Why GTD Does Not Seem to Work for Me

BoAtHome

Registered
I think I figured out why GTD has not worked for me. I am curious if you can relate, and also if you have found a way for it to help you even with this dynamic.

When I make spontaneous choices each day based on my memory and my "gut", I feel like I am living from my heart.

When I make choices based on lists, I feel like I am following a procedure and it feels kind of cold and lifeless.

I believe David Allen has written that the making and reviewing of lists can actually prepare you to make spontaneous choices from your memory and "gut", but it hasn't worked out like that for me.

Thanks!
 

kelstarrising

Kelly Forrister | GTD® Coach
Reminds me of the quote David has said, "You don't create lists to only do what's on the lists. You create lists to get it off your mind so you can do what you really want to do."

I absolutely think GTD is about following your gut/heart/intuition about what to focus or work on in any given moment. That's the elegance and beauty of it, in my experience.
 

BoAtHome

Registered
Thanks for the reply. Maybe it's my vocation as a computer programmer or something else, but when I make lists, I feel the need to "program" exactly when and how everything will get done.

Maybe the dynamic is that life by its nature can't be boiled down to blueprints and flowcharts. But when I think "system" and "lists", I think blueprints and flowcharts. But perhaps the idea of GTD is that yes, you are making lists about your life, but they are in the context of the dynamism, uncertainty, and spontaneity of life. So I would need to be comfortable with the idea that, yes I have made lists, but I still don't know how everything will turn out, or if I'm always making the right choices, etc.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
I think I figured out why GTD has not worked for me. I am curious if you can relate, and also if you have found a way for it to help you even with this dynamic.

When I make spontaneous choices each day based on my memory and my "gut", I feel like I am living from my heart.

When I make choices based on lists, I feel like I am following a procedure and it feels kind of cold and lifeless.

I believe David Allen has written that the making and reviewing of lists can actually prepare you to make spontaneous choices from your memory and "gut", but it hasn't worked out like that for me.

Thanks!
It seems possible that the actions on your lists aren’t attracting you as they should. When I work from my lists, I do feel like I am making spontaneous choices and living from my heart. Perhaps you could ask why you have the feelings you have, or perhaps even share some examples.
 

BoAtHome

Registered
Thanks everyone for taking the time to answer. This discussion is giving me insights.
I think I just need to keep working to find a way to use lists, reviewing lists, etc. -- because there is too much to manage solely by the seat of one's pants as we all know, but in a way doesn't have the effects I describe above.
mcogilvie's suggestion to ask myself why I have the feelings I have was a good suggestion for me. I think there is a lot to discover there.
Perhaps over time I'll gauge how certain planning makes me feel. For example maybe I need to make it less frequent, but be consistent, if I get that "cold, lifeless" feeling when too frequent. Or maybe I'll learn that goals, desired outcomes, next action, etc. doesn't work for me in certain areas of life like family and personal relationships, but I can still use that for others.
 

thomasbk

Registered
@BoAtHome Honestly, a re-read of the book may help. Many of us have read it several times over the years. I suggest a re-read because it sounds like you're imposing your biases onto the system and then feeling like the system doesn't work because of those biases. I know people who aren't familiar with GTD sometimes mistakenly believe it's a corporate thing for work, but it is actually a life management system. The lists free your mind from trying to hold onto it all so that it can focus on creativity and spontaneity. If your system isn't bringing you a sense of freedom and joy, then I genuinely believe you aren't doing GTD.
 

Sojourner

Registered
Thanks for the reply. Maybe it's my vocation as a computer programmer or something else, but when I make lists, I feel the need to "program" exactly when and how everything will get done.

So I would need to be comfortable with the idea that, yes I have made lists, but I still don't know how everything will turn out, or if I'm always making the right choices, etc.
As a computer programmer, when you write code, do you write perfect code the first time every time, or do you have to refactor it? When you add a new function, are you certain that function will work perfectly with the existing code structure and variables, or do you have to test it?

