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For those who use the GTD (Getting Things Done) system or have used it in the past, what are some areas where GTD is weak and might need improvement?

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GTD focuses mostly on organizing all your stuff and little on how to do it or how to choose which stuff to do next. I wouldn't really call it a 'weakness', because it gives flexibility, but agree with Vic Goldfeld in that it handles the middle of the hierarchy. – Muz Nov 11 '12 at 3:53
But one important aspect of GTD is to learn to write down explicitly the action you have to do next. – hellectronic Nov 11 '12 at 17:56
GTD has a list of next actions. Or rather several lists for different situations, e.g. home, out driving, etc. IIRC, it discourages actually scheduling or explicitly defining a single next action, because it doesn't not meet reality. While it gives guidelines on how you break things down into next actions, it expects you to rely on your intuition. The method does work for me, but it might not be everyone's thing. – Muz Nov 12 '12 at 15:10

6 Answers 6

In my opinion GTD lacks as a whole-stack system because it's much more of a middleman, gluing the higher levels to the trenches in a brilliant way, but failing to cover the extremes themselves.

By the trenches, I mean actually executing tasks. The most GTD can offer is the 2-minute rule for tasks that can be done on the spot, but for tasks taking longer than that, look for The Pomodoro Technique or similar workflow management methods. It's helpful to break it up into work chunks spaced with breaks, and it uses the concept of timeboxing, which is to define a constraint during which you work on the task, no more and no less than the time box.

Then you also have habits, recurring tasks and other activities that aren't due but require some frequency, as well as tasks with a set due date themselves (though you have the Tickler file, it's not quite efficient as a task lisk).

Habits naturally lead to goals, being the why you are doing such things as habits (which are really just any action compounded over time) or any other tasks. GTD has absolutely no way to go above the project level, so I consider goalsetting it's biggest weakness. And when you go above goals, you have your long-term vision, and your purpose on Earth and thus the guiding principles (values) of your life. There are great many articles that cover those--though I know of no established methodology and would love to hear of one. Once you have these parts down it's easy to then link up goals to your GTD projects.

While GTD may come across to some as the workaholic manager's productivity system, I disagree with this view. I think it can be a wonderful tool to map out the current possible paths to your life and then prioritize, with periodic reviews. The key in GTD is that you're ready to pivot if necessary--all the information is on the table, not in your head.

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I believe that GTD makes you lose track of what matters in your life and puts too much emphasis on "productivity" (doing as much as possible) over effectiveness (doing the right thing).

I moved to the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, using some of the rules from GTD, and never looked back.

UPDATE: To answer @Muz, I like the fact that 7 habits encourages me to schedule time for important stuff (gives you a week view), rather than going from one action to the next.

But I kept several things from GTD: dumping everything that is in my mind into lists of tasks, the 2 min rule, and how to make a task actionable by using very specific next actions.

I didn't want to list my web app here to not appear as spammy but I think the web app describes well what I mean by mixing 7 habits and GTD to stay on top of what matters. Check out WEEK PLAN:

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I added a paragraph on my answer counterpointing this with my opinion. – Vic Goldfeld Nov 12 '12 at 4:31
Are you sure? The book mentions several times that it's meant for you to list down everything you expect to do, but not when to do it. I find it very relaxing and keeping the stuff out of my head has greatly improved my creativity. Haven't tried 7 Habits to compare it to, so it would be great if you could expand on this answer and describe the synergy of the two. – Muz Nov 12 '12 at 15:24
I think it's unfair to say GTD puts more emphasis on productivity and less on what matters, because part of the process is figuring out what will give you the biggest pay-off depending on your circumstances. If you are just knocking off small tasks while ignoring the more important things, perhaps you haven't sufficiently broken down the more important things to manage them appropriately. – CraigM Nov 17 '12 at 16:20
I know that GTD has some sections related to higher level vision and goals BUT they are not core to the GTD methodology, they feel like "extras". You need a lot of discipline to keep track of them because they are not visible in your system. – Aymeric Gaurat-Apelli Nov 22 '12 at 4:35

Found an interesting article on where GTD fails.

In short, it categorizes everything as next actions, that is, a thing to do next, like "get Amy's number" or "buy a pencil".

However, it fails when it comes to huge goals, such as "write a book". Writing a book can not be broken down into actions as "Write chapter 1", "Write chapter 2".

On the other hand, GTD helps in reminders of things you need to write your book, such as "Introduce character A", "Write out argument scene between Andrew and Malik". Breaking down tasks into next actions has always been a powerful tool from programming, in my opinion. But there's a limit to how far some things can be broken down.

Also, as stated in the Mastery book quoted in the article, mastering something requires going through a painful learning phase and a creative experimentation phase. By breaking things down into 'next actions', you may get a mastery of how to break difficult tasks down into 'next actions', but at the cost of actually mastering that task. So if you actually manage to break down writing into a series of next actions, you won't actually master the art of book writing, but instead master the art of splitting and assembling lots of segmented portions into a book. While that can be a positive thing by itself, it may not be what you are looking for.

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+1, I enjoyed reading the article. Agree that there's a limit to how far things can be broken down, but is that a problem? – jontyc Jan 3 '13 at 8:45
It is a problem when the system itself relies on breaking everything down into 'next actions' :) While GTD works 80% of the time, you'll have to go against the method sometimes, and accept that some things just can't be broken down. – Muz Jan 5 '13 at 1:24
system itself relies on breaking everything down into 'next actions' ----------- actually, it doesn't. It suggests to choose at least one physical action for each project, that's it. – Steve V Jan 5 '13 at 22:22

I use GTD premises every day so this doesn't intend to be mean but, for me, the problem with GTD is that it generates too much inventory; The Someday/Maybe list (some people separate it into two) is like a black hole. For a creative person like me, it can become overwhelming and difficult to manage. But you keep adding stuff to it because not writing this or that 'good idea' feels like drowning a kitten. Even if the idea has no realistic deadline or path of action in at least a couple of decades...

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But isn't that much better than having the "someday" idea always on your mind? In my experience its really freeing to dump the idea in that place knowing that it is save for later, and then kill it off a few review cycles later because it was not really feasible for some reason anyway. – 0x6d64 Nov 2 at 14:40

I just saw an article about this on Cal newport's Blog. The basic point is that it's good for the mundane and for completely dehumanizing everything you're doing. It lacks prioritization. It is good for getting the litle things done and remembering everything you put into the system. It is not good for important things or for more thoughtful things. Read the article, I can't write as well as he does.

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I think GTD is a concept that could help beginners unfortunately lost in the plethora of tasks thrown at them. It has its fault, but I would not completely negate the principles behind it. Most of the time, though we get the 'Steps' in GTD we fail to get the process and principles right that usually determine the outcome of the tool. I recommend you to have a look at 12 Principles I have listed that could help one get the GTD implementation right. Regards, Sathya

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