Forum

  • If you are new to these Forums, please take a moment to register using the fields above.

Announcement

Announcement Module
Collapse
No announcement yet.

Is GTD making us dumber?

Page Title Module
Move Remove Collapse
X
Conversation Detail Module
Collapse
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Is GTD making us dumber?

    After about 2+ years of doing GTD, I've started to think more and more about the concept that David Allen is teaching us. Definitely it has its merits in helping us become more productive. But I keep hearing this nagging question in the back of my mind, is it making my mind less sharp?

    One of GTD's main principles is to remove any "clutter" from your mind and place this into a trusted system that includes next actions, contexts, ticklers and energy levels. The reasoning for this is that we need to free our minds from these "mundane" tasks to allow us to think creatively. Is this really happening though? I've found that the more creative people are actually not the most organized or even the most productive. They just have really great ideas sometimes.

    There are stories and movies about how some individual cannot function without their assistant, spouses or planners. They take it to the point where their next action is so dependent on their planner that they just freeze up like a deer in headlights. While it may seem funny in the movie, I feel that this is somehow happening to me as well. Before GTD, I could easily tell you what meetings I have coming up in the week as well as what I did in my last two weeks. Now I don't think I could answer that question without checking my calendar or task list.

    Part of me also thinks that using GTD is similar to using a calculator for basic arithmetic as opposed to doing it mentally or on paper. A calculator is obviously going to be faster, but our minds become less sharp in the process. I found this out when I started reviewing for the GMAT. Oh how slow my mind has become.

    So in closing, I just wanted to throw this out there to see what opinions others may have and maybe spark a new perspective.

    Thanks for reading!

  • #2
    Does "being organized" make us dumber?

    Probably 95% of GTD is not unique to GTD. Every methodology and common sense advocates the obvious measures of clearing out your drawers and open loops, dealing with your various inboxes, defining concrete actions, being aware of the desired outcomes and goals, noting appointments on a calendar, keeping lists. Etc.

    What the unique characteristics of GTD are has been discussed extensively in this forum. I'd say it is the avoidance of arbitrary dates and fixed priorities. I don't think any of that makes you dumber.

    But I agree that being organized works two ways. It does contribute to making you dumber, more dependent on tools and more empty-headed, just as you say. On the other hand, it also contributes to making you smarter, because it allows you to cover a wider area of concerns without drowning in it all or overlooking or forgetting things. There is probably a breakeven point somewhere, somehow, but I wouldn't know how to define that.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by jakenava View Post
      The reasoning for this is that we need to free our minds from these "mundane" tasks to allow us to think creatively. Is this really happening though?
      In my case it sure has. Without a trusted place to be sure I don't forget the mundane I have no bandwidth to focus on the fantastic and uplifting.

      Plus you are ignoring the sheer volume of information that is coming to us each day. Here is an article that has good illustrations of the differences: http://www.economist.com/node/15557443

      Just look at the cost of computer memory: When I first started working the PDP 8 was a top end microcomputer. Memory cost roughly $5000 for 12 K bytes. My former boss remembers when memory was $100/byte! The only reason memory prices are so much lower is because we are generating and storing vast amounts of data.

      Take just pictures. I am digitizing a collection from the early 1900s. Total images about 1500 on glass plate negatives. I can take 1500 images in 2 months and a professional photographer will do that many on a single assignment or in a few hours. (Think wedding photographers) Only possible now due to digital imaging systems.

      We need GTD because we are dealing with more things coming at us faster than any humans ever before in history or prehistory.

      Comment


      • #4
        Yes, I think using GTD affects the way we think. Here's another thread about this: http://www.davidco.com/forum/showthr...=deep+thinking I think there are several aspects to this.

        Using GTD we may spend less time memorizing things. There's evidence that practice at memorizing makes you better at it. I like to memorize poems and lots of other stuff. If you have GTD there's less incentive to memorize lists, though you can still do that if you want. I still memorize some lists even though I'm (sortof) using GTD; sometimes I also have a written version. I see a big difference between memorizing a list which I can recall when I want, (which is like memorizing a poem), versus remembering to do something (which is like keeping it on your mind constantly). I'm not sure whether there's also benefit to practicing remembering to do things.

        Hmm: how about using the mind to memorizing things, getting them "off your mind" by filing them in an organized place in your memory -- still in your mind in a sense, but not needing to remember to do them because you trust that at the appropriate time you'll recall the list from memory? That could be seen as one way of implementing GTD. I mean, for example, if someone who habitually enters memory contests and is really good at memory implements GTD, they could do it like that, just using their memory as another medium like paper or computer. I think you can still get mind-like-water when you do that. Once you're confident, consciously and subconsciously, that you have something reliably stored in your memory, you don't feel the need to keep rehearsing it.

