Someday/Maybe
November 19, 2020 1:37 PM   Subscribe

In The Rise and Fall of Getting Things Done (The New Yorker), Cal Newport examines David Allen’s productivity system, but focuses a deeper question: why do we leave office workers to figure out on their own how to get things done? Cal adds context on his blog.
posted by adrianhon (45 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
Back when I was working in our local library, this book was always checked out, and always overdue. It seemed so fitting.
posted by traveler_ at 2:20 PM on November 19 [45 favorites]


As someone who started a new job remotely during the pandemic, this sort of thing has been much on my mind - I find I *have* to rely on workflow rubrics and tools to remain productive, when in the past a lot of this would have happened organically.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:29 PM on November 19 [5 favorites]


How is Dolores Herbig (as in "her big brown eyes") taking this?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:39 PM on November 19 [9 favorites]


I don't know - I've been a peon-style office worker forever and I don't see the problem this is meant to address. Everyone has different preferred methods of working and the less micromanaging the better. Maybe this is techbro specific (like so many of these things are)? The idea of a shared task board is just ridiculous to someone in my position.

As for GTD, I've used it and it's just been a procrastination aid. People I've worked for have used it and it just increased bottlenecks for me. Also if you keep all the stuff you supposedly want to get off your mind on, say, an app on your phone, you just end up a slave to your phone.

It’s why the modern office worker is inundated with quantified quarterly goals and motivating mission statements, but receives almost no guidance on how to actually organize and manage these efforts.

This is usually because the employee's work has bupkis to do with the employer's stated goals/mission.
posted by Jess the Mess at 2:43 PM on November 19 [20 favorites]


Oh my gosh Ghostride The Whip I loved that show so very much.

This whole years feels like it got whacked by a space toilet.
posted by mce at 2:46 PM on November 19 [13 favorites]


David Allen once said, "if four people jump out at you in a dark alley, you don't want to be thinking about two e-mails you haven't answered," which seemed true to me, and that really helped me understand GTD and internalize it:

@street, by alley

o run down street flapping arms and yelling for help (?) (save breath by not yelling?)

o run into nearby store? (make "@nearbystore" context?)

o make Bruce Lee noises to see if that works then run? (split into two actions? or is that too much?)

o prioritize possible ambush choices ... by absolute order or relative priority? (make note: plan this ahead of time for future -- @someday)

o make folder and list for "@street" context ... hasn't come up before

o muggers in @mugger agenda list or defer due to one-time nature of encounter?

o followup -- could I have run faster or yelled louder?

o for @shopping: pepper spray

o for someday: brazilian jiu jitsu training

o @web: efficacy of running vs. shouting, surrender, fight

o @shopping: new Space Pen ... globbing interfered when assessing priority of responding to a mugging
posted by mph at 2:47 PM on November 19 [17 favorites]


The rise of chat/IM as an office tool destroyed my previous attempts at managing this stuff, and I haven't yet figured out the solution. GTD doesn't work in an era where a lot of messaging is interrupt-driven as opposed to the naturally asynchronous email.

I mean, I have a solution which is "ignore it", but I don't think it makes me or my coworkers happy.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:47 PM on November 19 [7 favorites]


I’ve never found a solution that works. My inbox is a disaster, I have fluctuating periods of productivity followed by hollow, empty days of the bare minimum because I get badly burnt out.
posted by glaucon at 2:51 PM on November 19 [31 favorites]


I noped out of the GTD stuff upon my first encounter with 43 Folders.

I mean, 43 of anything is too many. You're not going to be simplifying anything with 43 folders.
posted by chavenet at 2:57 PM on November 19 [17 favorites]


I actually still use it and I love it. A lot of clutter - mental and physical - is just decisions deferred. GTD is good in that it makes it easier to make decisions. For every item, you have 3 choices - do it, delegate it, or defer it. I've struggled with depression for pretty much ever and I find having a structure really helps me just grind on forward even when I don't feel like it. Honestly, I owe a lot to David Allen.
posted by selfmedicating at 3:22 PM on November 19 [20 favorites]


Great title.

I agree with the article's premise that organizations would do well to think about how workers manage all the stuff coming their way, and seek to improve both how the organization assigns those responsibilities and help workers deal better with them.

