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GTD as the Curse of Facebook (GTD buzzwords italicized):

Like any human, I generate many more ideas than I can execute. However, I meticulously capture these ideas with a GTD system (ticklers, someday-maybe's). By now, weekly reminders of a decade's accumulation of implementable-but-unimplemented ideas make me feel discontented, out of integrity.

That shouldn't happen, because each of these ideas is technically not an incomplete: it's not even a project. I'm "in integrity" with each idea because I haven't broken an agreement with myself, deliberately dropping the ball; I've captured it. Capturing something frees your poor little brain from having to remember it, freeing up your brain to be creative again. To have more ideas.

You can see where that leads.

It's like having accumulated so many friends over the years that each friendship can now be maintained by no more than clicking a happy-birthday button. It's a scaling problem: what works for twenty ideas (or friends) fails for a thousand.

(When a new idea occurs, I'm not dropping active tasks, bouncing from crisis to crisis like a ping pong ball in a clothes dryer as Dilbert puts it. I'm just capturing the idea for later consideration.)

The Prophet David commands us to capture all ideas, not just those for the 9-to-5 workday. To restore a sense of integrity about the whole collection of ideas:

  • Must I heretically limit my capturing of even 9-to-5 ideas?
  • Must I heretically de-capture stale ideas?
  • Is there a different viewpoint that treats my fetid stinking pile of unimplemented ideas as no more special than anybody else's?

(Less time, Less Experiences and many tasks suggests a book that I've just ordered: The Checklist Manifesto, by Gawande. It doesn't seem obviously relevant. Edit: It isn't.)

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I understand your problem - I have the same (information overload, too many ideas). I recently stumbled upon an interesting method which attacks exactly this problem and extends the capture workflow to an efficient processing: I've not yet tried it, but it looks very promising. – MostlyHarmless May 6 '14 at 14:56
@MostlyHarmless Fascinating stuff, but after reading several pages I'm still not sure I get it... too many terms I have no idea what he is talking about, like "task capture chronological tape", specific file names mentioned such as notes.brn without explanation, and an apparent reliance on a Windows only program in the workflow. – Michael Nov 24 '15 at 21:28
@Michael: I totally agree with you - it looks very powerful, but left me a little confused with many questions... I finally put it on my someday/maybe-list to have a look at it later. Did you watch the videos on the cyborganize page? I think they explain the method best, the text alone is not sufficient for understanding from my experience. – MostlyHarmless Nov 28 '15 at 10:59
up vote 21 down vote accepted

Congratulations on developing an effective capture habit. That's an important step.

What you haven't developed yet is an effective processing step. That's where you take all those things you captured and decide what they mean to you. Evaluate them with regard to your higher level objectives (20 thousand foot areas of focus, 30 thousand foot 1-3 year goals, 40 thousand foot 3-5 year goals, 50 thousand foot life purpose). Ideas that don't fit can safely be discarded entirely, trusting that if your goals change, new ideas will occur.

Ideas that are aligned with some (but not all) of your higher level objectives might go on your Someday/Maybe list to be reviewed periodically. Same with ideas that are fully aligned but not important enough to take up your time right now. That periodic review (canonically weekly, but that's too often for most of my Someday/Maybe items) includes evaluating the idea and considering whether it is something you might actually do - if not, discard it.

I tag many of my Someday/Maybe items with a date which I use as a tickler, meaning "I want to reconsider this, but not for the next three months" or whatever the future date is. My GTD system lists (RememberTheMilk) let me set up a smart list that then doesn't show me that item until the date has arrived, reducing the size of the list I see.

One of the most important skills GTD enabled for me is the ability to say "No". Good idea, no I'm not going to do it. Maturing understanding of the higher levels clarifies when "No" is the right answer to a good idea, and that cleans out the captures and the Someday/Maybe list.

