks in the pipeline could matter in terms of overwhelm, but it does make sense... very interesting.

                      Seems like task alignment would help how we think and feel about the workload a lot, however, much overwhelm/ over commitment seems to stem from regular life admin stuff, which never seems to end! (how to over-come the endless volume?).

                      By the time income is secured and life issues managed, there may be no gas or time remaining for the strategic stuff- even if it is well aligned & feels good? I think I get it though; well aligned tasks would feel like a few key, meaningful task-groups to manage rather than a random cloud of tasks coming at you. Better alignment just may be enough take the edge off. Nice.
                      Last edited by Steele; 12-02-2013, 07:56 AM.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Wow, I am overwhelmed (emotionally) at the kind and insightful responses from everyone! I've received several emails as well from people expressing their appreciation and personal experiences that relate to my own, and it's been incredibly humbling!

                        Originally posted by tonyp View Post
                        Wow! I can't believe how close to home that hits, Evan. I think you perfectly summarized a LOT of people's reasons for constantly falling off the GTD wagon. We ARE overcommitted, plain and simple. I'm going to print your article and review it a couple more times through the end of this year, and make whatever adjustments are necessary to have LESS things to focus on.
                        Great idea! I'm going to do the same. I've already found myself slipping on some of my own advice, and it's clear I need some reminders to help break old habits.

                        Originally posted by tonyp View Post
                        I'd also add that some people are much better delegators than others. It's something I constantly struggle with, especially as somebody who is good at "doing" a lot of different things. It's hard to let go. But, from my experience, many of the folks who are truly successful are the ones who have invested in others (or some type of automated system) to offload the "low-payoff" activities from their plates, which frees them up to pursue the "high-payoff" activities.

                        Again, great article. Thanks for sharing. I'll definitely be exploring your blog as well. I'm particularly interested in learning about what kind of tools you are using to manage all of your tasks (the ones you have left, that is).

                        Cheers,
                        Tony Pinto
                        Thanks Tony! My perfectionist tendencies have made me into a control freak with the projects that I care deeply about. It has been very difficult to trust other people to do the quality of job that I would do. Recently, out of necessity, I've started to let go. I'm shocked every day at the talent that surrounds me that I've been blind to. In several cases, the people that I've let take over certain aspects of projects are more skilled and talented at that aspect then myself, and the end result turns out much better! This is one of those things that's incredibly exciting and maniacally frustrating, given how long I've held on to things. Definitely an area I need to keep working on, however.

                        I have an article on my own personal tools very high up on my list. I need to finish my Omnifocus 2 for iOS review asap first, however. It has gone from unusable for me to one of the most critical pieces of my machine with the update!

                        Originally posted by Barb View Post
                        Your blog post was very well written and probably describes lots of people and their experience. I think "failing" is how you learn. I don't really think of anything in my life that didn't go well as failure...just more as feedback and course correction. Now some of that has been HARD feedback and IMMEDIATE course correction, but looking back most of what didn't go well really doesn't feel like failure.
                        Amen! I'm far better for my failures than I am for my successes. I wish I had learned that much earlier in life. I played it safe for far too long.

                        Originally posted by ryanirelan View Post
                        Thanks for sharing, GTDerEvan. One thing that helped me this year was to attend one of the Mastering Workflow seminars. It wasn't inexpensive but even though I thought I knew everything about GTD I found tremendous value in the seminar. It helped set me right when I needed it most.

                        All the best in your journey!
                        As I recover from the financial setbacks that my recent "pruning" resulted in, I'd like to take the time and money to invest in one or multiple of these. There is very little that DAC has produced that I haven't found great value in. Thanks for the advice! If you'd like to do a writeup on the value of your experiences there, I think that may provide great value to readers of GTDReviews. Any interest? No pressure, just an option if you'd like to.

                        Originally posted by Steele View Post
                        GTDerEvan,

                        It sounds like you really want to help others, thank you. All the other posts summed up the positives about your article/views pretty well, so let me just say thank you for taking the time!

                        Young guns like you are the future of GTD. I very much respect that you asked for honest feed back and here it is:

                        Some of your challenges and solutions, as described in the article, do not well represent the realities faced by the common man/woman. For instance, your solution for over-commitment was to pare back to only two thriving businesses to run.

                        The average family faces challenges that are a lot more like a stalemate. If they scale back their efforts, they may well lose their house, etc... they probably have far fewer options than you did, yet they suffer the same, or greater, damage from over-whelm as you did. The solution path for most of us will require a careful, synergistic application of multiple strategies together, in just the right way.

                        To make a real difference-- to bring powerful, insightful solutions & perspectives that greatly help others, you might consider approaching things as an anthropologist; you may want to study the nuances of the struggle. There are reasons why many, many people that already know the GTD concepts & constructs still struggle to make it all happen. Without this kind of understanding, you could eventually end up just repeating the generalities we hear all over the web already.

                        Evan, we greatly need your talents, and thanks again for having a heart for service!!
                        Steele, first of all thank you for taking the time to read and offer your feedback. Your kind words certainly add fuel to my fire to help others overcome similar struggles.

                        It's interesting that you suggest approaching things as an anthropologist. What's interesting is that my original intention of the article was to do just that. As I began writing, my tone became much more personal given how close to home this was for me. While I definitely feel that I can dive deeper into the nuances of the struggle, I wrote the article the way that I did for two reasons:
                        1. I wanted readers to be able to see my voice show through, and get a glimpse of who I am and what I've struggled with.
                        2. I wanted to see what aspects of it resonated with people, so as to highlight those aspects in more depth in a follow-up.

