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Toward a New Vision of Productivity, Part 3: The Trouble with GTD

Toward a New Vision of Productivity, Part 3: The Trouble with GTD

Toward a New Vision of Productivity
    This is the third part of a 12-part series I am posting through the end of December and into January 2009, examining the current understanding of productivity and where the concept might be heading in the future. I invite Lifehack’s readers to be an active part of this conversation, both in comments here and on your own sites (if you have one). I will also soon announce some other venues where I and several others will be discussing some of the issues raised in this series. Stay tuned…

    It’s fair to say that David Allen’s Getting Things Done has been the most influential work on productivity of our generation. People who are struggling to get a grip on their day-to-day duties – let alone make progress with big, life-changing projects – find in the book a relatively straight-forward approach to managing their time and work that they can dive right into, and often find their lives measurably improved when they start to put Allen’s ideas into practice.

    For good reason, too. GTD is, in its purest form is quite simple. You capture thoughts as they occur to you, spend a set time every day deciding what to do with those thoughts, make lists of actions you need to perform, and do those actions. Every so often you set aside an hour or two and review what you’ve thought and done and what you’d like to do in the future.

    What could be wrong with that?

    The short answer is “nothing”. GTD helps. Implemented with any kind of discipline, it provides the clarity and control that too many of us feel is lacking in our daily lives.

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    And yet, as simple as GTD is, as easily grasped as its central precepts would seem to be, people still struggle with it – and struggle mightily. This site and dozens of others have devoted countless thousands of words to helping people “get” GTD. David Allen himself has continued to produce lectures, audiobooks, articles, and other material revisiting and re-explaining the basics of GTD. Clearly there’s something missing, some key point that people find too hard to grasp.

    What’s more, people resist GTD in various ways. There is a powerful urge to create GTD-free zones, usually in the home – we apparently find it distasteful to reduce our non-working lives to a set of next actions and project lists. Or we mix-and-match various parts of the system, for example by creating projects without worrying about the objectives (while according to Allen, the most important part of a project is being able to visualize the objective). We create action lists and then, because Allen’s priority-free system leaves us still unsure about what to do next, we prioritize our list or create separate lists of Most Important Tasks (MITs).

    And we don’t do the weekly review. We do “mini-reviews” sporadically throughout the week, or we do major reviews “once in a while”, but we simply cannot manage to find an hour or two a week to sit down and review our lives. In the GTD > Weekly Review audiobook, all of the coaches involved listed this as their clients’ most significant stumbling block – and they admitted it had been for them as well!

    What’s going on? Why is GTD so simple to grasp and so hard to put into practice? What is it not doing that makes it hard to trust completely?

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    I want to suggest a few issues that each play a role in the failure of GTD for many people. I should note that this is not meant to be a blanket condemnation of the system, but hopefully to open up the ground for thinking fruitfully about what is needed beyond GTD (or similar systems; GTD is what I know, but I would venture that systems like Covey’s and others’ fall short in similar ways).

    1. It’s the System, Stupid.

    GTD’s most powerful strength – it’s guidance in creating a system that one trusts – is also one of its biggest shortcomings. It is no mystery why GTD’s biggest audience has been a) corporate business people, who Allen slanted it to in the first place, and who are used to working within established procedures and under imposed schedules, and b) technical people such as programmers, who are likewise comfortable with rigidly defined procedures, and who are masters of breaking complex processes into simple, discrete tasks.

    For the rest of us, though, GTD feels a little too much like the kind of work we picked the book up to help us manage in the first place. That is, it feels like business, and for people whose business is not business – creative professionals, for example – it feels “external” to our real work (and identity). Which may well be why so many writers, designers, artists, and other creative folk maintain a firewall between their GTD’d lives and their “real” lives – GTD seems appropriate to our non-core tasks, like keeping appointments and handling our bookkeeping (the stuff we’d really rather not be doing), but feels all wrong in our studios, favorite writing haunts, and creative home lives. This is probably also why so many people balk at extending GTD into their family life – it feels wrong to delegate tasks to your spouse or children or to treat decorating your Christmas tree as a “project”.

