The Four Biggest Fallbacks of GTD and What to Do About it

 

getting things done drawback

gtd

GTD became one of the epic time management/productivity books of all times. I became a GTD fanboy as soon as I read the book and implemented it in my life. Inspite of it’s popularity and a huge cult like status, it has several drawbacks which can get you into the productivity black hole. Here are four major fallbacks of GTD and why a new approach to productivity is the need of the hour.

1. Too many To-Do’s can be a waste of time

One of the most pressing things about GTD is organizing To-Do’s under respective projects and contexts, small or big. After doing this for almost two years, I felt, I was spending more time WRITING those physical actions instead of DOING them. Big drawback. Instead of detailing every project and corresponding physical actions, it makes a lot more sense to have one simple list and start taking actions.  Many people have fallen into the extra work involved in organizing projects and actions. Time to get rid of it.

How I do it now?

I have a simple list of projects where I write key milestones and still review them regularly. All my physical actions are simplified in just ONE To-Do list.

2. Limiting Ideas by constantly writing them

GTD wants you to dump everything out of your  mind so that it’s as clean as brand new. Actually, I found that some of these idea if kept in mind for hatching can bring deeper insight. Further, we are “thinking” creatures and we constantly churn out new thoughts and ideas. If we start capturing all of them, it’s going to be impossible to actually do anything worthwhile except organizing things in ToDo’s . For mundane tasks and regular work, dumping is still applicable but it’s not required. Instead of worrying about how many things you need to dump out of your mind, it would be fruitful to focus on the right things and just DO THEM.

How I do it now?

I do not write every idea or task that comes to my mind. If something comes back again and again, I write it down in one master list of ideas. I review the list of ideas every few days and try to expand those ideas that still look promising. I remove those which become obsolete or irrelevant. Small items such as ‘go to laundry’ never get into my To-Do list.

3. Physical filing is just a small part of the whole story

GTD lays a lot of emphasis on organizing physical files using an automatic labeler and keeping great mechanics.  The truth is, we hardly use it. Most of material these days is digital. Physical filing system has become a very small subset for me. Individuals have shifted to dealing with huge inflow of digital information, which is nowhere mentioned in GTD. Physical filing may be still applicable to organizations and governments, but we are none of them.

How I do it now?

Use Evernote and Dropbox to organize digital content. I use very few physical files and often combine couple of items together. Any physical papers gets scanned and sent to my accountant. No more back and forth of physical files.

4. Mind like water by dumping everything outside your mind is a myth

According to GTD, you can achieve a mind like water state by keep everything outside your mind. That’s far from reality. You cannot expect to have a mind like water when you dump 500 hundred “stuff” outside your mind. Most people get numb as soon they see even 20 To Do’s in their list. It overwhelms them so much that they find it hard to take any action.

How I do it now?

I have four habits to nourish a mind like water state.

  1. Wake up by 5:00 a.m.
  2. Clear mind meditation to develop mental muscles of clarity and focus
  3. Conscious effort to identify and eliminate “unnecessary”, saying NO multiple times a day
  4. Personal reflection time to see where I am heading every Friday

Conclusion

Many people ask me, is there an alternative to GTD. The conclusion I came up with is – Instead of blindly following other’s system, create your own. Join my free productivity boot-camp where I unlock the secret to productivity using personal and business automation.

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How to Implement GTD Using Evernote: The Simpler Way

Most of the GTD implementations using Evernote get complicated given the flexibility of Evernote. But having a complex system of Notebooks and Tags becomes a big task to maintain in the long run.

Here is a simpler way to implement GTD using Evernote. You can use this system without getting overwhelmed: 

Evernote Overview

evernote

Evernote

Evernote is easily world’s best note taking app. Once you start using it, you will realize it’s much more than note-taking. It’s a versatile tool to collect and organize every type of information, right from screenshots, images, to entire web pages and To-Do lists. Evernote’s search is breathtakingly intelligent and help you find stuff in seconds. Another notable feature of Evernote is its instant syncing capabilities across all devices such as iPad, Android Phone, iPhone and Computer.

Getting Started with Evernote

Evernote is free and you can download it from here.

Once you download and install Evernote, you can register for a free account using their default desktop screen as shown below:

register for evernote

Evernote register

It is also recommended to download the Evernote App on your Android/iPhone/Tablets so that you can start using it everywhere.

Implementing GTD using Evernote

When you login to Evernote for the first time, it has already created “First Notebook” by default. You can re-name it as you like but that isn’t necessary.

Now, let’s create some Notes in your “First Notebook” by clicking on the “New Note” link in the File menu shown below:

new note

create new note

Create following Notes (in bold) by writing the name of the note in the Note Title section (it usually says “Untitled Note” before you write down anything):

1. Professional Projects – This Note stores list of all your Professional Projects. Maintaining a separate list of Professional Projects helps you get focused on your professional or business goals.

