Getting Things Done: It's Just About Stress

Anne seems to have struck a chord with [thing #8 she hates about web 2.0](http://annezelenka.com/2007/03/ten-things-i-hate-about-you-web-20):

> Getting Things Done. The productivity virus so many of us have been infected with in 2006 and 2007. Let’s move on. Getting lots of stuff done is not the way to achieve something important. You could be so busy planning next actions that you miss out on what your real contribution should be.

[Stowe](http://www.stoweboyd.com/message/2007/03/anne_zelenka_on_1.html), [Shelley](http://burningbird.net/linkers/linkers/) and [Ken](http://ipadventures.com/?p=1653) approve.

It’s funny, but reading their posts makes GTD sound like “a way to do an even more insane number of things.”

Huh?

That’s not at all the impression I got when I read and started using GTD. To me, GTD is “a solution to finally be able to enjoy free time without feeling bogged down by a constant feeling of guilt over everything I should already have done.”

Maybe not everyone has issues doing things. If you don’t have trouble getting stuff out of the way, then throw GTD out of the window and continue enjoying life. You don’t need it.

But for many people, procrastination, administrivia piling up, not-enough-time-for-stuff-I-enjoy-doing and commitments you know you’re not going to be able to honour are a reality, and a reality that is a source of stress. I, for one, can totally relate to:

> Most people have been in some version of this mental stress state so consistently, for so long, that they don’t even know they’re in it. Like gravity, it’s ever-present–so much so that those who experience it usually aren’t even aware of the pressure. The only time most of them will realize how much tension they’ve been under is when they get rid of it and notice how different it feels.

David Allen, Getting Things Done

GTD, as I understand it, isn’t about cramming more on your plate. It’s about freeing yourself of what’s already on it, doing the dishes straight after the meal and spending your whole afternoon walking by the lake with a friend without this nagging feeling that you should rather be at home dealing with the paperwork, but you just don’t want to face it.

Here are the very few sentences of “Welcome to *Getting Things Done*”, the forward to GTD (and yeah, there’s a bit of an upbeat, magical-recipe tone to it, but bear with me):

> Welcome to a gold mine of insights into strategies for how to have more energy, be more relaxed, and get a lot more accomplished with much less effort. If you’re like me, you like getting things done and doing them well, and yet you also want to savor life in ways that seem increasingly elusive if not downright impossible if you’re working too hard.

David Allen, Getting Things Done

And a bit further down the page:

> And *whatever* you’re doing, you’d probably like to be more relaxed, confident that whatever you’re doing at the moment is just what you need to be doing–that having a beer with your staff after hours, gazing at your sleeping child in his or her crib at midnight, answering the e-mail in front of you, or spending a few informal minutes with the potential new client after the meeting is exactly what you *ought* to be doing, as you’re doing it.

David Allen, Getting Things Done

I don’t hear anything in there about “doing more things is better” or “you should be doing things all the time”. The whole point of GTD is to get **rid** of stuff so that it’s done and you can then go off to follow your heart’s desire. It’s about deciding not to do stuff way before you reach the point where it’s been on your to-do list stressing you for six months, and you finally decide to write that e-mail and say “sorry, can’t”.

That frees your mind and your calendar for what is really important in your life (be it twittering your long-distance friends, taking photographs of cats, spending time with people you love or working on your change-the-world project).

You’ll notice that I didn’t use the word “productivity” in this post a single time. “Productivity” is a word businesses like. If people are “productive”, it means you get to squeeze more out of them for the same price. That isn’t an idea I like. But being “productive” can also simply be understood to mean that it takes you less time to do the things that you’ve decided you needed to do. In that way, yes, GTD is a productivity method. But I think that calling it that does it disservice, because people hear “squeezing more out of ya for the same $$$” and go “eek, more stress”.

Bottom line? (I like ending posts with bottom lines.) If you see GTD as something that takes away your freedom and free time, turns you into an even worse workaholic, and encourages you to become indiscriminate about interests you pursue and tasks you take on because you “can do everything”, think again — and re-read the book. If you spend your whole time fiddling with your GTD system, shopping around for another cool app to keep your next action lists in, and worrying about how to make it even more efficient, you’re missing the point. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

3 thoughts on “Getting Things Done: It's Just About Stress”

  1. EXCELLENT post. I noticed the “frustration” with GTD in the blogging community, and was thinking about posting a rebuttal on our blog. However, I think you said most of what needs to be said.

    Getting Things Done is not about the “system,” as much as it can look that way in all that’s written about it. Correctly practiced, it’s a way of finding more time in your day, honoring your commitments to the people in your life, and being able to truly relax now and then without feeling like you’re shirking some important responsibility.

    Bravo!

  2. Wonderful post, Steph. I think this is also related to the difficulty some people have in prioritising relaxing activities as highly as they prioritise work. Because they don’t think of the two things as equally worthy of their time and attention, they can only see GTD as relating to work, not pleasure.

    Personally, I have a ‘social’ GTD to do list, as well as other things on my to do list which I count as pleasurable. Certainly the way I use GTD it’s across the whole spectrum of types of things that I do with my life. And like you it’s absolutely not about cramming more work in, but about getting work more efficiently done so that I can relax, guilt-free, whenever I so choose.

  3. Nice post Steph! I agree with you, GTD is all about being more efficent in “finishing” things in less time to enjoy your life completely. Concerning the whole idea, I noticed that sometimes, for new people I coached, using one trick is enough to change completely the way they live, for instance “two minutes rules”, “inbox” or “e-mail management”. This method is perfect to me because I can take what I want and give up with the rest and it works!!!

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