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Getting into GTD

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  • Getting into GTD

    I've recently gotten a big promotion and have become a father. While fantastic (! !), these massive life changes have me in a situation where I can't seem to get the least bit of traction on any of my commitments. Complete 1 item, and in the meantime, 8 more have accumulated (4 of which I'm barely aware of).

    Searching for a solution, I've read DA's books, and agree wholeheartedly with his philosophies. The idea of greater freedom accompanying/being facilitated by greater control and greater productivity really resonates.

    However, every time I try to actually implement DA's strategies, I end up with the opposite effect. Overwhelmed by minutiae, I'm drained by the act of flowing all my open loops into the system (something that takes hours because I'm paranoid about missing out on something I should be doing on the Someday/Maybe list).

    Soon, I'm several hours further behind in my work than I was prior to trying. The system limps along for a few days, and takes what feels like too much time to keep updated. (As I work, I come up with new ideas and inevitably think of things I should've written down during my initial mind dump / weekly review.) Eventually, I find myself with dozens of sub-lists floating outside the system. I make more progress by being totally reactive and ignoring the system entirely -- the process that lead me to try DA's methods in the first place.

    What am I missing here? DA's system probably isn't for everyone, but I've investigated several alternatives and this is the only one that feels like it should work. How long does it typically take you to see results from using the system? Or until you at least feel comfortable with it?

    And what else am I missing? Anyone have other good tips for a discouraged newbie?

    Many thanks in advance,

  • #2
    Getting Into GTD

    I can relate. I have trouble with parts of GTD, and have yet to decide whether my ADD, my particular life situation (exceptionally deadline-driven, fast-paced, overwhelming single Mom with no one to delegate to, AND ADD), my implementation, or something else is the problem. I actually keep a list of what's working for me & what's not re GTD. I keep on doing what's working, and I try to figure out the solution for what's not. The Calendar, Ticklers (Electronic & Paper), Zero based in-box and email box (at work, at least), filing recommendations and 2 minute rule are godsends to me. Context-based lists and reviewing everything weekly are less-so. I know, I know - you've got to do the Weekly Review, and I have religiously for months, but there's part of me that says that reviewing every thing I ever plan to do weekly is not a good use of my time, and the proliferation of things on those lists (brought about by my ADD mind) make it less likely for me to notice the things that I really need to move to my active lists. I've tried marking lists for every other week, or monthly review (makes me nervous.) I'm thinking of adding Tickler dates to certain SomedayMaybes...

    Even with these setbacks, I will say that with GTD I am getting more things done - but I still have a ways to go.

    Jason et al - any suggestions for adapting GTD for ADDers with overactive minds (and lists)?

    Thanks -



    • #3
      B-pod: Don't give up! I received a promotion while I was on my first maternity leave, so I can relate. Having those two major events coincide can make life extremely challenging and exhausting for a while. I'm also a relative newbie to GTD myself and am struggling with some of the things you mention -- in particular, having so much work and so many open loops that I could easily spend all of my time capturing/processing those and have no time left for "actual work." I think I need to be more scrupulous about creating big blocks of time for my "real work." I also think that the collecting/processing will take a lot less time once I get the system fully implemented. (I just did my first weekly review and it took the whole day! That certainly can't happen every week!) I bet that the same will be true for you as well, especially as you settle into your new roles at work and home.


      • #4
        Getting Into GTD

        There is definitely a lot of front-end effort required to implement even a few of the GTD tenets. I can't say I've gotten that far. After devouring the book a few months ago, I'm now on my second, more thorough read - and I now have my first PDA (Palm Zire) that I am trying to integrate.

        I am also a lawyer (criminal defense) and only 2 years into practice. I presently use a thin hardcover "Record" book with narrow-lined pages as a sort of daily work journal, but one of the first things I realized was that the contexts were all jumbled and too overwhelming to contemplate. I also use a monthly at-a-glance calendar which is always packed with court dates, many of which require travel (usually by car which adds a lot of "unproductive" time except for calls which I don't like to make if I need to write down anything).

        As a procrastinator in a world of deadlines, I desperately need to be my organizational best and to address the underlying anxiety from which my procrastination stems. Also, I believe I have at least mild hyperacuity (noise sensitivity) which makes my crazy, loud office setting not ideal. Earplugs help a little but are annoying for dealing with phone calls and colleagues' visits or questions. I also need to work on my time estimates for each project, as they are usually way under.

