Why I’ve decided to downsize my system and Quit GTD

Why GTD might not quite be for you

If you’re into productivity, I’ll just assume you know what is GTD. This time around I am going to tell you why you should quit GTD.  Numerous people worked out their lives around this methodology from perspective of outer game, rather than working on their inner mechanics. GTD is not the best route to go about it. When you start working on the superficial reasons of why you are not delivering the results, you end up frustrated and ultimately give up the system. Whatever that system might be. Be it working out, diet regimen, it doesn’t matter. Because tricks and systems are just a bandaid over the real productivity wound.

Pull The Plug

How other people feel about the Systems and GTD

This is what happens when you over-do it. When the mess of the system piles up, and instead of helping you, it starts to hurt you.

1. Why I quit GTD - This article talks about activity orientation, list building momentum, and guilt we feel about putting something off the list.

2. 26 reasons not to use GTD - Some of these points aren’t valid, but pointed me in some good directions and flaws of GTD.

3. BFD and GTD - When life starts getting complicated you can’t simplify by putting on more stuff, rather eliminating and doing only what’s important. Pure example of driving yourself crazy.

While GTD system does work for some people, the questions is are these people really more productive? Are they reaching goals in their lives faster than you do? Is the system really helping them get where they are headed? Reading GTD without a proper guidance from someone who can hold you accountable and explain you from where to start, will leave you confused, frustrated, and if you were tinkering your system long enough, it will leave you TIRED, without you getting any of your work done.

So Does GTD work?

Well, yes and no…

Having no System is better than system that exhaust your time and energy. System just seems like an easy way to allow yourself to procrastinate on the things that you really should be doing. And this is the problem that many newbies encounter. They get in touch with the book, think they’ve found a holy grail of productivity go out there, buy the agenda, buy the staplers, or go crazy and get full suite of Omnifocus, only to have all of those stuff collecting the dust on their desk or hard drive.

This is actually part of the marketing ploy by David Allen and the company. They created something really robust, that nobody would use in real world conditions, creating a “discipline” that will require you to get someone else to implement it for you, get the coaching and so on… And them being a “black belts” of the system and also a creators of it, would be absolutely the best teachers. Don’t get fed with crap, pretty much. Use your own common sense.

Do you really want to get things done, or you want to acquire a hobby of organizing your life in “contexts”, Calendars, task management applications… Are you “doing” productivity, or are you being productive? Be honest with yourself. 

So why do people fail when they try to implement any system?

Same reason why people quit numerous things in their life, because they lack consistency. It’s the same example as the person who starts working out. He pays the premium gym membership, he starts lifting heavily every day, only to wake up sore tomorrow, and than he says THIS ISN’T GIVING ANY RESULTS!

You know what kind of people I am talking about. One of those that never gave enough of the efforts to figure out how things work, and try to push everything on motivation, and when the initial rush of positive emotions disappears, they just crash. But all of us acted like that at some point in our lives. It’s just the human in us!

But it’s not the fault of the people, it’s actually the fault of the system itself. Because for majority of the people, it’s simply not applicable. Period.

But there is a fix for systems…

Based on my personal experience, and numerous friends and clients I’ve coached into living a more productive lifestyle, I’ve found that the solution to the problem is similar to the approach that I take in the gym.

The solution to this problem is called downsizing. Idea about downsizing came from minimalism. Why use things that you didn’t find the need for? Do we even need the system or we just need a well structured rituals that we perform throughout the day?

For those people who tackle hundreds of small tasks throughout a day, system might be a must thing to have, otherwise they would forget. Programmers take the best use of systems. And for them I’ve downsized GTD and reprogrammed it’s purpose. It’s called CORE. And if you’re not facing the corporate drama, I don’t want you to read it. It’s simply not for you. You can do just fine by collecting your stuff in Evernote.

System comes after…

the big work. And the big work starts in your head. Your mental approach needs to change. David Allen blames people for this, saying that their system is either not: Current, Consistent or Contextually available.

From what I’ve seen is that the people have too much information on their plate, and they lack guidance on where to start. First of all, you and I are not David Allen, nor we don’t know literally anything about contexts and we’re far from being consistent. So how do we start implementing a system that requires consistency, if we have never practiced consistency in our lives before?

