Rewriting GTD

David Cain discovers “an interesting fact about our to-do items: they often don’t really need to be done at all.” He goes on to explain why a complex system like Getting Things Done can be tough for members of the Idler’s Guild:

Procrastinators and other people without a track-record of steady productivity will have trouble with GTD, for a particular reason: the system is unsympathetic to your emotional state. If you have any problems with procrastination or motivation, the system will fall apart quickly for you. Slag off one weekly review or let your inbox pile up for a whole week even once, then resuming the system becomes daunting enough that you wait to do them until you have a clear three-hour stretch, and very quickly your workflow system is back to a react-as-it-comes basis.

Interestingly, David’s way to get on top of things is very close to starting with GTD for the first time, with a healthy dose of Ruben Berenguel’s task bankruptcy mixed in: Delete your lists and and start fresh. Put only those things on a new list that matter now. ((In GTD, that’s basically what a review is for – only that the (supposed) regularity of it should prevent your list from growing too large and cumbersome in the first place. Honestly, though, I don’t think anybody out there really does it as diligently. So even more power to Ruben’s concept of task bankruptcy.))

Three thoughts on this:

  1. Hell yeah is GTD off-putting for normal people. David Allen’s system looks way too complex if you see it for the first time, especially considering all these paper folders and perforators and staplers it involves.
  2. The system is genius nonetheless. As many prejudices as I had against it, GTD is extremely well-thought. And while it’s easy to fall off the wagon, it’s just as easy to get on again.
  3. If you still struggle with it, though, maybe it’s because you need to rewrite it.

Own Your Work (and your lists!)

If the method itself is great, it’s the concrete implementation that might cause trouble. It starts with many of you not getting all that many faxes these days, nor being employed by a corporation with 20.000 colleagues. You can still benefit from GTD, though – if you dare to make it yours.

To illustrate this, back to David Cain:

I’m taking a much simpler approach now. Keep all the same inboxes, go through them once a week and put them on a big, single-category list. No more subcategories and priority rankings to get lost in. Look at the list every evening and decide what to do the next day. If I need time-specific reminders I’ll set them up in Google Calendar on my phone. A cabinet for files. A regular day weekly to get up to date.

Good approach, you might say. But you might also think: Way too complex. Or: Way too simple.

So what now?


From all I can see, every GTD user has to find her own approach to owning it. Some might need 43 Folders, others just one plain text file. Some might love to organize their life with Moleskines and hipster PDAs, others might prefer a tight digital organizer like OmniFocus. My very own approach currently works with one Taskpaper list, iCal, and a couple of tools that improve my iCal use (QuickCal and MenuCalendarClock).

What always stays the same is this:

  • Put everything into your list(s) in order to relax your brain.
  • Define your next actions clearly in order to beat resistance.
  • Review regularly in order to stay on top of things.

Somehow, the fact that this looks almost too simple to be true makes it all the more trustworthy.

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