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Is GTD scalable for someone with ADHD?

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  • Is GTD scalable for someone with ADHD?

    I've been struggling with GTD for some time. I have the formula down, but the problem seems to be that my brain is creating more Inbox entries than my body can process each day.

    By this I mean that as someone with ADHD, I have perhaps 10X the number of ideas, thoughts, tasks, perceived things that should be done, than a normal person does.

    If I don't document them, they are gone from RAM.

    The problem is that this does two things:

    1. Because the flow into the Inbox is faster than the time it takes to "DO", I find that a Daily Review of the Inbox is counter-productive and is taking longer each day to do. That's not scalable and it's also very frustrating.

    2. The more time I spend processing, the less I have for "DOING", so it is a loop.

    Now, you might say that the answer is to really get focused and limit what you put into the Inbox; but that's counter to what GTD says, which is that Everything should go into the Inbox so it is out of your head and off your mind.

    Because we with ADHD don't really have a sense of time, I've even experimented with two Inboxes, one that says "TODAY" and another that says "NOT TODAY".

    I've also clearly identified my "Essentials", my "Priorities", in an attempt to focus on investing my time there.

    However this still does not solve the Inbox flow and Daily Review problem.

    Any suggestions for those of us who are adults and are struggling with ADHD?


  • #2
    I have been accused of having ADHD...

    And my suggestion is to let those ideas flow but put most of them on the Someday/Maybe list so that they don't interfere with what you have to get done day to day. Then review them once per week to keep them fresh, and if appropriate, then you can move some to next actions or projects.


    • #3
      GTD can reduce this brain overload.

      Originally posted by user View Post
      By this I mean that as someone with ADHD, I have perhaps 10X the number of ideas, thoughts, tasks, perceived things that should be done, than a normal person does.
      Aren't 99% of these thoughts just repeating echos of previously unprocessed stuff?

      In my opinion GTD can reduce this brain overload.


      • #4
        ADHD and GTD

        Hmmmm.....Perhaps me too! However, I am convinced that I can spend ALL of my time processing the in-flowing or doing the in-flowing, without doing ANY pre-defined work.

        I so struggle. But the answer has to be giving myself permission to shut off processing and incoming and do the pre-defined. We know time has to be allocated to all three. But SUCCESS is allocating more time to the pre-defined! Has to be.

        Reward yourself when you cross off or mark completed a pre-defined task (s) or project.

        I am learning. Us ADHD types can be slow.


        • #5
          Me too

          I've been diagnosed with ADHD too and have had all the same problems you describe. It's been about three years since I started following GTD and it' has changed my life. My wife says it's actually calmed certain aspects of my ADHD-ness. It's been a task and I still have a long road ahead because of the added load ADHD creates (it's been quite beneficial now that I use GTD to channel it). While I believe that GTD will benefit anyone, I believe the benefit for people with ADHD might be greater as we tend to have the idea generation capacity of a group of seven but every other resource is about the same as anyone.

          GTD is much deeper and more powerful than it seems at first read. To date, I've had read GTD 9 times and Making it All Work 7 times (both in physical and audio formats) just to get a hold of what I'm sure everyone else got first read through. I listen to all the podcasts (multiple times-I speed them up with audio software), and follow GTD Times. I'm still learning more. After all that, I still consider myself a beginner and I'm excited for the future.

          So, daily review and inbox. I've had both of these problems and have solved them in these ways.

          1) improve the quality of your processing. When you're able to negotiate the meaning of the 200 pages of ideas you had at a high quality, you'll process faster and it doesn't take very long. Also, since your input isn't stagnant, neither are your ideas. Some days you'll have 5 min of processing, sometimes you'll have to filter through what seems like several medium sized books. Through my three years of GTD, the hardest part of GTD is implementation bit by bit. If you're trying to do it slowly, bit by bit, you don't get the mind like water return that GTD can bring when done right. Also, every new idea seems revolutionary so you feel like you need to rebuild everything every few days or weeks making the process take even longer as you tinker.

