« Is life is a series of ... wows? A selection of "made me think" ideas | Main | A conversation with Kerry Gleeson, author of "The Personal Efficiency Program" »

10 GTD "holes" (and how to plug them)

Since starting my study of the field of personal productivity (first GTD-related post: August 2005 - Actually Getting Things Done With Getting Things Done! Surprises And Learnings From My Implementation), I've been thinking about where the holes are in Allen's GTD and other modern systems [1]. I like the idea that there's a lot to learn in these interstitial spaces, no matter the object of study - for example art (in his book A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink talks about seeing negative spaces [2]), social networks (seek opportunities to put yourself into structural holes - via Scott Allen [3]), and scientific discovery (Mendeleev and the periodic table, for example [4]).

Following are a few of the limitations I've noticed for GTD in particular. I wanted to share them with you and ask your thoughts on its shortcomings, and how to fix or work around them. In no special order:

Hard to sustain

One of the biggest challenges to people adopting new and better habits is getting them to stick. For a personal productivity practice (and I do mean practice, as in learning an instrument or studying yoga), we always face plateaus and fall off the wagon. This is nothing new - in my study of the field, this is a fundamental human limitation, so it's not fair to blame a particular author or method. That said, we need to structure work such that staying on the path (and getting back on it) is as easy as possible. In that sense, GTD is hard; there are many essential habits (the system is rather rigorous, after all), and lends itself to being brittle (see below).

For some ideas on how to deal with this, I'll point you to your own wisdom: Reader Question: Getting Personal Productivity Changes To Stick?

Not enough help with doing

Of course when it all comes down to it, we need to do the work we've so carefully collected and distilled. The question is whether GTD provides enough guidance on how to make progress. Just look around the productivity blogosphere and you'll find every tip imaginable around how to get ourselves to work (esp. procrastination [5]), including:

  • Time blocking/mapping [6]
  • Covey's importance/urgency matrix
  • Worst first
  • Easiest first
  • Reward yourself
  • "Dashes" (e.g., (10+2)*5)
  • 80-20
  • Current initiative (see Do It Tomorrow)
  • Swiss cheese
  • ...

You can argue that having a master list of tasks isn't meant to answer the "How," just the "What." But still - it's clearly an area any self-management system should address.

Any favorites you've found helpful?

One big list too overwhelming

Depending on the job, GTD's master task list can have hundreds of items on it. Even grouping them into people/places/things needed to do them (i.e., "contexts") leaves dozens of to-dos per list. One could argue that every one of those items is the result of a "yes" we've said, but it's still overwhelming, and can lead to paralysis.

So how do we fix this? One practice I've found helpful is to create a daily plan. You can get details in Are Daily To-do Lists And GTD Compatible?, but the gist is to create a temporary list of work you'd like to accomplish today (tomorrow, if you're planning the night before), then use that to focus during the onslaught. The trap is switching over to the temporary list, and letting the master flounder.

Another approach is to use a more limited time horizon for what we put on the lists, i.e., how far out we're looking when we promise ourselves we'll take action. It's up to you, but think in terms of months, say 60 days. Of course you still need to track the stuff you know is coming up, say by keeping a "not doing" list.

Finally, distributing tasks into your calendar will manage overwhelm. The only work you see is what's on your calendar for today. There's still a big list, but it's watered down over time. There are some serious pitfalls to doing it this way, though, including "copying forward" work you didn't get to, which focuses on what you didn't get done.

Anyone doing any of these?

Too brittle

A client came up with "brittle" to describe how catastrophic falling out of practice can be with systems like GTD. Sometimes one whirlwind week is all it takes to unravel the thing, which is a huge limitation. So: What contributes to brittleness? I see two factors: A workload that hovers around your "maximum" setting, and an excessive stream of incoming items. The first factor means you have no buffer for work to grow and shrink. You are oversaturated. (Sadly, unlike a supersaturated solution, adding heat will not allow putting more in.) Sadly, trying to do more is a common "solution" we come up with to managing ourselves, along with sleeping less, exercising less, and spending more time at the lab.

