What’s Wrong With GTD (Part Two)?

What's Wrong With GTD (Part Two)?In the first part of this post I explained why GTD is not always geared towards creative professionals and that adopters should brace themselves for barriers of entry.

In the second part of this GTD critique, I challenge the argument that our children need to learn productivity systems and discuss the role of SMART goals.

Let’s continue.

(PS I practice GTD almost every day and I critique it because I believe in it).

Do Children Really Need to Learn GTD?

David Allen Co want to teach GTD to kids and teenagers. I’m all for kids and teens learning skills they can use in the real world and discovering the benefits of writing things down, but people are not productivity widgets.

Is it necessary for us to set goals at every stage of our lives?

There’s an inherent value in doing nothing. It is a liberating mindset that provides us time and space to figure out who we are and what we want from life. There’s nothing wrong with boredom or doing nothing.

I’m not the only person to raise this point. GTD focuses on completing a range of Next Actions and Projects. This can feel overwhelming for an adult new to the process, never mind a child.

I’ve two kids of my own and childhood doesn’t strike me as a time for Weekly Reviews, Next Actions and Outcomes (even if the language is child-proofed). I’m not trying to raise black-belt, productivity ninjas. Is that so wrong?

There’s a real value in failing as a teenager. It teaches you resilience. It teaches you what you need to do to accomplish something. Failure can help shape who you are. This blog was born out of failure (a post for another day).

The Value of Failure

In the long run, failure can teach you the value of productivity systems and even lead you to GTD. I’d argue for the introduction of a system like GTD when you’re at the point of questioning the level of your accomplishments and your ability to complete tasks.

In other words, you’re there, you’re working and you’re committed. You just need a little more help to realise Outcomes and Goals. Once our children grow up, they will have to spend almost their entire lives figuring out how to achieve, accomplish and work.

They will have their entire lives to discover and perfect their own productivity system, GTD or otherwise.

It’s not that I’m against GTD, I use it every day. I’m certainly not against my children writing things down and working towards things they want either. I just have reservations about expecting my children to work within the confines of a productivity systems. When they’re older and their dreams are realised, this may change.

This is more a critique of the way our children are educated than GTD as a system and I recognise that David Allen Co write and argue from an American rather than an Irish context.

Perhaps GTD within the education system is the next level of engagement for David Allen Co. As parent, I need a little more convincing.


smart goal setting conceptDavid Allen describes in his books how users of GTD should begin with the end in mind.

He writes that GTD users should track a list of projects and consider the outcomes of each of these projects. GTD also tasks users with setting personal and professional goals.

This is good, practical advice but deciding what’s an outcome of a project and what’s a future goal can be a little confusing.

Similarly, GTD deemphasises placing one goal over another and I sometimes found it hard to work out exactly what I should be working on and when.

The GTD methodology doesn’t go into real specifics about how to decide which goals are worth pursuing and which goals should be placed on a user’s Someday/Maybe list.

I found it helpful to supplement goal setting within a GTD framework by using the SMART system. This involves setting goals that are:

  • Specific: Who, what, when, why and how will I achieve my goal?
  • Mesurable: How much do I need to do? How many times do I need to do it? How often? How will I know when I’ve achieved my goal?
  • Attainable: How realistic is my goal? Am I overlooking opportunities that will help me achieve my goal?
  • Relevant: Is it the right time to set this goal? Am I the right person? Am I in the right place? Does it relate to my prioritised projects?
  • Time-bound: When will I achieve this goal? In a day, a week or in a month etc?

Please let me know about the challenges you’ve come across while using GTD in the comments section below.

Join over 15,000 writers today

You'll get a free book of practical writing prompts.

Powered by ConvertKit

4 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With GTD (Part Two)?”

  1. GTD implementation doesn’t have to be painfull 🙂 If you want to find the best way to simply and efficiently manage your work just try SmartGTD app working great with Evernote and many others (soon) ;)!

    Today it’s going to be performed the first public presentation of SmartGTD – app helpful in tasks management based on GTD methodology. If you want meet the Team, just find us today (July 2nd) at 8 PM CET at special G+ Hangout. We’d be more than happy if you’d take part in this event

    Hope to see you tomorrow at: http://bit.ly/11bgA3K

  2. “The GTD methodology doesn’t go into real specifics about how to decide which goals are worth pursuing and which goals should be placed on a user’s Someday/Maybe list.”

    In fact, that’s exactly what the Perspective part is about, the one most overlooked. The Horizons of Focus not only serve as a way to scan one’s life and find new projects or tasks to add to lists, they also allow for appropriate level of thinking about the stuff that’s in them. The Review part of the GTD approach is the perfect time to go through the lists one item at a time and ask “Why am I doing this? Is this still relevant or important? Should it be deleted, moved to the Someday/Maybe list, redefined or clarified?”. Some items will need higher levels of perspective to make that decision than others.

    Thanks for the warning about using GTD with kids, I never really envisionned it that way. I agree that they must not be squeezed in a productivity structure too soon, but I’m sure a lot of the principles can still be applied, maybe in a less formal way. It’s not because you’re a teenager that you can’t feel overwhelmed or get confused by the amount of stuff you must process. Using GTD to clear one’s mind is probably a good way to free some space for more profound questionning about life.

    Oh, and I do use GTD, but it doesn’t prevent me from failing sometimes either… and learning lessons!

    1. Interesting feedback, particularly about the Perspective part of GTD.
      Thanks for taking the time to post a comment.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top