Productivity and GTD

Five Tips for Being a Successful GTDer

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
"The process is only as good as the weakest link in its chain." ~ David Allen
Blog focus

After many years practicing GTD — and after some challenges faced — I have achieved a life in which neither organization nor order are a problem for me since they are so integrated and related that I don’t realize they exist.

But they are there. How could I otherwise manage a company, develop applications, solve our users’ problems, write articles, cook every day, read tons of books, practice sports two hours per day, and not feel stressed at all? Seems like GTD works perfectly for me.

However, I have to recognize that GTD is easy to learn but difficult to put into practice. Even if the method and its benefits are clear, changing habits and beliefs require time and effort.

If you are starting with GTD, or you have been practicing it for a while but you have doubts every so often, I will give you some advice that I’d have liked to receive at the beginning of my adventure.

1. Be Humble

The big error people commit when they start using GTD is that they want to adapt it so much to their needs that they end up eliminating the virtues of the original methodology. To enjoy the benefits of GTD you need to be humble and not believe you are smarter than the system.

If after using GTD during some weeks you think it has flaws that you can solve doing this or that, you’re probably not understanding some aspects of the system properly. GTD has been created after more of 30 years of consulting and training very busy people, and has been validated by millions of users. It has been developed practically, by iteration, making use of the things that work well and forgetting about those which end up being a problem.

I know that you may not like my first advice, but there it goes: Forget all you think you may know, accept a method that works, and try to learn and adapt to it.

2. Make It Simple

Two things usually happen when you start something new: Either it doesn’t convince you completely and you forget about it soon enough, or it touches you and you start to get amazed. It’s easy to get overexcited when we discover something new that we like, and it’s normal that we want to make the most out of it.

Often I see in my customers that tendency of overusing and complicating things. They want to be super-productive, so they have a huge list of contexts and tags, they set up projects for everything, they have each project defined to the last detail, they want to use and integrate many productivity tools, etc.

Over-analysis leads to paralysis. If you need a lot of time to maintain your system, chances are that you have over-complicated it. If you doubt when choosing the context, you surely have too many contexts.

Don’t add anything to your system if you don’t exactly know that you’re going to need it; do it when you have no choice. Minimize the use of contexts, projects, goals and areas of responsibility as well as the amount of tools and applications you use. Maximize the things that can be automatically managed, such as the repetitive tasks.

Paraphrasing Einstein, keep your system as simple as possible, but no simpler.

3. Clarify Your Commitments

You cannot practice GTD and expect great benefits if you don’t stop for a bit and think what your real commitments in life are. If you don’t really know what you want, you will say yes to everything and it will end up being a nightmare. If you hate a significant percentage of your tasks because they don’t line up with the things that really matter to you, then you have a deeper problem: you will abandon GTD or any other system that gets in your way.

GTD gives you the tools to see the life in perspective. You need to clarify your life purpose and your vision so that the low level tasks make sense.

Spend enough time thinking and meditating about who you are, who you want to become, what matters to you and what motivates you. And do it frequently, because things change.

4. Focus on the Important Things

Almost every person which handles professional and personal matters, can easily have hundreds of pending tasks which they has to deal with all the time. However, many of them cannot be done now and some others are still not committed to happen.

GTD offers ways so that your Next Action lists only include those actions to which you must pay attention now (probably some dozens), and prevents the rest from distracting you.

Make the most of these tools: Use the Tickler File to “hide” actions that you cannot do before a specific date, use the Someday/Maybe list for things you haven’t committed to do yet, and include in the Next Actions list only those tasks of each project that you can already do something about.

5. Understand Why

Doing something just because “it works” doesn’t make too much sense. On top of knowing how to get things done, you must know why. So that a system is meaningful to you, you need to understand the principles behind each behavior.

Why do I have to capture everything that comes to my mind? Why do I have to be patient and process one by one each thing that I’ve captured? Why do I have to review my system regularly?

Knowing and understanding the principles in which a methodology is based on is crucial to become and remain engaged during the hard times.

If you have read this far, you may be interested in knowing these other reasons that you must overcome to be a successful GTDer.

2 comments

8bb2c9a97155fbcffcc91ca918d103c7
Commented over 2 years ago Cyrus

Good grief, where was this article 10 years ago! It could have saved me a lot of grief, self-doubt, and frustration!

Great article!

8bb2c9a97155fbcffcc91ca918d103c7 Cyrus

Good grief, where was this article 10 years ago! It could have saved me a lot of grief, self-doubt, and frustration!

Great article!

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb
Commented over 2 years ago Francisco Sáez

I would also have liked to have read this article 10 years ago, Cyrus.

Thanks for your support! :)

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb Francisco Sáez

I would also have liked to have read this article 10 years ago, Cyrus.

Thanks for your support! :)

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