          I suggest you block off 2-days (a weekend?) and just slam it. You'll detect your own failing faster that way and get more benefit faster. Also start off with a paper based system, it helps you detect failings in your understanding of the system faster than using software. You should probably read GTD again before you do any of that though, and take it with you as reference.

          2) The idea behind the review (daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly) is to back off and gain perspective. Once you have that perspective, then you just need to "do." So the idea is to push, push, push or do, do, do and then once per day, back off, regain your perspective, process, and organize. Don't do. Once you get the perspective back, then you return to do, do, do.

          One tip for you that has been absolutely necessary for me is including Areas of Focus in every weekly review, and sometimes even in my daily review. I scan my entire projects list every day as well as my next actions (multiple times per day). Because of the added amount of ideas and input (some not as good as they might seem at first glance ) the sheer mountain of info and ideas needs another layer of filtering; areas of focus. Areas of focus is best taught in Making it All Work.

          Just an added thought, David sometimes says, if you've got a bottle-neck, iron out what's downstream so it's easier (and faster) to place things. So your inbox/processing problem may actually be an unconcious awareness that your contexts and project lists are not as complete as they should be. In other words, an organization problem in the 5-steps.

          Hope that made sense and that it helps a bit!
          Good luck!


          • #6
            As someone who probably has ADHD but has never been diagnosed, I'd suggest that you keep putting everything in the inbox, but that you make lots of those entries "someday/maybe", rather than thoroughly processing each and every one into a fully defined project, complete with next action, that you may never get to. And also that you use tools that support high-speed entry and processing - in my case, that means OmniFocus.

            Are most of your ideas things that would produce new projects, or are they thoughts for existing projects? For example, if you're at the very beginning of a project, do you find yourself thinking of "don't forget" things for the very end of that project? When I do that, I often label those things with a context of "info" (I could also make it "planning" or "reminders") and put them in a subfolder in the project, to review occasionally as I get closer to the stage for which they're relevant. They're not next actions, they're not separate projects, they're usually not really even actions at all, but if I don't put them somewhere they'll nag at me.

            Alternatively, are some of your thoughts listable, rather than being separate actions or projects? For example, you might think, "I should really learn to program in Python". And tomorrow, "I should really learn PHP." Rather than creating entire projects for each one, you could have a list of "things to learn" and then a periodic tickler to "Look at list of things to learn and consider starting one." The same for "things to read/watch/listen to", and "ideas for things to code" and "recipes to try" and "short story ideas" and "stuff to buy" and "gift ideas" and "car maintenance worries" and "home maintenance worries" and other thoughts that might be categorizable into a list.

            Some of these will turn into projects when you get to them - for example, "stuff to buy" might contain "flat-screen TV" and someday you may have a project for "select flat-screen TV". But for now, just an entry in "stuff to buy" will probably do. And if, before that day, you find yourself sitting down with a specific TV model to consider because a friend enthused about it and you don't want to forget, maybe another list of "products to consider" will fill that need.

            And if you _know_ perfectly well that you have a huge number of things that you're not going to get to anytime soon, you could have a less frequent review frequency for some things - another thing that OmniFocus will do for you. I have projects that are set to review quarterly, or even yearly, in addition to the more normal weekly review.

            I guess that all of my ideas are about putting your thoughts somewhere in the system so that they're not lost, and you'll get back to them someday, but so that they don't clutter up what you want to do today or this week.



            • #7
              GTD scalable with ADHD

              Oh goodness, yes it is. I deal with nearly identical circumstances.

              People tease me for writing down as much as I do, which at times has been several hundred per day.

              You will find that GTD will help you to slow down (in the "slow is smooth, and smooth is fast" sort of way). I found through hard experience that being careful to choose WHAT I did was far more important than how I did it, at least as far as accomplishment goes.

              Doing all of the processing can sometimes be a chore, but I assure you it beats the alternative of having ADHD and not having GTD!

              The reviews are the most often neglected part, and by far the greatest part for maintaining perspective.

              Best of luck.


              • #8
                Thanks for the super tips!

                I'm still in the process of setting up GTD. Some observations:

                RE: Omnifocus - I found it to be too much. Overwhelming and not as omnipresent as I needed it to be. So I am setting up GTD in Evernote.