But I disagree that GTD is meant to solve that problem at an organizational level or that its failure to do so is a "fall". It solves the problem of me managing my own responsibilities, but it's not meant to tell me what those responsibilities should be, let alone how to collaboratively set responsibilities in an organizational structure.

If you're asking "Whose responsibility is this?" at end of a meeting, GTD isn't going to answer that question. But once that question is answered, if it's my responsibility, GTD will help me keep track of that until it's finished.

The fork next to my plate at a restaurant might be the best tool for feeding me, but it's probably not going to do a great job if you're cooking for the evening rush. They require different tools because they are different jobs.
posted by brentajones at 3:24 PM on November 19 [8 favorites]


I had the hippie pda for a while. Recently I made it a year using todoist. These systems work for me for a while but I have never learned the knack of keeping their size down over time. Eventually enough cruft accumulates, and the cost of getting it down to size seems less appealing than just scrapping the whole effort. I agree with this article, at the end of the day my biggest challenge is not figuring out how to optimize my life (which is admittedly very busy and could benefit from an optimization tool I stick with), but figuring out how to protect my time when anybody in a 100k person company can book a meeting or send me a chat message to ask me to do one little thing at any time. And when schedules start to slip and deadlines approach the problem actually gets worse instead of better, because then the project managers start trying to fix things with exhaustive timelines and bug tracking.
posted by teh_boy at 3:24 PM on November 19 [3 favorites]


I noped out of the GTD stuff upon my first encounter with 43 Folders.

I mean, 43 of anything is too many. You're not going to be simplifying anything with 43 folders.


I know little of this system beyond the name, but your reasoning seems solid. It puts me in mind of French PM Georges Clémenceau’s reaction to Woodrow Wilson’s 14-point plan for the Treaty of Versailles. I have never seen the original French quip, but the gist of its many translations is, “I grow weary of Mr. Wilson and his fourteen points. God himself was content to stop at ten.”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:29 PM on November 19 [15 favorites]


@teh_boy I had a boss once who every quarter had me write down how I was allocating my time, and if my time wasn't aligned with my priorities, he would do things like tell other departments to take over xyz project, or tell me to cancel pet projects.

I'd do about anything to work for that guy again.
posted by rebent at 4:17 PM on November 19 [20 favorites]


As someone with ADHD, GTD was something that had a lot of appeal to me. I am terrible at a of things GTD is supposed to help with, and through 43 Folders got deep into the Productivity Porn thing for a while. It never became the panacea I hoped it would be... I'd always fail to write something down either on paper in the pre-phone days (and yes, I did carry a Hipster PDA for a while), or on my phone. I'd also fail to do reviews, or even more often, just check my lists.

It also didn't help that once I was in the real world, I didn't have a Knowledge Worker Job (still don't mostly), just a series of Cranking Widgets type jobs where I always knew what I had to do, though prioritization is often a problem that GTD doesn't actually help with. Then, of course, the Smartphone came around and a lot of the Context stuff basically collapsed. When you're always online, always have a phone, and can do anything with the device in your pocket, what the hell is the point of a @phone or @computer context when you're always at one of those things.

I have taken some stuff from GTD and kept it in my life. There's a lot to the "Break stuff down into small parts" that I find useful. Keeping stuff with hard dates on a calendar is important. I do use some form of "context" for dividing up my task list so that I don't have to see Work stuff at home or vice-versa. And I even keep a set of 43 folders as a tickler file. Not much use for it these days, but when we could Go Places and Do Things it was great for keeping stuff like tickets for upcoming events, or the like in a place where I could find them easily.
posted by SansPoint at 4:56 PM on November 19 [3 favorites]




I mean, 43 of anything is too many. You're not going to be simplifying anything with 43 folders.

I don't think the 43folders website goes into this, but the root of 43 folders is known as a 'tickle file'. The idea is that you have 12 folders, one per month, and 31 folders, one per day. You file whatever reminders and paperwork away in the month work is to be done, and then when that month starts you file the work into the day folders. Every day, you focus on completing the contents of the file of that day.