2. Personal Projects – This Note stores list of all your Personal Projects. Usually you do these projects if time permits or based on the need of the situation.

3. Delegated Projects – This is an optional Note. Sometimes, you don’t work on projects yourself but delegate them to others. If you are managing a team and responsible to oversee multiple delegated projects without directly working on them, you may need this list. But if you are a solo-worker like me, you probably don’t need this list.

4. @Computer – This note will store a list of all your “Next Actions” you will do while working on your Computer. If you have multiple computers and you do different types of work on each computer, it’s better to create a separate context for each computer such as – @Mac or @OfficeComputer

5. @Home – This note will store a list of all your physical actions you can do while at Home.

6. @Office – This note will store all your physical actions you need to take care when at Office.

7. @Call – This note will store all your “Next Actions” related to calling people using your phone (it is optional). I tend to forget calling people often and I use this list frequently. But many people I have seen don’t need it much. Take your own judgement.

8. @People – This note will store Agenda items you want to talk about with people when you meet them (personally, on phone or chat)

9. @Errands – This note stores all items you need to take care when you go out for Errands e.g. grocery shopping, bank visit, laundry etc.

10. @WaitingFor – This note stores all actionable items you have delegated to others.

11. Someday/Maybe – This note stores all your Incubating projects that you do not see in the next one month horizon. As soon as some of these projects mature, they will be a part of your personal or professional projects.

Once you create these Notes, drag each one of them inside the shortcut section of your side bar. At a later stage, these shortcuts will be highly accessible when you have plenty of Notes.

That’s about it. After creating all notes and adding them to shortcuts, Your Evernote should screen should look like the one below:

evernote final

final set-up of evernote

Using Evernote Everyday

You might have noticed, we did not create “Collection” Note in Evernote. I strongly recommend to use physical pen and paper as a collection bucket instead of Evernote. The other collection buckets are – E-mail Inbox, Phone and Physical In-basket. The reason why I do not recommend using Evernote as another collection bucket is because you could easily get overwhelmed with large number of notes and processing them will be time consuming. Anything into Evernote goes after “processing” your stuff, not before.

The idea of “Real Time” processing

Most of the times, we can actually determine what a “Stuff” is – whether actionable or non-actionable. If you are instantly clear about a “Stuff” and Evernote is in front of you, directly process it, don’t collect it. However, sometimes it may happen that some things are not clear. Write those things down in your spiral notebook and process the results in Evernote later. This will save a tonne of time instead of collecting everything in Evernote.

On a Daily Basis

Now that your Evernote GTD set-up is done, here is what you need to do on a daily basis:

  1. Review your Calendar and “@___” list and take actions. Ideal time to review your To-Do lists is once before you check e-mail in the morning and once before finishing your day.
  2. Copy/paste actions from Project List and add any new actions you identify on-the-go.
  3. Define MITs for the day – This step is very critical. Everyday morning or previous night before you go to bed, determine 3 to 5 most important tasks you will complete on a given day. Defining MITs will keep you happy and satisfied with what you are doing or not doing.
  4. Process all your collected stuff at the end of each day and organize it into Projects, Next Actions or Reference material. Do not pile up your collection buckets, otherwise, get prepared to spend more time in processing your stuff during the weekly review.

At the end of Every Week

Perform a weekly review preferably on Friday or Saturday and clean-up your Physical Notes and EverNotes. Review all your Projects. Define new projects, close existing projects and cross out action steps which are done during the week. Clean-up your action lists and ensure that they are clean, clear, current and complete.

Storing Reminders

Evernote does a decent job of storing reminders. But I still prefer to use iCal (configured with Google Calendar) for all my appointments and reminders. Some people I have coached still like to use Evernote for keeping reminders, it’s good either ways. The rational behind my choice of iCal is that, Calendar provides a decent view of time/day slots and it’s easy to send calendar invites to others, as most people use it.

Up next, I will be explaining some advanced usage of Evernote in context to your daily productivity. If you have any questions, concerns or ideas, feel free write a comment below.

I would love to know your insights and collectively develop a better productivity system. Do write me a line or two below!

What is GTD and is it Worth?

I have been asked a number of times about GTD and if it is worth following the system. Here is a slide-show that explains basic principles of GTD in a Nutshell.

Is it worth it?  Simple answer is Yes, but it depends on how you use it!

GTD by all means is one of the best books on personal productivity. However, due to it’s inherent flexibility, GTD leaves a lot of questions to be answered and often confuse us. Majority of people end up facing quite a few challenges while using the system.

To address these issues, I am coming up with a refined and crisp system, evolved from GTD – very soon.

Subscribe to my Newsletter. I’ll let you know as soon as I am ready to share it with you!

9 Reasons Why GTD Implementation Fail and What to do About it

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!

7 Productivity Insights and Lessons from my GTD Implementation

GTD feedback and review

GTD review

For those of you who are new to this, GTD stands for Getting Things Done, a revolutionary personal productivity system by David Allen.