The second factor (too much incoming) also shortens your buffer. If the volume is equal to or exceeds your ability to empty it, you'll fall behind. A good test: How long does it take to empty your inboxes on Monday morning? If you say 1/2 a day, is that too much?

I'd love to know your thoughts on this one.

Too complex

A common complaint about Allen's work is that it's just too complicated. There are two aspects of this: His overall phases that frame our work (see my What A Difference A Framework Can Make), and his diagram for deciding and emptying our inboxes. Now, since many of my clients [7] are from scientific and engineering fields, adopting such a strong, process-oriented scheme is a natural fit. But the critique is valid - I think it's one of those "it's so simple now that I've practiced it for two years" things.

To simplify the framework, any ideas? Here are a few variations:

  • Capture, Plan, Act - From an OmniFocus demo movie.
  • Think, Do, Enjoy - From SuMMy's comment on Extreme GTD: How Low Can You Go (or: Can We 80-20 GTD?):
    I agree everyone needs their own system my perspective is different though- there is a base of knowledge that people should start with and build on it using the pieces needed for themselves. The key is start with basic building blocks: Think (goals/planning/long term thinking), Do (processing rules), Enjoy (missing from gtd, it gives motivation and meaning to what needs to be done).

To simplify the deciding and emptying steps, there's a bunch of approaches, all with the same idea - make decisions about each item in order, then move it into the appropriate tracking bins. For example:

In addition to my own exercise in simplifying GTD (see Extreme GTD: How Low Can You Go (or: Can We 80-20 GTD?), you might enjoy Gina's thoughts on whittling down essentials: Practicing Simplified GTD and Email: Empty Your Inbox with the Trusted Trio.

No time use analysis

Almost every book I've read on time management and personal productivity starts with an analysis of how we use our time, often called a Time Log (see, for example, Jasper's book and Laura Stack's Leave the Office Earlier). However, does David Allen cheat by skipping this step? His perspective seems to be one of presenting a solid approach in detail, and assuming it's generally applicable to all kinds of work. It's also related to his bottom-up approach (see below). Peter Drucker in particular emphasizes this (e.g., "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it" - see What's Your Feed Reading Speed?).

The basic idea is to track for a representative number of days how you spend your time, analyze where the opportunities for improvement are, then adjust accordingly. That's why Mission Control's workshops (for example) start with this (see A GTD-er's Perspective On Mission Control's "Productivity And Accomplishment").

Variations on this problem: No interruption analysis. To do it, simply track for each interruption: Who interrupted, What was it about, Value of the interruption, and the Duration. Optional: Time of day.


No built-in balance

This is a big one: GTD has no built-in self-correction of work added vs. work performed. It enables analyzing and correcting imbalances, but doesn't address directly the fact that we can't add work without managing the consequences. It's like eating: You want cake every day? Then expect your weight and health to be impacted. Mark Forster's book Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management has a strong component around this: closed lists, lists that can't grow without removing something. Interestingly, a calendar is an example - hence the "schedule everything" alternate to to-do lists. A secondary problem is feeling overwhelmed by large lists (see below).

Related: When Inputs Exceed Your Workflow System's Capacity, What GTD And Weight Watchers Have In Common

Not goal-driven

Here's another common complaint: Allen starts "bottom-up," i.e., getting on top of our day-to-day workload before we consider higher-level aspects of our lives. This is in opposition to approaches that are goal-driven: Start with the important aspects of your life, then drill down through vision, goals, and projects to (finally) actions. The reasoning here is (to use Stephen Covey's analogy [8]) it makes no sense to climb a ladder if it's leaning against the wrong wall.

