GTD Over The Years – What Changed?

The Passing of TimeI’ve been Getting Things Done since reading David Allen’s book a little bit over a year ago.  Already I’ve seen technology change the way people implement the methodology.  More apps have been released for iPhone, Blackberry, and Android, as the tech world moves its focus to mobile handsets.  Now with the release of the iPad we have a whole new platform onto which people are moving their list managers and productivity software.  The question I have is: What have you seen change over the years since you implemented GTD?

This may be the first time you’ve read a post on GTD Reviews, and we sincerely appreciate that you’ve taken the time to check us out.  This is a fairly new resource on the GTD scene, but we’ll become a one-stop resource for GTDers everywhere as we prepare for the release of the new GTD Reviews redesign coming in the following weeks.  This is a call to action, though.  There are other GTDers out there that need to hear from you, because nothing is as helpful as hearing from another real human being about what they’ve seen, experienced, and learned from their time using the methodology.

“Okay, how can I help?”  For starters, we’ve included a simple poll below.  Let us know how long you’ve been using GTD in your workflow.  Secondly, post in the comments, sharing what you’ve seen change since you first started implementing it.  How has technology changed things?  What has remained the same?  What has time taught you?

We’re excited to learn from you, and the GTD community needs to hear from you!  Share your thoughts, and don’t forget to vote in the poll below!

How longs have you been using GTD?

View Results

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  • http://hikkikomori.tumblr.com/ Foolness

    I'm not a GTD user but what I've discovered primarily over using GTD is that the list is not the most efficient way of making everyone productive.

    This may not seem ground breaking but I think a lot of unproductive people with no background who come into GTD get swept by the allure of lists and the way GTD over-stress lists reveals perspectives that few other productive systems eventually lead up to because they don't try to scratch the idea of what a “system” is and often use system just as a way to refer to “sets of exercises” or “sets of non-interconnected actions”.

    For people who aren't productive with lists including GTD's, this is as good as learning GTD because it allows you to appreciate and search for more ways to dissect a list and in that sense people end up being able to create their own @context system using things like index cards, sticky notes and habit trackers and mold them into something that increases the creation of much more unorthodox productivity hypotheses and the list makers meanwhile are able to work on streamlining GTD and using GTD as the benchmark for how to effectively improve upon a simpler list system by looking at GTD and getting the conclusion that the simpler system makes them more effective than big ole complicated GTD.

    From the complexity side, time has revealled that GTD is not as much complicated as it is confusing and vague.

    Many people often feel that GTD is complicated because they fail to grasp what @context's value really means and even long term GTD users often settle on the idea that it is just there to separate a long list or categorize a section of your to-do list when contexts' greatest value comes from developing a unified set of folders “from your own needs” rather than a standardized set of folders. (From a computer file system analogy, context is more like your MP3 player's playlist and what you name them rather than Home, My Documents, Downloads, Music, etc.)

    Similarly people are confused with Someday/Maybe lists because GTD relies on a process per process basis. Something many productivity-passioned people still find a time to cheat on and skip a step sometimes (like skipping past a to-do list entry to do something you feel like) but this particular category is “complicated” because it's a concept that leans on every other system of GTD from in-basket to task entry insertion to inbox's of Next Actions. Someday/Maybe lists on one side feels like the odd man out of a GTD system. Almost as if it's there just so David Allen can say “here's where you put whatever item I can't think of putting in any of the other system I've described” and yet at the same time, it's a meta-step that raises the question of…What if I can't deal with this? in a time when many people focus too much on what task they can do and forget that elephant in the room when your whole life goes down.

    Finally, I love the fact that now some sites like yours are willing to admit some roadblocks of GTD.

    To quote your review of GTD Implementation Guide:

    “Tip: Setting Up Your Workspace

    Don’t share your work area with family members or colleagues.”

    Finally it's now much more easier to admit that GTD requires a workspace of your own. I know David Allen didn't exactly hide this but it's almost the bane of many unproductive people who tried to fit GTD into their life because they bought the idea that GTD will work for everyone and make them productive at all cost as long as they follow the concepts but it's nice to know such things are now more often emphasized and left out in the open.

    Another reality is that GTD is no longer revolutionary as much as evolutionary. In a way it's like Web 2.0. The sheen has rubbed off a bit and the awe is now much more centralized towards how GTD works rather than how “awesome” GTD is that you should make it work for you.

    In the context of capture, people understand more why this is an important process and why software is flawed in that regards. Some applications like EverNote even managed to reach mainstream despite reducing their features and alienating their loyal community by going head long and recruiting a new loyal fanbase who's interests are centered on capture.

