Staying GTD Over The Hype

Two or three years ago, a strange topic about organization skills, de-cluttering and mind like water exploded on the Internet. It was about GTD, or Getting Things Done, a methodology for boosting productivity invented and shared by David Alled in his book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity [aff link]. This phenomenon lead to a sudden surge of new blogs, with 43folders.com of Merlin Mann becoming the icon blog for this trend. Soon, other useful and very popular blogs appeared. At that time even yours truly was a GTD wannabee and one of my very first posts in this blog – and one of the most popular, I must say – was about GTD for people in transition countries. GTD posts and blogs where spreading over the internet at light speed. It was the Golden Era.

But now the hype is over. Merlin Mann has switched his 43folder.com and we must re-learn how to use what was once the Internet Bible of the common GTD’er. Icon GTD blogger Brett Kelly handed over his popular GTD property Cranking Widgets Blog to a new voice, Andy Parkinson and in recent posts claim he cured his addiction for this technique.

GTD hype is over for good. But the benefits are here to stay. In this post I’ll outline what was left from GTD in my productivity rituals after the drop of the hype.

GTD Leftovers

There are at least 4 different things that somehow survived the golden era of GTD in my organizational behavior. Let’s take them one at  time:

Emptying your RAM

And getting rid of  “open loops”. In GTD terminology an “open loop” is a thought that is not solved, hence keep popping up in your head all the time. Solving this “open loop” is a matter of taking it out of your head and storing it in a trusted system, for further processing. This is something I kept and found extremely useful.

I don’t know about your brain, but my brain is not a rolodex for sure. I prefer to use my brain for doing creative stuff like writing, coding or something like that. I also use it for learning, either by absorbing information, either by experiencing. I don’t want to be bothered in these processes by unsolved “open loops”.

Next actions

I kept the habit of breaking projects into “next actions”. In GTD jargon, a “next action” is the next physical action required to move forward a project and it doesn’t have nothing to do with the logical structure of the project, most of the time. For instance, if your project is to change your plumbing, the next action will be “look up phone number of the plumber in the agenda @phone” and not “call the plumber”.  “Call the plumber” comes next to “look up the phone number”. Pretty logical, of course.

Next actions are a fantastic glue to my flow. After I created and constantly sustained the habit of breaking my projects into next actions, something nice happened: I started doing stuff instead of organize my day all day long.  It’s not rocket science, but it’s effective.

2 minutes rule

If something can be done in 2 minutes, just do it. Do not postpone it, do not procrastinate on it, just do it, it’s only 2 minutes of your life. That’s another GTD rule, used during your weekly or daily review. I adopted this in most of my activities and it proved to be a win. Even in simpler situations like doing errands or searching the net, if something new to do came up suddenly and it doesn’t go over a decent limit of 2 minutes, I just do it in the moment.

There are of course situations in which I just capture the idea and store it for further processing, but after two years of practice I realized most of the things I have to do can be done instantly. Needles to say that my procrastination plummeted lower than Dow Jones last year. I even had to came up with some productivity tips in order to enhance my procrastination skills, that’s how low it is.

Work in context

The GTD approach about contexts is that you should append to each of your action a specific context and when you’re in that context, peruse your actions list and do only what you can do @Home or @Office or @Computer. I do have a list of GTD contexts and I do most of my work in those contexts.

But the list is highly simplified and it doesn’t have more than 6-7 contexts. I don’t change them often and to be honest, I tend to melt them most of the time. Working from home is surely helping me in that.

GTD loses

So what went out of the system? What are the things that I don’t use anymore from GTD?

Tickler file

To be honest, I never had one. Never saw the use for this although I’m sure David Allen had some very good reasons for recommending it.

Labelers

This one is out without first existing either. Never had the urge of putting labels on my files. I remember though that labelers were pretty neat stuff in the golden era of GTD.

Inbox separation

I had a deck of office trays labeled (without a labeler, of course): Inbox, Do ASAP, and Someday / Maybe. I still have that deck on my desk, but the inboxes are slowly starting to melt. I started to experience the feeling of only one Inbox spread over several media. I have it spread on my email, on my task application (OmniFocus, that is), on my real desktop in my office, and so on. Everything that comes into my focus is transferred in this melted Inbox from where it is processed as for the GTD rules. The rest is just storage.

