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Lifehack: Is GTD generally too difficult for people to use?

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  • #16
    GTD in it's purest form isn't really that complicated. If you look at what DA actually recommends it's simple lists for day to day activity. Stuff like projects, and higher horizons are ideally kept on separate lists or documents for review when needed. So even if I wanted to implement it on a bare bones task manager like it's very doable. Yes it's true that separates tasks by today/tomorrow/upcoming/someday rather than contexts, but in the digital format do you really need any more contexts than that?


    • #17
      Originally posted by AJS View Post
      GTD in it's purest form isn't really that complicated. If you look at what DA actually recommends it's simple lists for day to day activity. Stuff like projects, and higher horizons are ideally kept on separate lists or documents for review when needed.
      That is my understanding as well. And that's definitely how you do it on paper. And it has been the approximate foundation for what I have been doing since the 80's - I know it works and I like it.

      I got little "handicapped", though, when I moved from paper to computer in the late 90's. Although computers have a lot of potential, computer software features are by necessity more rigid than your personal handwriting, so I had to struggle for a few years (with different software and settings and workarounds) to get fully back on track AND to get some of the extra real power that I expected from the computerization.

      What I wanted (and still have not been able to completely get) from a GTD computer app is a bit more than just the basic GTD lists. I also wanted to include:
      • hierarchy/future: all concrete future actions and projects that I can foresee, as tentative "placeholders" or as more definitive steps (but without other reference details), within an overall concrete higher level structure (objectives or AoFs etc.)
      • cross-reference: being able to see things from different angles in different situations (creative review, verifying review, task selection etc)
      • tagging/filtering: speedy and accurate narrowing down of relevant task selection options for virtually any type of realistic situation


      • #18
        Originally posted by Folke View Post

        Why do some people have such long lists, anyway? We are all limited to our 24 hours a day, so what makes some people end up with so many things? I think some of the possible answers are:

        - a more fragmented life - many small things, not so many time consuming things
        - a desire for depth and detail, and a need to remember every detail (anxiety about forgetting)
        - a long-range and/or strategic mindset

        I think this is particularly insightful. Thank you!


        • #19
          Originally posted by bcmyers2112
          ... why some people's lists repel rather than attract them. I think that's been the achilles heel in my prior attempts at GTD.
          bcmyers, please forgive me if what I am going to say now sounds disputatious, but I assure you I am saying it with the most helpful intent possible. Maybe I am barking up the wrong tree, but this is in line with my somewhat hasty inference earlier about your seeing GTD as a general self-improvement regimen:

          I would say that this particular achilles heel (repellent lists) affects more than just GTD. It would affect any task management methodology; even without an explicit methodology it would affect any other kind of action list; and even without lists it would apply to your mind and the choices you make - the attraction and repulsion you feel to towards doing different things. The dichotomy between "heart" and "mind" is an age-old way of polarizing the various conflicting emotions, insights, habits and intuition that we have. One of the best and most recent books on this is Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann - maybe you would like it (I enjoyed it a lot).

          For someone (like me) who regards GTD as just one (the best) of many alternative action management methodologies, this kind of list repulsion would belong mainly outside GTD as such, but ... (and this is where I might be reading to much into what you have been saying earlier) ... perhaps to you GTD represents a more all-encompassing philosophy of life - about how to be a happy and successful human being. That's not wrong, either. DA does touch upon a lot of stuff and tries to put everything in a larger perspective.


          • #20
            I have to ask you Folke, how can you not see it as a self-improvement regimen? It may not have the touchy feely spiritual kind, but ultimately it is about improving productivity and an individuals life. Productivity for me is about getting as much doen possible with the least hassle (or no hassle), this is an obvious improvement to a persons life. I don't want to rant more, but I just really have a big issue seeing them as separate instead of different sides on a dice.


            • #21
              Originally posted by bcmyers2112
              I apologize if I offended anyone.


              • #22
                Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                By the way: what's an HOF?
                "Horizon of focus". It came to me about an hour after I posted the question.


                • #23
                  Originally posted by theilluminated View Post
                  I have to ask you Folke, how can you not see it as a self-improvement regimen?
                  For me it is primarily a matter of labeling (characterization), and what we compare it with, not about denying the fact that it can improve your life. Football can be a hobby, and for some can be the main focus of their lives, for their self-improvement and quality of life. Does that make football and GTD "competitors" in the "self-improvement market"? They do compete, of course, in a similar sense that cars and computers both compete for the consumers' money and material comfort, but the question is how we label it and what implications we draw from those labels.

