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After following GTD principles for several years, I now have the system well oiled. Unfortunately, I'm still overloaded--not at the inbox level, but at the project level. Too many things are flowing through my system and projects take more time than I have to complete in a reasonable amount of time. Other than "cut down projects" is there a structured way to think about how to avoid having more hours per week of projects than exist?

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I'm not even sure what the question is; you want to fit projects into the week, you have more projects than fit into a week, and you don't want to cut down the projects? Work less on each one. – Dave Newton Aug 7 '12 at 22:22

Besides cutting down projects (which you don't want) there are two other options I can think off to do more:

  • Strip actions. Review your project actions carefully and make sure you only do the actions needed to achieve the project outcome.
  • Delegate. Review what actions you can delegate. If you don't have someone to delegate to, look at where you could get someone to do your actions to save you time. For instance, get a cleaning lady if this allows you to spend more time on the projects you really want to do.
  • If all else fails, you really have to bump your horizon up a level, and have a look at why your doing all the projects. On this level you can decide which ones are more important to you.
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Are you applying the GTD "higher levels" to focus on what projects you should be doing? David Allen has a story in some audio presentation about a CEO who is overloaded and has a meeting to go to. He asks David for help deciding whether to go or not. David asks back, "at what level do you want to have that conversation?" and the CEO has his answer. At 20,000 feet, Areas of Focus, he should go to the meeting. At 30,000 feet, 1-3 year goals, its a waste of his time. And so on.

Are you applying 20, 30, 40, and 50 thousand foot thinking when you decide what projects to accept?

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Thank you, that's helpful -- can you say more about where this idea is discussed so I can find it? – user603 Jun 25 '12 at 23:51
Sorry, I can't be sure. After reading "GTD", "Making it all work", and a bunch of web sites, I started listening to podcasts and audiobooks on GTD. I think it might have been "GTD Fast", a CD set davidco used to sell. – Dennis S. Jun 26 '12 at 12:54
Okay thanks for checking. I found the following online that might be close: – user603 Jun 26 '12 at 21:39
The idea as Dennis S says was definitely in the audio book version. I think the specific bit was that David asked the 'which level' question and the executive basically thanked him for his time. Like the old joke about plumber charging $0.50 for hitting the pipe with a hammer and $99.50 for knowing where to hit. David provided the 'where'. – Alexandre Rafalovitch Jun 27 '12 at 4:08

Apply the 80/20 principle. The day only has 24 hours, and you're a human being, not a machine. Your personal life is more important than your job. If something is TRULY important, do your best. Otherwise, delegate or let it die.

It's much better to do an amazing job at what really matters than to do a mediocre job at everything.

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I know GTD advises people to start with a paper-based time tracking system and hopefully because you are a veteran you have graduated to a more timely and effective automated method. My personal experience with trying to cram more into a workweek than I thought was physically possible, was that I increased my efficiency and production when I implemented an online (and mobile) time management tool (

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First off, note that you cannot do more than you can do. So the problem is really one of picking what to do.

I recently incorporated some One Minute ToDo (1MTD) ideas in my GTD workflow and they've worked out very positively for me.

First, I split my projects in 2 groups: Pertinent in the next 10 days (relevant now), and not pertinent in the next 10 days (over the horizon). I hide the over the horizon projects into a subfolder that I don't have to worry about for 10 days, and in my weekly review I evaluate which projects to move between groups.

Then every morning I flag tasks for completion from my relevant now projects (and my Single Actions). I make sure I don't have more than 20 flagged tasks, or I unflag tasks I didn't do for a while since they're obviously not important enough.

I make sure I only have tasks with a due date if I won't leave work until those are done, otherwise they just need to be flagged.

Now you have a list of no more than 20 things that are the most important tasks of your entire system. Show only those tasks. Do them and no others. Works great for me so far.


  • More about 1MTD in a flashcard I wrote as an example here. There's a neat trick involving start dates.
  • I have a checklist of things I need to do every morning, it explains the above step by step together with some housekeeping like "Process 3 items from your downloads folder" etc. I find that mornings are great for these small tasks.
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