I deliberately let this process of inbox melting to go on. I never felt the need for an inbox separation. I tend to embrace things totally and process them in a single batch. This inbox melting process is closely related to the last thing that slept through my fingers in the process of internalizing my GTD habits.

Reviews

The GTD recommendation is that you have a daily review and then a weekly review. I never managed to have them EXACTLY like this. I’m quite honest about that and I don’t think it’s a great loss. I do my reviews whenever I feel the need. Sometimes I do several reviews on a day, sometimes I do only a weekly review, sometimes there are weeks until I do another review.

The things that matters the most for me is not the speed of reviews, but the quantity of trust I put in the system. If I trust my managing information system, I can put my focus on the creative activities (or I can just have a life, for instance). I realized that chaos is not dissolved if you do stuff repeatedly, but rather if you immerse yourself in what you do deeply enough to let everything else outside. That’s the way it works for me.

Well, after 2 years of being a GTD’er I am finally at peace with my own interpretation of Getting Things Done methodology. I’m even happy that I had the courage to write a blog post called Astrology And Getting Things Done.

What are your experiences with GTD? Are you a follower? Do you do things by the book or are you just adapting the book to your needs? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.



Running For My Life - from zero to ultramarathoner


The spooky thing about depression is that it sneaks in. There aren’t really trumpets and loud voices announcing: “Hail, hail, this is depression entering the room, all rise!” Nope. It’s slow, silent, creepy. It doesn’t even look like depression. It starts with small isolation thoughts like: “Maybe I shouldn’t get out today, I just don’t feel like going out”. And then it does the same next day. And then the day after that and so on. And then it starts to whisper louder and louder in your ears: “Why would you go outside, you loser? Didn’t have enough yet? Want more people to make fun of how much of a big, fat loser you are?”

And then you start to breath in guilt and shame, instead of air. Every breathe you take is putting more dark thoughts into your body.

Until you get stuck. You can’t move anymore. At all.

If you want to know how I got out of this space, eventually, check out my latest book on Amazon and Kindle.

Running For My Life -from zero to ultramarathoner

Dragos Roua

The guy who started all this. Entrepreneur, ultra-marathoner, tanguero, father and risk taker. I'm blogging here, but I also spend a lot of time in this marvelous space.. You're invited, by the way.

This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. Dragos, this is a great article about how and what you’ve actually maintained and held from the GTD principles. I never put a lot of attention to that bandwagon (aside from reading the book) as I found a lot of similarities as you with what was useful, what worked and what didn’t. I read it at a time that I was already doing many of those things naturally and so didn’t have any real “ah hah!” moments from the book or new found processes. I’ve always been a batch processor when it comes to my tasks and the few minute rule I learned years ago naturally by always helping others if it was quick and applied that to everything I do.

    Anyway, nice to read you’ve had some similar experiences and still use some principles that you have learned work well for you. Right on!

  2. Hi, Mike

    Thanks for stopping by. GTD surely had its share of internet hype and it still has it in some circles. I think it’s more important to judge what works for you despite the hype. And that goes in any other field, not just GTD.

    Keep up the good work 😉

  3. Great post.

    I have been reading the internet about the GTD system for well over 2 years and I finally bought the book about a month ago. I love it. It seriously has brought a systematic approach to some of my chaos clutter. And I am also glad that I decided to wait to get into it until after the hype died down, because you really take in the nuggets much better and cleaner without all the noise from the hype. You have the freedom to take what you need without the guilt of implementing everything.

    I also am using it in a similar way that you are. The context, next action and RAM emptying are what I have mostly taken from the system.

  4. i have searched everywhere but inside myself for answers to procrastination. this is a tool that may actually help. thanks!

  5. @Stephen glad you took what you liked out of it and joined the wagon just a lil bit late. Sometimes is better this way.

    @mrk procrastination can be nasty and GTD surely helps here 🙂

  6. Congratulations Dragos for another interesting read, full of true insights.

    Myself, I haven’t even read the famous book (yet). Many years ago, after I read Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits book, I learned about the life management one can achieve by using the specific ideas and tools that Covey suggested: the Weekly Worksheet, Important vs. Urgent, Roles in life, a.s.o.