                  If GTD is labeled as a self-improvement regimen, what would its competitors be? Meditation? Sport? Religion/philosophy? Anger management? Sex and procreation? Politics? Leadership?

                  I would classify GTD as an action management methodology. Its main class of competitors would be the various time planning methodologies, the names of which I cannot recall. Closer rivals (or possible complements) are the methodologies of Mark Forster and Stephen Covey, just to mention a few.

                  So from this point of view, i.e. using these two types of definition, is GTD simple or not? As a self-improvement regimen, is it simpler to classify actions by Context (etc etc) than to join a swimming club? As an action management methodology, is it simpler than just picking a date instead?

                  The way I see it, GTD and time planning are about equally "simple" - GTD definitely is no simpler. The merits of GTD lie mainly in its flexibility for sudden changes and interruptions. Therefore, time planning does not work for me, but it seems to work just fine for those with a very stable situation and stable emotions (no strong variations in attraction or repulsion to certain types of tasks at different moments.)


                  • #24
                    I liked reading your post Folke, here's my viewpoint.

                    Self-improvement, or perhaps better said; things that make my life better, is not a competition in most ways. Within certain categories that would be true, but football and GTD is not close in that regard.

                    If I were to brainstorm where the central point would be: "Things That Improve My Life", I would have sub-categories like "Social", "Relationships", "Health", "Job", "Systems", "Spirituality", etc. In my world GTD would not compete with any of the others, but rather facilitate and organize the others.

                    I can relate to how you view it as an action management methodology (which is what I also would still view it inside my self-improvement category), but I think that the way people see it differently may be due to life circumstances. I easily admit that I have more than a few areas of my life out of whack currently, and see GTD as a way to help me with those. If I had most of them in order and automated (either by systems or habit), my relationship to GTD would certainly be viewed differently (as it has been in my past).

                    But maybe the more important question would be; is it harmful to GTD that people view it that differently? I wouldn't doubt that the answer would be "yes" on the Internet simply because self improvement (what I tend to see) has a negative connotation to it. Maybe the same can also be said for productivity though.

                    Maybe the most important question is; Is it really that important to argue over the meaning when it ultimately depends on the person viewing it?


                    • #25

                      I think the value of "arguing" in a forum like this one lies mainly in its potential for us to help each other and ourselves to gain new or better insights. In the end we are all on our own and do what we want. But the distinction we are now discussing could well be a contributing cause for GTD's current image, and might perhaps affect Davidco's marketing effort in the future. Positioning is always key - who or what are we "pitching" against? (And implicitly comparing with?)

                      I think we understand each other perfectly and essentially agree. To use your terminology (the things you refer to as sub-categories) I would say that GTD (or rather "systematic action management" in any of its forms) could well be counted as one of all these "sub-categories", i.e. things that can benefit your overall life quality. And, as you say, they are not competing or mutually exclusive ALTERNATIVES to each other, but they can all compete for your attention, trust, faith and effort - and they can also influence each other synergically. For example, physical exercise is generally held to increase your calm and mental focus and progress in other areas ("sub-categories"). And good action management can benefit the other areas. And so can job and income, and so on.

                      @bcmyers - don't worry, this discussion is not about you in any way. You can call it philosophy or marketing strategy or calling a spade a spade, whatever you fancy.


                      • #26

                        Did you notice that @theilluminated had asked me a direct question that I answered? My last couple of posts were a direct response to that, i.e. nothing to do with you.

                        In general, in this forum, I have often noticed a kind of "ambivalence" about what GTD is fundamentally all about; I have never quite been able to put my finger on it, but it has always disturbed me because many potentially good and clarifying discussions derail simply because different people seem to imply entirely different kinds of things when they say the three magic letters GTD. I do see the mixing of topics and tacit assumptions as a threat to the quality of any debate.

                        When you first mentioned the term "self-improvement" I suddenly saw a possibility that maybe precisely this was a common alternative interpretation of GTD that might account for some of the differences in what kind of seemingly uncorrelated conclusions different people arrive at in this and other threads. Apparently this was not so for you, but to some extent for @theilluminated.