So we need to get back to the basics.

This leads us to conclusion…

GTD is not written for you and me. It’s written for “left brained” people who already posses strong level of structure in their lives, and GTD adds them another layer of power and control in their decision making process.

It’s going to be PERFECT, for people who are predominantly logical. I will give you the example of this. My friend Vukasin is a programmer, he’s very rational person. One of the smartest people I know. When I told him to use Omnifocus to run his tasks, he did all of that by himself, without even reading the GTD or following my advice. He divised his work projects, added project for “personal” and all of that flowed for him, right from the start. Programmers have inherent knowledge about systems. He developed his own in a matter of hours.

System is in tune with his values of consistency, context and emotions. But are you a super smart programmer? Are you neat and organized around the things you write down? I would consider myself lucky if you are consistently reading a task list somewhere on your computer.

So what’s my stance on GTD?

Ultimately I’ve adopted main points of GTD, but I knew that GTD wasn’t enough. The system was working, but I was also “working the system”. It was easier for me to ran my task manager and process the inbox, do the review (it’s my favorite part), and ran everything around it, than actually do my own work.

But there was still something missing. And the missing component was me. Now that I grew, and that I am “neck deep” into productivity, I’ve came to some pretty interesting personal revelations that have nothing to do with the systems. All of these breakthrough had everything to do with me, and me alone.

So the productivity starts and ends within YOU. Treating procrastination from the outside is same as treating cancer with aspirin. It simply doesn’t work. So what’s the simple solution?

And if I was starting all over…

… I wouldn’t be wasting 2 minutes on GTD. I would focus on the things that are proven to work. Instead of following in depth “system” that requires you to change yourself inside, but approaching it from the outside with various different techniques and methods, why not take the minimalistic approach?

So if you are productivity beginner, this is the place where you should start:

Get rid of all the redundant stuff, and focus on these three things:

  • Define your “money making activity” – Simply put, define what’s bringing you closer to your goals. What is the activity that is delivering the most of the results. Usually this activity involves some pain, and we’re treating “urgent” but unimportant, instead of focusing on what’s truly important.

Get rid of all the redundancy when you are defining it. Strip your “CORE task” down to the bone. Once you know what it is, discovering wether you are acting with your goals or not is much easier. All you have to ask yourself: “Am I doing my money making activity, or am I fucking around?”.

  • Make a habit out of your “Money Making Activity”. Yep, once you know what brings in the results, you make the daily habit out of it. It’s a part of your day. It’s something that gets done first, and everything else falls second to it.

Whatever happens in my life, I know that I did majority of things that I’ve planned. See, once you know what is your daily task, there is no need for planning. All you need a recurring reminder, constantly reminding you what you need to do. Now this list grew for me over time, so pretty much, my goal making tasks, are a part of my daily routine. That is the secret sauce. The system that I am running in the background is taking care of all the marginal, less important things.

If I’ve lost my Omnifocus database, I wouldn’t break a sweat. It would make me forget things, that I most likely don’t need to do in the first place. Does this ultimately simplifies your life? You know what needs to be done, and doing anything but your main thing is creating friction and redundancy.

In my case, it’s writing. I want to become the best writer in the world, and I’ve committed to writing and publishing DAILY. Everything else comes after that goal.

  • Develop and nurture your Source Code – I’ve previously written about the power of the Source Code, and what kind of impact it made on my life. Now as you know what is your main task, you can feel free to incorporate it in your value system.

In the end Source Code is a simple personal document reminding me of my most important values and their correlation to WHY I am doing, what I am doing. It keeps my world aligned and tilted in the direction that I’ve previously planned out.

When you connect with your mission and purpose in life on a personal level, your source code helps you keep in touch with the path that you’ve decided to take. My source code is usually followed with Dream-book, which is my ultimate guideline for whom I want to become, and where I want to arrive in the long run.

Conclusion

Ultimately the best productivity solutions are personal. There is always something that grinds our gears, and there is no one size fits all approach. That’s why my three steps are tailored towards you, and revolve around YOUR OWN needs. Not the needs of the system, or the necessity to do something that is creating friction.