    2. No Priorities = No Direction

    Perhaps Allen’s biggest innovation in GTD is getting rid of priority-setting in favor of context-awareness. In GTD, you don’t look at your list to see what the most important task is, you look to see what’s most easily performed given where you are and the resources you have at hand.

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    And yet, while this might work well in an office environment where most of your work is pretty clearly prioritized even if you don’t think about it, it is harder to apply to non-work environments, as well as for solo workers and entrepreneurs who are dealing with the fuzzier requirements of a job that may not have such clear priorities.

    For many, then, instead of limiting worrying about what to do at any given moment, GTD often increases stress as people try to figure out which tasks really are the most important ones to work on.

    (Ironically, Allen often says the central question you should be asking yourself is “Is this the most important thing I could be doing right now? Is this task fulfilling my destiny in the world?” I have to believe that the contradiction here is unintentional, some kind of vast oversight on Allen’s part that he intends somehow to resolve.)

    3. Do, do, do!

    At the core of Allen’s GTD is the next action. Put simply, the next action is the very next thing you should do to move a project ahead. GTD eschews planning for most things, preferring instead to limit your lists to only those things that can and should be done at the moment you’re checking your lists. Once an action is completed, it should either naturally flow into the next action, or you should add the next step to take you closer to completing your goal to your next action list.

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    The task-oriented, in-the-moment-ness of GTD is effective for most people, which is why if nothing else, most people come away from reading Getting Things Done with at least a good next action list. It’s also attractive to us because it resonates well with one of the core value of modern Western culture (despite it’s Eastern-y, Zen-like feel): work.

    The Protestant work ethic – which is hardly limited to Protestants! – can be said to dominate Western culture. Work is a value in-and-of itself for us – think of how many variations there are on the concept that “idle hands are the Devil’s playground.” Among Quakers, Shakers, and other Calvinist off-shoots, work itself becomes a form of prayer; through work is achieved communion with God. (It’s no coincidence that F.W. Taylor was a Quaker.)

    GTD is a ground-up system, meaning that the system focuses on getting your day-to-day tasks in order, not on higher-level goal- and priority-setting. That stuff’s there, but it’s not at all intuitive how you get from Allen’s “Runway” view to the “50,000-foot” aerial view. The assumption is that if you focus on action, on doing, the higher meaning will emerge – much like prayer.

    The Big Picture is Cloudy

    None of this is intended to be a dismissal of GTD. The system works for a lot of people, and I’ve nothing against it as such. The problem is that there are gaps, that while GTD should be a way of clearing up space in people’s lives so that they can think about and fulfill their higher-level goals, it fails to do that for many people. Maybe for most people. We balk at the kind of self-reflection that, while built into the system in the weekly review, is the least practiced part. The reality is that, for most people, the organizing of tasks and projects somehow does not lead naturally to the Big Picture view – something is missing. My goal here, then, is to clear the decks, to pull at least some of GTD’s flaws out into the open, so that we can find the likely places that need to be filled. Having done that, the rest of this series will focus on those likely places and suggest ways to move from merely getting things done to making meaning.

    More by this author

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques 3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively How To Stop Procrastinating and Get Stuff Done Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide) The Science of Setting Goals (And Its Effect on Your Brain)

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    1 35 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated) 2 The Gentle Art of Saying No For a Less Stressful Life 3 What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time 4 How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques 5 20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

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    Last Updated on August 6, 2020

    35 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated)

    35 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated)

    Over the years here at Lifehack, we’ve discussed plenty of apps that you can use to improve your overall productivity.

    There are certain ones that many of our contributors and editors (past and present) have adopted over the long-term — there are always the stalwarts that stick around. But there are also new apps that crop up every day, adding more and more depth to the app category.