                I am sharing my initial implementation of it here for feedback:

                Blurred out areas are confidential. Sorry.

                So - Some explanations as to why I chose Evernote as someone with ADHD and why I am implementing it the way it shows on the screenshot:

                1. Why I chose Evernote

                - I can access it from my iPad, Droid X phone, web browser and MacBook Air. Can't do that with Omnifocus.

                - I personally think it's just built better and it's more scalable than Omnifocus is. It is cloud based, not software based.

                - I can share project notebooks if I need to outsource but still manage projects.

                - I set my Default Notebook to be my GTD Inbox, so through my Evernote account I can email and forward anything into my Inbox. A great example of this is when we process our email Inbox.

                What you see in a message could be a number of things - a Task, a Project, Actionable, Not-Actionable, Spam, Reference, etc. I've added a Contact address to my Gmail account which is "Evernote", and any time I forward email to that address it immediately shows up as a Note in my Inbox Notebook, for processing the next day during my Daily Review.

                I also like the mobile app for Evernote on iPhone and Android that allows me to take Photos and record audio notes while I'm driving - again, they are all sent to my Inbox because I've set that as my Default Notebook.

                I could go on and on about why I chose Evernote, but I've just gone and created a Public Notebook for anyone interested in HOW I use Evernote.

                You can get Evernote here. And it allows you to "subscribe" to Public Shared Folders. It's free, but I'd recommend paying for the Premium version so they keep developing it.

                #2. The screenshot

                Would love input from experienced GTD'ers.

                Basically I have the standard GTD setup, but I'm using TAGS as my CONTEXTS.

                So each Note is tagged with a SINGLE context. That's my rule I have to stick with. I cannot tag it with more than one context.

                Under Projects, the reason why I am using the Stacks feature of Evernote, is that I recognize that there are really three types of projects:

                a) Active ones that I am focusing on; and as someone with ADHD, I can only really focus on N number of projects at any given time or I get overwhelmed.

                b) Delegated Projects. These are projects that I realize I can delegate to someone else. Either a Virtual Assistant or an employee or Freelance Contractor. And yet, I still need to monitor their progress.

                c) Projects - Parked. These are the "Someday / Maybe" projects. Or the ones that I just can't do right now for either financial, resource, bandwidth or other reasons.

                As someone with ADHD, I tend to find myself creating more projects than I can handle, so it made sense to create a "Parked" Notebook.

                d) Projects - Queue. This exists to allow me to FOCUS. As someone with ADHD, there are times when I feel full flow of too many ideas, and others when I feel overwhelmed. Giving myself permission to have a Queue allows me to DELIBERATELY SIMPLIFY and LIMIT the number of Active Projects that I am working on at any given time.

                When I am finished with one project, I go to my Queue for the next one.

                Journal - Solitude & Reflection - You're going to need to use Evernote and look at how I use those. They don't have to do with GTD, but they are very important because I use that area to document what works for me personally and what doesn't. I try new things, new resources etc. and also journal about my levels of focus, whether I'm particularly distracted that day, use it to identify interruptions as well as distractions.

                Evernote works best for me because the mobile app that I have on my Droid X (also available for iPhone), allows me to take a photo, write a text entry or even capture an audio note in the app (particularly useful for when I am driving); and then it saves the captured information to my Evernote account, which is in the cloud but syncs wirelessly and automatically with my laptop and my iPad. So no matter which device I happen to be using, I have access to my GTD system - even while mobile.

                Full disclosure: I have NO affiliation with Evernote whatsoever. I've just researched paper vs electronic, etc. and while I love LOVE ink and paper, for someone who has ADHD, paper is simply NOT scalable and is too cumbersome.

                There's a neat feature in Evernote that allows a person to publicly SHARE a Notebook.

                For anyone reading this who also uses Evernote, here are my Public Notebooks on ADHD, Evernote and GTD. I deposit notes, links and any bits of information I find into them.




                Thanks for any input on my setup.


                boettiger at
                Last edited by boettiger; 05-08-2011, 02:37 PM.