In the era of computers, the idea of having notes or paper is a bit antiquated, but I get roughly the same effect in Trello using a board with 5 lists: Backlog, Scheduled, This Week, Review and Done. Ideally it would even go so far as to hide tasks with no due date or a due date 30d in the future, as the backlog is always a depressing thing -- it's clear the backlog will outlive us all.
posted by pwnguin at 5:25 PM on November 19 [8 favorites]


All these efficiency systems have a hidden assumption. You’ve got to be busy all the time.

Did I say assumption? I mean trap. Once you actually Get Things Done you end up with free time. And then you’re like, yikes I’m just sitting here but hey I gotta Get Things Done! So you take on more tasks until you’re back where you started.

A better system? Do it, delegate it, defer it, or drop it.
posted by mono blanco at 5:27 PM on November 19 [24 favorites]


mono blanco: Yes, but how do you keep track of the stuff you've delegated or deferred? If you've deferred something and forget to do it until someone comes to scream at you about not doing the thing you were going to do, well...
posted by SansPoint at 6:46 PM on November 19 [1 favorite]


I've been in IT for almost thirty years, mostly holding in large organizations which are a combination of "operations lead," "technical architect," "solution delivery manager," "project manager," and other titles that sound impressive to my mom. In reality, they way she describes it to her friends, "my son works 'with computers,'" probably is the most accurate way of explaining it.

I read GTD, and was a follower of Merlin Mann's blogs and podcasts. I gradually developed a system of tracking tasks that I would admit was more GTD-inspired than pure to the tenants of the book. One thing I'd wind up doing, as each task bubbled to the top of my system (currently some self-tuned set of rules and categories in Microsoft Outlook; previously, Toodledo), was make a time stamped note of what I did and what I thought the next step was.

What I came to realize was that the vast majority of my work was dependent on other people (in my old company, they even used to say "a leader achieves results through others"). Some of these people (I'll avoid the manager-speak term "resources") are permanently or temporarily reporting to me, either through a solid, dashed, or implied line. Others were peers or even people higher on the food chain. In some cases, the person I was waiting on wasn't actually a doer themselves, but another operations/technical/solution delivery/project manager like myself, who didn't actually do the work, but had some chain of people who ostensibly listened to them. There were people I was dependent upon who worked for other companies (vendors or customers), who had demands I had no visibility into at all.

All these chains of people had an ever-shifting list of priorities and commitments that were coming from operations/technical/solution delivery/project managers, or a ticketing system, or a fire right in front of them. My ability to deliver what I am responsible for is ultimately dependent on my ability to persuade, beg, or bully these people into making my "next action" their next action. But, with knowledge workers, they could do any number of things to brush me off, or have some other operations/technical/solution delivery/project manager call me up and explain why I was doing it wrong. Or pull out a contract and simply say "no."

In the article, the notion that, no matter how much a worker optimizes their system and puts better (or fewer) demands on everyone else resonated with me. The problem I see is that the more experience and responsibility you get with a company, the less you are responsible for simply and routinely "crank out widgets." Today alone, I had three different occasions where a "boss" figure shot an email to three or four of us with a problem ("the customer expects us to use this piece of software, which creates a security risk for us") and expects us to figure out what to do with it. The "three or four of us" was usually some permutation of about six people, who all have other projects they are working on as well (often with some subset of those six).

No one wants to be micromanaged (and, frankly, micromanaging someone is exhausting). I think, ultimately, what everyone wants is some form of structure to how work enters and leaves their queue, and understanding that there are a finite number of working hours in a day.
  • Not an inherently bad perspective. I have to take care of my team, because that's how I get things done.
posted by MrGuilt at 8:05 PM on November 19 [18 favorites]


It's worth noting that David Allen and Merlin Mann both went to New College of Florida, at very different times. I think Merlin has talked about this, but New College has always supported a pretty radical form of academic self-determination, which can be both liberating and wildly dysfunctional. (I'm an alum as well.) I don't think it's a coincidence that one possible outcome is the need for, and creation of, alternative systems of self-organization.
posted by feckless at 10:16 PM on November 19 [12 favorites]


From the blog: 'With the notable exception of agile software development teams, companies in this sector largely leave decisions about how work is assigned, reviewed, and organized up to individuals.'

