The Loop

The reason why I hate productivity systems is because they easily become a dominant part of “the loop”.1 And once they become a dominant part of the loop, they become a problem. A problem that keeps creatives from focusing on what matters – and from doing what they want to do because their muse is calling. (Hint: It’s not creating GTD context lists.)

So what’s the loop?

Let’s get an understanding of the loop by looking at a little girl that’s different. She’s not different because she’s weird or stupid or crazy or something. She’s different because she doesn’t seem all that eager to get a great college degree in order to become a manager. (As most people nowadays do.)

Instead, she likes to spend her time painting.

Now you might say that you know a lot of little girls who like to paint. The thing with this particular girl is that she doesn’t stop with it. She continues to paint even though she isn’t 12 anymore. She’s 13 and she paints. She’s 15 and she paints. She’s 20 and – she paints.

Our girl has a plan: She’s going to be a painter. Not a manager. Not a car saleswoman. Not a secretary. A painter.

But at some point, she enters the loop.

The Loop and the Money

The loop is an amorphous thing. Even though it’s a loop. It’s vague. It’s messy. It’s hard to define. But it’s real.

The girl enters the loop. You could say: The loop becomes a part of her life. Her life as someone who wants to create not just as a hobby, but full-time. Here’s how she gets into the loop: Subconsciously, her mum takes her there. And her teacher. And her career counselor: “It’s nice that you paint, but show me the money.”

This is how it all begins.

Inside the Loop

Think of that girl.
And her plan.
And her art.
And her career counselor.

Suddenly, painting isn’t as easy anymore as it was. Suddenly, it’s a huge challenge. Because somewhere, there’s a doubt: Could this possibly work out?
There’s overwhelm: ((From all I know, “overwhelm” isn’t technically a noun. But that noun is either missing in the English language or, more probably, in my personal vocabulary. Feel free to send me some suggestions!)) So much to do, so little time! And how the hell will I pay my bills?

And there’s procrastination.

Procrastination is part of the loop.

It costs energy and motivation and time. It costs what we call our life.
It costs the life of that girl.

It costs a whole chunk of life – an hour, a day, a week, a month – until she finally gets back to her core.
Back to what she is.
Back to what she wanted to create.
Back to her art.

That’s the first round of the loop: Create art, passionately. Become doubtful. Procrastinate. Then, finally: Reconnect. But immediately, it begins again.

GTD and the Loop

In the next round, the girl is smarter.
Someone told her about Getting Things Done.
Gave her some hints, some tricks, some tools: A context list. An agenda. A link to 43folders.
And, to her amazement: It works! She actually creates art again. She does what she loves and she’s happy – until she receives a setback.

At some point, somehow, thrust is lost.
Momentum is lost.
Hope is lost.

Enter doubts.

The second round of the loop.

The third time around, she’s even smarter.
She drinks the David Allen Kool-Aid.
She learns all about GTD.
She implements it like a pro.

But by now you know what’s going to happen, sooner or later:
A setback.
Doubts, overwhelm, procrastination.

The third round of the loop.

Our girl might still get smarter. She might learn even more about GTD. She might read a couple of books on habits and procrastination. She might start to blog on productivity.

Two years later, she’s a self-described “creative maverick teaching other people how to find time for their passion” and a million Twitter followers. She’s an a-list blogger with a well-developed business, a growing audience, and enough clients to pay the bills.

But when we look back at her core, all she ever wanted was to paint.

Your Life and the Loop

If you’re a creative, you live in the loop. There’s probably no point in hating it. From all I can tell, after years of being in the loop myself, setbacks and doubts and overwhelm and procrastination are all part of the game. There’s no point in denying it. I’m pretty sure even Pablo Picasso sometimes struggled.

Now, there might be many differences between Picasso and you and me and that girl from our story. But one difference that stands out is that Picasso couldn’t escape into GTD nerdery and convince himself he was doing his thing. He could spend some time with the ladies and have a few drinks or whatever, but he couldn’t attend David Allen seminars. He couldn’t trick himself into believing that learning about GTD techniques would make him a better painter.

Once we know we’re living in the loop, let’s try not to forget about why we entered it in the first place. And give more time to the actual creation of beauty instead of trying to become a perfect manager of our time.


There’s nothing wrong with being a productivity nerd. As long as it doesn’t keep us from creating the epic stuff we wanted to create in the first place.

  1. Disclaimer: I don’t really hate productivity systems. []


  1. First time visiting, and rewarded with a great post! I am struggling with this now, specifically communicating that the desire to live a life instead of, as you put it, become a manager, is rational and necessary, to my family…Here’s to the struggle to stay true!

    1. Hey Margaret, thanks a lot for your comment. I think I can relate pretty well to what you’re experiencing right now, as I went through the same struggle. Actually, the struggle continues. All I can say is that it has always been worth it, every single day of it!

      All the best, and I hope you’ll enjoy the other content here on TFA!

  2. Fabian, couldn’t agree more. GTD only emerged for me as a way to get back to and maintain clear space in the psyche. Anything less ain’t GTD.

    David Allen

    1. Absolutely, David. The problem starts when people overstretch the focus on GTD and forget doing their actual work about it. I know this isn’t what you intended with the system, but it’s certainly something that’s happening for many people.

      Thanks a lot for dropping by to comment! :)

  3. Hey Fabian!

    Is this a true story? :)

    As you know I’m an artist and business owner. This post hits close to my heart. Thoughts:

    1) Has she fallen into the faulty thinking that she must choose one or the other – art or a sustainable business?
    2) Is she talented enough to make her art a full-time business? Is she being honest with herself about her talent?
    3) Sometimes doing the things we ‘don’t want to do’ are actually going to help us the most.
    4) Never ever ever give up making art. There is always time. It doesn’t have to be your money maker.

    Cheers! Thank you for the post. Liebe Gruesse mein Freund!

  4. Hey Amy, it’s not a “true story” in that it happened like that to the last detail, but it’s a true story in that it’s happening again and again, around me, around you, and probably everywhere. So this post is more of a composition of several cases I’ve personally observed.

    Your remarks offer some great food for thought, especially no. 4: Sometimes, the art vanishes if we’re trying to make money of it. And it only returns if we let go and focus back on art itself.

  5. So true….and I’m still a productivity nerd. Most of the time, it aids my creativity, because when I’m focused, I do get stuff done. But on the other hand, increasing productivity more and more is also bit of an obsession and so sometimes I end up spending more time on learning how to be more productive rather than just doing the damn thing I’m supposed to be doing, which is usually writing/editing.

    1. Haha, Dolly, that’s exactly what I meant to say in the post. If you look through my archives, you’ll see that I’m “guilty” of the same thing. But still it’s helpful to become aware of it in order to regularly focus back on our actual work and escape those phases of the loop that aren’t helping us with it. :)

  6. so true, dear friend.
    I recognize myself in this story… (now I’m guessing if I’m part of the cases you used for this composition)…. though I don’t know what GTD is, I won’t dedicate myself to more list-making because I know (for the moment) what I want to accomplish.
    Liebe Grüße!

    1. Haha, it’s probably just something that can be found in most of us, Chicho! :)

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