You sound a lot like I did when I first started GTD. Don't let yourself over-analyze or worry so much about how everything will turn out, or if you're always making the right choices. You just have to be willing to "test your code" and "refactor" your lists until you find the right choices for you. It takes time and a willingness to experiment and occasionally fail. Like programming, you iterate over your code continuously increasing it's performance and finding better, simpler ways to perform each function.

As @thomasbk suggested, you may want re-read (and re-absorb) the book, but I also suggest focusing first on chapter 9 "Engaging: Making The Best Action Choices". Pay attention to the sub-sections on "Horizons". While most people start from the "Ground" and work up, maybe you need to think more about Horizons 3-5 first and work down to help you with your personal list choices? That's the way I had to do it to realize what added value to my life and what didn't.
 

Gardener

Registered
Thanks for the reply. Maybe it's my vocation as a computer programmer or something else, but when I make lists, I feel the need to "program" exactly when and how everything will get done.

Maybe the dynamic is that life by its nature can't be boiled down to blueprints and flowcharts. But when I think "system" and "lists", I think blueprints and flowcharts. But perhaps the idea of GTD is that yes, you are making lists about your life, but they are in the context of the dynamism, uncertainty, and spontaneity of life. So I would need to be comfortable with the idea that, yes I have made lists, but I still don't know how everything will turn out, or if I'm always making the right choices, etc.
Not sure how I missed this post before my post.

I'm a programmer, too, and I used to make long multi-action lists for my projects, until I realized that I was spending most of my review time rewriting, deleting, and replacing those actions.

Now my goal is usually to have one, maybe two, actions per project. Any other planning is outside my project-and-action lists.

So, for example, this fall's work in the vegetable garden (my examples are almost always gardening, not work examples) will involve a ton of changes based on lessons learned from the furnace that was this summer. But I'm not going to create three dozen projects and plan them action by action. I may make lists as project support material--the list of beds that I'd like to convert to single-spine watering, lists of overwintering edibles, etc., etc. But I won't have a project-by-project, action-by-action, battle plan.
 

Juris

Registered
Not sure how I missed this post before my post.

I'm a programmer, too, and I used to make long multi-action lists for my projects, until I realized that I was spending most of my review time rewriting, deleting, and replacing those actions.

Now my goal is usually to have one, maybe two, actions per project. Any other planning is outside my project-and-action lists.

So, for example, this fall's work in the vegetable garden (my examples are almost always gardening, not work examples) will involve a ton of changes based on lessons learned from the furnace that was this summer. But I'm not going to create three dozen projects and plan them action by action. I may make lists as project support material--the list of beds that I'd like to convert to single-spine watering, lists of overwintering edibles, etc., etc. But I won't have a project-by-project, action-by-action, battle plan.
Hi,
"But I won't have a project-by-project, action-by-action, battle plan."
What will you have instead?
 

Oogiem

Registered
Maybe it's my vocation as a computer programmer or something else, but when I make lists, I feel the need to "program" exactly when and how everything will get done.
I'm also a programmer but also a farmer. I like detailed and extensive lists, most of my work can be defined and then run as planned. But sheep always happens and I have to go with it.

I've actually found that in my programming when I relaxed and did larger more vague actions I got more useful working code written compared to detailed bit by bit descriptions. My programming projects look something like this:

Project: Refactor buttons in all activities in AnimalTrakker mobile
Decription: Ensure they are of a consistent size, location and color or status for the various actions and as the user moves in and out of the activities.
Next Action: Document how I expect all the standard buttons to work in all the states and cases.

That document goes into the functional spec. Then when I start working on it I'll take it activity by activity and do the work to actually make the button changes.

For farming I have some projects that repeat on a yearly basis that are extremely well defined.

