What I Don’t Like About GTD

Originalily posted on November 1st, 2007 by Pete | Edit

Well actually, GTD is great. (GTD is a personal productivity system by David Allen…sort of like time management for the internet age.) I bought the book on CD and have listened to it multiple times. (Partly because one hearing was not enough–it is hard to grasp this kind of information by listening–but also because the information was useful.) I have implemented a bunch of the ideas.

But the very first listen flagged a problem for me and it still nags at me. The presumption is that we really can’t control how we spend our time (or, in GTD parlance, the actions we perform). Again, the system works pretty well because capturing everything makes it all visible and then you can “intuitively” make a decision “in the moment” about what you will actually work on. But it seems like this approach still puts you at the mercy of demands and requirements that you can’t control. Which, in many ways, is real. But that is the crux of why people want time management systems in the first place. So they can get out from under outside demands that cause stress and take you away from getting your goals met.

Ultimately, the danger of deciding “in the moment” and “renegotiating commitments” when we can’t meet them is that deadlines get missed. When you don’t plan ALL the steps you need to take to get you to the finish line, you are building in guaranteed future slippage. If everyone is overbooked and only worries about the next action, the entire organization will eventually grind to a halt when they look up at the deadline and only have half the actions completed.

In the end, the only options still end up with us needing to either do things faster or to do fewer things. The key is not to continuously renegotiate commitments (like an endless chain of continuances in a court case) but to make them more carefully in the first place. Ultimately, it means the job of leadership is to provide focus and to exclude unproductive activity so that the time and energy can be applied to meeting the organization’s goals. This is difficult. It is risky. But it is vitally important work that only leadership can do.

Disclaimer: David Allen does talk about project planning and commitment management. I’m pretty sure his focus on the next action is really a strategy to get people to stop talking about things and start doing them. We’ve all been in (usually large) companies where meetings are endless discussion of big picture ideas with little specific next steps to move things forward.

One Response to “What I Don’t Like About GTD”

  1. red writes:

    GTD is not a project management system it is a persoanl management system. GTD project are things I do to solve my problems which maybe my role in a company project… you could not build 747s with GTD..

    GTD does say schedule signficant actions…not everything is on an action list.
    Next actions should be called NPA – next physical actions. Many notes in GTD are really lists that are NOT NPAs….

    In my really big projects (100,000+ hours) we are renegotiating every week just like the plane to NY from CA makes 1,000 course corrects too.. no sin there..

    any system requires the discipline to execute…. any sytem that matches your level of discipline is a good system…

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