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Good idea, no I'm not going to do it is the hardest to learn, but probably the most important. There's just too many good ideas out there, but a person has to reflect Will I ever make this the priority? No? Then it's gone. – RualStorge May 6 '14 at 14:57
I was going to post an answer, but this one effectively captures is. You need to process and review everything, all the time, so it remains manageable. – Raystafarian May 6 '14 at 15:24
@Dennis S.: reconsidering the tasks some months later to not have to review everything each week is a very good idea. In Michael Linenbergers Method "Manage Your Workday Now" this is called Strategic Deferral. One of the key elements of this method is: everything seems important first, but many things will never be done (and that's perfectly ok, if they were not really important) - so just let them slip to the end of the someday/maybe list. See my post here: – MostlyHarmless May 6 '14 at 16:42

Dilbert creator Scott Adams wrote a great piece that has helped cure me of of the need to keep every idea as if it were a precious gem - and focus time more on completing actions...

"You'd be hard pressed to come up with an idea so bad that it couldn't succeed with the right execution. And it would be even harder to imagine a great idea that couldn't fail if the execution were left to morons.

Ideas are worthless. Execution is everything."

Full article :

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You could try setting a hard limit on the number of tasks in your system, and during your weekly review, if you have more tasks than that number, delete the least useful tasks until you are below the limit. This means that you don't need to decide for each individual idea that you don't need to do it, but instead just need to compare your ideas and pick the ones that are most worth hanging onto.

I'm using this for my main task list in Remember the Milk (all tasks that are not deferred beyond a week from today, and are not in the Someday/Maybe list), and pruning it down to 60 tasks every review. Sometimes the count creeps up, but it's worked decently so far.

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I sympathise with you as I'm guilty of this too - "over-capturing" let's call it.

What The Prophet David (!) says though - is to capture all commitments. That's a whole different thing than capturing every idea. It's true he also talks about doing a regular mind sweep - but again, I think that's about capturing the flotsam and jetsam related to Next Actions - not so much the Somedays.

I think the solution for you is in three parts maybe. Two already mentioned above:

  • weekly review to prune unrealistic ideas
  • remembering the different 'horizons of focus' when reviewing

The third point is to

  • apply some filters before capturing: ie, *am I realistically going to ever do this? *

Maybe if it's stuff that interests you but unlikely to really turn into a project?

So in that case you'd be better off capturing into Evernote or something like the 'Personal Brain' software I think D.A demo'ed once. i.e. keep it out of your main GTD system and treat it as 'supporting material' in a reference system.

You could then have one single action in your next action list - to review that material say quarterly - assuming its long term / someday type stuff.

As for the backlog - clearing that is now a project in itself.

Maybe shifting stuff en masse to the Evernote type system and reviewing when you have time.

To start with you may need to just group items into like areas. Eg holiday ideas , career change ideas,

Just like clearing a hoard of magazines or junk mail , the act of clearing stuff en masse makes you realise the 'time cost' of keeping too many ideas around.

And just like un-subscribing from unnecessary email lists , your mind might start to unsubscribe from capturing and be happy letting go of some ideas and not capturing them - because once you consider the real cost of reading and reviewing (ie your time) you begin to think more carefully about capture.

So in summary - to prevent pollution of your tasks/projects/next actions lists Try A) filtering idea before capture B)consider if item is really reference then put in your reference capture area eg Evernote- not in your actionable area

Good luck from a fellow 'idea hoarder' :)

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This answer is more useful to think about (commitment vs idea), but the Scott Adams quote may be what sticks with me in the trenches! – Camille Goudeseune May 13 '14 at 16:00
All the answers to date have usefulness, but this best identifies the the core issue. Ideas for execution go to GTD; everthing else goes to a personal knowledge base (or info manager) like Evernote or my favorite TiddlyWiki. – Smandoli May 22 '14 at 13:58

Something that also helped me was going through an exercise by Jim Rohn: write down 50 goals, then divide them into what you could accomplish in 1 year, 3 years, 5 years and +5 years.

The exercise is surprising (I discovered that I'd like to take boxing lessons, and also visit outer space). From the GTD point of view it helped me because it put me in the projects view. Then each project becomes a container for all those nitty gritty notes you take at random. Sometimes those notes are like pieces of the dinosaur: a nail, a weird bone from the shoulder... Moving to the project view with some discipline shows you the whole dinosaur.

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