For me, starting top-down didn't work. I needed the "free your mind" piece before I started thinking about purpose. (And boy did it work - see Commitment Time! (Taking The Big Leap).) Interestingly, one thing that comes up in my interview series with top productivity experts is that the top-down/bottom-up issue is not all or nothing. Both components are important, and there's often a cycle or spiral that emphasizes work on one then the other over time.

The potential problem is this can lead to a disconnect between tasks (actions) and goals (purpose/motivation) - it's an important dimension besides actionable. For one possible solution, see Where Are You Going? Use Your Actions And Projects To Reverse Engineer Your Goals.

How do you connect goals with action?

No built in planning/task estimation

Central to many work schemes is the notion of using estimation and measurement to inform action choice and project planning. In You Need to Get to Work!, Julie Morgenstern says the most important skill is answering the question "How long will it take?" and then learning to "accurately and honestly estimate it in advance." Without this, it's very difficult to plan methodically - which is unneccesarily stressful. As Mark Forster says in One Thing at a Time:

Don't completely erase the old estimated completion dates when you revise them. That way you keep a record of how many changes you have needed to make. Examining that record can tell you a lot about your workload and the way you are tackling it.
Interestingly, in the Extreme Programming methodology [9], tracking how long work takes is essential to adjusting course. After all, how can one predict how long adding a feature will take if you have no measure of past performance to go on?

Two resources you might like: In To Do Doing Done, Snead and Wycoff share different ways to estimate, including asking someone else how long it took, or using more formal equations. And Jose has a nice little discussion at Bias and Accuracy in Estimates of Task Duration using Academic Tasks.

What do you think - is building in tracking and estimating something a productivity method should do?

No specific accommodation of personality types

Along with not doing an initial time analysis, Allen also doesn't do an assessment of personal work style. This is another common starting point in other time management books, and I wonder whether Allen is ignoring the problem, or whether there is no problem, i.e., GTD applies to everyone, and personality doesn't matter. The thought is that we all have different personality types (e.g., Myers-Briggs) and this should inform how we approach work. Someone who is more "divergent" may need a workspace very different from "convergent" types (vocabulary from Time Management for Unmanageable People). This information might also be useful in deciding a starting place. Here's a list from Morgenstern's Never Check E-Mail In the Morning: What's standing in your way? Is it you or is it them?

  • You don't plan well.
  • You lack confidence on some tasks.
  • You are unable to prioritize.
  • You're a perfectionist.
  • You feel guilty saying no.
  • You gravitate toward quick, easy tasks.
  • You're poor at estimating how long things take.
  • You're physically disorganized.
  • You start many things, finish none.

What's your take on this? Is it important to account for personality? Or is it that these days it's not possible to sell a book that requires too much up-front quiz-taking and assessment, due to shorter attention spans?


  • [1] Here are a few other systems, from my AP post answers to your academic productivity questions:
    Could you recommend other systems or methods besides GTD, or is GTD the best thing since sliced apple pie for academics? ... Mark Forster's Do It Tomorrow (my interview with Mark is here), Chris Crouch's Getting Organized (interview here), Sally McGhee's Take Back Your Life! (interview here), and Kerry Gleeson's The Personal Efficiency Program (interview here).

  • [2] Pink describes negative spaces as "the part of the big picture we often overlook. So train your eyes to see it. When you take a walk or browse a store or page through a magazine, peer past what's prominent and examine what's between, beyond, and around it. Being aware of negative space will change how you look at your surroundings - and it will make the positive space snap into focus. It's also a way to be surprised."
  • [3] Allen defines a structural hole as "the weak connection between two clusters of densely connected people" From Structural Holes: The Social Structure of Competition via The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors And Closing Deals Online.
  • [4] From Dmitri Mendeleev's Wikipedia entry:
    Initially, Mendeleev was derided for there being gaps in the table. Ultimately though, he was vindicated when previously unknown elements (notably scandium, gallium and germanium) were discovered that filled in these holes and possessed properties (atomic weight, density, melting point, etc.) close to what Mendeleev predicted.[3]

  • [5]Brian Tracy lists a number of them in Time Power, including:

    • think on paper
    • gather all the materials and work tools that you will need before you begin
    • do one small thing to get started
    • "salami slice" the task
    • practice the Swiss cheese technique
    • start from the outside and complete the smaller tasks first
    • start from the inside and complete the larger tasks first
    • do the task that causes you the most fear or anxiety
    • start your day with the most unpleasant task first
    • think about the negative consequences of not doing the job or completing the task
    • think about how you will benefit from doing the job or completing the task
    • set aside fifteen minutes during the day when you will work on your project
    • resist the tendency toward perfectionism
    • pick one area where procrastination is hurting you
    • develop a compulsion for closure
    • maintain a fast tempo

  • [6] Julie Morgenstern popularized this term. See this newsletter article. From Organizing from the Inside Out:
    [a time map] allots specific spaces in your schedule for tending to the various core activities of your life. It serves as a foundation from which to work that forces you to keep your life in balance, giving you all the time you need to accomplish your goals.

  • [7] As usual, I want to be very clear that I have no association with David Allen or his company. His work has been a big influence, but I continue to combine the best practices from many sources (which I share here) into my work.
  • [8] You might enjoy Leo's: Exclusive Interview: Stephen Covey on His Morning Routine, Blogs, Technology, GTD and The Secret.
  • [9]You can read a bit more on XP in Is GTD the "Extreme Programming" of Time Management? and Productivity for Programmers, #2: Efficient vs. Effective.

Reader Comments (35)

I've read from some GTDers who build systems of purpose, visions, goals etc on top of their project lists. I tried to do this, too. Several times, btw.

Thing is this: Allen has it right, the "Upper Levels" are perspectives rather than tiers. That's why you cannot have it all in one pyramidic scheme, it never does fit 100%. You always have to leave out something or overvalue something eles in such a system. That's why fellows with pyramidic systems always keep some extra planning documents "outside" their systems.

So, for example one can have a 30k-goal that spans over several projects. So far so good. But now you realize, that one of these projects is also supporting another 30k-goal. How do you keep track of this? The answer is: you don't.

Allen defines several perspectives and you can view every single action from each of these. You can ask the 50k-question torwards any action: what's the purpose (of this action)? Likewise you can see your action form another perspective.

A complete list of GTD-projects is just what you see, when you look at your work from the 10k-perspective. You can also look at your work form any other perspective, this would give you another list. But the work would still remain the same.

So, how do you define what a goal is anyway? In GTD every project and every action is a goal. Do you have goals? Make a list. Do you want to do something about your goals? Take in another position: go to 10k and see the projects. Does it match your current projects-list? It should (If you want to do something about reaching your goals, that is).

I personally have seen better results with goals formulated "in the now" ie "I am building awesome sandcastles" rather than "until day so-and-so I will have built x amount of samdcastles". It's much more empowering that way, when you read your goals-list.

But, uhm, aren't 30k things in GTD your 1-2 years goals? Not if you live for 800 years. 30k in GTD is the strategic perspective, it just happens so that as a written list regarding your ~80 years life this would amount to some outcomes 1-2 years into the future. (compare: 10k as perspective is one thing. a projects-list another)

30k adds a strategic dimension to your projects, it pulls them out from the purely now-focused (Gee, what do I have to do!?) into the onward going realm (Let's build this bridge today, so tomorrow we can party with the gals from the other side of the river...)

Hope this blows your mind a little. If not, apologize for the rambling.

April 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher


Congratulations on a terrific analysis of the challenges of GTD implementation.

I think there is huge value in spending time understanding the limitations and pitfalls of any system. This analysis should not be seen as being critical or acting to diminish the merits of GTD (or any system) as identifying these challenges is essential to the ongoing improvement of how we use it and implement it.

Ultimately, if people are looking for a system that does everything, then they will be disappointed. A system like GTD is hugely powerful and the adoption and development of it will help most people be more productive.

I think it's really important that people 'get' this up front. Many are drawn to seminars, courses and coaching in the false expectation that there is a magic formula to whatever they are struggling with and rarely will that formula be found or if tried, be totally successful. Sometimes, you get a whiff of the magic formula from the more polished presentations from the David Allen company but to be fair to him and his organisation, there are many, many more that are worse offenders.

Each of one of your ten 'holes' could fill a chapter in a book (hey, maybe this is the next big publishing opportunity - the GTD missing manual?) and I will try to investigate some of these in more detail in the coming weeks.

Personally, my struggles come most frequently in the 'do' space. Making the right priority call, fighting procrastination, using the available time more effectively - all require blending techniques and habits that work for me with the broader GTD structure.

Looking forward to seeing some thoughts from readers on these challenging questions.


April 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAodan

Matt, great list of ideas.
The way I'm trying to see GTD is to have is as simple as possible. I know life isn't simple but we should try make it simple. This links to issue of capacity of the system. I guess we need to understand that we can't have/do it all. We need to make choices.
I even think that to a certain degree it should be done on the capturing level. Decide if a thing is worth capturing.
Otherwise we're risking creating great stack in our inbox that will require tremendous effort to clear. In effect impacting other areas of life like health, family etc.
The flip side is that if we collect mountains of information and after while nothing happed with it could be tossed.

April 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRafal

Just one more thing.
As you say GTD is well structured but on the other hand it's very flexible. It's up to the user to THINK of it's own solution. Contexts, paper pen, PDA, laptop, checklist, higher levels etc.
As consultant you can only propose some solutions but ultimately it's the person using it has to decide what works what doesn't.
David Allen spent 20 or more years getting to point of formulating his ideas as a book. He says himself that it takes years to really have good grip of GTD.
I personally can vouch for this. I'm getting to my second year and still discovering something new.
To finish off for any gtd'er I suggest take your time, don't give up and you will master it.

April 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRafal

Aodan: Thanks for your nice summary. "GTD: The Missing Manual" hmmm. Do you think Allen's company would mind? ;-) And I do agree re: the "doing" part.

April 10, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

[JP in maryland]

Hello again. This GTD stuff is interesting. I have to say I am studying the techniques and beginning to put them into play. I have to say, it is still fairly involved and I do not understand all of it, but OTOH, one can put certain principles into play without knowing it all.

Two questions: What is so special about the Read/Review folder? I tried to search the site but did not come up with much. It sounds trivial.

2) What exactly is an "open loop?" I am too jaded to attempt another site search. Can you at least tell me what it is?

Slightly non sequiter:

Having thought alot about GTD has anyone attempted a theory of getting things done? I have made a slight stab at this....

Here are three postulates, let's assume they are true and see where that leads:

1. Time is one thing that cannot be recovered. This is per one of Napoleon's maxims, but still has resonance.

2. No task has absolute top priority. Think about it for a minute: you are working on an important case it is top priority, then the phone rings and someone in your family is sick; so that takes top priority. Then the fire alarm goes off...Etc. etc.

3. Crap happens all the time, to mess up our schedules.

Now we can actually make certain rules/axioms that follow from these:

1. It is always worthwhile to consider stopping a it in order to save time. no matter how important you think something, you can still justify putting it down and doing something else in order to save time else where. This follows naturally from 1/2.

2. Any time is a good time to re-assess your things to do list. This follows from 2/3 because, there cannot be an absolute top priority and because we know things are changing all the time.

So what do you think? Can you add to this theory?

April 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Christopher: Thanks for the excellent point - perspective vs. hierarchy. I haven't seen it laid out this clearly before. I very much appreciate this as Allen's altitude model/levels has never clicked for me. I'll re-think now. Thanks!

April 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Excellent points, Rafal. Impossible to do it all, and examine what we're letting *into* our lives.