        A more worrisome aspect: I find that with GTD, when I see something or think of an idea, I have a habit of processing it: what is it, what's the next action, which list should it go on, or just collect it for now, write it down, get it out of my mind, quick, done, back to mind-like-water. After processing a bunch of stuff for an hour or so I'm even more like that, but probably somewhat like that all the time anyway due to habitually using GTD or similar systems. But that's not the way to do creative thinking. For creative thinking you need to keep things in mind, keep them vague and full of possibilities; not process, define and clear away. I think a habit of doing GTD can have a negative impact on the ability to do creative thinking.

        One could argue that having a clear mind due to GTD allows more time for creative thinking. Fair enough. However, I believe the habit of processing-style thinking also has a negative impact, as I said above. It's no use having time to do creative thinking if, during that time, you instead do processing-style thinking out of habit. I don't know which effect is stronger, and I don't know whether there's a way to counteract the negative impact, analogous to memorizing poems to counteract the lack of exercise for memory. I don't know: would meditation help?? Or something else?? Maybe limiting GTD to certain times of day and the rest of the day not worrying about whether all ideas get captured.

        See the grook "Twin Mystery" by Piet Hein on this page http://www.leptonica.com/cachedpages/grooks/grooks.html a little over halfway down the page.

        I'm still (sortof) using GTD in spite of these concerns.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
          I find that with GTD, when I see something or think of an idea, I have a habit of processing it: what is it, what's the next action, which list should it go on, or just collect it for now, write it down, get it out of my mind, quick, done, back to mind-like-water. After processing a bunch of stuff for an hour or so I'm even more like that, but probably somewhat like that all the time anyway due to habitually using GTD or similar systems. But that's not the way to do creative thinking. For creative thinking you need to keep things in mind, keep them vague and full of possibilities; not process, define and clear away. I think a habit of doing GTD can have a negative impact on the ability to do creative thinking.
          hmm, I would say we approach creative thinking differently. I know that I need to be in the right frame of mind to do any creative work. Often I have partial creative ideas and I just collect them, typically as notes to myself. They go into the inbox and during processing I often figure out that a bunch are related and that what I need to do is think about them in a different way. If I am in a creative mode, often I stop processing and just do the creative parts then and there, maybe draw a few relationships or go ahead and play with the knitting pattern, or write a quick piece of code to test the database design or draw a flowchart or even just sit back, close my eyes and walk through a process or procedure. I know, if it's going to take more than 2 minutes I should just add it to my lists and move on but I often don't.

          I don't do creative thinking by keeping things in my mind. I do creative thinking by writing things down or trying it. I may scribble many, many pages of possibilities and then sort them later. A "floor sort" is a common way I deal with lots of possibilities or vague thoughts, write them on slips of paper and play with the paper bits. Sometimes I'll re-write the same basic ideas many times with slightly different words before distilling it into a real project or action. Written words are more full of possibilities than thoughts.

          Comment


          • #6
            An analogy: When we (humanity, that is) developed the ability to write, we largely lost the art of oral storytelling. That was indeed a loss, but I believe that what we gained, in the ability to permanently store knowledge (and stories) and build on it, was worth the cost.

            When you develop the ability to manage your taks without juggling them all in your head, it is possible that you may lose something. For example, maybe not having all that stuff in your head, as opposed to on paper, occasionally eliminates an insight into a relationship between those things. But I would argue that the benefits will, for most people most of the time, make up for that loss.

            By the way, the book "It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys" seems pretty relevant to this. As I recall, she addresses the question of organization from the point of view of a creative person who is suspicious of it, unlike more organization books that are preaching to the (disorganized but organization-craving) choir. I gave the book away because I never had that suspicion of organization, but I think I'm going to get a new copy; I keep trying to remember exactly what it said.

            I do see the concern about being excessively tied into the habit of logical, organized thinking. But I would suggest deliberately planning a counter to that, ensuring that in addition to the organized-planning and list-making and checking-off time, you have free-thinking time.

            I don't know what that time would entail--it's probably different for each person. Using those mindmapping apps? Rubber ducking? (Google for explanation.) Walking or riding a bike? (When I'm trying to write fiction, this is what I have to do to get my characters to start moving around and talking to each other.) Playing with things? I used to have a little shoebox of toys near my desk; I'm thinking I may retrieve it.

            I would be inclined to change as many things as possible for the free-thinking context--specific music, maybe, or a different computer background color, or even a hat, all as signals to my brain. Alternatively, if I want to usually be free-thinking, I might instead set up contextual signals for the *non* free-thinking context, so that I go "into" that more organized context, get my work done, and then shut the door on it.

