Productivity and GTD

On Capturing and Processing at Once, and the GTD's Misunderstood Lack of Flexibility

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez

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One of the most common mistakes when implementing GTD, not only at the beginning but also after having practiced the method for a long time, is the tendency to mix the stages of collecting and processing (or capturing and clarifying, as David Allen call them in his recent review and update of the GTD book.)

Indeed, one of the features that FacileThings users demand more often, even knowing how GTD works, is the ability to process one thing when it’s collected. Or, as a shortcut, allowing to process a specific action in the inbox without being forced to process, one by one, all the previously collected items. It is basically the same trap and it’s really hard to change this habit.

The beauty of this five-step method to get all our activities under control is that actually they’re the steps that all of us already apply when it comes to get things done, although in an unconscious way most of the times—even without knowing a word about GTD. We capture something that got our attention, we clarify what it really means, we organize it by putting it on the corresponding list, we review our lists as often as necessary and we do what we have to do at any time. Collect, process, organize, review and do. Or, following the new naming: Capture, clarify, organize, reflect and engage.

As my friend José Miguel Bolívar explains in his book Productividad Personal. Aprende a liberarte del estrés con GTD (unfortunately there’s no English version), the innovative nature of this approach is that “it promotes a more effective use of attention, focusing only on a particular type of work at any time.”

In the knowledge work, defining the work and executing the work are two different activities and it turns out to be very inefficient to mix them. However, we are all so used to mixing them that it not only seems to us as the most natural thing, but we find difficult to accept that there is a more intelligent way to get things done, which leads to greater productivity and less stress.

Indeed, the ultimate goal of capturing is to avoid distractions (via emptying your mind). Focusing on what grabs your attention is in fact a disruption to the work you’re doing right now. A disruption imposed by your own mind.

These are two common questions that our users ask:

  • Why shouldn’t I process something the moment I capture it if it’s already clear to me what it is?
  • Why shouldn’t I process only the seventh element in my inbox?

The fundamental difference between collecting and processing something is that when you collect you do NOT think. It’s just about writing down something that comes to your mind. It’s an action that takes two seconds. The moment you decide to take time to think about it, you have accepted a nice break in your current job, with everything it entails: loss of attention, multitasking, increasing stress, needed time of recovery to be able to continue, etc.

Okay, you’ve come this far, you understand that is more efficient to collect and process at different moments and accept it. Now your brain will keep looking for alternative tricks or shortcuts in order to, while doing other things, you end up doing the same. When you’ve already been able to mentally separate the two stages, you’re going to have the urge to skip good practices during the processing stage, by choosing the order in which you process the items or processing only one specific item within the inbox.

This second error leads to the same problems as the first one, because you end up processing everything you’ve collected at once. But furthermore, it creates a system in which procrastinating with regards to tasks you don’t like is very easy. Since you can choose what you process and what you don’t, there will always be things that remain eternally unprocessed. For a productivity system to be efficient, all elements must be treated equally.

Do you want to dramatically improve your productivity? When you collect something, ignore the urge to think about it. When you process, process all the inbox elements in order, leaving the inbox empty every time.

If you are using a system that has proven to be very effective, why do you want to skip the basics which make it effective?

I know it’s a hard habit to set up, especially when almost all the existing productivity tools let you do whatever the hell you want, in the interests of greater flexibility. In GTD there are points where you can be flexible and points where flexibility leads to chaos. At FacileThings we provide you with the right structure to be productive, keeping you from making common mistakes of self management. For this reason, we don’t allow you to process the stuff while you’re collecting it.

2 comments

55edfbfd88e6317caabee2de092fea74
Commented over 4 years ago Paul Garth

I think what's enticing is that many productivity apps try and "save you time" by both capturing and processing the item as it comes in. Of course, there's a risk to that.

What I've done, while currently using Evernote, is to simply have an "InBox" Note to capture stuff in whatever form I've written it, and then I process it later as appropriate.

My GTD Trusted System will never be trusted if a part of me knows that I'm not really following the system.

55edfbfd88e6317caabee2de092fea74 Paul Garth

I think what's enticing is that many productivity apps try and "save you time" by both capturing and processing the item as it comes in. Of course, there's a risk to that.

What I've done, while currently using Evernote, is to simply have an "InBox" Note to capture stuff in whatever form I've written it, and then I process it later as appropriate.

My GTD Trusted System will never be trusted if a part of me knows that I'm not really following the system.

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb
Commented over 4 years ago Francisco Sáez

I totally agree with you, Paul. Doing everything at the same time gives you a false sense of productivity, but it's not actually that efficient.

And, as David Allen says, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Thanks for your comment!

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb Francisco Sáez

I totally agree with you, Paul. Doing everything at the same time gives you a false sense of productivity, but it's not actually that efficient.

And, as David Allen says, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Thanks for your comment!

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