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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.

    More by this author

    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 March 31, 2020

    Why Do I Procrastinate? 5 Root Causes & How To Tackle Them

    Why Do I Procrastinate? 5 Root Causes & How To Tackle Them

    Procrastination is something many people can relate to and I, myself, have been there and done that. Yes, I write all about productivity now, but when I first started out on my career path, I would often put off work I didn’t want to do. And most of the time I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

    So what changed?

    I thought to myself, “why do I procrastinate?” And I started to read a lot of books on productivity, learning a great deal and shifting my mind to the reasons why people procrastinate.

    My understanding brought me a new perspective on how to put an end to the action of procrastination.

    Procrastination slows your goals and dreams way down. It can create stress and feelings of frustration. It rears its ugly head on a regular basis for a lot of people. This is particularly apparent at work with day-to-day projects and tasks.

    But, why do people self-sabotage in this way? Essentially, there are 5 reasons behind procrastination. See if you can identify with any of these in your own work life.

    1. The Perfectionist’s Fear

    Procrastination is sometimes a subconscious fear of failure.

    If you put off a task enough, then you can’t face up to the potential (and usually imagined) negative results. If you’re a stickler for minor details, the stress of getting things ‘just right’ may be too much and cause you to delay continuing the task.

    Either way, fear is at the root cause and can sabotage your desire to move forward.

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    How to Tackle It?

    Try visualizing the completion of your task in a positive way.

    For example, you have a presentation that your boss wants you to conduct for a potential client. Visualize yourself standing in the meeting room confident, meeting the eyes of the client and seeing them light up as you explain the concept simply and concisely.

    Imagine your boss telling you how great you did and you were the best person for the job. Think about how it would feel to you and focus on this as you move forward with the task.

    2. A Dreamer’s Lack of Action

    This is a person who is highly creative and has many brilliant ideas but can’t quite seem to bring them to fruition.

    The main reason for this is because there’s usually no structure or goal setting involved once the idea has been created. This aimless approach ends up manifesting as a lack of decision-making and significant delays on a project.

    How to Tackle It?

    Write down a timeline of what you want to achieve and by when. Ideally, do this daily to keep yourself on track and accountable for progression. Creative minds tend to jump from one idea to the next, so cultivating focus is essential.

    If you’re designing and creating a new product at work, set out a task list for the week ahead with the steps you want to focus on each day. Doing this ahead of time will stop your mind from wandering across to different ideas.

    Learn about how to plan your time and take actions from some of the successful people: 8 Ways Highly Successful People Plan Their Time

    3. An Overwhelmed Avoider

    This is one of the most common reasons for procrastination; the sheer overwhelm of a daunting task.

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    The complexity of a task can cause the brain to lose motivation and avoid doing it altogether choosing instead to stay in its comfort zone.

    The search then starts for a more enjoyable task and the harder tasks are put off. This can cause stress and dread when the task inevitably comes up to be completed.

    How to Tackle It?

    Break the challenge down into smaller tasks and tackle each one individually.

    For example, if you have a project that has technical elements to it that you know you’ll find challenging, list each step you need to take in order to complete these difficult elements. Think of ways you can resolve potential hurdles. Perhaps you have a coworker that may have time to help or even consider that the solution may be easier than you initially think. Put each task in order of most daunting to least daunting. Ideally, try to deal with the more challenging parts of each task in the morning so that momentum is created as the tasks get easier through the day.

    A reward system will also help you stay motivated so, once completed, you can enjoy your treat of choice.

    If you want to know how to better handle your feelings and stay motivated, take a look at my other article: Procrastination Is a Matter of Emotion, Here’s How to Stop It

    4. The Busy Bee Who Lacks Prioritization

    Either you have too many tasks or don’t truly acknowledge the differing importance of each task. The result? Getting nothing done.

    Time is spent switching constantly from one task to another or spending too much time deciding what to do.

    How to Tackle It?

    It’s all about priorities and choosing important tasks over urgent ones.

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    Make sure to question the value and purpose of each task and make a list in order of importance.

    For example, throughout your work day, you can waste a lot of time dealing with ‘urgent’ emails from colleagues but, you need to ask yourself if these are more important than working on a task that will affect, say, several office projects at once.

    Help yourself to prioritize and set a goal of working through your list over the next few hours reassessing the situation once the time is up.

    In my other article, I talk about an effective way to prioritze and achieve more in less time: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    5. The One with Shiny Object Syndrome (Distraction-Prone)

    This is another common cause for procrastination; just simple distraction.

    Our brains aren’t wired to focus for long periods of time and it looks for something else. So throw in a bunch of colleagues equally looking for distractions or checking your phone mindlessly, and you’ve got a recipe for ultimate procrastination.

    However, this type of procrastination may not always be an unconscious decision to sabotage and put off work. It’s simply a result of your work setup or types of coworkers you have. Only you know the answer to that.

    How to Tackle It?

    Be mindful of your workspace and potential distractions. Schedule a specific time to converse with your coworkers, put headphones on to minimize listening to what’s going on around you, and switch your phone off.

    Aim to do this for 20-30 minutes at a time and then take a break. This will be a much more efficient way of working and getting what you need done. This is also why scheduling down time is so important for productivity.

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    Whether this type of procrastination is self-sabotage or being a victim of a distracting environment, either way you can take control.

    If you need a little more guidance on how to stay focus, this guide can help you: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    Bottom Line

    I’m going to be bold and assume you identified with at least one of these procrastination pitfalls.

    You could be trapped in the endless cycle of procrastination like I was, that is, until I decided to find out my why behind putting off tasks and projects. It was only then that I could implement strategies and move forward in a positive and productive way.

    I killed the procrastination monster and so can you. I now complete my tasks more efficiently and completely killed that feeling of stress and falling behind with work that procrastination brings.

    I know it’s not easy to stop procrastinating right away, so I also have this complete guide to help you stop it once and for all: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

    Featured photo credit: Luke Chesser via unsplash.com

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