Recently, an article entitled “Getting (Unremarkable) Things Done: The Problem With David Allen’s Universalism” written by a fellow named Cal Newport began circulating the inter-webs. The premise of the article is contained in this quote:
Creating real value requires deep work, which is a fundamentally different activity than knocking off organizational tasks. Deep work cannot be reduced to clear next actions.
It seems Newport believes GTD is about the small menial tasks and can’t mesh with larger goals. I think he misses the purpose of the system in three key aspects.
Getting Things Done Is About Freeing Your Mind
The first element of working a successful system under the GTD guidance is capturing all of the things in your head, large and small. By removing this clutter from your head, you are effectively freeing up hard drive space between your ears to allow you to focus on what is important.
If you have a system you trust that time and again proves it is trustworthy, you can place items into that system without fear of balls being dropped. Trusting your system is incredibly freeing and allows for deep and meaningful work without interruption from smaller worries.
Getting Things Done Isn’t About Knocking Off Tasks
Second, if you think GTD is about checking off minor tasks, you are missing the point. Newport seems to think GTD claims all tasks are of equal value, but prioritization of tasks is a key element to GTD. Using Context, Available Time and Energy, it is easy to determine prioritization of tasks in the moment.
Think of it this way, assigning a priority to an action ahead of time fails to take into account changes in your situation such as location or time available. Therefore, you must stay in the moment and judge accordingly.
For example, if you find yourself in the research library with ample time on your hands and strong energy, then it makes sense to prioritize the critical research on the specific item you need to do ahead of writing your dissertation. On the other hand, if you are worn out traveling on a train with 10 minutes left before reaching your destination, then maybe you can fire off that thank you note to your aunt for your nice Christmas present. Either way, those tasks will be contained in your trusted system and you can turn to that system as context, time available, and energy allow.
Getting Things Done Is What You Make of It
Third, like the college you attend or the ingredients in your kitchen, the results of a productivity system are truly what you make of it. If you see GTD as ticking off small tasks that lack in value, you will never realize the full benefits of the system. On the other hand, freeing your mind of clutter by using a system you trust will allow you to focus on what is truly important.