    Some of the apps are incredibly plain and simple, while others are more robust and offer more features than you can shake a stick at. And everyone has the one they prefer.

    It’s been our job (and still is our job) to keep abreast of all of the productivity-type apps out there. As a result — and as a bit of a refresher — we’ve put together a list of 35 best productivity apps for iPhone (all categorized based on their functions) to provide you with an all-in-one resource for you.

    For Getting Things Done

    1. OmniFocus

    This app is, while pricey, considered to be one of the (if not the) most robust and full-featured productivity apps on the market.

    Download it here.

      2. Forest

      Train yourself to put your phone down and stay focused on the task at hand by playing with this planting game. It’s fun and will help you achieve more.

      Download it here.

        3. Things

        Another robust choice, this app is a favorite amongst “productivityists”.[1]

        Download it here.

           

           

          4. Any.Do

          A beautiful-looking app that is both easy on the eyes and your wallet.

          Download it here.

            5. PocketLife Calendar

            This calendar app is specifically designed to be stylish and super easy-to-use. You can organize your life easily with different modern features.

            Download it here.

              6. Asana

              We’ve covered Asana here at Lifehack

              , and it is being actively developed by a strong team committed to making collaborative task management a more efficient and effective experience.

              Download it here.

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                7. ToDoist

                This app keeps track of everything – from simple errands to your most important projects – so you can get it all done and enjoy more peace of mind along the way.

                Download it here.

                   

                   

                  8. Calendars 5

                  This calendar app focuses on events that help you to keep track of upcoming events and tasks easily. It has everything you need to organize, track, and complete your to-dos.

                  Download it here.

                    9. Clear – Tasks, Reminders & To-Do Lists

                    A fun and innovative list-making app that relies on swiping and pinching to make things happen. Clear created a lot of buzz when it launched, and might be the perfect to-do list gateway app for many.

                    Download it here.

                      10. Due

                      A robust reminders app that lets you store and maintain reminders of all types. It’s replaced Reminders for me when it comes to the basics, and it’s worth a look if you want to keep the mundane stuff out of your head and cluttering your mind.

                      Download it here.

                        11. Checkmark 2

                        I use this app

                        for location-based reminders (such as groceries I need to get or single items I need to pick up from various locations). Checkmark is simple to use and valuable addition to my productivity arsenal.

                        Download it here.

                          12. TeuxDeux

                          Created by Tina Roth Eisenberg and Fictive Kin — TeuxDeux is simple and incredibly stellar in terms of design. If you like lists (including the popular “Someday Bucket”) and want to associate dates with tasks, then TeuxDeux will be right up your alley.

                          Download it here.

                             

                             

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                            13. Nirvana

                            For the GTD enthusiasts, there’s Nirvana. Straight from the source: “Nirvana frees your mind to focus on actually getting things done. If you’ve had enough of generic to-do lists, it’s time for Nirvana.”

                            Download it here.

                              14. Priorities

                              An elegant-looking task management app that has received decent reviews,[2] this could be the one for you if you’re not a fan of OmniFocus or Things — especially if you need (or want) to share tasks with others.

                              Download it here.

                                For Building Habits

                                15. Productive

                                With this app, you can plan your habits with an easy-to-use interface, schedule habits for any time of the day, set smart reminders for each time of the day, and stay on track with useful feedback. This app is perfect for anyone who wants to build a habit that sticks.

                                Download it here.

                                  16. Habitica: Gamified Taskmanager

                                  You can complete tasks and build habits in a more fun way with this app. Input your Habits, your Daily goals, and your To-Do list, and then create a custom avatar. Check off tasks to level up your avatar and unlock features such as armor, pets, skills, and even quests.

                                  Download it here.

                                    17. Streaks

                                    This app follows the model of the popular “don’t break the chain method” in that you use the app to track how you are donig in the pursuit of your goal. Great for goal-setting — and an easy and elegant interface to boot.

                                    Download it here.