                        @bcmyers, in another thread about GTD, where I argued that GTD is particularly good for people with a fluid or turbulent life situation (I was implicitly comparing with time planning), you countered with something like "No, GTD is all about simplicity, for everybody". May I ask, simple compared with what? And in this thread again, a Lifehack article claims something about simplicity. Simplicity for whom to accomplish what, compared with what?


                        • #27
                          Comparison with the age-old intuitive method

                          I believe (or know), as I also said in my original post, that GTD's biggest "rival" is not the methodologies that are based on time planning (those are only the second-largest rival), but the age-old intuitive-habitual model (the "no-methodology" methodology, if you will).

                          The vast majority of mankind use neither lists nor calendars nor any other such thing on a systematic everyday basis. Probably many of them do not really need anything of that kind, but quite a few probably could benefit from systematically writing things down, analyzing and structuring them in some way, for example the GTD way. The Lifehack article, at least in part, seems to have these folks in mind. The article says that GTD reminds people of business and other organized work, and that a structured approach is exactly what they want to avoid in the first place and that GTD therefore is too "businessy" and complicated for people in general. So, is this true or not? Is it relevant to even consider?

                          I believe this argument gives us a hint about the maximum overall "market potential" for all structured approaches combined, including GTD - since the majority of the population would not think they need anything structured at all, and if they sometimes do they would probably solve it intuitively by using isolated ad-hoc lists, such as shopping lists. But what about the "borderline" people - those that really have enough different stuff on their minds and would need a more structured approach, but intuitively reject structure? Is GTD too complicated for them? Well, it might well be, but that would hold true for all structured approaches. Could GTD be described and presented in a way that makes it easier for these people to accept it - a "GTD Light" version? Well, perhaps. For example, a shopping list or packing list, which most people feel comfortable enough with, can be easily generalized into other forms of "context" lists, such as a list for "miscellaneous errands", "computer" and so forth. And the distinction between what to put on a calendar and on a list might be useful even at the entry point level.

                          But all in all I would say that GTD is just as simple (or difficult) for the non-professional person as any other structured approach, so I would be inclined to question the relevance of that line of argumentation in the article. For example, everybody does not need a car, so it would be wrong to single out Mercedes as a bad car just because you have to open the doors (complicated), start the engine (complicated) etc. That's a "complication" you have with all cars - if you don't need a car, don't buy one.

                          Overall, I think the more fruitful and relevant comparison is between GTD and Time Planning.


                          • #28
                            While it is certainly true that most people live with an intuitive-habitual mode, it is largely how we have done things throughout evolution. Of course we have made plans etc, but never had as much input as now. There are new things all around and our minds are racing much more because of it. Simply the stream of new info has to be filtered and that leaves our minds to spend more energy on that, leaving less for other tasks. Not to mention the amount of stress in every way (every way that releases cortisol, and thus activiates the fight and flight mode) which inhibits us even further.

                            In my country at least people view business and personal time quite differently. As a society we have the tendency to loathe work/week days and live for the weekend. Anything reminiscent of work in any way, be it structure, boring tasks etc. are very much shunned (unless you got your own house and kids, still minizing it). The fact could be that many people actually do not care about work, just the people working there makes it okay, so being reminded of work structure might be really annoying.

                            This is my current peeve with Making It All Work, it tries to make everything sound rosy and fantastic with small puns and stuff here and there about the business of life and game of work (if I remember correctly). I'm simply in no way receptive for such language (nope, I'm not even grumpy now! and Getting Things Done book is so ingrained with business language, making both books simply more difficult for me to read because I have to decipher the meaning too often. It is simply tiring and some times very irritating. If I were to pinpoint a large issue with GTD, it would not be GTD itself, but the language surrounding it. I've had a few friends look at the books, read a few paragraphs and they couldn't go on because it was filled with business-language back to back.

                            If they re-wrote GTD, avoiding the language issue, stripped it of the "happy rainbow theme" from Making It All Work, but still used some of that information it would be so much better in my opinion. A GTD For Dummies. Market potential exists only when you are able to speak to that market, with the way that they speak, most people are not working in Fortune 100 companies (I might be wrong though, still applicable analogy).

