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 I no longer write or focus on the GTD methodology. My weekly email is now called ATTN: and I’d love to send it your way. Just click here to make that happen now or sign up using the form at the end of this piece. Thanks!
So I’m no longer practicing Getting Things Done.
To be fair, I haven’t been practicing GTD in its purest sense for over a year and a half now. Over the past few weeks, I’ve concluded that only a few remnants of the GTD methodology will remain as part of my productivity system. Those remnants largely revolve around capturing everything that comes to mind, being deliberate with my inboxes, and reviewing my tasks and projects regularly (a hybrid version of the Weekly Review, I suppose).
So why did I abandon GTD?
I left GTD behind because several aspects of it simply stopped working for me. There are likely more reasons than what I list below, but there are three that stand out. Over the next three weeks, I’m going to offer up more details on each of those reasons. So let’s get into the first reason why I’m leaving GTD behind…
It’s too complex.
The thing is, GTD is actually simple in a lot of respects. But there are elements of it that are complicated or involved, and that is where I find that I struggled with it on a regular basis.
I know I’m not alone in that.
I’ve had many Productivityist Coaching clients who have tried to use GTD in the past only to feel overwhelmed due to aspects of the methodology. A lot of that overwhelm comes from list-making. Not the number of items on lists, but the number of actual lists. GTD involves a lot of lists.
Making lists is pretty simple, but having too many lists complicates things. When you have too many lists, some lists are bound to be neglected.
The lists in GTD can generally be identified as follows:
- Action Items. This is a list of all of your tasks. The sheer number of items on here alone can cause people to shudder – or even worse – run away screaming.
- Projects. This list is a container of sorts which takes related actions and groups them under a common initiative. This list is less overwhelming at first glance because it should contain less items. But once you look inside all the containers, it can really cause anxiety. Most people work by project, which isn’t often the best way to work.
- Contexts. This list another container, but it groups action items differently than projects. Instead, it groups tasks by what you need to have at your disposal (location, tool, resource, etc.) in order to complete the task. Because a lot of folks can’t understand the term contexts well, it tends to be underused… and undervalued. The traditional idea of contexts doesn’t apply all that much anymore, either. With laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones the context “computer” isn’t as useful. (This is just one of the things that I discussed with GTD founder David Allen on this episode of The Productivityist Podcast.
- Horizons of Focus. This list is also a container of sorts, but it looks not just at today but to the extreme long-term. Most of the people I’ve encountered don’t plan that far ahead, so they tend to climb no higher than the 10,000 feet level despite the fact that the Horizons of Focus rise to 50,000 feet. So even though GTD can support the larger plan you have for your life, most people just want to focus on what they need to get done today (or this week).
These four lists can be overwhelming, and the lists that (in my experience) get neglected the most are Contexts and Horizons of Focus. These are the most critical lists to help you do the right things at the right time and to achieve goals over the long term.
There are very few people out there (relatively speaking) that have GTD so ingrained in their lives that it comes easy to them. Even the most die-hard GTDers fall off the wagon and can struggle with getting back on it. I’ve been one of those, but I’m using my own wagon now. There are a number of reasons for that as well, but the primary reason is this: it’s simpler.
(By the way, I’ll share more about “my wagon” with you once I’m done offering up the remaining two reasons why I’ve stopped practicing the GTD methodology. Until then, let me know what part of GTD works for you and what part doesn’t. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.)