Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Why Don't I Like GTD?

Tools for productivity?

Over the years, I’ve been accused of hating or being afraid of GTD (a popular method of productivity created by David Allen). Both those accusations are far, far from the truth. I admit that I’m cool towards GTD. Very cool. Why?

GTD isn’t for me. And it wasn’t a snap reaction, either.

A few years ago, I made a stab at rebooting my system of productivity. At that time a few friends, and a bunch of people online, were singing the praises of GTD. While I don’t usually go with the crowd, some of the cheerleaders were people whose opinions I respected (and still do).

So, I decided to check GTD out.

To try to determine the strengths and deficiencies of my system, I compared and contrasted the system I was using with GTD. To learn more, I borrowed a copy of the book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity from a GTD-obsessed friend. I also borrowed his copy of the follow-up volume, Making It All Work. A cursory reading of both books revealed GTD to be not just deceptively complex, but overly complex.

Not being one to throw the baby, bath water, and tub out I decided to delve deeper. Four weeks later, and my opinion hadn’t change. GTD was, and is, way too complex for my needs.

There are aspects of GTD that I like — for example, Allen’s two-minute rule. The rule states that if you can get a task done within two minutes, do it before doing anything else. Aside from that, GTD fell flat for me.

Go deeper into the system and you encounter concepts like the five phases of project planning, five stages of mastering work flow, six level model for reviewing your own work, tickler files. You run into options for handling items that require no action, the idea of the Someday/Maybe list. Keeping those concepts straight required more mental energy than they were worth.

Those concepts, and the complexity underlying them, put a huge dent in the whole idea of GTD’s simplicity. A simplicity that several people, with straight faces mind you, touted to me.

I don’t think I need to learn a lot of new terminology to efficiently get my tasks out of the way. I don’t believe I have to adapt the way in which I work to someone else’s idea of an optimal workflow. I don’t need to take three steps when one or two will do.

It all adds up to a considerable amount of setup and maintenance for something that should be relatively maintenance free. As I keep pointing out, GTD is a complex system. No matter what some of its adherents say. As the Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us: order and complexity only decrease with time, never increase. You spend an inordinate amount of time maintaining and shoring up a complex system. Time that’s better spent actually getting things done or relaxing.

I spent about a month with GTD. It did nothing positive for me. It didn’t make me more productive. I actually slowed me down. In my case, the system didn’t offer the advertised stress-free productivity. Far from it. That’s why I’m not a fan.

And, as in the past, I’ll be accused of being a GTD hater. So be it.

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