Vaccinate Lambs is one. I have actions to make sure I've orded the vaccine and the needles and syringes that happens a month or more before I need them. Then ones to set up the timeframes when each batch of lambs needs their vaccine series to start and the timing for the second set. Then actiosn to set up the alerts in AnimalTrakker for the lambs that are in each of thev various age groups. Vaccines have tobe given within a relatively shot window to lambs, not too early or the maternal antibodies prevent them from working and not too late or lambs will die. Once I had the workflow for that project I saved it as a recurring project and just fire off a copy each year.
 

Jim

GTD Ninja
Even if you have a list of well defined projects, each fully structured with a complete set of actions (beyond the next action), you can still use your gut/heart/intuition to spontaneously choose which project to focus on.

That should help with making your GTD practice feel dynamic.

For even more spontaneity, stick to listing only next actions under each project.
 

rmjb

Registered
I've been at this for a few years and I've felt a lot of different things and I continuously kept using GTD.
Early on I experienced the serendipitous feeling of a free mind and things coming to me when they should; that only lasted a short while.
I also felt soon after that what you've described.

I've heard David Allen say something along these lines "sometimes I look at what's on my list and decide to do something else".
You should never feel the list is in control. When you create, set up, plan your lists, you're helping your future self. But when you look at your lists, you don't have to be beholden to your past self.

There's also merit in what others have said above as it relates to over planning. You really should put down each Next Action on the list. Your project might have three streams, each with a Next Action, so you have down three next actions. Don't put the next-next action, and the next-next-next action; you can't do those when you look at your list, they just create mental drag in your mind to think "ok, those come after this"
Instead, you can think of your next action as a book mark.
In my past life I was a programmer, and when you get into your flow it is a glorious feeling. You might stay in that zone for a while, getting lots of stuff done, and when you have to stop, you can put the next action for where you've reached, as a bookmark. When you come back to the project, you can use that to pick up where you left off. This is much better than the iterative:
10 complete current action​
20 write next action​
30 goto 10​

Finally, making the lists, capturing what's on your mind, can actually free up your mind to get into flow. If you're in that zone and you remember "get batteries", quickly capture it and get back to flow. Once your mind knows you'll clarify and organize later, you'll stay in your zone.
Later, when you're shopping, batteries will be on your list along with all the other items you remembered, captured, and organized.
 
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I tend to view GTD as similar to public speaking using a manuscript, at least for me. If I have to speak somewhere and/or do a presentation, I almost always have a word-for-word manuscript with me. Do I follow the manuscript? Generally, yes, but certainly not word for word, and I often ad-lib and skip as I go along. Preparing the manuscript has allowed me to focus my thoughts so that I am able to more effectively ad-lib and skip. If I get lost, I can quickly refer back to the manuscript.

GTD is similar, at least to my way of thinking about it. I keep very detailed lists. Do I follow them to the letter day-to-day? Generally, sort of, but certainly not item-by-item as if it were some robotic mechanism to live my life. I rarely look at my lists during the day and ad-lib and skip as I feel is necessary. However, without having those detailed lists to refer back to if I get lost, fall of the wagon, whatever, I would not be able to venture away from them and make changes on the fly.

Your GTD system is like the letter of law allowing you to breathe life into your world, the spirit of the law.

Peter
 

ChristinaSkaskiw

GTD Connect
Very interesting discussion. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about why some people love GTD and others don’t. A colleague of mine said she’d “rather die” than have to follow lists. She said that if she wanted to do something, she would “just do it”. I could have taken offense, as it sort of implied that if I wanted to do something, I *had to* make lists first, that I was not capable of “just doing something” if I wanted. But that aside, you all know it’s about clearing your mind, and in many ways, the lists are not about what we’re doing, but what we’re not doing, right now.
 

Gardener

Registered
The phrase "last responsible moment" is coming to mind, re this entire thread. Coding Horror quotes Poppendieck: "delay commitment until the last responsible moment, that is, the moment at which failing to make a decision eliminates an important alternative"


Hi,
"But I won't have a project-by-project, action-by-action, battle plan."
What will you have instead?

I thought I responded to this post, but apparently not?