Three step action plan

  1. Invest 15 to 30 minutes of your life to discover what is your most important task, and define it’s process. Think how that task makes you feel, acknowledge your emotions, don’t suppress them.
  2. Make a habit out of that activity. Invest 60–80 days for your habit to develops, so it makes you stick. Empower yourself with motivations on the day when you are off, find an absolute way to go out there and do it, until it becomes a part of you.
  3. Write down the values that define you, and mix them with your goals in order to create powerful personal source code. It shouldn’t take you longer than 30 minutes to do this. Make it a part of your morning ritual.

What do you think about the Systems? Do you think they are necessary, or they are an absolute must have in todays day and age? Your opinions welcomed in the comments!

Comments

  1. Lana says

    Why so judgmental? GTD is working fine for me, and no I wouldn’t consider myself a left-brainer, I’m a musician. I’m getting more stuff done since GTD than before and I don’t think it overcomplicates anything. Maybe it’s too easy to blame it all on the method. If it’s not working for YOU, fine, but that doesn’t mean you can simply state it doesn’t work for ‘the majority of people’.
    Of course it’s good to know what your main goals/most important activities are. I make sure I spend most of my time on those, but that’s just not always possible. When I’m tired or in some situation where I can’t focus on those things it’s really easy to have a list of mindless actions I can complete so that my other stuff (administration, househould) also gets done.

    • says

      Lana, thank you for your comment. GTD doesn’t work for majority of people. And I am not being judgmental, that’s just common sense. How much time you spend tinkering your system, and how much you spend actually getting things done. The fault of the system is that it’s not devised for a regular person. I don’t want my readers to go out there and invest 500$ in moleskin notebooks, staplers, sticklers, and what not, just to be able to organize the system, that they most likely don’t need in the first place. As such it’s devised for my current readership.

      Are you measuring your time to verify the information? How much did GTD actually increase your productivity? Or rather how much are you just making yourself feel better about your goals that way? I honestly can’t comprehend why you got offended by this article.

      Now back to your personal topic. If you can’t invest time into your main goals/topics, than how do you implement your productivity system? What is the measurement of how closer you get to your goals and how much your system elevates your productivity? If you take me for example, my goals come first, and after time invested in accomplishing them, I see what time I have spare left for other activities.

      This way, I don’t need a system, even though I use it, as I have insane number of small tasks that need to be completed at some point, but aren’t essential for my goals, as the key daily tasks I’ve setup for myself.

  2. Lana says

    How is that common sense? Are there any statistics saying that most people say that GTD doesn’t work for them? Clearly it’s your opinion, and that’s fine, but don’t state it as fact.
    Don’t get me wrong, you have some good suggestions in your action plan, but I just don’t think it’s fair to hate on GTD just because it doesn’t work for you personally.
    I also use a morning ritual like you describe, and I also use GTD, I don’t see why they couldn’t work together. What GTD does for me is help create space in my mind to fully focus on my important creative projects. Like everyone else, I also have to do less fun stuff like administration. GTD helps me to define those things and by organizing them in a context together I know I can tackle them more efficiently. That’s all, to me it has nothing to do with tinkering or with overcomplicating anything. There’s no reason to spend €500 dollars on productivity gear and I don’t think David Allen has ever suggested you should. You can just use a piece of paper if you want.
    I think it’s very important for everyone to find their own best workflow, for some people GTD doesn’t rhyme with how they think and work, for some it does, or for some people just certain elements (like the ‘Inbox’ idea) work.

    • says

      Common sense is common sense, and as such is never overrated. I would rather spend my time living and doing what’s important, than tinkering with the system.

      Evidence are not important for the obvious things, that’s why it’s called common sense. If you have evidence supporting your belief system, you are very welcome to provide them :)

      • Ben Huff says

        it’s so douchey. just sell you’re “nonsystem”, which is a system.
        every single positive thing you’ve said is just something i already learned. from gtd mostly. but seriously, all of the advice, to simplify, and make things “different”, i was already doing, doing gtd. you’re just rather silly.
        if there’s something you see as an issue, like the fact that complex people need a complex systematic approach, and simple people need a simple systematic approach, blaming the system, for working, and humans for being human, is so silly. humans and their condition are driving themselves crazy. humans do irrational things constantly and if they are able to be honest with themselves and remind themselves of the damage they’re doing they can change for the better and be amazing. if you do karate well, you can give someone a flying roundhouse kick to the face. to say that karate is not for everyone because people have a difficult time becoming good at it is just a joke dude. to the extent that people streamline their lives and relieve drag, they will be more productive. gtd says everything your saying, but you’re saying it’s ‘not gtd’. lol.