As consultant you can only propose some solutions but ultimately it's the person using it has to decide what works what doesn't.

Absolutely! A major concept for all educators. I'm always looking for ways I can help make the work stick.

David Allen spent 20 or more years getting to point of formulating his ideas as a book.

This is a thought I like having repeated - it gives me an excuse to take it easy on myself for not yet having come up with something of this caliber (a high goal, admittedly).

I personally can vouch for this. I'm getting to my second year and still discovering something new. Yep. I tell folks it's a process of mastery, like learning to paint or play an instrument.

April 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Hi JP,

What is so special about the Read/Review folder? It sounds trivial. It *is* simple. The main points are 1) being clear about reading that you're committed to doing vs. reading you'd like to get done (the R/R folder handles the latter), and 2) carrying the thing with you. I also tell clients to use the "rip and read" technique - when you get to a magazine or journal in your inbox, scan the table of contents, rip out (or copy or tag) the articles you actually care about, then put them in your R/R folder. This keeps those other oh-so-fascinating articles from distracting you, and keeps the folder's weight down.

What exactly is an "open loop?" It's David Allen's term for something that your mind is tracking, either consciously or unconsciously. His claim is that these contribute greatly to our stress level. His definition: Anything that does not belong where it is, the way it is, is an "open loop" pulling on your attention.

Here are three postulates, let's assume they are true and see where that leads... Fantastic idea and start. That's a very solid article right there: from laws/observations of modern life to implications for structuring our self management. My quick take on it:

Here are a few "laws:"
o there is never enough time to do everything
o time has special properties: can't be invested, only conserved (?), ...
o importance (priority) is fluid over relatively short time spans (hours)
o focus is fluid across hours, days, and weeks
o interruptions are common and (sometimes) important - I call them "crappens" ;-)
o attention demands are unpredictable and frequent
o work arrives disorganized
o [trivial many vs. vital few]
o ...

There are many implications of brain research, including focus, breaking things down, procrastination, habits, etc. We'd need to factor these in as well.

Again, fantastic comments here folks. For all of you, Please feel free to email me and set up a time to chat. Good stuff.

April 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Fabulous post, Matt. Very helpful for those of use GTDers who use other systems as well. I would say that one of the things the GTD system does, especially with the first initial Processing stage, is that it does force you to THINK about the "how" via the "Next Action" approach. Using GTD, the task is not: Birthday Gift for Mom. It is a set of tasks: a) drive to mall b) get packing supplies; c) wrap gift d) go to post office. It may seem fairly pedantic, but I think it is necessary if you are the type of person who is totally disorganized and is embarking upon GTD as a sort of organizational therapy (like I was!).

April 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

[jp in maryland] Hello again: Hey I just thought of another corollary that follows from the original postulates:

3) There can never be a perfect guide to success because there is no way to assign a numerical value to the benefits of Time vs the benefits of whatever else you might gain, e.g. financial success, spiritualism, good sex, etc.

because time is finite it follows that it must have value. And because we really dont know how much time we have (in our life or for a given project) it becomes impossible to assign a numerical value to it. THus how can we weight the benefits of say One week vacation vs. Pitching a new Project? It's impossible.

I suppose this also means that there cannot be a perfect, GTD algorithm or method or whatever it is we use to organize are lives. It's interesting.

April 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Totally agree: Up-front decision-making is crucial, preempts future problems, and is sometimes darn hard! And the how is a biggie - well said. In fact, as I continue pushing on how to structure these ideas in the cleanest way, you've given me another tool: The 5Ws from journalism! Fun stuff - thanks.

Hey - I love your fifty book idea - [ Rebecca Reading Rants and Raves: 50BC08 | http://readingrantsandraves.blogspot.com/search/label/50BC08 ]

April 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

{jp} hey Matt I think you can invest in time. for instance I inject my dad w/ insulin and I set up his syringes a week in advance. Saves me time in the long haul. Is this not investing in time? Probably all sorts of ways to do his like paying for a better roof or somethign so it saves in the long term.