Agile software development teams are not a good thing.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 12:43 AM on November 20 [5 favorites]


Today alone, I had three different occasions where a "boss" figure shot an email to three or four of us with a problem ("the customer expects us to use this piece of software, which creates a security risk for us") and expects us to figure out what to do with it. The "three or four of us" was usually some permutation of about six people, who all have other projects they are working on as well (often with some subset of those six).

The problem has almost never been identified by the "boss" figure in the first place, but by someone else who has the expertise to deal with it, but not the authority, hence has escalated it.

If the "boss" figure carries on behaving like this, eventually people just stop reporting the problems. The company then finds out about the problems the hard way.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 12:53 AM on November 20 [1 favorite]


GTD doesn't work in an era where a lot of messaging is interrupt-driven as opposed to the naturally asynchronous email.

I mean, I have a solution which is "ignore it", but I don't think it makes me or my coworkers happy.


The worst thing you can say to someone on chat/IM in a work context is 'Hi'. It says 'I have an issue, but am placing the burden on you to ask me what it is. So I've just interrupted you, and you don't even know why.'

I'd have liked to be an advocate of nohello, but I refuse to promote the guy who invented it. So I practise it unilaterally, and happily it does seem to be catching on.

'Hi CF, <long description of problem>, <request for assistance with solution>'. The bonus is that the longer the description, the less suitable it is for IM in the first place, so 'Hi CF, I just emailed you with very long description of problem, hope you can help'. Result.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 1:05 AM on November 20 [8 favorites]


The part about organisations in this article really struck me (to the point that when I read the original article I sent it to my manager). I started a new job a month ago at an organisation that is almost entirely 'knowledge workers' and somewhat bizarrely have earned a bit of a reputation as an organisational guru (note, that is not what I was hired for) for establishing what, for me, seem like pretty obvious baselines. Some examples
- Various people need to mark up files for corrections. I have established we only use one type of file. When people say using that type of file takes longer than using a different type of file, I point out that it might be quicker for you, but for everyone downstream in the process, your quicker way of doing things make things harder, and takes longer, for them. This has been a revelation for some (also a revelation - being told no, you will not get to circumvent this system just because it suits you).
- I set deadlines for when I expect things from others, and stick to them. Often I will make sure people are aware of the bigger picture - so they know why I need something in a week not three weeks - and stick to it. I expected resentment but actually a lot of people seem grateful. They actually like a bit of structure - whether it is because it frees up brain space if they don't have to figure this stuff out themselves, or they are sick of other people in the chain holding them up by not delivering on time, or they are putting other stuff off because 'I need to get this done for Megami', I don't know.
What I really took away from this article is so often personal efficiency 'hacks' don't take in to account you are potentially screwing over those you work with.
posted by Megami at 1:07 AM on November 20 [14 favorites]


A GTD based system (implemented using Amazing Marvin which is really a brilliant tool) has been an absolute lifesaver for me and Cal Newport's books have also had a really big influence in how I think about productivity.

I find it extremely soothing to move all the things I have to do into an external "trusted system". That lets me switch off completely when I am not working because I know the system is catching things.

I have a job that requires "deep work" in the Cal Newport sense. Long periods of uninterrupted time to consider problems, play with data and develop ideas. However I also manage several simultaneous projects where others are doing that kind of work and serve as a buffer between clients and those teams to prevent them being overwhelmed. Also, all these projects have multiple deadlines for various things and I have 2 or so hours a day of client meetings and workshops that have to happen at their scheduled times. Before I had this current system worked out I was constantly overworked and stressed without feeling like I was really productive.

It does require compromising the system. There is no way I could check my email, phone, and Teams only once a day so I do it about three-five times a day when I do an intake of messages and emails. Anything fast gets responded to and never enters the system, informational emails are read and filed away into a project or role specific folder, anything else gets input into my Amazing Marvin inbox as a task. Once all the tasks are in the system, messaging apps go back to DND, email client is closed down. I then assign tasks to the appropriate project or timeblock, and/or schedule them if time-bound. I'd say about 25% of my time is spent doing meetings, 25% doing discrete tasks, and 50% is spent in lightly planned time blocks (the latter might be a 3 hour period where I read and take notes on relevant recent papers but I prefer not to overschedule by assigning specific tasks to each paper as I don't think that's productive).

I can do this because I control how we do work within the team but I cannot control how my clients want to interact with me. I think the organisational point of view is a really good one, members of my team are encouraged to have periods where they are "head down" and not working and to skip unproductive internal and external meetings in order to think and write but I cannot tell our clients that I only do email on Monday mornings.

I also track the time I actually spend on each project so that at the end of the week / month, I know what I have actually done and can think about whether that represents a good match with my priorities.
posted by atrazine at 3:36 AM on November 20 [5 favorites]


If you've deferred something and forget to do it until someone comes to scream at you about not doing the thing you were going to do, well...

Works for me. This system's complete absence of administrivia makes it cost me far less productivity than any other I've ever encountered. Also practised and recommended by the smartest manager I ever worked with.

I perceive zero upside in trying to fool everybody I work with into thinking I'm better organized than I actually am. Being well-organized is not the skill they hired me for. It's not one I've ever claimed to have. If they think it comes with, they're just wrong, and that is not my problem.
posted by flabdablet at 4:09 AM on November 20 [2 favorites]


Being well-organized is not the skill they hired me for. It's not one I've ever claimed to have. If they think it comes with, they're just wrong, and that is not my problem.

This is why I've always preferred working as freelance rather than as staff. Apart from the fact that staff job security is an illusion, of course, the freelancer is generally hired to do a specific job which needs doing, because they have the specific skills to do that job. A loud alarm goes off on the balance sheet should someone in management try to deploy them elsewhere. Staff, meanwhile, are treated as resource, shunted round departments and projects with scant regard for either their skill set or their character traits.

I can remember having to tell one manager, "I'm a geek. My skill is making machines do amazing things; that's why you hired me. You would never in a million years have hired me for a customer-facing role, and if you insist on moving me into one, it will make me, you, and your bosses very unhappy very quickly. And it will also frighten the customers.'
posted by Cardinal Fang at 6:32 AM on November 20 [4 favorites]


In regards to leaving office workers to figure out how to get things done on their own without much guidance from managers, I would venture to guess it's because it's the cheapest way to train. The bottom line will always come into play. Managers don't want to spend their time training. Combined with the fact that managers have worked their way up, and feel obligated to sit back and let the peons do the work while they just "manage." It's a jaded perspective, but I also think it's a realistic one. My two cents.
posted by cparkins at 6:46 AM on November 20 [1 favorite]


flabdablet: Works for me. This system's complete absence of administrivia makes it cost me far less productivity than any other I've ever encountered. Also practised and recommended by the smartest manager I ever worked with.

Different priorities and ways of working, I suppose. I have ADHD, and I really hate being yelled at for not doing something I should have done. Externalizing things I can't or don't need to do now, and creating a system that will bubble those things up later is a lifesaver to me. The administrivia is worth it for me, because it makes my life better in ways that are important to me: I don't get yelled at, and I don't lose things I need to do in the future. Without a system that lets me do that, I am fucked.
posted by SansPoint at 6:49 AM on November 20 [2 favorites]


Managers don't want to spend their time training.

Managers also, for the most part, never got trained on this and may or may not be at all competent at it.

I recommend GTD a bunch but honestly I got two things out of the whole system and the rest wasn't that helpful. But those two things have been lifesavers. The two-minute rule - if it will take you less than two minutes, do it now - and the concept of the "next action" are often what get me out of a procrastination hole and into actually accomplishing things. The former because it keeps the pile from growing unbearably huge, and the second because, honestly, most of the time I'm blocked on a project is because the actual "next action" is "email someone else and get that piece of information you're missing".
posted by restless_nomad at 7:01 AM on November 20 [18 favorites]


When I need to reboot and get my shit together, I go back to GTD. It works great for that.

But I can never sustain it.

I would have wept with gratitude if someone, at some point, maybe in grad school, had showed me how they get things done. Like, as a 21 year old grad student, having exactly zero idea how to really manage my work on daily/weekly/semesterly/yearly/career timescales. I was not ready to balance teaching two sections of college writing (to people 2-3 years my junior), writing papers for class, writing papers for conferences, writing a thesis, working a part-time job. I get that sink-or-swim is the baseline ethic of grad school, but it seemed they were willing to throw away the assistanceship and scholarships they gave me if I didn't figure it out on my own. Which I didn't!
posted by Caxton1476 at 7:03 AM on November 20 [2 favorites]


I remember when 43 folders was super popular!