        “if you’re truly clear and fine with things the way they are, then your truly clear and fine” in other words, you’re “disagreeing” with gtd, and doing things that gtd recommends.

        over and over david allen reiterates that it’s not an ‘all or nothing’ requirement or goal.

        so if you can’t do it all, and you do some of it, and say you are doing some of it, which is what it says to do, then you are following gtd.

        silly.

        also, for another earlier comment, “if it takes you more than a few minutes to get something on your task list”

        lol. maybe henry ford was wrong and we should just build cars one at a time.

        if you don’t have a way to get something on your list in a few seconds, gtd or not, i’m sad just thinking about it. but what does gtd have to do with how long it takes you to add something to your list?

        if you think that going through more motions when you have an idea to take it all the way to your lists instead of capturing in the moment and later clarifying as a batch job, you’re just… silly.

        • says

          Thanks for leaving the comment. The fact that I am using the system, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way to go about it. I stated that I am steering away from it and stated the reasons. If you want to believe that the GTD is the ONLY way to become better and productive, than I can safely assume that you’re left brained kind of type of person, that doesn’t really “think different”. Which is cool, left brained people have powerful minds, but aren’t the powerhouse of creativity.

          • Ben Huff says

            the “power” house comes from a balance of creative force and control/focus/functional implementation. the balance of left and right. if you want to get really good at whittling with dull knives, instead of spending “all your time sharpening”, it’s immature and incorrect.
            you walk with both legs. hopping on one foot is slower. running is better. better objectively. but you can’t see it if you’re a hopper. if you work really hard at hopping, and you teach others to do so, you will all be amazing hoppers. maybe even faster than most walkers. but you will never be in a 5k run. because no matter of hopping can lead to running.

            what i find silly, is that you are doing “your” version, of a streamlined, stripped down, focused, productivity system, which is probably easier to teach than a die hard “by the book” implementation of gtd. but*** if you read thoroughly davids books, and listen to him speak, you will find, that there are certain things he really tries to convince you to do even though they’re almost impossible for some people to make a habit of, because someone who is running can appreciate both hopping and running, but, he also says over and over, that his system should be customized and streamlined and stripped down, into what works for you. like what you did.

            so you’re doing gtd, and calling it system x, and saying you’re not doing gtd. a great, and douchey way, to get people who are searching for the anti-gtd to grab up your stuff.

            kudos

    • says

      And I didn’t say that GTD doesn’t work for me. It does, as I’ve successfully implemented and still do run my own watered down system called CORE.

      But the time required to run it, is far exceeding the benefits of running it. Hence at the current state of affairs I’ve downsized that system, as per my need. If you’ve read the article carefully you would see me supporting the people who have massive task lists. Regular people don’t have massive task lists, but still have goals and dreams.

      • Lana says

        ‘GTD doesn’t work for most people’ is not common sense, it’s again, your opinion, since I don’t think you asked everybody. There’s actually a lot of research about why GTD works, for example here in this scientific paper: http://cogprints.org/5904/ and in the book Willpower that covers a lot of research about selfcontrol and selfdiscipline. They talk about the scientific term the ‘Zeigarnik Effect’, which shows that uncompleted tasks and goals keep popping into your mind until you’ve made a plan to deal with them. They link this research to GTD, cause that’s exactly what David Allen says about using an Inbox and defining your commitments.

        I completely respect that GTD doesn’t (completely) work for you and it’s great that you’ve find your own best workflow. It’s everybody’s challenge to find what works best for them, and for many people that can be (elements of) GTD. Tinkering in itself doesn’t have anything to do with GTD. You can also tinker while trying to improve your morning ritual for example. Tinkering has to do with the person, not with the system.

        Again, I like your suggestions concerning the action plan, I just think separating fact from opinion (when it comes to GTD or anything else for that matter) is important.

