This is a piece that was originally published in The Productivityist Weekly newsletter. I wanted to share it with you on the blog as well to explain why Productivityist no longer writes or focuses on the GTD methodology. If you would like more updates, Click here and you’ll get it delivered to your inbox every week.
In my previous post, I began a three-part series on why I’ve left GTD – David Allen’s popular Getting Things Done methodology – behind. Before I get into the second reason as to why I am leaving the popular productivity methodology, I wanted to share one of the big things I took away from all of the correspondence I received as a result from the first post.
Here it is: People are really passionate about GTD.
In fact, “passionate” might even be an understatement. I’ll echo what John Saddington said in the comments of this piece called I Don’t Have Any GTD:
“…the truth is that GTD has become more than just an approach – people have elevated it to a philosophy, even a world view.”
I received more email from the first post in this series than I have with any other. So much so that I’m still responding to people about it! The emails ranged from those who totally got my reasoning to those who didn’t. I also received a lot of email outlining what people found most helpful about GTD and what they struggled with, which was great to hear.
While GTD may not be as simple as I (and others) would like it to be, there are two other reasons why I’ve shifted away from it. I’ll get to the third reason in the final part of this series, but right now I’d like to dive into the second reason.
It’s too rigid.
I’ve read numerous articles stating that GTD isn’t too rigid, but I think that in some ways it is. Creatives have said that the system is too rigid for their tastes and a number of creative types have made GTD work for them. So while I believe that there is more to GTD’s rigidity than meets the eye, it often gets buried behind the idea that GTD will work because it’s an approach that can work for almost anyone.
And frankly, that’s an issue for a lot of people who are simply adopting GTD to try to get more of what they want done.
GTD is quite involved when you first start using it, and it remains involved even after practicing it for years. Why? Because it isn’t an approach as we are used to as human beings. GTD is almost too systematic for its own good, but promises that you will accomplish more and be more productive. In many cases, GTD does in fact deliver the goods in the long term. But in some cases, for some people, it does not. Turns out I’m one of those people.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time setting up my productivity framework with GTD at the center of it, and this was not a simple process.
GTD definitely has elements that don’t offer as much flexibility as one might need. Sure, there are different areas you can use to view your work (contexts, horizons of focus, next actions,etc.), but it still feels as if project-based work is at its center. Even with the Weekly Review, this seems a bit too regimented for my tastes. I know from experience that the Weekly Review can become something that is done less frequently, despite the fact that David Allen himself has said, “If you are not doing a Weekly Review, you are not doing GTD.” When someone recognizes that, then they start to drop other elements of the methodology (consistent capture, looking at the higher levels of the Horizons of Focus, Working with contexts, etc.) until only remnants of GTD remain. And the Horizons of Focus are key aspects of GTD – they are supposed to be the reason we keep lists in the first place, really – but many who adopt GTD have a hard time climbing above 20,000 feet and never fully realize what they’d ultimately like to achieve because of the way the other horizons appear to them.
I want to use a method that helps me navigate through the day in whatever way I decide. An approach that helps me plan out and navigate through my various “need to do” tasks so I can accomplish more “want to do” tasks over the long term.
While I know GTD has the potential to do this, the required maintenance and structure of the methodology makes it too rigid for me to use any longer. When any approach – not just GTD – feels too rigid, it becomes less desirable to use because it goes too far by removing individual thought processes from the approach. I want to be better connected to my tasks so that I can make better choices about them.
While an approach can help remove the human aspects that can cause drag, an approach can also go too far in the other direction when it’s too rigid for the individual. Maybe this why some creatives just can’t “do GTD.” It may not be too rigid in actuality… it just feels that way. GTD can become a burden because it does not have enough of the human element within the process. How do I know this? Because GTD gradually became a burden for me. At some point, you need to ask yourself if you are just following a system and creating lots of lists or are you actually completing the work that matters to you.
If the answer is the former, then that can (and should) be reason enough to leave the approach behind.
Now let me be clear: I believe it is because I practiced GTD for so long that I’ve been able to craft something that now works for me. Without GTD to send me on my way, I know I wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective as I am now. But I also know that I need to use an approach that has more flexibility and yet enough constraints to provide me with the systemization I need.
The approach I’ve been using for a while now is simpler for me to use regularly and is more flexible than anything I’ve used before. It also fulfills a third element I’ve been looking for – one that counteracts the third reason I’ve left GTD behind – and I’ll discuss that element in the final part of this series.
Do you find GTD too rigid, even in some small way? If so, what parts feel too constrictive? If you don’t find it to be that way, I’d love to hear why not. Just leave a comment below.