1. Here is how my GTD journey started

I implemented GTD using Evernote. I was new to both GTD and Evernote. Initially, I found a bit awkward to keep storing things in Evernote (Probably because I was so much disorganized). However, as I started using it, it became my second nature.

Now that my habit is created, the moment I saw something interesting or worth considering,  I clip it using Evernote shortcut and tag it. I don’t have to divert myself from my current task.

I forward important emails to Evernote, getting to Inbox zero everyday. I also started shifting my paper notes to Evernote (usually daily) and tear off the filled pages, always to see clean and empty pages everyday morning. It was such a relief to be in Zero state, so often!

2. Too much organizing can be Okay

Sometimes, it’s too much of work sorting through so many notes, tossing them in respective folders and removing unnecessary items. It does takes its own time.

But the good part is, once I am done, it feels a lot better. I almost experience that my mind is empty and I can go back to “doing” rather than constantly pondering unnecessarily over things!

The most visible benefit was the amount of new ideas that started flowing in. I have started getting tones of new ideas. Each day, I fill up one to two pages worth of ideas transferred into my Evernote.

Quite surprisingly, even after so much work during a day, I tend to remain in a state of relaxed control. I have also increased my self-awareness and use pen & paper often.

There is a greater sense of peace and relaxed control because I am aware of my world and where I am placed in the grand scheme of things.

3. It does takes some Motivation and Discipline

I realized that even after knowing the system very well and learning how to use it with Evernote, putting it to daily practice wasn’t that easy. I kept forgetting to review my “Next Action” and “Projects” list.

I often went back to doing things based on my default state, without giving any thought to time, energy and priority.

Gradually with some mindfulness, I become more aware of these default behaviors and started replacing them with habit of reviewing as often as I need to. The MIT’s (most important tasks for the day) came to rescue as a good productivity hack.

4. Piled up with Unprocessed “Stuff”

Once in a while, I kept missing reviewing all my notes and processing them. On certain occasions, my collection became so big that it took me almost half day to bring everything in order.

However, once I did it (reaching clear, current and complete state), I started seeing immediate benefits in my productivity. At times, I could literally finish up the same task in “half” the time than I used to because my  mind was clear and focused.

Key lesson learned – “work hard on making things easier so that, you have to do less hard work”

5. Lost in Tags

Just like any new Evernote user, I was quite impressed with it’s tagging feature. I went into the frenzy of creating a large number of tags. Later on, I realized that the overwhelming number of tags were hard to maintain and use.

Subsequently, I started merging tags and reducing the tag list to just about 25. I still need to reduce some more but I think this is manageable for now.

6. Too May Notes to “Read/Review”

This is a potential black hole which I fell into while using GTD. I started creating too many notes. Since I knew that I can toss anything at Evernote, I started feeding a lot of stuff to it. (Evernote can eat anything from pdf, video, and images to calendar and to-do list)

I used to have over 30 to 40 items to “Read/Review” at any point of time. I knew there was no way I am going to read review all of that because it was increasing everyday. I was doing something wrong!

What did I do wrong?

I realized that I had started overusing the e-mail capture feature of Evernote. I was sending every e-mail “worth reading” to Evernote. A majority of such e-mails were blogs subscriptions.

How I fixed it?

The first thing I did was to just cancel 80% of blog subscriptions which I can afford to “read later” and added them to my Feedly subscription list.

This served multiple benefits. First, my e-mail inbox processing time reduced. Second, the amount of “stuff” collected in my Evernote got smaller. At the same time, I can always go to Feedly and read my favorite blogs anytime.

7. Lessons Learnt

  1. Don’t overuse Evernote. Be  mindful about your “Collection” process. Sometimes, in the frenzy of collecting everything, you end up collecting a lot of “information” which may not be immediately useful
  2. Do not bring too may items to “Read/Review” in your Evernote Inbox
  3. Don’t create too many notebooks or too many tags. Keep things simple
  4. Use your physical notebook as your key arsenal
  5. Review as often as your intuition tells you. A good access is to ask yourself “Am I relaxed and focused?”
  6. Don’t focus on system so much. Focus on clearing your mind like “water”

GTD is not a sliver bullet

After fully getting used to GTD, I still think that it is not a sliver bullet. It is just a part of a whole new way of thinking and working productively. My radical personal productivity improvement was a combination of several other practices along with GTD.

GTD is just one piece of the puzzle. In my exploration, I found many more practices which can drastically improve productivity at all levels – mental, spiritual, emotional and physical.

This exploration has resulted in the form of a course and an e-book I am currently writing. Click here to learn about my course on personal productivity.

My upcoming e-book on personal productivity will show you how to live a productive and balanced life, step by step – one day at a time.

Note: I am looking for  “Contributors” for my upcoming e-book. If you are interested in becoming a contributor, click here to learn more and register. The number of people I am going to have contribute is limited, I suggest you to register right away.

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