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Getting Things Done Again

A friend just asked if I was GTDing again, and here was my answer:

First: a warning: in my experience, GTD (and other time management techniques) is world-changing for a while when you first introduce it – it really clears everything out and increases productivity, reduce stress, and helps … get things done. GTD can feel like it will revolutionize your life.

But it won’t, unfortunately, or at least not completely. Often after a few of months, as the pile of undone things on your list start lingering, you start getting what my friend Maurizio calls the “black cloud of GTD oppression” … where (if you are using GTD software) you start feeling fear of opening up the software because of how guilty you feel about all the undone things.

I think part of this problem comes from trying to get a system to combat your personality and failings; whereas what you really need to do is find a system you like, and shape it so that it works well with your personality and failings.

So: GTD is great, but don’t rely on it to solve everything, you need to adapt it to yourself. I have been fairly successful with this recently – I’ll get back to you in six months. I am using Things, a very nice mac app/iphone that syncs between devices. I’m liking it very much.

One of the important things you have to do is figure out your “contexts” – in the end I didn’t like the suggested way that GTD likes you to organize things, by “project” and by context = “how you get that work done.”

So typically, you would have a set of projects, for me:

  • LibriVox
  • Book Oven – Product
  • Book Oven – Business
  • Book Oven – Community
  • Atwater Library
  • Personal
  • Business – Other
  • Rugby
  • etc.

You can label your projects however you like of course.

Then there is the “contexts” sorting … which could be, if I understand orthodox GTD procedure:

  • email
  • telephone
  • online
  • writing
  • etc…

But I found that I really do not like sorting contexts that way at all – not sure why. My need is more time-based – making sure I get stuff done on time.

So my contexts are:

  • today
  • thisweek
  • thismonth
  • eventually
  • oppressive

And every morning I resort my Things list – adding new things to the today, and bumping things off that I realize I won’t have time to do.

The “oppressive” context was a real revelation for me – that’s where I put things that are nagging at me that I just can’t seem to get done for whatever reason. They are the great drivers of the black cloud of GTD oppression, so quarantining them is helpful. It lets you acknowledge to yourself that you won’t get those things done, because you just can’t get at them, and that they are increasing stress levels enormously. So stop thinking about them. The surprising result is that by acknowledging that you won’t get those oppressive things done, it gets much easier to get them done.

GTD is always a great way to declutter the brain, and break work down into component bits. But the challenge is integrating it into a long-term workflow that suits your personality – and acknowledges your faults rather than trying to defeat them.


  1. Patrick Patrick 2009-10-18

    You seem to be having problems with Akismet ;)

    So do you still use projects with time based contexts or just contexts?

  2. Cyroul Cyroul 2009-10-18

    Nice idea. I did it for five months but i never call it “oppressive”. Thanks for naming it so clearly.

  3. ewa stern ewa stern 2009-11-17

    hmmm I guess I’ve just managed to get everything done from my list and there is just this one last project, oppressive!, and I hate to even think about it, but it has to get done….
    instead I’m web searching, visiting blogs of friends, watching their pix on facebook and 5th day I’m doing all but getting it done.
    Is it at all an idea to delegate the oppressives to other people?

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