    In the area of thought process, it's much nicer now to see more people “really” think about why their list or system isn't working rather than just extending this step as another “dead” list taking step in order for GTD to work.

    In the area of inbox's and next actions, it still has a long way to go before software design can truly portray the severity of displaying this not only correctly but urgently but it's also nice that this has at least ushered in some new software ideas in the area of capture and display.

    Notably the two main camps are tag-based notetakers, search-based notetakers and mindmaps.

    Unfortunately what has remained is that GTD didn't inspire people to look and alert people more into more complicated systems of making someone productive and in fact it's complexity has caused people to find ways to “over-simplify” the concepts of the system and spread it out as lackluster replacements for content that is in the book and the only one that has benefitted are those who are not necessarily looking to be productive but who wants to become more productive but already possess a previous system.

  • evanheckert

    Anyone else have an opinion on GTD in the world of productivity?

  • evanheckert

    Foolness,

    I think much of the ambiguity to which you're referring is the fact that GTD can be infinitely customized to an individual's needs and lifestyle. In our post on black belt (http://www.gtdreviews.com/2010/06/becoming-gtd-…) there's a video in which David Allen points out that there are as many different implementations and variations of GTD as people in the room in which he was presenting.

    This ambiguity and vagueness is intentional. GTD is a methodology based on a set of principles and best practices that can be implemented into any lifestyle with any amount of depth and thoroughness desired. The point is to get stuff out of your mind and into a system that can do the task management for you, so you can put your mind on more creative things.

    I do agree that many people get swept up in the “Oh, Shiny!” of the web-2.0 list managers. That's actually one of the main points of this site, so people can find a list manager that fits their lifestyle, rather than try them all and get caught up in what's shiny.

    How are we doing?

  • http://hikkikomori.tumblr.com/ Foolness

    That's true but I think the infinitely customizable aspect can also come off like an excuse.

    Not in a derogatory way as it is a testament to any good system how people can customize it to their needs.

    However if as productivity users we simply succumb to the statement that the ambiguity and vagueness is intentional, then people who can't get GTD to work becomes forced to ask whether it's them or it's GTD and that can result in an unnecessary addition of stress to those already struggling people.

    To compound the problem, a statement like that can not only be given by any fanbase of any well done enough system but it makes it seem like David Allen is conning people with books on how to “clarify” GTD by intentionally making it ambiguous to sell future books.

    I've no doubt GTD has many variations because I myself have gotten many ideas from GTD. That said, GTD can't be for everyone even with it's flexibility and the easier it is to narrow down why it works and why it might not work for somebody, the easier it can allow for people to adapt what works for them in GTD and combine it with concepts separate from GTD.

    As for the app choices, to quote my review of this blog here: http://www.donationcoder.com/Forums/bb/index.ph

    “The app comparison link on the bar is easily spottable and it has just a good balance of not so known and well known apps that it works but the whole vertical check list doesn't work.

    It just isn't skimmable. Applications are not antivirus software first of all but this also isn't Wikipedia.

    People are not looking for in-depth interpretations of what software has what.

    People want to understand as easily as possible how each application stack up relative to their needs of GTD.

    They don't want to first memorize which application has e-mail and then scroll down just to see which one has printable lists and then scroll up again. A table like this would be better served as a questionnaire that asks what the needs of the GTD searcher are and then show a list of the results at the end of the quiz and then maybe at the end, you show this table with the needs of the searcher highlighted while the other options are grayed out.”

    That said, it's a minor critique but I also see some popular names missing in there like ThinkingRock, GTDInbox for Gmail, Evernote…but I'm not really sure which applications you've intentionally omitted and which you didn't know about.

    The way GTD is implemented for software, like the way GTD is done in Remember the Milk, they're even more flexible because many of them don't aim to implement the whole system into it. Rather they allow the user the flexibility to set something GTD-like into such a system therefore I'm not really sure whether you omitted certain apps because of this quality.

    You may also like to look into Linux apps like Tomboy Notes and BasKet Notepads. BasKet Notepads' GTD template in particular helped me vastly understand GTD around the time I was mostly grasping the concept from blogs rather than the actual book.

  • evanheckert

    Paul,

    I replied to your review – thank you again for taking the time to post it!

    In regards to the app comparisons, we're in the middle of a redesign that specifically addresses the exact issues you mentioned. The results will be a quick and easy system to identify which apps are specifically relevant to a user, and eliminate the rest. Comparison will be aesthetically pleasing, easy to read, and neatly organized.