                            The other issue I think with GTD is the feeling of being caught up in it. From my own experience I got hooked on it and I wanted to bring everything in my life into it as much as I could. From a practical stand-point it was insanity and it failed, I read it again and did a few things differently and got a better system. Fell off the wagon, wrote lots of things and had my inboxes, never used them. I was running in the wild.

                            GTD isn't difficult, but I feel there is little room for practice. Yes, I have a tendency to be a perfectionist, but everything we learn in school is repeated over and over again so we gain confidence. If you start out with GTD as a newbie, constantly having to go back and for about "what do I do now?" it becomes a drudge and a mess. I've been doing a bit of programming for years, but I got myself a new book recently where I had questions after each chapter, both to trigger what I had learned and to make me think consciously about it. I learned so much more from that than other programming books. So it is about habits, learning the material, being confident with it and GTD (along with so much else), isn't written like that. Beginning GTD is like studying new habits and implementing them, if you aren't confident about them you will not have confidence in your system, hence interacting with it becomes difficult.

                            The lack of examples is also an issue, most people are visual and we can interpret and understand visuals much easier than written words (especially if the language is uncommon for us, as GTD is), making it even more difficult. Showing examples of a pure digital system, a pure paper system and a hybrid would be very nice. It would put the pieces together for many people, give them ideas, confidence about how it looks in daily life etc.

                            Something I have lately discovered with myself is how my feelings change about a certain goal after some time. Let's say I write "buy pants" on my list of errands. If I wait too long before doing something about it, it seems irrelevant to me (unless I needed it for a specific occasion). All the things I write on my lists that I have an emotional attachment to now have a tendency to fade away unless I am really passionate about them. It's the same thing where people say that they need to get something done during today or this week or it won't happen. Their connection and attachment to it becomes irrelevant.

                            You can look at it this way; You need/want something, the fight and flight part of our brain tells us it is important. You want to do something about it, it feels necessary right now. Days pass and you still want it, but the pressure is gone because your are still alive and the brain is sensing that you won't die over the lack of having that item. The longer you wait the more your brain say: this is not important. Until you review it and see you need it for tomorrow because of some party, then your brain gets a jolt and you run off to buy those pants.

                            This is intertwined with habits also, but the emotional connection to it changes and can do so rapidly. David does go into that when he talks about how important it can be to buy cat food, which is itself a habit (thinking through Horizons of Focus on the spot) that has to be learned and habitually practiced, and not even attainable until life is relatively at peace for some folks.


                            • #29
                              Originally posted by bcmyers2112
                              But within GTD there's an easy mechanism for dealing with that. Just move it over to your Someday/Maybe list.
                              Absolutely, but I would probably not care about even putting it here. The larger issue at hand is how capable a person is about long-term planning and thinking. GTD is a system that certainly facilitates long term planning and thinking, which can be quite different to how usually go around their daily life. Making that change can be very difficult.

                              Willpower: Why Self-Control is the Secret of Success, one of the greatest books I probably will ever read (and I am only 1/4 in), writes about how willpower in a person is influenced in the body. Stress, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, bad diet (fluctuations in blood sugar), caffeine all keeps a person in almost a constant fight or flight more where their capability toward long-term planning is extremely reduced.

                              My point here is that even if a person implements GTD, write to their inboxes, processes them, make projects and assign next actions to contexts, their mind can be in a fight or flight mode where they look at long-term objectives and not feel compelled to do something about it. This isn't GTDs fault of course, but understanding that people are not aware or currently capable of long-term thinking (it would feel exhausting just thinking about the future) can make a system like GTD feel more like a threat than help.


                              • #30
                                Originally posted by theilluminated View Post
                                Getting Things Done book is so ingrained with business language, making both books simply more difficult for me to read because I have to decipher the meaning too often. It is simply tiring and some times very irritating. If I were to pinpoint a large issue with GTD, it would not be GTD itself, but the language surrounding it. I've had a few friends look at the books, read a few paragraphs and they couldn't go on because it was filled with business-language back to back.
                                Interesting. Could part of the issue be different cultures?

                                I am FAR from a fortune 500, yet for me both books spoke to me in a way that no other system of managing my tasks, dreams, aspirations and commitments ever did. I'm a farmer, yet I depend on GTD to manage the farm. Business language is something that everyone in the US understands, almost no matter what business we are in. The only other nearly universal language would be football and baseball. Even folks who do not follow those sports, never watch them, have never played still have a basic understanding of the games and their specific language