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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 August 12, 2020

    How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them

    How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them

    Where do you want to be 5 years from now, 10 years from now, or even this time next year? These places are your goal destinations and although you might know that you don’t want to be standing still in the same place as you are now, it’s not always easy to identify what your real goals are.

    Many people think that setting a goal destination is having a dream that is there in the far distant future but will never be attained. This proves to be a self-fulfilling prophesy because of two things:

    Firstly, that the goal isn’t specifically defined enough in the first place; and secondly, it remains a remote dream waiting for action which is never taken.

    Defining your goal destination is something that you need to take some time to think carefully about. The following steps on how to plan your life goals should get you started on a journey to your destination.

    1. Make a List of Your Goal Destinations

    Goal destinations are the things that are important to you. Another word for them would be ambitions, but ambitions sound like something which outside of your grasp, whereas goal destinations are certainly achievable if you are willing to put in the effort working towards them.

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    So what do you really want to do with your life? What are the main things that you would like to accomplish with your life? What is it that you would really regret not doing if you suddenly found you had a limited amount of time left on the earth?

    Each of these things is a goal. Define each goal destination in one sentence.

    If any of these goals is a stepping stone to another one of the goals, take it off this list as it isn’t a goal destination.

    2. Think About the Time Frame to Have the Goal Accomplished

    This is where the 5 year, 10 year, next year plan comes into it.

    Learn the differences between a short term goal and a long term goal. Some goals will have a “shelf life” because of age, health, finance, etc, whereas others will be up to you as to when you would like to achieve them by.

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    3. Write Down Your Goals Clearly

    Write each goal destination at the top of a new piece of paper.

    For each goal, write down what is it that you need and don’t have now that will allow you achieve that goal. This could be some kind of education, career change, finance, a new skill, etc. Any “stepping stone” goals you removed will fit into this exercise. If any of these smaller “goals” have sub-goals, go through the same process with these so that you have precise action points to work with.

    4. Write Down What You Need to Do for Each Goal

    Under each item listed, write down the things that you will need to do in order to complete each of the steps required to complete the goal. 

    These items will become a check-list. They are a tangible way of checking how you are progressing towards reaching your goal destinations. A record of your success!

    5. Write Down Your Timeframe With Specific and Realistic Dates

    Using the time frames you created, on each goal destination sheet write down the year in which you will complete the goal by.

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    For any goal which has no fixed completion date, think about when you would like to have accomplished it by and use that as your destination date.

    Work within the time frames for each goal destination, make a note of realistic dates by which you will complete each of the small steps.

    6. Schedule Your To-Dos

    Now take an overview of all your goal destinations and make a schedule of what you need to do this week, this month, this year – in order to progress along the road towards your goal destinations.

    Write these action points on a schedule, you have definite dates on which to do things.

    7. Use Your Reticular Activating System to Get Your Goal

    Learn in this Lifehack’s vlog how you can hack your brain with the Reticular Activation System (RAS) and reach your goal more efficiently:

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    8. Review Your Progress

    At the end of the year, review what you have done this year, mark things off the check-lists for each goal destination and write up the schedule with the action points you need for the next year.

    Although it may take you several years to, for example, get the promotion you desire because you first need to get the MBA which means getting a job with more money to allow you to finance a part-time degree course, you will ultimately be successful in achieving your goal destination because you have planned out not only what you want, but how to get it, and have been pro-active towards achieving it.

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    Featured photo credit: Debby Hudson via unsplash.com

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