Disclaimer: I am a GTD guy, so I tend to interchange GTD and productivity throughout the article.
If you read this blog on a regular basis, or blogs like it, it is probably to find some sort of secret way to get more done in your day.
So many people after reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done walk away with the attitude that everything outlined in it is “common sense”. The ideas in the book are simple, so simple in fact that we sometimes “fake ourselves out” into thinking that there just has to be something more to it. This can’t possibly be as easy as writing everything down and putting it in places and lists that we trust and we know that we will continually review. There’s got to be more.
This type of thinking that GTD and other productivity systems require some sort of special tool or workflow to become really valuable leads practitioners in a cult-like fashion to purchasing better pens, Brother labelers, and to go on the never-ending Google search to find the perfect GTD application and setup.
The thing is is that we are only complicating the idea of getting things done in our lives and only making it harder on ourselves. When you tweak your GTD “system” to make sure that you have your contexts, folders, and tagging just right (God forbid you screw up your tagging) you aren’t being productive. You may think organizing your project’s next actions in such a way that everything is planned out and “perfectly” is the idea of GTD and the essence of being productive, but it isn’t.
Why we complicate GTD and our own productivity
After a bunch of reading and looking at productivity systems over the past 5 years I have come to the same conclusion that most everyone else has about why we complicate productivity, work, and ultimately become terrible procrastinators.
It’s all about fear. Nothing else.
If you have a project on your list that hasn’t been moving forward, it most always has to do with fearing the outcome because of not identifying the correct next actions. Either that or you are truly incapable of doing the tasks to complete it (skill-wise or other-wise). The thing is that fear is not the direct reason that we over complicate GTD and our system. Not identifying the fear of a project or action is the reason that we over complicate our systems of productivity.
Because of this “unawareness” of fear of uncertainty about our projects, we tend to procrastinate and blame our system as the reason that we can’t get the stuff done on our lists. From here on out it is a snowball effect of trying to find the perfect tools and setup so we can get more things done.
Listen, I am all about making a system very approachable and fun to use, but if you can’t check off the task of calling your Mom for a couple of months, then maybe the way that you tag your tasks is the least of your concerns.
From identifying fear to action
If you sound like someone outlined above then there is an easy process to get back on track and make GTD work for you.
First and foremost, layoff the Productivity Pr0n. That is, quit looking for the best GTD app for ‘x’, or how to GTD with ‘x’ tool. You can end up doing this forever and never getting anything done. Just layoff.
Pick a tool and stick with it. Hell, just use pen and paper until you really get how to “do GTD”, or if you absolutely have to use something on a computer consider very simple tools like a text file. Just pick something that you can use to concentrate on the process rather than the tweaking of the tool.
Prune your next action and projects lists ruthlessly. If there is something that has been on there for months without any movement, get rid of it. If it is something that you really need to do and you just aren’t doing then throw the thing back in your inbox to process again.
Identify next actions and do them. If you don’t want to do the thing that is on your list then take it off your list.
It sounds stupid I know; “just do the task”. But really this is what needs to be done. If you can’t do what you have planned to do, then it is time to take a deeper look at what is holding you back. This could be that you don’t have the necessary inputs or that you are over-committed with other projects and responsibilities. Regardless, to move forward on any task or project you have to either just do what you have identified or figure out why you aren’t doing it.
So, why do we over-complicate the simple process of GTD? It comes down to fear of doing something on our lists and then blaming our system for the project or action not getting done. Hopefully, if you take a step back, identify your fears in your list, simplify your system so it’s just you and your actions, and then act or re-commit to the actions you can stop the endless cycle of over-complicating your productivity practice.
Chris is a developer, writer, tech enthusiast, and husband. He studies MIS and Computer Science at Penn State Behrend. Chris is also interested in personal productivity and creativity and how to utilize technology to get more things done. Check out his tech writing at androinica.com where he writes about Android