        Happily, there is a small break in the stormclouds this upcoming week, as I blocked off every day due to jury duty summons (for the criminal court - as if any prosecutor in their right mind would sit me!) so this is my opportunity to do the initial gathering and proper collecting of all my open loops (at least work-related). I do not expect to have everything under control and sail out of my office with a clear head, but realize that I can only improve over time.


        • #5
          Somethings may have to go...

          For me GTD gave a productivity boost and I got things done so much that people around me started to load me with even more things to do...

          The lists are what they are, an inventory. By reviewing those lists you get an objective overview of your life. So the answer might be that you are having way too much things to do.
          • Is every little project necessary?
            Can something be delegated or scrapped altogether?
            Are you trying to control too much minutiae?
            Could someone give you tuition in new skills to get more productive?

          GTD is fascinating just because it is neutral. What you feed in it is what you get out of it. Elsewhere in this forum there's been a lot of mentions of Peter Drucker. For me one of the most important findings of his was that there are job descriptions which are humanly impossible and anyone who tries to take them on will ultimately fail. I found out that the hard way... For me introspection and quiet reflection are now of crucial importance and I make time for those activities, no matter what. To me your situation sounds like you need to have your priorities crystal clear and standards/values very much human...

          Just my 2 cents...


          • #6
            You can do anything but you can't do everything!
            You should focus on the most important things in your life (and in my opinion the number of these important things shouldn't exceed seven). The rest is meaningless.


            • #7

              Thanks to all of you who've taken time to reply! The more I read (and re-read) your replies, the more I realize that --

              while I may be blocked on the implementation of GTD --

              I'm really blocked on doing the thinking that's required to make this (or any) system work.

              "You can do anything, but you can't do everything" is something that I had trouble enough with in the old (pre-promotion, pre-daddy) world. But now there's this dimension of additional responsibility that's getting me frozen up. What if I make a mistake? What if I choose the wrong focus and fail, or commit myself to the wrong life path(s)? It seems so much more critical to "get it right, and right now" than it did before. Paradoxically, that sense of urgency helps fuel the block that prevents me from taking time to really understand what "getting it right" might look like or mean.

              GTD really is a neutral, you-get-out-what-you-put-in kind of system. So it seems absurd to put all of my open loops in and expect to get direction/motivation/inspiration out of it. (The best I could hope to get would be a system than would unfailingly remind me to do all of the things I haven't really committed to doing.)

              So the question now seems to be more one of taking time to meditate, to think through, to consider. Obviously this is something that I'll have to do alone, but I'd enjoy hearing from anyone else who's found themselves in a similiar state!


              • #8
                When reviewing your open loops list think about this quote (once said by Polish prime minister):
                There are only two kinds of problems: the ones that are unsolvable and the others that will be solved by themselves. So you don't have to do anything.
                And even with this attitude of the government boss nothing wrong happened to Poland.
                Focus on the most important things only.


                • #9

                  Your post ties in a little with something I am currently experiencing; I have let my GTD discipline lapse lately … and it has not done me as much harm as I thought it might. The main things I have to do are clustered at the front of my consciousness, and I have not experienced the icy chill of an urgent item suddenly remembered at the last minute.

                  It has made me wonder how I got on before I came across GTD. In particular, what was life like before I started to write down every single open loop that I had in my head?

                  The answer is, a lot of smaller things used to fall by the wayside – forgotten, not missed by me or anyone else, never again to enter my mind.

                  GTD does not address this process of natural wastage. What it does is place all of our obligations, no matter how small, and no matter who with, right in front of our faces, and forces us to consider each of them equally. The unimportant 20%, 30%, 40%, or even 50% of these do not simply melt away anymore: we have to decide which ones can be put by until later or never, or else we have to renegotiate with ourselves or the other person involved.

                  These two new disciplines, renegotiation and deferral, have to be learned.

                  I found I was getting sick of looking at the same projects coming up on my Palm week after week. Then I did a double take and realized that I did not have to or want to do half them. What I should have done was renegotiate with myself months ago.

                  Don’t forget, you weren’t at all bad at these disciplines before you came to GTD: (we get promoted for example!), but you carried them out in a more “natural” way.

