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Why We Over-Complicate GTD and What To Do About It

Why We Over-Complicate GTD and What To Do About It

    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.

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    Over-analyzing productivity

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.

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    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.

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    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

    5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

    In the journey of growth, there are times when we grow and excel. We are endlessly driven and hyped up, motivated to get our goals.

    Then there are times when we stagnate. We feel uninspired and unmotivated. We keep procrastinating on our plans. More often than not, we get out of a rut only to get back into another one.

    How do you know if you are stagnating? Here are some tell-tale signs:

    • If you have been experiencing chronic procrastination on your goals
    • If you don’t ever feel like doing anything
    • If you keep turning to sleep, eating, games, mindless activities and entertainment for comfort
    • If you know you should be doing something, but yet you keep avoiding it
    • If you have not achieved anything new or significant now relative to 1 month, 2 months or 3 months ago
    • If you have a deep sense of feeling that you are living under your potential

    When we face stagnation in life, it’s a sign of deeper issues. Stagnancy in life, just like procrastination, is a symptom of a problem. It’s easy to beat ourselves over it, but this approach is not going to help.

    Here, I will share 5 steps to help you move out of this stagnation. They won’t magically transform your life in 1 night (such changes are never permanent because the foundations are not built), but they will help you get the momentum going and help you get back on track.

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    1. Realize You’re Not Alone

    Everyone stagnates at some point or another. You are not alone in this and more importantly, it’s normal. In fact, it’s amazing how many of my clients actually face the same predicament, even though all of them come from different walks of life, are of different ages, and have never crossed paths.

    Realizing you are not alone in this will make it much easier to deal with this period. By trying to “fight it”, you’re only fighting yourself. Accept this situation, acknowledge it, and tell yourself it’s okay. That way, you can then focus on the constructive steps that will really help you.

    2. Find What Inspires You

    Stagnation comes because there isn’t anything that excites you enough to take action. If you don’t have a habit of setting goals, and instead just leave yourself to daily mundanes, it’s not surprising you are experiencing stagnation.

    What do you want to do if there are no limitations? If you can have whatever you want, what will it be? The answers to these questions will provide the fuel that will drive you forward.

    On the other hand, even if you are an experienced goal setter, there are times when the goals you set in the past lose their appeal now. It’s normal and it happens to me too. Sometimes we lose touch with our goals, since we are in a different emotional state compared to when we first set them. Sometimes our priorities change and we no longer want to work on those goals anymore. However, we don’t consciously realize this, and what happens is we procrastinate on our goals until it compounds into a serious problem.

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    If that’s the case for you, it’s time to relook into your goals. There’s no point in pursuing goals that no longer inspire you. Trash away your old goals (or just put them aside) and ask yourself what you really want now. Then go for them.

    3. Give Yourself a Break

    When’s the last time you took a real break for yourself? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Never? Perhaps it’s time to take a time-out. Prolonged working can cause someone to become disillusioned as they lose sight of who they are and what they want.

    Go take some extended leave from work. A few days at bare minimum; a few weeks or months will be great. Some of my ex-colleagues have quit their jobs and took months out to do some self-reflection. Of course, some of us might not have that luxury, so we can stick to a few weeks of leave.

    Go on a trip elsewhere and get away from your work and your life. Use this chance to get a renewed perspective of life. Think about your life purpose, what you want and what you want to create for your life in the future.

    These are big questions that require deep thinking over them. It’s not about finding the answers at one go, but about taking the first step to finding the answers.

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    4. Shake up Your Routines

    Being in the same environment, doing the same things over and over again and meeting the same people can make us stagnant. This is especially if the people you spend the most time with are stagnant themselves.

    Change things around. Start with simple things, like taking a different route to work and eating something different for breakfast. Have your lunch with different colleagues, colleagues you never talked much with. Work in a different cubicle if your work has free and easy seating. Do something different than your usual for weekday evenings and weekends. Cultivate different habits, like exercising every day, listening to a new series of podcasts every morning to work, reading a book, etc (here’re 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick). The different contexts will give you different stimulus, which will trigger off different thoughts and actions in you.

    When I’m in a state of stagnancy, I’ll get a sense of what’s making me stagnate. Sometimes it’s the environment I’m in, sometimes it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with, sometimes it’s my lifestyle. Most of the times it’s a combination of all these. Changing them up helps to stir myself out of the stagnant mode.

    5. Start with a Small Step

    Stagnation also comes from being frozen in fear. Maybe you do want this certain goal, but you aren’t taking action. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work needed? Are you afraid you will make mistakes? Is the perfectionist in you taking over and paralyzing you?

    Let go of the belief that it has to be perfect. Such a belief is a bane, not a boon. It’s precisely from being open to mistakes and errors that you move forward.

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    Break down what’s before you into very very small steps, then take those small steps, a little step at a time. I had a client who had been stagnating for a long period because he was afraid of failing. He didn’t want to make another move where he would make a mistake. However, not wanting to make a mistake has led him to do absolutely nothing for 2-3 years.

    On the other hand, by doing just something, you would already be making progress, whether it’s a mistake or not. Even if you make a supposed “mistake”,  you get feedback to do things differently in the next step. That’s something you would never have known if you never made a move.

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    Featured photo credit: Anubhav Saxena via unsplash.com

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