I need help.

This is a posting that I made to the GTD discussion forum.


I am about to start a small research project into personal productivity,  I am going to be looking at the following main areas:


  • Personal knowledge management
  • Time, task and action management
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Team working
  • Subscription and research

As you can see these are quite relevant to exponents of the GTD methodology, and so I need your help.


First I wanted to explain a little about my personal experience with GTD and history in using similar techniques.


“I love to be organised”


I am one of those people who likes a clear desk, who like kids to have tidy bedrooms, who likes to be in control.  I invest a lot in my IT, and a lot of my time in researching how to be organised.   I can also invest a lot of time in establishing a new system.  But once that new system is established, I find it hard to keep going.  Here are some of the reasons why:


  1. I only tend to be motivated to create my list of, “everything that needs to be done”, when things are out of control.  The process of creating the list brings me back in control and that tends to last about a month.  During that month I gradually begin to feel that I am working for my system rather than my system working for me, so I give up.
  2. I find that although they all seem important when I write them down many of the items on my, “everything that needs to be done list”, never actually get done, as new things keep being added.  So in reality I am only ever working with the things that filter to the top.  In most cases I already know about the things at the top of the list.  It’s the 80/20 rule all over again, I only ever work on the top 20% of my list, and most of the stuff in the 80% never gets touched because new items keep adding themselves to the top 20%.
  3. During the times of my life when I am not following a GTD like methodology, I find I value the fact that my  Brain forgets the 80% that’s never going to be done, and lets me keep my sub-conscious focussed on the 20% that is, and my conscious on the 5% I am working on.  When I do follow GTD, I find myself distracted by the 80% feeling it’s important and must be progressed, managed, tracked, researched etc.  For example for a month I captured research notes in Microsoft OneNote on everything related to my GTD list.  Most of that time was wasted because in the end I never got around to the tasks.  After the month was up I ended up deleting most of it because I wanted a tidier and better organised OneNote.
  4. I find my Brain balances, “Important/Urgent” , pretty well
  5. I generally always do some form of daily and weekly review and I get close to the “mind like water”, feeling.
  6. I have seen lots of projects suffer because of too much project planning, and too little project management.  By that I mean the project manager and project team start to serve the system, they spend all of their time and energy on task definition, tracking, reporting etc and not enough time on requirements, millstones, dependencies, estimating. 
  7. I think the above problem with projects is the same problem I see with GTD.  Too much attention to managing your tasks and not enough time managing your time and goals.


Ok so you sort of get the idea of where I am coming from with the above, but I said I needed help.  Well I have seen a few posts in this forum that really got me thinking.  I will repeat a few of the key points here:


  1. Someone said that it was the act of making the list of things to do that was key, not the resulting list.  They tested it with for example shopping lists.  If you make the list and then forget to take it with you, you still end up buying everything you need.
  2. This was built on by someone who said that if you forgot the list you might actually do better because you might respond more openly to inputs/ideas that you have while out shopping, and maybe reassess your needs more openly as well, (i.e. decide not to buy things, whereas if its on this list you feel compelled to buy it).
  3. In a critique of presentations someone reported how PowerPoint stifles many meetings.    The bulleted list stops people thinking, because it trivialises issues, and the slide by slide format constrains discussion and debate.  I have actually tested this myself by presenting on an eWhiteboard and its amazing how liberated you feel.
  4. Discussions comparing “Putting first things First”, top down methodology, (which works like my Brain, but perhaps not everyone’s brain), and GTD help to bring the debate into focus
  5. A few people have pointed to Life Balance and there is certainly a lot of thought gone into that software. I tried it for a while, but again concluded that I was likely to end up being controlled by the software, and spend a lot of my time working for it, rather than it working for me!
  6. Finally its obvious that a lot of people love GTD more than I do, I want to understand why!


I was hoping that in discussion of this post more nuggets like those above might help me work this topic through in my mind in a more open way that I have been able to do by just reading the GTD books.


The final problem I have is the systems that support these processes just don’t work for me.  When I look at my starting list again:


  1. Personal knowledge management
  2. Time, task and action management
  3. Communication and collaboration
  4. Team working
  5. Subscription and research


I really need an integrated system that supports all of these.  I have not found such a system.  Although if I were able to use Outlook for my email maybe I would get close with the combination of NewsGator, Outlook, Outlook GTD plug-in and OneNote.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: