Is GTD in Good Health?

January 10, 2009

Recently there seems to have been a backlash against GTD and I thought I would take this as an opportunity to discuss my history with GTD and what I make of this reaction to it.

Getting Tired and Desperate

GTD came to me at the best possible time. I had a new manager who was great to work for the give me a crazy amount of work to do. The number of projects I had to do grew from eight to over 30. You would think I would have been annoyed by this but actually I was moving from doing projects that were all about managing the decline of my department to 30 projects which were going to reinvigorate us and put us “back on the map”. So it was great, but it gave me major headaches. I would often find myself concentrating hard on one project with an evil weevil scratching away at the back of my brain, trying to convince me that there was something more important I should be doing right now.

One day I read an article in the Guardian that was basically a summary of Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero articles. The Guardian article led me to 43 folders and 43 folders led me to GTD.

I immediately liked what I read about GTD because I already agreed on many of its central concepts. The idea that us mammals can multitask has always seemed optimistic to me. Also, even though I work in IT, I like the idea of a time management system that can work as well in a paper notebook as a digital one.  The final push was that here was a system that wasn’t an all-or-nothing solution but that would help whether fully or partially adopted.  Perfect.

I immediately saw benefits. For example it seems blindingly obvious that you should have a list of all your projects but I had never done it, nor had I seen anyone else who had. It was great that whenever my boss asked me what I was currently working on I was able to pull a piece of paper out of my pocket and tell him precisely. Also, I managed to get rid of the nagging weevil at the back of my head.

I’m still getting the benefits of GTD to this day. I’m more organised now than I’ve ever been in my life. It’s been amazing how small changes such as not forgetting items I need to buy in the supermarket, or not double booking appointments, has done wonders for my confidence in other areas. I feel my experience has shown that David Allen is correct about at least one thing: if you take care of the small stuff, the big stuff gets easier too.

Gauntlets Thrown Down

I’ve read a few articles by bloggers complaining that GTD ain’t all that. They say that they’ve tried to implement it but that it’s too difficult and unwieldy, or that it’s unrealistic.

I won’t get into addressing specific articles or points, as that isn’t what really interests me, but I think most of the observations fit into two categories. The first category is the people who seem to have been oversold GTD, and as a consequence think it will solve problems it was not designed to solve. The second category are people who see GTD as a system written in stone, and do not appreciate that it has quite a bit of flexibility.

Goldacre Trounces Detox

Around the time I was thinking about these complaints I read an article by Ben Goldacre. He was talking about the attraction of pseudoscience to the general public. We have known for many years what we need to do to live a long and healthy life: don’t smoke, don’t drink to excess, eat lots of fruit and veg and get plenty of exercise. Despite the fact that everyone in the Western world knows this to be true, many of us still insist on pursuing get-fit-quick schemes such as detox diets and various pills and potions.

In some ways I could see a connection between that and GTD. Those of us who have read GTD already know what we need to do for healthier productivity, but like those trying to lose weight, we can sometimes fall off the wagon.  Does that mean we should abandon the wagon?  Curse the wagon?  Tell the wagon to get lost and never show it’s stupid wagonny face around here again?  It might make us feel better but it won’t solve our problems.

Just because something’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.

Personally I see the whole workflow of GTD as the ultimate goal, and one I’m not quite reaching.  But even without reaching it I’m still more productive now than I’ve ever been.  And at least I now know what I need to do to be more productive.

Right, I’m off to the gym and I’m bringing my @gym list with me.  Hopefully today is the day I complete my “Rippling stomach” project.


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