                        I'm afraid if I were to dive into the nuances of every aspect of the struggle in this one situation, I'd have a book on my hands. Hmm, perhaps not a horrible idea?

                        To the point about my situation being quite uncommon, I can't disagree with you, but I would say that the problem and the solution may likely be identical for a massive variety of unique situations. To over-simplify, my story is this: I have ambitions, and GTD made me feel like I could accomplish everything. I tried, and got so buried in this vast array of projects and areas of focus, that I lost perspective of what was most important in my life. I needed to take a step back, evaluate what's most important long-term, and eliminate the things that detract from what's most important.

                        In your example, you mention scaling back efforts resulting in losing a house. To apply the lessons learned from my experience, one would hopefully realize that keeping their house supports whatever is most important to them - providing for and protecting their family's health and wellbeing. They would find that their hobbies or side-projects may be having a detrimental impact to that end, and prune the things that are getting in the way. Perhaps the end result is just to prioritize time better now that you have a perspective of what's most important. With these lessons applied, I believe the end result in your scenario would be to double their efforts in whatever avenue maximizes their opportunity to pay the bills, set money aside for a rainy day, and establish that security for their family that is so important to them.

                        That being said, it's possible the length of the article or the interweaving of my personal story detracted from making that point clear? What do you think? Am I off base in saying any of that, or have I contradicted myself in any way? Thank you again for the honest feedback!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Roger View Post
                          Neat. On a personal level, I think my own wagon-falling-offness stems from the opposite problem -- undercommitment. Interesting that the two modes of failure appear so similar.
                          Originally posted by Folke View Post
                          Maybe neither of them is the actual root of the problem?

                          Maybe it is more a matter of sheer overwhelm in the very number of unrelated commitments, like not seeing the forest for all the trees? In this case, the solution might be to get a better grip of the higher horizons and organize the commitments into a rare few well-defined overall goals.
                          Originally posted by Steele View Post
                          That's a really good point. I have never considered that the disconnectedness of tasks in the pipeline could matter in terms of overwhelm, but it does make sense... very interesting.

                          Seems like task alignment would help how we think and feel about the workload a lot, however, much overwhelm/ over commitment seems to stem from regular life admin stuff, which never seems to end! (how to over-come the endless volume?).

                          By the time income is secured and life issues managed, there may be no gas or time remaining for the strategic stuff- even if it is well aligned & feels good? I think I get it though; well aligned tasks would feel like a few key, meaningful task-groups to manage rather than a random cloud of tasks coming at you. Better alignment just may be enough take the edge off. Nice.
                          Roger, it's interesting I was just talking with a close friend about this very phenomenon. He's under-committed - he has "too much free time." (Oh my, how difficult it is to wrap my head around those words!). Yet he felt and experienced much of what I did when completely overextended.

                          I think Folke is on to something. My reply to my friend was that it's more about the 50,000ft view. It's about why you're here on this ball of mud, and how the things you do and think about on a day to day basis align with that. I think in reality it actually has very little to do with the volume of tasks, unless that volume interferes with your effectiveness at staying aligned with your life goals. I think having too low of a volume or too high can have equally detrimental effects.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Evan,

                            After reconsidering my feedback to you, I think I may have been super-imposing my GTD hopes & dreams onto your vision a bit. Your article was spot-on in respect to GTD implementation as a tool. As a tool, GTD helps us be as productive as possible; once that is done, pruning/prioritizing is the next- and probably the final- logical step. Beyond that, GTD, a tool, has offered-up what it can. The challenge I tendered was that you study the ‘struggle’, etc.: That line of thinking only has merit if the intention is to extend beyond GTD as a tool, and into all sorts of peripheral strategies. This is where I starting projecting my intentions into yours, unfairly.

                            I have come to think of GTD as a generic term also representative of all things good in the world of life management & life potential. In my mind, Gtd is a framework- say a Christmas tree- on which we might hang, and integrate, best practices (life/ business strategies & tactics), as ornaments. I would love to see this kind of expanded application become a basis for GTD Gen-3 (DA would be asking, what was Generation 2? ).

                            What I’m getting to, is that GTD, as a framework/a facilitative structure, shows far more promise than being just the great tool that it is- it can be far more than task organization & goals! In fact, I think the world needs it to become more. The quiet desperation Thoreau spoke of is a hallmark of our society now; GTD exploded onto the scene because this is so- people are mired in over-whelm, and are seeking relief. GTD, as a tool, helps immensely, but has not proven to be the full solution… never was promised as such.

                            So, Evan, will you be the ONE… the one to lead us where GTD has never gone?!! Wait… Wait, there I go projecting again, sorry.
                            Last edited by Steele; 12-03-2013, 05:45 PM.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by GTDerEvan View Post
                              Roger, it's interesting I was just talking with a close friend about this very phenomenon. He's under-committed - he has "too much free time." (Oh my, how difficult it is to wrap my head around those words!). Yet he felt and experienced much of what I did when completely overextended.
                              I wonder if "under commitment" is actually a form of over commitment itself. Committed to keeping as much time as possible free for something more important. Except that "something more important" never happens.

                              Originally posted by GTDerEvan View Post
                              I think Folke is on to something. My reply to my friend was that it's more about the 50,000ft view. It's about why you're here on this ball of mud, and how the things you do and think about on a day to day basis align with that.
                              In which case the solution for the under committed is to use their time to discover their 50,000ft level by experimentation and methodical analysis of the results, and accepting the risks and expenditure required.

                              Comment

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