Productivity and GTD
How GTD Supports your Behavior Patterns
Any person or organization wishing to develop a product—whether it’s a web application, a toaster or a building—must take into account how the people who will use the product usually behave. This is essential to design the product so that it’s easy to understand and use.
For many years, designers, researchers and cognitive scientists, have been observing how people use the things they have at their disposal. And they have identified a number of behavior patterns more or less usual, that most of us follow in a predictable way.
This week, as I was reviewing these patterns to bear in mind in the development of a new user interface, I noticed with some surprise how the GTD method has also been designed—consciously or unconsciously—to support these forms of behavior.
Probably, this is another reason for the growing success of GTD. Let’s see how this methodology works with the following behavior patterns.
“I want to explore without getting lost or getting into trouble”
We all love freely and safely explore a program, a device or a system. We like to learn trying and touching, and for this, the system should allow us to do so and, also, provide peace of mind that nothing that we do will have serious consequences, that we can always go back.
GTD supports this Safe Exploration pattern by offering multiple ways to explore:
- It provides a set of conceptual lists containing all the information you need to consider.
- It provides a list of next actions organized based on contexts, so you can quickly find what tasks are better suited for your current situation.
- It provides criteria for filtering actions and selecting the next action to perform, depending on the time you have available and your energy level.
- Ultimately, you are always free to choose what you will do next. GTD guides you, but you always have the responsibility to make the decisions.
“I want to accomplish something right now”
When we take some action, we like to see that we got instant results. The Instant Gratification pattern is part of our human nature and is supported by GTD in each of its workflow steps:
- When you collect something that wonders through your mind, it gets immediately caught up in your system. And that gives you the peace of mind that it’s not lost.
- When you process each one of the things you’ve previously captured, their meaning is immediately clear. Also, you put them in their rightful place and get a first immediate organization.
- When you review your system, you instantly know how you’re acting concerning your commitments and you make the necessary adjustments to keep your personal productivity at a good level.
- When you get a task done, you delete it from the system and immediately get a rewarding sense of progress. Everything is working as it should.
“I don’t need to learn more. This is good enough”
When we start using something new, we don’t need to methodically follow the instructions until the end. There comes a time when we decide that what we know is good enough for us. We could learn more, but the time and effort involved outweigh the benefits we will get.
This is a very rational behavior that occurs in all kinds of economic and social situations. Changing habits and learning new things require all our energy and, sometimes, it is not worth if you get in return only a small improvement.
GTD supports the Satisficing pattern (this term, coined in 1957 by the social scientist Herbert Simon, is a combination of satisfying and sufficing) providing a set of principles and basic rules, in which you can continue to deepen or not. Many people get good results in their personal organization using GTD partially.
“I don’t want to do this now”
When we’re focused on something, and it shows up the need to do something else, we want to be able to postpone that other thing. That means, we need to do the minimum necessary to record that novelty in our world, and then continue quietly doing what we were doing.
GTD supports the Deferred Choices pattern in two ways:
- When you’re doing something and suddenly appears something new, the concept of collecting solves the problem. Collecting means to capture quickly the new stuff into the system and then forget about it (for now).
- Later, when processing the collected things, you can still defer the decision of what to do, by simply putting what you don’t want to do now, in the Someday/Maybe list.
“Let me change this. Let me change it again”
Usually, creative processes do not move in a linear way. We try one thing, we like as it goes, and leave it like that. If we don’t like, we change it, and return back and forward as many times as it takes to feel satisfied with the result. We do things incrementally, based on small changes that produce a greater change.
GTD supports the Incremental Construction pattern allowing you to start and finish anywhere you like. You can start by defining your daily actions and go up through the different levels of perspective, or you can start by defining your life purpose and go down by the same levels until you understand what you must be doing today.
“I’m waiting for the train. I want to do something useful for five minutes”
People have often a few minutes of inactivity due to multiple reasons. Although we know that we don’t have enough time to work deeply on an activity, sometimes we want to take advantage of those moments, doing something brief but productive.
GTD supports the Microbreaks pattern encouraging you to classify your actions by context and according to the necessary time to its completion. This allows you to choose always a productive action to perform, in whatever the situation you are in. Of course, your lists should be accessible from anywhere, but that is not a problem with today’s technology, is it?
“I’ll put this here so I can remember later”
Prospective memory is something we use very often. When we have the intention to do something in the future, we look for ways to remind ourselves that we want to do that.
Leaving the movie you have to return tomorrow to the video store, on the little table that is next to the door of your home, or leaving opened an email that you want to answer in the computer screen, are two examples of using this psychological pattern.
GTD supports the Prospective Memory pattern in several ways:
- It allows you to use reminders for any future work, via the Tickler File.
- It allows you to reconsider issues in the future by using the Someday/Maybe list.
- It encourages you to use notes and checklists on your tasks, so you can remember the details of the task at the time that you have to execute it.
- Also, the Reference Material list allows you to store information that will be useful for making decisions in the future.
“What do others say about it?”
We are social beings, and as such, we are influenced by what other people like us think or say. There is a huge community of GTD users, there are countless blogs on the web that talk about GTD in all languages, and there are GTD forums in all social networks. We are not alone.