            A side thought: all that clutter can be comforting. When your brain is filled with minutiae, it's harder to address major issues. It's harder to see your big worries, and it's harder to work on your most important goals, which means that the self-imposed *expectation* that you work on those goals, those difficult goals, those scarey goals where you may feel that success your failure defines you, is lower. It's harder to get rid of all the clutter if the clutter is obscuring your view of the cliff or the saber tooth tiger.

            So I wonder if that uneasy feeling when the mental clutter is cleared away may sometimes be not about the potential lost, but about the potential suddenly made available.

            I know that this was true of my mother--she farmed and tended clutter, both physical and mental. She enormously valued creativity, and she rarely got anything creative done, because with all the clutter, she "couldn't." She never got a chance to fail, because she never got a chance to try, because she ensured that that chance would not come.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Gardener View Post
              An analogy: When we (humanity, that is) developed the ability to write, we largely lost the art of oral storytelling. That was indeed a loss, but I believe that what we gained, in the ability to permanently store knowledge (and stories) and build on it, was worth the cost.
              This sounds like a great analogy -- and is reminiscent of the activity of memorizing poems I mentioned above. I've also done oral storytelling as an art.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Gardener View Post
                An analogy: When we (humanity, that is) developed the ability to write, we largely lost the art of oral storytelling. That was indeed a loss, but I believe that what we gained, in the ability to permanently store knowledge (and stories) and build on it, was worth the cost.
                Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                This sounds like a great analogy.
                I agree. Great analogy.

                And again: Whatever the downsides of structured behavior and thinking might be, it is simply wrong to single out GTD as the culprit for it. GTD is just one of many brands of structured/organized thinking. Most of GTD's tenets are things that most of us have heard and accepted and integrated since the time when we were young - in a multitude of ways, definitely not just from the GTD books. We have heard the same from grandparents and parents and teachers and friends and collegues, and we have also come to similar conclusions through our own thinking and trial-and-error experiences. Common sense. Well-known in our culture but not always used even though we know it - and that is why there is a need for good books about it. It deserves being spelled out and emphasized. David Allen sums it up brilliantly, and even makes wise contributions and selections of his own. But he deserves no blame (nor gratitude) for creating man's desire to structure his world and actions - or keep lists and calendars.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                  For creative thinking you need to keep things in mind, keep them vague and full of possibilities; not process, define and clear away.
                  I once considered a career in the arts, and have plenty of friends who have such careers. One of the biggest misnomers out there is that discipline and organization are antithetical to creativity.

                  Jerry Seinfeld used the Don't Break the Chain technique to motivate himself to write a joke a day. Jack Kirby, considered by many to be the father of modern super-hero comics, was incredibly disciplined about his craft and meeting deadlines. Same with Steve Ditko, best known as the original artist on Spider-Man and the man responsible for the character's distinctive likeness.

                  My favorite rock band, Rush, has outlasted most other bands and remains after more than four decades one of the most respected and influential groups in part by being extremely disciplined about their craft.

                  Authors from Twain to Hemingway trained themselves to write habitually, not just when the mood struck or the words were flowing easily.

                  It's easy to get out of processing mode and into creative mode. Just stop processing and start creating. But it's very, very difficult to be creative if you have lots of other things on your mind. You have to be in a clear space to let the creative juices flow.

                  There's no reason why GTD can't help to enable a creative lifestyle. Discipline and creativity go hand-in-hand.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I think GTD is making people smarter

                    GTD doesn't create the commitments rattling around in one's head. They're there, whether you choose to externalize them or not. The only you can grapple with them in an intelligent manner is to make the implicit explicit. Write it down, identify what you want to be true and then make it happen.

                    I know lots of people who are sure they need something to be different but they don't even know what that is, and they spend their lives treading water. That's not smart.

                    So, yeah, a diligent practice of GTD -- rooted in an understanding of the principles -- in my estimation makes one smarter. Or at the very least enables one to work smarter.

                    That's not dumb at all.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Less dumbness in my mind than before and I like it!

                      Originally posted by jakenava View Post
                      After about 2+ years of doing GTD, I've started to think more and more about the concept that David Allen is teaching us. Definitely it has its merits in helping us become more productive. But I keep hearing this nagging question in the back of my mind, is it making my mind less sharp?
                      I don't know what GTD can do to your mind (YMMV ) but I found that my mind was freed from remembering about all those dumb little important details.

                      So there's less dumbness in my mind than before and I like it!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I believe it is very easy for people to get caught up and possibly stuck at the collect, organize & process phases. We might even go on to review things. We spend an inordinate amount of time agonizing over the tools for organizing and then rearrange things when we find the shiny new tool.

                        But what about the "do" phase? This is where GTD provides the mental bandwidth many of us need to truly and deeply focus on activities we choose. I personally don't want to get my brain exercise by holding too many details in my head.