                  Personally I would not go back to my old ways – I will be sharpening up my GTD discipline again over the next week. But as is often said, GTD requires a lot of thinking up front, which is an unfamiliar and initially tiring discipline. But the benefits of a fully operational GTD system make the effort worth while.


                  • #10
                    Dave: I like the way you stated these principles.

                    Proper application of a good productivity system will allow for flexibility - renegotiation and deferral - simply because for most of us surprise happens on a regular basis. The only alternative to renegotaion and deferral is "task shedding", where one simply ignores and/or forgets things which are perceived to be less urgent. Sometimes those "less urgent" things simply melt away, while at other times they pop up unexpectedly; often at the most inopportune moment

                    The key to the process is making a good decision at the outset, bearing in mind that most upfront decisions are not set in concrete and are subject to renegotiation (internal and/or external), depending upon unexpected developments.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Busydave

                      Personally I would not go back to my old ways – I will be sharpening up my GTD discipline again over the next week. But as is often said, GTD requires a lot of thinking up front, which is an unfamiliar and initially tiring discipline. But the benefits of a fully operational GTD system make the effort worth while.
                      Oh yes, the thinking part can be sometimes very uncomfortable. I realized it while pondering again this thread. If you are very stressed and lots of disturbing input is storming into your world, it's very hard to keep thinking. Everything just begs for immediate action. After things cool down a bit it's clear that more thinking would have saved a lot of work...I guess we have all been in those situations. GTD is a "thinking man's game".

                      I guess that's why David Allen hints in the book that while it's very good priority-wise to go from bottom-up (so you get it all listed...), you need higher altitudes from time to time. Thinking in those terms got me to scrap a lot of things out from my life.

                      For me the best rewards have come from thinking about my thinking. I find that sometimes many things are best left alone ( the Polish government boss...), without me worrying over them.


                      • #12
                        fao BPOD

                        We have a lot of similarities:-

                        1.We are expecting our 3rd child in 5 months
                        2.In 2 weeks time we are getting a significant home extension built
                        3.2 months ago I got promoted
                        4.Next week I start a new project (I'm a Project Manager) worth several million dollars - by far the biggest project I've had
                        5.My eldest child has just started school


                        I have (and still) find it really difficult to juggle all of this but what I find most useful is to (re-)clarify my values and simply to allow things to drop off the list that aren't that important.

                        By having all your open loops in front of you you need to ask what really needs to be done right now.

                        For me it is family followed by home followed by work.

                        Hence I have decided to do my 40 hours per week and that is it. I don't take work home period. It means I have to "let go" and delegate more than I would like but my values tell me I have more important things to concentrate on.

                        Home - well we're getting the extension done - to complete before the next baby arrives. I know from experience that the first few months after the birth of a baby is somewhat hectic so my main life goal at the moment is to get the extension done and decorated.

                        So - I;m not going to wash the car as much (not important now), I'm not going to clean the windows etc etc

                        I know this is a ramble but what i am tring to say is that if you can decide what your major goals are for the next few month (ie the 30000 foot level) then those of the open loops you should concentrate on. If you've got a new child then I advise limiting your goals to looking after your partner and baby and 1 or 2 others.


                        • #13
                          It's not so simple because your work results will affect your family future. Limiting your work to 40 hours per week may hurt your ability to earn money for your family and for the future of your children.


                          • #14
                            fao TesTeq

                            "It's not so simple because your work results will affect your family future. Limiting your work to 40 hours per week may hurt your ability to earn money for your family and for the future of your children. "

                            Like I said - it is still a juggling act. I prioritise my working life around this 40 hours and yes, sometimes my work does get comprimised and this is visible to my employer.

                            However, I am lucky in that (I think) my employment is stable and in general I get positive performance feedback. I have got GTD to thank for a lot of this in that it enables me to manage the multiple strands/projects that my job entails.

                            If the job was not as stable then I would not be able to apply this rule as strictly and my goals would shift ie making job secure would become a more immediate goal.

                            Thanks for the post though because in thinking this through it has made me realise that having secure employment such that I am not worrying about losing my job is an important life value for me as it allows me to fulfill my goal of spending time with my family (and a good example of defining values from the bottom up!!!)