                                      18. Remember The Milk

                                      Another popular to-do list app, Remember The Milk has a huge following. It has plenty to offer, including the ability to share tasks with others.

                                      Download it here.

                                        19. Day One Journal

                                        When it comes to journaling, nothing really beats Day One. Its latest update added a slew of features that will make you want to start making journaling a habit.

                                        Download it here.

                                          For Files Organization

                                          20. Evernote

                                          Touted as the world’s most widely-used productivity app, Evernote is an be used simply as a notetaking app or can be customized to be your GTD app of choice — among other things.

                                          Download it here.

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                                            21. Pocket

                                            You can save an article, video, or link you want to read or watch later to Pocket from anywhere including your computer, Safari, email, and your favorite apps like Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard, and Feedly.

                                            Download it here.

                                              22. Sync.Me

                                              This app identifies unknown phone calls, warns you from annoying spam calls, and adds a caller picture to your contacts from Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

                                              Download it here.

                                                23. Droplr

                                                One of the most popular file-sharing apps out there today. Straight from the source: “Stay productive on the go. Droplr for iPhone keeps you in sync and makes sharing on the iPhone natural.”

                                                Download it here.

                                                  24. Dropbox

                                                  Before iCloud, there was Dropbox. And there still is Dropbox, which is still widely used by both Mac and PC users all over the globe. It’s like having a flash drive on your iPhone. A must-have.

                                                  Download it here.

                                                     

                                                    For Working Smarter

                                                    25. Captio

                                                    A simple capture tool. Straight from the developers: “It’s simple. Open Captio and start typing. When you’re done, hit Send. The note is immediately delivered to your email inbox.”

                                                    Download it here.

                                                      26. Drafts

                                                      A tremendous capture tool that allows for simple capture, followed by sending items to various applications such as OmniFocus, Things, and more.

                                                      Download it here.

                                                        27. NoteShelf 2

                                                        This is a perfect note-taking app for you. You can take beautiful handwritten notes, type, annotate PDFs, record audio & create lists. You can organize them into categories or groups.

                                                        Download it here.

                                                          28. Doodle

                                                          This app links directly with the Doodle service, which is one that allows you to plan and organize meetings far more efficiently and effectively. Lifehack contributor Steve Dotto has written about Doodle more in-depth here.

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                                                          Download it here.

                                                            29. TextExpander (Legacy)

                                                            I have saved countless hours of time with TextExpander, and despite its inability to be as robust on iOS as it is on the Mac, it is still a worthy app to have in your arsenal.

                                                            Download it here.

                                                              30. Launch Center Pro

                                                              A quick launcher for the iPhone that doesn’t just launch an app…with some of them it can do much more. This app saves you time by launching complex actions in a single tap.

                                                              Download it here.

                                                                31. GoodReader

                                                                This may seem to be an odd one to make this list, but here are plenty of reasons why it is here with this article.

                                                                Download it here.

                                                                  32. LogMeIn

                                                                  Want to be able to control your Mac from wherever you are? Then get this app.

                                                                  Download it here.

                                                                    For Improving Security

                                                                    33. 1Password

                                                                    There is simply no better password manager out there. I’ve even put together a 1Password Emergency Kit worth looking at here.

                                                                    Download it here.

                                                                      34. LastPass Password Manager

                                                                      You can store passwords and logins, create online shopping profiles, generate strong passwords, track personal information in photo and audio notes.

                                                                      All you have to do is remember your LastPass master password, and LastPass auto-fills web browser and app logins for you.

                                                                      Download it here.

                                                                        35. Truecaller

                                                                        Identify and block spammers, search for unknown numbers, and call friends easily with this app. With a community-based spam list from over 250 million users, you’ll need this app.

                                                                        Download it here.

                                                                          There are plenty of other options out there (and we’ve heard from readers in the past as to what they enjoyed using), but these 40 are among the best.

                                                                          Featured photo credit: William Hook via unsplash.com

                                                                          Reference

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