                • #9
                  Processing immediately

                  When I think of something, I often write it immediately as a next action on the
                  list for the appropriate context. That way, no more time for processing is


                  • #10
                    One of the great things about Internet fora is that occasionally I take my own advice.

                    I invented a system for you; and I've started to implement it. So far, I like it!

                    I have a bunch of folders labelled with numbers of days in powers of 2:
                    every day, every 2 days, every 4 days, every 8 days, etc.

                    Each day, I look at all the stuff in the "every day" folder and also in
                    one of the other folders, in a pattern that gets each one looked
                    at as often as the number says. The pattern goes like this:

                    When I look at the stuff, I divide it into 5 categories. (You might
                    want to use only 3 or 2 categories):
                    -- use "immediately"
                    -- review again sooner
                    -- review again after the same length of time
                    -- review again, but after a longer time
                    -- discard

                    then for example if I was looking at the 8-day folder, I would
                    move stuff from it into the 4-day and 16-day folders.

                    If the stuff gets bunched up too much in the smaller numbers
                    of days, I can shift everything over one folder.

                    Most of the stuff is kindof someday/maybe stuff. But I also
                    have in there reminders, mini-quizzes for memorizing stuff,
                    rewards and motivationals, so
                    it's fun and productive even if I just look at the things without
                    any "doing". The idea is to be able to go through the stuff quickly.


                    • #11
                      How do you count days?

                      Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                      Each day, I look at all the stuff in the "every day" folder and also in
                      one of the other folders, in a pattern that gets each one looked
                      at as often as the number says. The pattern goes like this:
                      Ok, so I wake up today, look at all the stuff in the "every day" folder and also in ??? which folder

                      Do I have to keep a day counter which is not synchronized with any calendar system invented by a human race?


                      • #12
                        How to count in binary

                        I was hoping someone would ask.

                        Actually, I'm getting behind on looking at the folders anyway. However,
                        I worked out a system for keeping track.

                        Basically, you count days in binary notation and look through the folder
                        associated with the column that got flipped from 0 to 1.

                        Or to put it another way: I pasted a sticky note (flag) onto each folder,
                        except the every-day folder,
                        in either an "up" or a "down" position (all starting "down").
                        When I want to figure out which folder to look through,
                        I choose the one with the smallest number of all those with
                        flags in the "down" position. After I look through it, I move
                        its flag to "up", and move the flags of all folders with smaller
                        numbers to "down".

                        Or, you could write on a piece of paper,
                        "2,4,2,8,2,4,2,16" and so on, and cross each one
                        off when you look through that folder (or write the
                        date next to it, in case you'll forget whether you've
                        just crossed one off or not).

                        I'd better go and actually do some stuff now.


                        • #13
                          I still use standard methods of counting days...

                          So I have to keep a day counter which is not synchronized with any calendar system invented by a human race?

                          Some time ago I've created the binary calendar and time counting system but the world did not want to accept it so I still use standard methods of counting days...


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by TesTeq View Post
                            So I have to keep a day counter which is not synchronized with any calendar system invented by a human race?

                            Some time ago I've created the binary calendar and time counting system but the world did not want to accept it so I still use standard methods of counting days...
                            You don't have to do anything. If you do not like the way someone else runs their own system, you may choose not to follow it. An alternative for you might be to put a note on each folder, for example: "review Wednesdays; review Mondays; review Tuesday and Sunday; etc." This is based on a more common calendar, which may be more to your liking.

                            I personally found the binary concept novel.


                            • #15
                              It's not about doing, it's about understanding.

                              Originally posted by JohnV474 View Post
                              You don't have to do anything. If you do not like the way someone else runs their own system, you may choose not to follow it.
                              It's not about doing, it's about understanding. First I must understand it than I can follow it.

                              My question is:

                              Today is Wednesday, May 25th. Which folder should I review?

                              Even in your example you use standard method of counting days (weekly).

                              His folder number 8 should be reviewed on Monday, then on Tuesday (8 days later), then on Wednesday (8 days later) and so on. I am only asking how he manages this process.