April 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I think the idea of not being able to save (or invest) time means that, unlike money, you can never get more out than you put in. You can certainly spend (i.e., use) it more effectively, but there's a fixed quantity. Healthy lifestyle will certainly extend that end point, though... Interesting!

April 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

JP, excellent points. Re: "There can never be a perfect guide to success" - you're on to something really solid here. I wonder if there can be no perfect recipe, but cooking school is always useful!

In other words, no one can assign meaning to our time other than ourselves, if we're free. In fact, that might be an OK definition of "free?"

Thanks very much for reading and for your comments. Much appreciated!

April 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

[jp again] Hmm. Okay, yeah, I suppose. What about this: "Work comes in disorganized." I mean what is that all about? You have a writing style where you sometimes write something that you know what it means, but a total stranger to this would be like...?

Like I am right now. "Work comes in disorganized." Well what if it comes in organized? My mail comes in organized. So do my direct mail clients. Not really sure what you are getting at here or what it all means to GTD....

Anyhow, back to GTD. You know I've been trying to apply the idea of the folders to my own ubiquitous capture tool In my case, the capture tool is my spiral note pad, steno size. This is enhanced with an envelope and paper clips that serve to hold my To Do list and my 3 week calender. My 3 week calender is a post it note, with lines across it. The envelope/paper clip holds these items as well as support stuff. E.g. if I want to go to the movies, I have a note card with the numbers for all the theaters that are showing MIss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. (excellent movie, btw.)

I was reading about action folders, someday/maybe folders and reference folders and decided to use this concept to the Note cards that I carry around in the steno pad. So I've got note cards that function as Action folders, adn I've got some note cards that are really just ideas for someday/maybe and other card where I am just dreaming about stuff....

I decided to color code them. I used Red to highlight the action Note cards; then Yellow to highlight those cards that are for projects that I may get to or will get to. Some projects I know I will get to but only when a certain event happens so I call them "Sleeper" folders, after sleeper cells.

And then there are what are either reference Note cards where I list say: GTD sayings, or just day dreaming stuff, these are highlighted in blue.

Using note cards is sometimes better than simply writing it in the steno pad because sometimes you really need to pull that info out and bring it along to another place. E.g. pulling out that phone numbers to make a call. Or pulling out some cards and putting them into a new steno pad when that one runs out.

April 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

"Work comes in disorganized" - Thanks for pointing out my writing style assumptions. I have a mix of readers, and I need to be careful - much appreciated. As to the idea, it is that things entering your life don't have your thinking attached to them, unless you have an executive assistant who you've trained. Almost every piece of mail/email/voicemail needs your attention to figure out what it means and how to dispatch it. If stuff *did* arrive organized, say if someone has pre-processed it for you, there would be far fewer items for you to think about. All the routine tasks would be done for you - signatures, scheduling, administrative issues, etc. But that would still leave the big things to take care of.

OK, I'm getting off on a tangent. The idea is stuff coming in needs your attention - it can't be pre-processed for you.

"note cards..." Thanks for the run-down of your system. Sounds neat. Some people wouldn't be able to carry cards as the stack would get pretty large. What I like is that it works for you, and that the system you've created is flexible. I know fellow consultants who say it has to be Outlook, or no deal. I understand their motivation. (Outlook is in 90% of businesses, and it affords some powerful self-management.) But it's still a calendar and (specific) lists.

Thanks very much for your thinking.

April 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

[jp in md] Okay yeah, thanks for the explanation.

April 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous


For implementing GTD you might try out my application for time management and productivity,


You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.

Hope you like it.

April 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDanGTD

Thanks for the pointer. It'd be useful to see a comparison to other tools that integrate goals, such as [ Life Balance | http://www.llamagraphics.com/LB/index.php ].

