The Essentials of GTD

Note: GTD refers to the book or approach called Getting Things Done developed by David Allen.


In an interesting post at Matthew Cornell’s blog, he makes the point that GTD is difficult to be reduced to a lighter version, because it is packed so tightly. In other words, the system cannot be made lighter than it is, because of the bases it is designed to cover. I shared a comment that I thought that the focus needed to shift from trying to adopt a single person’s system, to instead empowering and teaching users to create their own systems. In this context, GTD is useful as a guide, but not as a new dogma.He responded, pointing me to an interesting post that he wrote on the topic of the essential habits of GTD. Here are the habits as outlined by Matt.

For each one, read “The habit of ____”:

    • 100%_CAPTURE
    • APPROPRIATE_PLACEMENT
    • CONTROLLED_COLLECTION
    • DECOMPOSITION
    • EFFECTIVE_PROCESSING
    • FRONT_END_DECISIONS
    • INVENTORY_BASED_CHOICE
    • KEEPING_THINGS_CLEAR
    • NEXT_ACTIONS
    • OUTCOME_FOCUS
    • REGULAR_REVIEW
    • SITUATIONAL_AWARENESS

These are quite interesting, although I wasn’t satisfied that they all meet the criteria of being habits. Many of these are very hard to learn and almost impossible to observe.

Which ones?

Well, I do think that 100% Capture, Controlled_Collection, Next_actions and Regular_Review are possibly habits. The others seem to be non-observable opinions, results or judgments that are left up to the user to decide, They don’t seem to form the basis of habits.

In other words, a user could easily fool themselves to think that they are already doing most of these action, making it difficult to turn them into habits.

However, I think that Matt is on the right track in trying to distill GTD into its essential components.

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2 Responses to “The Essentials of GTD”

  1. Matthew Cornell Says:

    Thanks for the stimulating push-back – always welcome.

    I’d like to see your definition of habits. I think of them as permanent significant behavioral changes that require time to form deeply.

    To create my list, I thought about what changes in thinking people had to make to adopt the system. It is draft one – I’d love to see your complete/edited list – another post, perhaps?

    Which are ‘real’ habits? Let me think… Nope – all are habits 😉 I do agree with you re: EFFECTIVE_PROCESSING.

  2. fwade Says:

    I think like an industrial engineer when it comes to habits — if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist, in other words.

    Habits of behavior are tangible, visible and observable. They are plain to see, and require no judgment.

    e.g. smoking, scratching, spitting… are all habits when repeated often.

    So is brushing one’s teeth, combing one’s hair, and putting on underwear each day.

    I don’t think of the following as habits, because they fail the “behavior test.”
    — being nice, working hard, sleeping too much, being smart…

    They all involve evaluations and interpretations, that lead to all sorts of trouble.

    When I started looking for observable habits, or practices, residing within ALL time management systems I came up with the 11 that I describe in this blog.

    While a change in thinking is useful sometimes, it’s not _necessary_ to be effective, IMHO. In other words, someone who developed their own system on their own would need to change their thinking to do so, necessarily.

    The rest of us would have to, however!

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