Getting Things Done: One Size Does Not Fit All

Efficient productivity is a hard game to master, and I’ve played with almost every to-do list and task management software out there in pursuit of a system that can keep me on task and productive with minimal overhead.

One system that I’ve been playing with for awhile now, and which has received a lot of attention particularly amongst the entrepreneurial crowd in Silicon Valley, is David Allen’s Getting Things Done. David Allen’s promise of “mind like water” is alluring and his system is comprehensive and well thought out.

However, after several months of being on and off of Getting Things Done, I’ve come to the conclusion that one size does not fit all. And it makes sense that one size does not fit all, since it’s very rare in life that anything truly is. A one size fits all mentality fails to recognize the ways in which we are all different and fails to play to our individual strengths while avoiding our weaknesses.

That’s not to say that David Allen’s system isn’t a great place to start. I highly encourage anyone and everyone to read his book if only because it forces one to think about productivity habits and analyze certain behaviors or habits that may get in the way of efficiently getting things done. Simply thinking about how one does work can often lead to great ideas to streamline the process. David Allen also has a number of very nifty tricks and ideas that many people can incorporate directly into a system that feels more familiar or right to them.

Yesterday I was using a piece of software called Nirvana HQ in order to manage my tasks in a method that is as close to Getting Things Done as possible. In search of a Getting Things Done compliant system that I like, I’ve also tried FireTask and ZenDone.

Today I have made the switch to Todoist, a task management tool that has a multitude of integrations and works on nearly every platform. In bouncing around to different platforms, I’ve learned a lot about the things I do and don’t like in each one. For example, I love that Todoist lets me add comment-style notes to my tasks because I like leaving timestamped chunks of information for myself to refer back to as I make progress on things or as statuses change. I also love how clean and simple Todoist’s design is, which makes it a real pleasure to use. In fact, for me the two most important things to evaluate in any new tool are: 1) does it have the features necessary for me to organize my tasks the way I like and 2) does it look and feel good enough that I will get excited to use it. Because after all, it’s very easy and quite common to forget about the tool and to stop using it for periods of time. If it’s not fun to use or it gets in your way somehow, chances are it’s not going to be used for very long.

Todoist is not designed with GTD specifically in mind. However, the system I use is no longer 100% GTD, either! However, here are some of the things that I have learned from GTD that can easily be plugged into any system:

  • Collect every task in an inbox. I find it’s best to get these things out of my head and recorded somewhere so I don’t have to spend anymore energy remembering or stressing out that I might have forgotten something. This means making sure I always have a way of placing something in my inbox, even when I’m on the go. (Todoist’s mobile apps make this easy and kind of fun.)
  • Keep a physical inbox as well as a virtual one. When I don’t have a physical inbox, I end up spending a lot of time looking around for the things I need to take action on. I’d rather spend more of my time doing and less of my time looking.
  • Collect even tasks that I might not do for a very long time! Having a list of things that I’ll do “someday, maybe” helps me to keep track of them so I can decide to take action on them if/when it becomes appropriate.
  • Break tasks down as much as possible. If I present myself with a task that is nebulous and where the next action is unclear, I tend to avoid it. It’s worth taking the time upfront when processing my inbox to decide what the next thing to do is so that when I’m actually in the flow of things I can just do it.

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