Having used GTD since a few months, I had my ups and downs with it. Since the system is so much flexible, it can pose quite a few challenges, almost encouraging you to give it up. However the benefits of using the system far surpass the challenges associated with it. With a fair deal of struggle on my part, I learned many practical aspects of GTD which cannot be found in the book itself. Here are 9 reasons why you might struggle with GTD and ways to deal with it:
Reason#1: You are a Tool Freak
GTD has over 400 supported apps, which means we are spoiled by choices. At some point, I became a tool freak and wasted too much time setting up the “right” tools. Gradually, I realized that tools are least important and gave up all fancy apps in favor of Notational Velocity. I am completely in love with it’s simplicity and minimalism. With no checkboxes, buttons and clicks, it feel almost natural to use everyday.
Key take away: Use simplest possible tool to suite your natural working style and mindset
Reason#2: Spending time creating the perfect To-Do list
During the initial stage, out of sheer enthusiasm, I wanted my To-Do list to be as complete and as comprehensive as possible, like a prized possession. It’s like those times when the “perfectionist” inside me became out of control and I started treating To-Do list as real work. The reality is, no matter how good a To-Do list is, getting things done is what really matters. I paused creating extensive To-Do lists and kept them practical and realistic. I no longer churn out every single action step inside a project in detail and don’t write a To-Do for things I do on a regular basis such as- blog writing and course work. My habits take care of them.
Key take away: Keep your To-Do list lean and smart. Remove things from your To-Do list which you know you are going to do regularly. Only put those things in To-Do’s which you want to come back and review later because they might just slip away. You can even consider consolidating “less important” items into a single list so that it does not take away your attention.
Reason#3: Lack of Reviewing
Except the Someday/Maybe list, most of the lists can get irrelevant pretty quickly. If you fail to constantly review and update your lists, you will end up trusting it less. Does it mean a lot of work? Not really. It takes only 15 to 20 minutes each day for me to keep the To-Do lists updated. Reviewing To-Do list became much more simple and fast after I started using the bookmarking feature in Notational Velocity. Again, the simpler the tool, the better off you are at using the ‘System’ instead of the ‘Tool’.
Key take away: Reviewing and processing often will save you a bunch of time and keep your work current.
Reason#4: Lost in too many projects
Since GTD encourages you to create as many projects as possible so that you hold a stake in the ground until it’s done, I ended up creating many projects. As a result, I got totally bogged down by the long list of projects, making it challenging to choose my Next Actions. To solve this puzzle, I first created a set of key Goals, each representing the most important projects I need to work on. Then I grouped rest of the projects into one single list of ‘Personal Projects’. This not only reduced the number of projects I need to look at, it automatically brought greater focus on the projects which are really important.
Key take away: Identify key projects based on your career or financial goals and create a project for each one of them. Group the rest under a single list of “personal projects”.
Reason#5: Too May Collection Buckets
If you have too many places to record and store your “Stuff”, you will end up wasting a lot of time collecting, let alone processing it.
Key take away: Try to minimize or consolidate your collection buckets so that you can get to the task of processing efficiently.
Reason#6: Obsessive about GTD
I often come across people obsessed with GTD giving it a cult like status. In reality, GTD is a means not the end. Use GTD to your advantage by making it suit to your working style and your professional demands. Don’t try to get consumed by trying to follow every piece of GTD advice on the planet. Most importantly, don’t try to limit yourself by using GTD oriented tools. If you try to be a cult follower of GTD, instead of liberating, you might find it limiting and eventually give it up (and all benefits associated with it).
Key take away: Use and adjust the system based on your personal and professional patterns instead of getting consumed by so called “best practices” by so called “experts”.
Reason#7: Clear distinction between actionable and non-actionable items
The real benefit of GTD comes alive from the “Next Action” thinking. The system literally drives you to be focused on taking most effective physical actions that will allow you to make progress on your situation. If you fail to have a clear distinction between actionable and non-actionable stuff, you will end up having an ineffective “Next Action” list.
Key take away: Take extra care in ensuring that “Next Action” only have actual physical actions and not projects or SomeDay/MayBe items which might easily slip in as “Next Action”.
Reason#8: Confusion with Contexts
Many people get confused with Contexts in GTD. This means, they are missing out on a very useful aspect of the system. Let me clarify contexts right now. Contexts are various categories in which you organize a To-Do item with respect to how you DO the work most effectively. What you DO when you are in Office, what you DO when you are in front of computer, what you DO when you are traveling. Office, Home, Computer and Travel are the “Contexts” for your “Next Actions”. Associating Context with a To-Do item is liberating and very powerful.
Key take away: Use Contexts to organize your To-Do items. Evolve your Contexts based on your lifestyle.
Reason#9: You are overcommitted
The most common yet most overlooked reason why you may fail to implement GTD is simply because you are overcommitted. No productivity system in the world can help you become efficient if you have taken up things far greater than your realistic capacity to deal with them.
Key take away: Reduce your drive to do everything and be everywhere. Clarify your purpose, why you exist and narrow down your goals to the most important ones, the ones which are consistent with your values. The ones you want to truly want to live with.
The final piece of advice
GTD is advanced common sense. In fact the use of terminology “GTD” itself has created lot of confusion and misleading perceptions around it. In reality, we are actually doing a lot of it naturally.
What GTD does – It provides a structure and consistent standards to think about your work, get organized and get things done. So that your mind is available for creative and constructive purposes instead of simply doing the job of remembering and reminding.
GTD can be adapted to your own styles and tools. It is as practical as you want to make it. Try to implement GTD using physical pen and paper first and then use a notepad file or similar program to keep a track of your lists.
Keep yourself rooted in the basics of GTD, which is – keeping the job of remembering and reminding out of your mind. And to follow such a simple principle, you don’t need a sophisticated software. All you need is your work and a willingness to keep yourself organized.
Time to start Getting Things Done!