April 19, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell


I think you raise some really great discussion points -- many of them are things I directly relate to in my own experience.

But are these really "holes" in GTD? Or edges? Is it "incomplete"? Or simply finite in scope?

Maybe that's a glass half-empty / half-full debate, but that was my reaction after I'd read your post a few times and given it some thought.

I've expanded on it, including some very personal experiences I haven't discussed openly before, over at GTD Times:

[ 5 Things GTD Wont Fix | http://www.gtdtimes.com/2008/04/19/5-things-gtd-wont-fix/ ]

I look forward to the dialog.

April 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterScott Allen

Hi Scott. Thanks for stopping by. Holes vs. limitations... Semantics, I think, though I purposely chose that word to stimulate thought. Glad it worked!

You raise an excellent point, though. Every system for self-management I've studied has limitations, which is understandable. First, we're all different (with different challenges) so systems have to be customized in every case. The closer one method is to you "natural" state, the smaller the gap between excitement and habits. Second, each method is a reflection of its creator, and a function of where she is coming from - how she sees the world, as it were. As a result it will resonate more or less depending on the shared experiences of the writer (via her artifact - the method) and your own process/outlook.

If that doesn't make sense, I apologize. I just made it up ;-)

Thanks again for your comment, Scott.

P.S. I really like your book [ The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors And Closing Deals Online | http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0814472869?ie=UTF8&tag=masidbl-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0814472869 ]. Many great ideas, including using upbeat positive language, letting our enthusiasm come through, being grateful and striving to help others, and becoming a valued resource. Great stuff; super impressive.

April 20, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Hey matt - it's been awhile since connecting and it's questionable whether I am getting distracted right now :)

in any case, I've skimmed your post and comments and just want to comment that I had the honor to meet Mr. William Malek, co-author of Executing Strategy at a local PMI chapter meeting.

I was pleased to hear he sees a direct correlation to what is successful to organizational strategy to what he calls "personal leadership"

I've purchase his book and be looking into some of the templates he uses with college students over the next week. I can definitely see a breakdown in what he refers to the "engagement" domain the Strategy Execution Framework (SEF) that is very refreshing to see and provide a fresh new look on the top-down approach with solid Project Management theory behind it.

I do not speak from personal experience, we'll have to keep up the chat and see if this is indeed my key to getting to Japan in a different light by May 15th! (ie. GTD got me to Thailand 4 years ago!)

April 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChinarut

Chinarut - very nice to hear from you. As usual, you are investigating and pushing frameworks for living/working in the world. I'd love to hear your thoughts as you get deeper into it, please. Hmmm - Japan!

April 25, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Re-reading your article I would like to point how my application Gtdagenda.com plugs some of these holes.

Hard to sustain
- It's true this means coming back to your trusted system often and updating it, but if you use the mobile phone to access it anywhere, or print the stuf and carry it in your pocket, it will be easier.

Not enough help with doing
- You not just blindly set-up next actions, but also can asign priorities to tasks (Covey's importance), and with the Schedules section you can set Time blocking/mapping if this is how you work.

One big list too overwhelming
- You can set up a daily plan (with Schedules section) and work with that in front of you.
- Aside from filtering and grouping tasks in various ways, you have also a Calendar on the right of the screen that will show you only what is for today.

Too complex
- The framework we use is Vision, Planning, Action. We added Vision where you set up Goals, and then group projects in thes goals, so you have a better sense of where you are heading.

No time use analysis
- This will probably be added, but for now we have usage analysis, for each goal or project you can see its progress with a percentage completion bar.

No built-in balance
- Again, Calendar and Schedules can help you here.

Not goal-driven
- Like I said, Gtdagenda has Goals, and also Goal Categories (eg Physical, Family/Relationship, Career/Business, Education etc). In these Goals you then set up your workable projects with tasks and next actions. Goals are always on the top of the screen so you can see them and feel motivated.



May 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDan Baluta

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.