product designer, cyclist, armchair urbanist

A Cynic's Guide to Getting Thing Done

Do you want to be a doer? Your to-do lists might be getting in the way.

I've long been an advocate of David Allen's insanely popular Getting Things Done methodology. Here's the deal in a few words:

  1. Capture every idea instantly into a task inbox
  2. Process the task inbox frequently, rewriting tasks as clear, actionable steps (or just doing the task if < 5 minutes)
  3. Organize tasks into projects and contexts
  4. Schedule regular reviews to delete / modify tasks to ensure the list stays relevant
  5. Do stuff

I adore GTD. It's a faithful companion. But like any great long-term relationship, I'm starting to identify its weaknesses as I get to know it better. I'm getting cynical.

If I need a complex to-do list to manage my life, I believe it's a sign that my life is too complex. I want to wake up every day knowing exactly what needs done. If a few trivial things slip through the cracks, that's because they were trivial, and their slipping through the cracks means I had time to spend on the things that mattered.

Sure, a short list is helpful for remembering pesky chores. Paying the bills isn't high on my passion list, but it has to be done. Without a nudge, I'll forget. My point here is that I've been finding a lot of freedom in writing a lot less down.

Lists are still my friend, but I put them to work on the trivial. Otherwise, they become noise that distracts me from doing meaningful work. For the meaningful work in my life, lists are more a curse than a blessing. Important bubbles up on its own. The work turns out better when I schedule blocks of time to go deep, work hard, and let inspiration guide the trip.

If you're intrigued by the Getting Things Done methodology, you might enjoy the book. Just be cynical about it.