Not Getting Things Done

Tags: lactose intolerance, robots, “belly up!”, GTD.

As I was saying to a friend of mine this week, it is practically a law of nature: “what ye mock, shall ye become.” In her case, this had to do specifically with lactose intolerance and the whole organic food NPR yoga industrial complex that lies in wait on the far side of hipness for so many women of Generation X. In my case, well, there are about a million ways in which that law is true, but one among many is my trip down the rabbit hole of GTD.

One of my first posts on this weblog, almost a year ago exactly, snorted with mild derision at what I called “organization porn”—in particular the work of productivity-guru David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. Fast forward a year and what do you know? I’ve joined Allen’s disciples, I’ve swallowed the GTD Kool-Aid. I’ve got a tickler file and a hipster PDA and I’ll talk up GTD and 43 Folders to anybody who asks. I know, I know, I am such a sheep. But at least I’m not alone.

There’s a long article in today’s NYT magazine on the “life hacking” scene that does a good job of explaining the appeal:

At the core of Allen’s system is the very concept of memory that Mark and Czerwinski hit upon: unless the task you’re doing is visible right in front of you, you will half-forget about it when you get distracted, and it will nag at you from your subconscious … “David Allen essentially offers a program that you can run like software in your head and follow automatically,” O’Brien explains. “If this happens, then do this. You behave like a robot, which of course really appeals to geeks.”

Ahem. The article is also good on the value of a big clean desk and a big computer monitor with a big clean Desktop:

On the bigger screen, people completed tasks at least 10 percent more quickly – and some as much as 44 percent more quickly. They were also more likely to remember numbers, which showed that the multitasking was clearly less taxing on their brains. In two decades of research, Czerwinski had never seen a single tweak to a computer system so significantly improve a user’s productivity. The clearer your screen, she found, the calmer your mind.

So am I any more productive now that I’ve adopted GTD? Um, not really. But I stress about my To Do lists much less. A little less. In a different way, at least. I’m a long way from being a zen productivity master. The real virtues of GTD and the associated hacks and tricks, at least as they’ve been working for me, are about focus and stress control. I’m learning to outsource a lot of the worry work I used to do with my own mind onto index cards or computer software. It’s a process, and I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m definitely on board.

My GTD post from last year describes finding another book in the Harvard Libraries on personal productivity, also called Getting Things Done, also abbreviated GTD. Only this one was written back in 1938. It was a hoot. I always meant to post a big table comparing the highlights of the Golden Age GTD (good posture featured prominently) with David Allen’s. But I never did get around to getting it done.

That seems like proof of something.