Why I disagree with Bojan on ‘quitting GTD’


I followed a retweet by @productiveSD to Bojan’s post on Alpha Efficiency regarding quitting GTD and having read it feel compelled to outline why I disagree with almost all of it.

GTD is not a perfect system; it’s about a switch in mentality to prioritise what needs to be done.

I’ll start with the bit I do agree with: many people grab hold of a system – any system – and attempt to use it as a life raft. It’s the equivalent of the ‘lose weight without exercising’ or ‘get rich for no effort’ mentality. I don’t think GTD is marketed as a ‘quick fix’ – the fact that David Allen wrote a pretty hefty tome on the subject attests to that – but it won’t stop people latching on to it as a ‘silver bullet’ to solve their problems without considering some of its deeper philosophies.

But my suspicion is that these people will always be looking for the next quick fix and are unlikely to latch on to GTD for long. I can only speak for myself, but I cannot believe Bojan’s assertion that “for the majority of people, it’s simply not applicable.”

Here are my reasons:

  • GTD encourages you to think about what’s important, what’s urgent and the difference between the two. This is not about a perfect ‘system’, it’s about a switch in mentality to prioritise what needs to be done vs what is able to be done.
  • GTD is based on the principle that when you’ve got stuff on your mind, you’re less productive. The part of GTD that really resonated with me was the concept of ‘open loops’ – that the more you have buzzing around in your head the more distracted you will be, even by the things you can’t do anything about in the short term.
  • GTD is tool-agnostic. Although he makes a few suggestions, David Allen does not push a particular tool. Indeed part of the magic of his ‘system’ as it were is that it translates well to paper, technology or a mixture of both. Bojan talks about Omnifocus but there are other, simpler tools available that enable you to implement the principles of GTD without the full complexity of Omnifocus.
  • GTD is about developing productivity as a habit. Much of David Allen’s suggested routine – Capture, Review etc. – is about embedding a set of habits into your daily order that will become intuitive over time. In stark contrast to the ‘quick fix’ mentality this requires time, effort and persistence but will stick much better in the longer term as a result. I’ve already posted about my own lapse in willpower but I’m still on the path to enlightenment.
  • GTD is intuitive. Contrary to Bojan’s post, I found it possible to access the finer points of GTD without being a professional programmer or systems engineer. True, I did find that it took me 10 years of experiencing time-management issues in a professional and personal environment to understand why and how I could apply GTD but I think that’s more of a maturity thing than a criticism of the system.

GTD seems to be helping thousands (millions?) of people out in the world…and whilst I agree that everybody is different, I would perhaps not be so quick to disparage a methodology that seems to work for so many people.


One comment

  1. Love the rhetoric of this post. While I don’t agree with you, I believe you’ve picked up the finer points of GTD.

    One of my problems with it, is it’s wording, and open space for misinterpretation. That’s why I had to encourage the word systems in the article. Thank you for wonderful write up!

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