Busted GTD and productivity

Over the summer I read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity and was converted into a full-blown GTD nerd. I bought Omni Outliner Pro and installed Kinkless GTD. I bought the labelmaker (even though it sucks). I made a tickler file (despite the fact that this sounds like something that a naughty Office Max employee would keep in his closet). The works. People who were following my blogging of GTD might be wondering where the GTD posts have been lately.

Well… Around week 2 of the semester, that system, which seemed so robust and powerful at first, totally broke under the huge volume of input and output that the daily grind of college professorhood requires. It was like dumping the contents of an Olympic swimming pool into a Dixie cup. At the beginning, I was feeling like a kung-fu master practicing productivity moves at a degree of fluidity heretofore unseen in my job. But before too long, the amount of stuff coming in was just too great. Papers were coming in at a rapid pace. Grading was (is) slow. Committee work drug on. I was buried, and no amount of GTD zen was getting me out. Today, my desk and my email inbox is as cluttered as it was the day before I “installed” GTD.

Maybe it’s not the system’s fault. GTD did work at first. And I want to get back to that level of freedom from stress and that level of productivity that I had at the beginning. It was nice to be able to actually get my stuff done during the day so that I didn’t have to work 50+ -hour weeks and nights and weekends. The problem is probably in the amount of work I bring upon myself — I probably assign way too many things in each course during the semester — and the level of ambition I had for actually getting things done. I’m not sure. But I’d like to experiment to find the sweet spot.

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Filed under GTD, Life in academia, Profhacks

3 responses to “Busted GTD and productivity

  1. Uhm…

    After a lifelong struggle with procrastination and overwork, I bought the GTD book, and was hoping that it will solve my issues…

  2. As I’m sure you found out, procrastination is antithetical to the “do it now” GTD philosophy. GTD is predicated on doing large numbers of small, easy-to-accomplish tasks very quickly and sorting everything else into some kind of bin — physical or mental — for later consideration or for breaking into small tasks. In that sense GTD helps with procrastination because it prevents big things from dominating daily life. But GTD certainly doesn’t cure the procrastination habit.

  3. When I was in grad school I had a secret for keeping my desk from getting cluttered.

    I kept a large cardboard box on the floor near the desk.

    Everything that I was tempted to put on the desk went in the box.

    It worked perfectly. Yes, there was still clutter, but at least I could get work done at my desk. And, unlike teetering piles, a box is already in a fairly low energy state.

    I have a similar but more upscale version of that going on now in which I have bins attached to vertical surfaces for storing things that I don’t feel like dealing with. I will never be disciplined enough to deal with things as they come in, but I can buy furniture and fixtures that can keep the crap away from where I do work.