Since 2011, I’ve used David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity system. As a long-time advocate, I’ve written several articles about GTD. But I’ve abandoned the GTD camp in the dead of night—or at least, I’m no longer a purist—and my reasoning is below.
But first, a little GTD review.
Getting Things Done is both a methodology and the name of a book outlining that methodology, and it’s all about two things:
- Breaking down projects into a series of ultra-granular Next Actions, each one the next physical step required to move toward your intended outcome.
- Tracking commitments in external systems so your brain is free to do what it does best: think.
On point #2, I’m still a zealot. In fact, my belief in the power of getting commitments out of our heads and into an external system has never been stronger.
Where I’ve moved on from GTD is in implementation—how I manage my moment-to-moment workflow. I’ve found an alternative approach that yields better results.
Long Next Actions lists
GTD asks you to track the next step of each project in a context-specific Next Actions list (Home, Office, Calls, etc.) and work from the appropriate list throughout the day. In other words, when you’re home, you should only be looking at a list of things you can accomplish at home. Ditto for the office, the car, the gym, etc.
But even separated by context, Next Actions lists invariably become so long and unwieldy that it’s difficult to determine what should be done next. Scanning a list containing 10, 20, or 50 items is a stressful experience that’s simply not conducive to remaining in a flow state. Plus, the easy stuff tends to get done while the unpleasant tasks linger.
Organizing tasks by context is an elegant idea, and I still organize my to-do list this way. But I rarely look at my to-do list more than once or twice a day now. I rely on a different practice.
Enter the daily schedule
I’ve been using a daily schedule as a front end for GTD for a little under a year, and as I’ve continued to loosen my grip on GTD, I’ve been happier and happier with the results. GTD is designed to help you make glacial but steady progress on many different fronts (GTD creator David Allen calls this “cranking widgets”).
As recent studies have shown, there are cognitive and time costs associated with constant task-switching. Much better to block out an hour or two to make headway on a big project than to break it down into 20 Next Actions and chip away at the pile over days and weeks.
For its part, daily scheduling is made easy by planning each day the night before, a 20-minute process that’s surprisingly low-stress. It encourages bold planning in a way that GTD doesn’t, and it allows you to choose the most important tasks that need to get done each day. Put simply, I’m now more productive in general while also focusing more on what really matters.
If you’re happily married to GTD, as I was for many years, there may be no reason to mess with success. If cracks have appeared in its veneer, though, you might ask yourself if daily scheduling would serve you better.