by Mike Shea on 22 May 2011
A good "Getting Things Done" system, like a good user interface, can only get better when there is less of it. Getting Things Done captures so many people because it is a relatively easy system to incorporate once you get going but it's up to us to customize it around our corner of the world. GTD has aspects that are really required: inbox, next action lists, project lists, and the weekly review. Other components like tickler folders, project support folders, the massive file reference, and even the beloved Someday Maybe list can often be eliminated to keep our personal project management system nice and clean. In each of your weekly reviews (you're doing weekly reviews, right?) ask yourself what elements of the system you can simplify or eliminate to make the whole thing just a little bit smaller.
There are some aspects of GTD that can never be eliminated. You always need a place to capture random stuff that enters your life, stuff you can't yet fully process into next actions, projects, calendar items, or trash.
After spending almost five years with Getting Things Done, I can safely say that the following elements are absolutely required in my own system:
Inbox: I absolutely need a little notebook to jot stuff down, regardless of what it is. I tend to find I can skip the inbox for a lot of items and immediately turn them into either projects or next actions. Still, I always need a place to just throw down some random stuff and my plain pocket Moleskine notebook does this very well.
Project Lists: Still the primary DNA of my system, project lists include everything I want to do in my life over the next year. Getting a little more morbidly zen about it, if I'm not doing it over the next year, than it's not important enough for me to do it in my life. If it's something I really want to do in my life, I should already be working on it.
Contextual Action Lists: @home, @work are pretty much the only two that I need. I might whip one out for a grocery store visit or if I'm traveling somewhere, but mostly I only need to do stuff in those two locations. I've simplified a little bit by putting errands on the action list I'll read before I'll be leaving to run the errand. Having seven contextual action lists is just madness. I bet most people can get away with two or three.
Calendar: We all have appointments so we all need a calendar. The calendar is also a great place to put actions you don't need to do right away. This way your calendar becomes your tickler file. Want to sign up for that drawing class but it doesn't allow sign ups until may? Stick it on your calendar. It's an easy trick.
The Weekly Review: The weekly review went from a process I dread to one I look forward to every week. It takes me about 15 to 30 minutes to complete now, down from an hour, and it helps me clear out all the stuff I no longer care about, reset myself for the next week, and ensure I'm focused on something I really want to focus on. Make it part of your weekly habit and you'll be a lot happier for it.
Over the past five years there are a few things I no longer really need. Some of these might be considered crutches, important to have early in when using GTD but no longer required once you feel like you have a handle on your life. Here are a few of mine:
Someday maybe list: This is probably the most shocking elimination in my system and one I have only recently gotten rid of. What I found is that my someday maybe list items never really bothered me when I didn't keep track of them and rarely became real projects. If they were important, I'd have made them projects. If I was just putting them off, I can stick them on my calendar. What I don't need is a list of all the things I'm procrastinating on that I have to review every week. Either decide you're not going to do it or do it. There isn't a need for some purgatory to just make you feel better.
Tickler Folders: I got rid of this almost right away. The whole 43 folder system was just too complicated and helped me very little. Using the calendar as a way to store reminders for things works just as well.
Paper: It's pretty clear to me that the whole GTD system was built around paper. David Allen loves his giant file cabinet and his file folders and stapler and shit. I've managed to get rid of nearly all of the paper in my life. It's a lot easier to keep your things together when it's all bits on a system with a good search engine. Tools like Evernote, TadaList, and DropBox make it very easy to manage your stuff across multiple devices. One easy way to simplify your system is to, as much as you can, eliminate paper. Of course, the Moleskine I use for my GTD system itself is paper but that gets a free pass. For personal organization, no electronic system has been as fast or as easy to use as paper for me.
Waiting For Lists: Waiting for lists are another list I got rid of a long time ago. If I really care, I make it a project and track it that way. If I don't than I don't track it. Sometimes it gets me into trouble to not track someone else's actions but I would rather like to assume they have their life together instead of tracking it for them.
Simplifying my life is a constant drive for me. I'm always looking to remove elements of my life that don't make me happy. I'm always looking for ways to get rid of physical stuff. I'm always looking to use one less application than I need. My GTD system is no different. Anything I can do to make my system more efficient, smaller, and faster is a goal worth seeking. So, what element of your own system is generating more work than it's worth?