Is GTD all about hyper-efficiency?

GTD is the current “gold standard” of personal productivity systems, and rightly so: it’s extremely effective, and in my experience no other methodology comes close when it comes to getting our lives under control. Even practitioners that evolve away from it – as I have, to some extent (more on this in future posts) – still use it profusely as the core of their hybrid system.

Before understanding what GTD is, it is important to understand what it isn’t. In this post I will debunk the first of a series of common misconceptions about the system and about personal productivity in general.

“GTD is only about getting things done. It is about turning people in hyper-efficient beings obsessed with work. It deprives them of their relaxed, dreamy, playful selves”.

It’s a tricky one, because the name of the methodology, “getting things done”, seems to imply this, and because people who are into “productivity” seem to be the most drawn to it. I used to think this too, and to be honest, the first couple of years I did fall into the “hyper-efficiency trap” many times, going about my day like an automaton, creating and checking off heaps of tasks.

As my knowledge and experience of GTD matured, I actually realized that, at its core, GTD is not about grinding out tasks, but about achieving a clear mind, or – as David Allen elegantly puts it – a “mind like water”. The fact that GTD is often used to live a life on steroids doesn’t mean that it should be used like that. It’s like owning a Ferrari: you can use it to its maximum speed on the racecourse, or you can simply enjoy cruising at 45 mph along the Pacific Coast Highway. GTD is a tool, it’s up to you to use it to suit your personality and lifestyle.

I actually think a case can be made for using GTD to be more dreamy, relaxed and playful. As I said, GTD is first and foremost about achieving a clear mind, and with a clear mind comes inspiration, seizing the moment, peace. So, paradoxically, both the high-achiever and the slacker can benefit from it!

The way I see it, GTD is about living each moment to its fullest, about being fully present. Our attention is one of our most precious resources, and when we lose it, our capacity for work and for enjoyment is impaired. GTD comes to the rescue by helping us “distribute our cognition”, so that we can access the distracting thoughts when they are actually relevant.

Let’s admit it: in this day and age we are confounded by a seemingly infinite array of inputs, be they from our ubiquitous phone and email or from our pseudo-multitasking mind. When we are unable to properly manage these inputs, we bring work to home and home to work. We think about that big office project at our daughter’s basketball game and about our home renovation project in the middle of a staff meeting. Even something as mundane as the need to buy water – yes, in Italy we are obsessed with our bottled water! – can alter that much needed concentration in the middle of a speech-writing exercise! We are humans after all, and we need all the help we can get!

As David Allen likes to repeat, the mind is for having ideas and thinking about them, NOT for holding them. For the latter, we need a system, we need GTD.

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