    I look forward to your updated review as of the redesign! Stay tuned in the next few weeks!

  • http://doreb.posterous.com Paul Keith

    Looking forward to it Evan. The concept sounds good.

  • Ryan

    I've been using many of the principles of GTD since 2003, and time has taught me a alot about my own workflow and how I work best.

    For the first 2 years or so, I followed GTD to the letter. I even had the Brother labeler recommended by A job change, going back to school, and starting a family put enough constraints on my time to show me what I needed and what I didn't. I realized that, given other priorities, I no longer had the time, or the desire, to maintain a number of lists, goals, and projects. If I'm reviewing and actually doing the items on my list, the need for a strict structure disappears. So, I've simplified over the years and used the GTD principles that work for me:

    1) The Inbox: a single repository for mail and unprocessed “stuff” keeps my wife and I sane when faced with clutter.

    2) Lists: Just 2: Now and Someday/Maybe. I write my tasks as clearly defined actions, with as much detail as I need to remember what to do. “Call my financial advisor about setting up a new IRA” is a lot more actionable than “Retirement”. Everything starts off on the Now list, but if I find that I haven't started to work on it after a week, it's probably not that important to me currently, so I will move it to the Someday/Maybe list. My Someday/Maybe list is actually pretty sparse, so I only need to review it in detail every quarter.

    3) Writing: While much of my reference is electronic, I must keep my lists and calendar in paper form. I find that the act of writing longhand allows me to remember my larger goals, so I have very little need for hierarchical lists of projects, areas of focus, etc. If a task is really complex (i.e., buying a house), I'll make a mindmap, but that's about as complex as it gets. Since I'm reviewing my list constantly throughout the day, I can easily recall why I put a particular task on the list.

    4) Focus on what's important: I've learned to be honest with myself and stop feeling guilty for what's not getting done. If I've had a task on my list for over a week that hasn't moved forward, it gets reevaluated (and often deleted). This rather strict approach keeps my list lean and clear, as well as makes me think twice before committing to things I don't have time for.

    Hope this helps!
    Ryan

  • Ryan

    I've been using many of the principles of GTD since 2003, and time has taught me a alot about my own workflow and how I work best.

    For the first 2 years or so, I followed GTD to the letter. I even had the Brother labeler recommended by A job change, going back to school, and starting a family put enough constraints on my time to show me what I needed and what I didn't. I realized that, given other priorities, I no longer had the time, or the desire, to maintain a number of lists, goals, and projects. If I'm reviewing and actually doing the items on my list, the need for a strict structure disappears. So, I've simplified over the years and used the GTD principles that work for me:

    1) The Inbox: a single repository for mail and unprocessed “stuff” keeps my wife and I sane when faced with clutter.

    2) Lists: Just 2: Now and Someday/Maybe. I write my tasks as clearly defined actions, with as much detail as I need to remember what to do. “Call my financial advisor about setting up a new IRA” is a lot more actionable than “Retirement”. Everything starts off on the Now list, but if I find that I haven't started to work on it after a week, it's probably not that important to me currently, so I will move it to the Someday/Maybe list. My Someday/Maybe list is actually pretty sparse, so I only need to review it in detail every quarter.

    3) Writing: While much of my reference is electronic, I must keep my lists and calendar in paper form. I find that the act of writing longhand allows me to remember my larger goals, so I have very little need for hierarchical lists of projects, areas of focus, etc. If a task is really complex (i.e., buying a house), I'll make a mindmap, but that's about as complex as it gets. Since I'm reviewing my list constantly throughout the day, I can easily recall why I put a particular task on the list.

    4) Focus on what's important: I've learned to be honest with myself and stop feeling guilty for what's not getting done. If I've had a task on my list for over a week that hasn't moved forward, it gets reevaluated (and often deleted). This rather strict approach keeps my list lean and clear, as well as makes me think twice before committing to things I don't have time for.

    Hope this helps!
    Ryan

  • evanheckert

    Ryan,

    That's a really intriguing implementation. It's very cool to see that you implemented things to the letter for a full two years before breaking the system down to something that is more customized to you. I think too many people give up on GTD before giving a real chance to work for them.

    That said, it's supposed to help you get stuff out of your head and into a system, and as long as it accomplishes that, it doesn't matter how closely it follows the “GTD” how-to in the book.

    Thanks for contributing! I hope to see you again in the comments here in the near future!

    -Evan