The main thing I took away from GTD was the concept of the next action, and it's something that I use both routinely (my notebook is scattered with next actions) and both in thinking about progressing complex project or tasks (what is the set of all next actions and which can I do now). I am too good at ignoring reminders for them to be super useful, I really need the reminder to be at the exact moment I can carry out the task. But I do store all my notes in one of two places for work (a notebook, my email inbox). Cutting down on the number of places to look is really helpful.
posted by plonkee at 7:26 AM on November 20 [1 favorite]


I listened to GTD a few years ago, and I had forgotten that I had gotten anything useful out of it until I read restless_nomad's comment. Those two things I think I actually used.
But the rest- I think I still have some folders I set up and used for a week. Fortunately they can be repurposed.
It's interesting for me to consider that I need this more now that I'm retired than when I was working. In most of my adult working life, my priorities were externally driven and obvious.
State Department mainframe is down?? Maybe I should head on over there, like now.
And my email is still out of control.
Wonder where I put those folders...
posted by MtDewd at 9:17 AM on November 20 [1 favorite]


In regards to leaving office workers to figure out how to get things done on their own without much guidance from managers, I would venture to guess it's because it's the cheapest way to train. The bottom line will always come into play. Managers don't want to spend their time training. Combined with the fact that managers have worked their way up, and feel obligated to sit back and let the peons do the work while they just "manage." It's a jaded perspective, but I also think it's a realistic one. My two cents.

Most managers either:
-Have never received any kind of management training, have never thought about what it means to manage people effectively, and at best have done some compliance focused internal training sessions

or

-Have management training at a business school which is largely focused on spreadsheets and on strategy and barely touches on how you lead an effective team.

It's ultimately a mixture of laziness, incapability, and getting too caught up in day-to-day stuff rather than thinking about systems. One of my peers spends a day or two at the end of every project haranguing people about slide formatting and stressing themselves out, I asked a member of my team who wanted to learn VBA to write and maintain a set of formatting macros for slides and charts, my colleague tells me he can't "spare the resource to work on side projects like that". Ok, bro, enjoy fucking around with heading styles on your Sunday afternoon. When his projects are late, he plans multiple status meetings a day. Guess how well that works?

I've got about 10 people working for me at any given time between projects, if I can get them each to be 10% more productive, the equivalent of removing 45 minutes a day of unproductive disruption from their schedules, I can do no "actual work" myself and effectively break even. Considering that some managers put that amount of unproductive meetings in their team's calendars themselves, there must be hundreds of thousands of managers out there who could improve their output by simply not doing what they their job is.

Things we do that work:
-At any given time, one person drives each project email account. That is the only person who is required to be externally reachable on a short turnaround. That reduces pressure on others to keep up to date and lets them produce output.
-Internal requests to do something / look at something / answer a particular technical question etc go through an internal project tool to reduce "push traffic" like email and messages. This lets people check the list and process requests in their own time.
-DND is respected: not everyone uses long blocks of unbroken work but most people on our team really prefer them

I'm sure there's people who think I'm a nightmare to work with because I bollock them for not respecting team members focus time but they can go work in a team without those limits if they feel that way.
posted by atrazine at 10:38 AM on November 20 [5 favorites]


I mean, I have a solution which is "ignore it", but I don't think it makes me or my coworkers happy.

This is the correct solution, though. You should turn all notifications off and treat it like email. Respond when you have a natural break in your workflow.
posted by thoughtful_jester at 11:42 AM on November 20 [3 favorites]


The most valuable thing that I've found in GTD has been the weekly review. Take 30 minutes or an hour to look back, look forward, and tidy up. Doing it week after week means so many fewer surprises, and it gives me a chance to look at my completed items and celebrate the fact that I actually did something. I'm not great with universal capture or inbox zero or tagging contexts, but the weekly review has been great for me.
posted by revgeorge at 12:30 PM on November 20 [3 favorites]


All these efficiency systems have a hidden assumption. You’ve got to be busy all the time.