                        I don't want to feel anxiety while trying to relax with my family in the evening because I remembered something important I'd forgotten to do. I might not have felt as strongly about this 10 or 15 years ago. But since I've become a parent, a wife, a daughter to an elderly memory-impaired mother, a college librarian and research instructor (at 2 colleges) and the area-of-focus list goes on. As with many others, my responsibilities in life and my areas of focus have quadrupled as I become older. I need GTD to help me feel confident that my mother's prescription has been filled, that my daughter has a quarter for the bake-sale on Monday, and I've paid the electric bill- and a zillion other mundane responsibilities in my busy life. I think one might compare trying to remember everything (as a way to stay mentally sharp) is similar to weight-lifting when you are only doing bicep curls repeatedly, on one arm, hoping it will give you stronger quads. Our brain was not meant to be stuffed like a storage container. I never did like all that rote memorization in school and I am thankful more emphasis is now placed on the development of critical thinking.

                        Feeling confident that I have captured, organized and processed things helps me move-on to doing and more fully engage in creative activities without distraction. For brain exercise in my freed-up "me" time I can choose to do Sudoko, teach myself a new language, or as I have done recently, teach myself computer programming. I can play a game with my child without checking my email or acting distracted. I can read about a subject that interests me. Then at the end of the week I can review and look back at what went well then look ahead and plan with a feeling of control and accomplishment. I can recall much of what is on my schedule and my list if and when I choose- because I review it regularly- it doesn't blank-out my memory. It simply takes away the worry and uncertainty that I have forgotten something. It lets me choose when I think about things instead of showing up at 2am in the form of insomnia.I sleep better, feel less anxious and my blood pressure is lowered.

                        So if it did turn out that the GTD systematic approach really is making me "dumb" I say bring it on. It is a quality of life issue for me and I much prefer it compared to the overwhelm I've felt in the past.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by bcmyers2112 View Post
                          It's easy to get out of processing mode and into creative mode. Just stop processing and start creating.
                          If it works that way for you, fine. I find I don't change habits of thinking that easily.

                          But it's very, very difficult to be creative if you have lots of other things on your mind. You have to be in a clear space to let the creative juices flow.
                          For me it's the other way around. My page http://web.ncf.ca/an588/create.html might give an idea of the type of creative thinking I'm talking about. Creative ideas tend to come to me when I have unsolved problems on my mind, bothering me. Processing them defines them in a way that tends to preclude most solutions I haven't thought of yet. Having other things on the mind provides the "random input" that helps solve other problems. A clear space leads more to blankness and repetition, not so much to new ideas. Others may think differently. An author advised other authors of fiction to always sit in the same room while writing a story. That may work for some but not, I think, for me; I would do better going for a walk, I think, which provides more input.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                            For me it's the other way around. My page http://web.ncf.ca/an588/create.html might give an idea of the type of creative thinking I'm talking about. Creative ideas tend to come to me when I have unsolved problems on my mind, bothering me. Processing them defines them in a way that tends to preclude most solutions I haven't thought of yet. Having other things on the mind provides the "random input" that helps solve other problems. A clear space leads more to blankness and repetition, not so much to new ideas. Others may think differently. An author advised other authors of fiction to always sit in the same room while writing a story. That may work for some but not, I think, for me; I would do better going for a walk, I think, which provides more input.
                            I don't think we're in disagreement. My point was simply that GTD and creativity aren't antithetical.

                            Let's say you have a project -- we'll call it Project ABC -- that requires some creative thinking. If there is something that enhances your creative process, like taking a walk, that's a next action you can put in a context like "Anywhere."

                            I find that sometimes I just need to sit down with a pen and paper -- or in a pinch with my iPhone if pen and paper are unavailable -- and just brainstorm ideas. So when I have a project that requires creative thinking, I just put "Brainstorm about project X" in my Anywhere list and then make the time to do it.

                            You are correct that everyone's creative process is different, and I apologize if it sounded like I was belittling yours. I just think GTD is perfectly suited for these sorts of things. Some people (not you necessarily, but some people) think a next action has to be something like "Write X pages of a novel" or "Call Joe about the sales proposal" or "Email Jane to find out why widgets are late" or something. A next action could be as simple as "Take a walk" or "Brainstorm ideas," or whatever enhances your creative process.

                            DA says when he writes he has to give himself room to make a creative mess. He also opines (correctly in my view) in Getting Things Done that if you're not losing control multiple times per week you're probably not working to your full capacity. GTD doesn't require you to be robotic. But once your creative process has finished and you have actionable ideas, I don't think it makes sense to manage them in your head. YMMV.

                            Comment

                            Working...
                            X