Re-Rethinking GTD

I wrote a series of articles nearly two years ago to rethink the GTD system, which I think is worth revisiting again. Not the essays, which were from when I called the website "TealArt" (don't ask) and were before I really discovered free software and open source in a big way; but rather, I think two years out from my original article and even further out from the heart of the GTD fad, I think that it's worthwhile to explore GTD again.

For those of you playing along at home, GTD (Getting Things Done) is really a "personal productive methodology" designed by David Allen that swept the geek community a few years ago. It's good stuff, and while it's certianly not a one-size-fits-all miricle cure for umproductive and overwhelmed folk; it promotes (to my mind) a number of goals that I think are quite admirable:

  • Have a single system, that integrates across all aspects of your life. One place where systems can fail is if you're using different "databases" (in the non-technical sense) to store information and tasks, and you have a piece of information that might fit in either system: when you go to look for it later (or need to be notified by it later) the chance of you missing the task because it's on the wrong list is much higher if you have more than one place where lists might be.
  • Think about tasks and projects being broken into "actionable items," and have actions be the unit of currency in your system. As you assimilate information be sure to record anything that needs doing and keep it in your system
  • Attach two pieces of metadata to your action: project (what larger goal does the action help you acomplish; you'll likely have a list of these projects), and "contexts" (where do you have to be in order to do the action, things like "phone" "office" "erands") are helpful for focusing and making it easier to move your projects forward.
  • Do regular reviews of the information on your todolists, and spend (an hour?) once a week making sure you're not foregetting things and that you've checked off all the actions that you've actually done and so forth.

There are other details, precise methods which GTD people focus on, talk about, and provide in their software applications. Frankly I've not read the book and I'm by no means an expert on the subject. I continue to have objections to the system: it assumes large tasks and quickly and easily be broken down into smaller tasks (which isn't always true), and that projects follow linear and predicatable sequences, which I find to be almost universally false. While the reviews help counteract these sorts of assumptions about projects, I have always tended to find GTD a poor solution to the productivity problem: [1] both for myself and in my observations of how other people work.

At the same time, I think the notion of a single system that comes to the mainstream via GTD and of weekly/regular reviews, another artifact of GTD, are both really helpful and powerful concepts for organizing ourselves. The other aforementioned "features" are helpful for many, but I feel that very often organinzing the "GTD list," and our lives to fit ino a GTD list is often too much of a burden and gets in the way of doing things.

I'm interesting in finding out how people these days are talking and thinking about GTD these days. I think the fad has died down, and I'm interested in seeing what we've as a geeky community have learned from the experience.

Interestingly, I'm probably doing something much closer to what GTD recomended these days than I ever have before. org-mode is (among many other things) a capiable GTD tool. I think it's successful not simply because it supports GTD, and the task-management features seem to have grown out of an emacs/writing writing platform rather than a calendar platform. The end result is that I've found the GTD way to be quite effective, though its largely unintentional.

I'm interested in hearing where your own systems are, and how you feel about GTD these days:

  • Do you use GTD or GTD based methodologies for your personal organization?
  • If you only use some which, and why?
  • If you don't use GTD, what system if any do you use?
  • If you once used GTD but stopped, or have considered using GTD and then didn't, I'm particularly interested to learn why you came to these conclusions?
  • What current factors influence the way that you organize your work?

I hope that covers everyone. I'm particularly interested by how creative folks work, but i think in the right light that covers most of us. I look forward to hearing from you?

Cheers, sam

[1]Not the least of which is the way GTD (et al) classify the problem of work acomplishment to be a "productivity problem" rather than an issue of "effectiveness".
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