Speaking as someone whose executive dysfunction issues are getting worse as I get older, that's not anywhere in my motivation for trying different efficiency systems. I just want to find a way to actually do the things that I need, want, and intend to do, instead of every idea or project or hobby fizzling and dying because apparently if I'm not actually looking at a thing I can't seem to remember it exists.
posted by Lexica at 1:11 PM on November 20 [11 favorites]


All these efficiency systems have a hidden assumption. You’ve got to be busy all the time.

I don't find this to be true. I'm a GTD user and it's improved my ability to relax and switch off. When I've done my review and updated my lists, I'm confident that there's nothing urgent lurking in my inbox and that I'll have plenty of time to get it all done later. So I can happily chill out for a while.
posted by harriet vane at 11:00 PM on November 20 [3 favorites]


I haven't found any management systems that seem to solve the problems that I have (chief among them procrastination, but also dealing with open-ended tasks where it's done when I'm done with it) instead of solving problems I don't have.

I also genuinely do not get the purpose of reflecting on the day. Like, reflect on what? The day? My emotions of the day? I still remember them because they literally just happened. I had all the thoughts I'm likely to have about the day while the day was going, so I'm not sure why multiple of these systems have a special procedure for having special thoughts about the day. Do they want me to write down those thoughts?
posted by Merus at 2:24 AM on November 21


(part of my problem, upon reading the article, is that I'm a developer by trade and so the vast majority of what I need to do professionally can be managed with well-tailored tools and processes. It's in my personal life where I need the help.)

(Also I am delighted to see Merlin Mann pop up, because his inability to apply any of this shit to doing anything more difficult than recording conversational podcasts was a big reason I'm a sourpuss about personal productivity.)
posted by Merus at 3:45 AM on November 21 [1 favorite]


(Also I am delighted to see Merlin Mann pop up, because his inability to apply any of this shit to doing anything more difficult than recording conversational podcasts was a big reason I'm a sourpuss about personal productivity.)

Not for nothing, but you're kind of sounding like the kind of people who say "oh man, it must be so easy to be a musician, you just sit around and play your instrument all day." It's fine that this kind of thing doesn't work for you, but putting together podcasts is in fact work. Creative work is actual work, takes actual effort, and requires actual planning and preparation. This is true even if you don't like the end product.

Also, just a note, since I'm often living with COVID brain-fog and moderate fatigue right now, I find the end of day review of the day incredibly helpful. Otherwise I tend to forget all the shit that I did do and get mad at myself for not getting enough done. There've been other times in my life when having this kind of check in has been good for other reasons. I don't actually think that everyone on earth needs to do a daily review, but people are really good at lying to ourselves, and sometimes it's a good idea to check to see how our internal narrative about a day\event\whatever matches up with reality.
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:50 AM on November 21 [8 favorites]


All these efficiency systems have a hidden assumption. You’ve got to be busy all the time.

I'm not sure they do. I find it much easier to let go of work stuff when I'm confident that the things I need to do are being recorded for me somewhere and easier to stop for the day when I have something that tracks what I've done.

(part of my problem, upon reading the article, is that I'm a developer by trade and so the vast majority of what I need to do professionally can be managed with well-tailored tools and processes. It's in my personal life where I need the help.)

I think the nature of work makes a huge difference. If you're a dev working on a single project, basically 90%+ of your work time is probably focused work on that project, so a fancy system for balancing lots of categories of work etc. is completely superfluous. Surgeons don't need them either, they're either in clinic or operating and it is very clear what they should be doing when they are. The more balancing and long term context you need to maintain, the more helpful this is. So neither a surgeon nor a line cook benefits.

I like doing reviews because I have loads of things I could plausibly do that might not be what I should be doing. If you are a surgeon, no need since it's very clear what is and is not productive.
posted by atrazine at 1:07 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's super clear that the book was written by a senior sales executive before computers were used for literally everything and that is the target audience.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:27 PM on November 21


This is the correct solution, though. You should turn all notifications off and treat it like email. Respond when you have a natural break in your workflow.

This only works if you can turn read notifications off as well. I once worked somewhere which used an IM tool which was so noisy the only way to get any work done at all was to hide it behind another app window. One day a manager started screaming at the whole team because he'd sent an IM and 'all of you have read it, but none of you have answered'.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 2:04 AM on November 22


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