For the fall gardening, I'll probably do:

- VISION: A few projects that essentially produce project support material in the form of lists and drawings of the current reality and the goal. So, a list or drawing of what's currently growing where, a list or drawing of what I'd like to change that to, lists of spots that would need particular things to meet that goal--half-inch center watering, for example, or overhead supports.

So that's a lightly documented vision of what, at one particular moment, I thought I would like.

Circumstances will change--I'll discover that what I thought was a drought-tolerant plant actually isn't, I'll update my estimate of the full sun/part sun line at the back of the garden (has it really moved TWELVE FEET(?!) or are the lagging roses lagging for some other reason?), I'll start thinking through the fact that in blinding heat like this year's, part sun space may be a more valuable resource than full sun space, and so on.

So the vision won't be fully implemented. It's just a vague guide to keep me from forgetting what I wanted.

- DELIBERATELY PIECEMEAL IMPLEMENTATION: Then I'll work on things, one or two projects at a time. I will, to some extent, do that with an eye on the overall vision, but never to a degree that slows down the current project(s) or ties me down to any significant degree for future projects.

For example, when I turn my attention to consolidating the raspberries (Why DO I have raspberries in three places? Why did I plant them so close together?) I'll buy watering tubing. It will just take a few minutes to estimate how much more tubing I'll need for the whole garden, and order it all at once. And if I change my plans, I'm pretty confident I'll use that tubing in future years, so it doesn't tie me down.

If I'm going to mailorder some raspberry plants, it would, in theory, be similarly efficient to plan and order all of my mailorder plants at the same time, to minimize orders and thus minimize shipping costs. But that's just too many moving parts and too many unknowns. I can confidently order the raspberries after their space is cleared, turned, amended, and mellowing, just waiting to be planted. But no matter how sure I am that I'm GOING to clear that other spot and plant gooseberries, it's not wise for me to commit myself before that work is done.

Looking back at "the moment at which failing to make a decision eliminates an important alternative": failing to decide about the gooseberries when I'm ordering the raspberries eliminates an UNimportant alternative--it eliminates the option of saving a little shipping. Not worth it.

And fussing over some global plant mailorder plan is likely to interfere with the raspberry project--as just one negative outcome, I'm likely, months from now, to realize that I ordered my second choice rasperries to get my first choice gooseberries and now I don't even want to plant gooseberries any more.

On the other hand, when I order my first seeds for the year, I'm likely to order a bunch of others. Seeds can sit around a while. Seeds are cheap. Seeds sell out. By not ordering seeds, I may be eliminating access to those seeds. By ordering them and not using them, I'm costing myself very little money or space. I'm cool with making the decision to order those seeds early--it's not tantamount to making the decision to USE those seeds.

On the other hand, when I realized that all of my usual seed sources were out of Fortex bean seeds this year, I ordered them from two sources without pausing for even a moment to add things to those orders, in case they sold out too.

I'm drifting. I guess the short answer would have been: I plan ahead only to the extent of documenting a lightly described vision, and then I work toward that vision project by project, rather than planning all those projects at once.
 

Visual Learner

Registered
Thanks everyone for taking the time to answer. This discussion is giving me insights.
I think I just need to keep working to find a way to use lists, reviewing lists, etc. -- because there is too much to manage solely by the seat of one's pants as we all know, but in a way doesn't have the effects I describe above.
mcogilvie's suggestion to ask myself why I have the feelings I have was a good suggestion for me. I think there is a lot to discover there.
Perhaps over time I'll gauge how certain planning makes me feel. For example maybe I need to make it less frequent, but be consistent, if I get that "cold, lifeless" feeling when too frequent. Or maybe I'll learn that goals, desired outcomes, next action, etc. doesn't work for me in certain areas of life like family and personal relationships, but I can still use that for others.
It took me many years to trust my intellect in addition to my heart/gut. To get to a place where a blend of the two led me to my best decisions. Prior to that, I trusted only my heart for the big stuff and let my very fine brain handle the rote work. I found GTD after that cohesion and find that it supports me well
 
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