        • A Passed Pawn says

          I would need to agree with the original author. If you visit discussion GTD boards across the internet you will see the majority of posts talk about problems people have implementing GTD. The answers are usually from just a handful of people and they have vastly differing opinions about how it works.
          I have been using the net since the days of Gopher, Archie and Veronica (those are actual early search engines) so I understand that forums are used mostly for complaints/requests for help. However, the small minority of people who offer solutions based on the full GTD system points to a problem with the system.
          Most people end up doing what the original author did, water down the system, with quite a few having nothing but very weak kool-aid.

          • says

            A lot of people will claim that David Allen doesn’t want to sell them anything. I’ve seen it in discussion groups, and I’ve sensed something very wrong. Seems like people trust others more than they trust themselves.

  3. says

    Basic GTD:
    Productivity work flow

    1. Collect
    2. Process
    3. Organize
    4. Review
    5. Do

    Most anyone can get to focused on tools, techniques, fancy notebooks, software, etc.; however, it does not negate the fact that GTD does work. GTD can be as simple or as complex as you choose to make it. If you want to make your GTD setup simple then do so. If you want to make it complex and spend lots of money on fancy tools then do so.

    CORE may in fact be a good approach, however spreading negativity about GTD in a lame attempt to promote your own GTD knock off system is disingenuous.

    • says

      I’ve came to find that my market is frustrated with all the complexities that “productivity guru’s” take into their own teaching, and I show understanding of their problems with systems. Apparently I am using common sense and know my market. Maybe it’s disingenuous to you as a follower, but I believe in what I say.

      Thanks for dropping by and sharing your opinion!

      • Francis Wade / 2Time Labs says

        I assert that the average employee doesn’t even know what GTD is. The book has sold some 2 million copies from what I understand (which is still a lot!) but there are a few billion people who don’t have a clue what it’s all about. Here in Jamaica, it’s invisible to them.

        How do they survive? They get by with a home-made solution, of course.

        What Bojan has written can also be seen in a larger context. Sure he criticizes GTD, but I don’t believe that’s his goal… nor do I believe it’s to sell CORE. Instead, it’s to describe a reality – there is no one-size-fits-all approach and he’s just made a decision to take everything he’s learned to the next level, customizing his chosen method using all that he knows. Whether it still deserves to be called GTD or LMNOP or CORE is beside the point.

        It’s an evolutionary step for him – one that we all must make when the time is right. At that time, it will involve letting go of our belief that what we used to do was the answer to everything, and face up to the fact that it isn’t and never was. That takes courage.

        In this post, he does make claims without providing evidence but I have met people who would argue that almost everyone is using GTD even though they don’t know it, and others who argue that only David Allen is using GTD and the rest are only trying to reach his standard.

        So… with definitions of GTD varying so widely… how about stepping back from the name (and its pros and cons) and finding the new habits and practices that Bojan’s implemented? After we understand what they are, we can go back to calling it/them whatever we want!

        Francis

        • says

          Hey Francis, thanks for the encouragement. That’s what kinda happened with my GTD critique. Some people liked it, some didn’t, it just created polarity. Those who understood, tend to stick, those who don’t, tend to walk away. They would walk anyway, hence I don’t feel as if I lost anything.

          I come into the field with a clearer voice, and sharper focus.

  4. Vale says

    I strongly disagree. GTD can do wonders for right brained people!! Quite the contrary of what you state in my opinion. That is cause it will give these people —usually messy ones— a way to get back in control of what might affect them as open loops in their heads.

    • says

      I honestly don’t understand how some people believe that if something works for them, it would work for everybody. This isn’t written for you in the first place. And your remark is off the hook.

      • Ben Huff says

        lol! translation: “to the degree that messy people clean up their space, and clear their brain, so will their creativity be managed more effectively”. Bj’s response “i just don’t understand why people who know clean things run better think that clean things run better, for others”… durrr. lol. i can’t handle this insanity. unsubscribing. why i didn’t months ago i don’t know…

  5. says

    I appreciate your viewpoint. Having ADHD, I’m finding it’s hard to find the best GTD solution. I’ve recently found a great 3-part podcast conversation with Merlin Mann, who does an excellent job of explaining GTD. (and I’m now hooked again) Merlin shared this great infographic on the show, that I think will be helpful: http://ideas2followup.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/gtd-workflow.jpg

    The show is 5 By 5′s “Back to Work” (episodes 95-97) http://5by5.tv/b2w/95