    Maybe you heard about it, maybe you know it by heart. Truth is, I found it to be working like a charm, and if combined with some of the principles of GTD (which I have learned not from Mr. Allen, but from my mentors), brings about wonders. Never been happier about achieving my goals, and life in general.

  7. @Marius I read Stephen Covey’s book to the half, I admit, and I found a lot of insightful advices. The one regarding “staying in the 2nd quarter of the emergency / importance square” is one that I still remember every day.

    Every person is different and for any of us there are different ways to motivate, set goals or achieve them. By sharing experiences we can learn from each other, and that is a wonderful thing.

  8. I am using GTD for 6 month now…I still have a problem for setting up a god filesystem on Mac.

    I use Omnifocus for managing actions but the reference material for my projects is still a problem. I tryed EagleFiler, Evernote and Things but I am not happy with any of them.
    Can somebody recommend a solution or advice for this?

    P.S. I used to file everything in Omnifocus but the database grew so big that it wouldn’t syncronize to the iphone.

  9. Hi,

    I used to have a filesystem setup for all my projects. It was a combination of folders, labels and smart folders. It worked pretty well even for big projects. The main advantage is that the filesystem can’t load slow 😉

    But after I simplified my workflow and have only few projects left I use OmniFocus for task management and Evernote for storage.

    If you want to know more about my filesystem setup I used before, just give me a sign here and I’ll be glad to write a detailed post about it.

    Thanks for your comment!

  10. Hi,

    For me it is indeed a chalange! I read David Allen’s book and listened to his seminars but I couldn’t figure out a good way for organizing my files. I have 99% of the documents on my laptop – emails, spreadsheets, quotes tasks so on.

    I would like to archive all inho regarding a project so I can find it easily.

    Right now I am using Tags and Leap but it is not the best solution…yet.

    Thanks,

    CC

  11. I like how GTD resonates with software performance engineering!
    I am software performance engineer and i am personal development fanatic.
    It is interesting how personal performance improvement is similar to software performance improvement. For example “emptying RAM” of GTD resoante with improper RAM (random acess memory) usage that hits performance in computers or “And getting rid of open loops” hits home when compared to software performance engineering – exactly similar pattern observed there.
    There is more.
    Good stuff! Keep sharing Dragos!

  12. @Mushudog ok, I’ll write a post soon about my folder structure, thanks for your interest.

    @Alik Levin great points! I’m a programmer myself and maybe that’s one of the reasons for being so close to GTD, it does follow several good software principles, as you already mentioned it.

  13. GTD is good for people with lots of things to do. When your situation varies from the “standard” template, the beauty of the system is that you can adapt the workflow to meet your own personal situation. Glad to see that you are still plugging along!

  14. @hddbstephen thanks for commenting here! I still have lots of things to do, only in different fields. GTD is a great methodology, even if I’ll ditch it completely some day I’ll still be grateful for all those years when it helped me tremendously :-).

  15. […] 2 years now -although I adapted this over the years, trying to squeeze out the hype and keep only what’s useful in GTD. Well, out of this mix between MacJournal and GTD was born one of the most popular posts here: […]

  16. […] now – although I adapted this over the years, trying to squeeze out the hype and keep only what’s useful in GTD. Well, out of this mix between MacJournal and GTD was born one of the most popular posts here: […]

  17. […] now – although I adapted this over the years, trying to squeeze out the hype and keep only what’s useful in GTD. Well, out of this mix between MacJournal and GTD was born one of the most popular posts here: […]

  18. I don’t think that reading the book & adopting those practices that work best for you constitutes being “over the hype” or “being cured of the addiction”. The core principals he wrote about still hold true whether you follow the details or not.

    Thanks for including the things that you DO and DON”T do from teh system. Everyone has to experiment and find what works for them. My fear is that someone may read the title of this post in a search about GTD and decide to pass over the system because it was all “hype”. Calling GTD “hype” is hype in and of itself. 😉

  19. […] ist Dragos Roua dieser Meinung. In seinem Artikel “Staying GTD Over The Hype” schreibt er: But now the hype is over. Merlin Mann has switched his 43folder.com and we must […]

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