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Some GTD warning signs

As I've continued my practice of David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology (and helped others adopt it) I've occasionally noticed some signs of falling behind. I wanted to share a few of them, and ask what others you've come across in your implementation [1]. In no particular order:
  • "Cobwebby" mind (needs a sweeping).
  • "Doing" while processing (unless 2 minute or less) - beware rabbit holes.
  • "To file" or "Pending" trays.
  • A lonely labeler.
  • Calendar entries that don't absolutely have to be done that day.
  • Collection points getting too big or old.
  • Haven't done a weekly review in "a while."
  • Keeping anything in your head (i.e., notice if something's bugging you).
  • Next Actions that are out of date, too big, vague, not getting done, or that repel (check out Does this "next action" belong someplace else?).
  • Not following the Processing & Organizing Diagram for your "stuff."
  • Not using system daily, or not trusting it.
  • Orphan papers (loose, with no home), or piles.
  • Packed or unattractive file drawers (e.g., messy labels or old folders).
  • Project list out of date - projects not listed, including problems (Allen says "anything that's a problem is a project").
  • Putting off decisions, instead of making them when stuff enters your life.
  • Relying on any of the following as reminders: project support folders, sticky notes, printouts, or loose notes. (Only use Calendar and Next Action lists.)
  • Remembering to do something without looking at your Next Actions lists (e.g., recalling who to call when not looking at @calls).
  • The existence of stealth projects - projects masquerading as Next Actions.

So what do you think - what warning signs have you seen?

P.S. A hearty congratulations to David Allen for "Getting Things Done" making it to the top of BusinessWeek's Best-Seller List - via Eric Mack. Thanks very much for your contribution!


[1] Readers interested in a positive summary might enjoy Mark Wieczorek's Ready To Test For Your Belt?

Reader Comments (11)

Sometimes I look at my project folders and next actions lists and think "Urgh..!" before ignoring them and doing something completely different. The main time I notice this is when I'm at home. 99% of everything I do is PC based and whilst I have separate at work/at home lists I really don't want to go near my organiser at home, it's too easy to start thinking about work.

February 7, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKaty

That's interesting, Katy. Sounds like there's a lot going on here...

February 7, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Great list,Matt. I have the last-but-one problem. I know what to do without looking at my NA list. And sometimes, things don't even make my NA list, they go straight to my dailies. I also notice I don't do any calender actions that same day. Major leaks in my system these two. Need to patch 'em up!

February 7, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJetru

Thanks for the comment, Jetru.

> sometimes, things don't even make my NA list

Same here! Althought I don't keep a daily to-do list (if that's what "dailies" means). I'd be interested in hearing more about them.

February 7, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

When I first started GTD, the next action list killed me. It didn't work for me at all. I found myself doing next actions and nothing much else. So I now break down my projects and like I posted here last week, do work on about 3 big projects a day.

Is anyone else overwhelmed by the longer GTD lists like me? Mine gets around 175 and hovers there...it's quite overwhelming and I find myself looking at my list less frequenly than when I just kept 2 dozen tasks on it.

Matt, how do you normally recommend someone get over this overwhelmed feeling?

February 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Isaac

> overwhelmed by the longer GTD lists

That's a great question, brad. It's big enough to be a separate post by itself, but here are a few tips from the davidco forums, to try to help:

o make a temporary list for the day to help focus

o move some items to Someday/Maybe

o make sure actions are really do-able

o focus on projects (and their actions)

o limit your NAs - are all important?

o only list the very next action for projects, not parallel ones

o hire help

o block off an hour or two on your calendar, put your phone on voice mail, and just attack your list

Hope that helps!

February 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Here's one-

Today at work I placed a file on my desk (towards the front), and I heard something else fall off the back side! maybe time for a GTD brush-up.


February 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Tom, that's a great one! It's funny to me because I have a gap at the back of my desk, which leaves a small space for files to *perfectly* fit, but not hands/arms!

February 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

hehe...I've been keeping my desk pretty clean here lately..so I'm not going to jinx it by laughing too loud at your falling files

February 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Isaac

Number 1 for me is finding too many files sitting on my computer's desktop. [ My system | http://christianbusinessman.blogspot.com/2006/02/tame-your-computer-files.html ] for computer files mandates that there be no loose files floating around. As a programmer I tend to save everything to the desktop first and then move it to where it belongs. If I get too caught up in my projects the desktop can become a disaster.

Number 2: My "daily" to-do list is used for more than one day...

February 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Smith

> too many files sitting on my computer's desktop

That's a good one, Justin. Here are a few posts about it:

Productivity Tip: Throw everything on your desk in a box

GTD 2006.26: Clear your desktop, clear your mind

> My "daily" to-do list is used for more than one day...

A classic! I also found this happening, and dropped doing it. I think it *can* work, if it's truly daily...

Thanks for reading!

February 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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