After a few months of happy GTD-ing, I thought it was time to list some of the common pitfalls that you may encounter; I know I certainly have! :)

David Allen’s Getting Things Done action management methodology seems to be easy to implement and maintain. However, in reality it requires constant focus and discipline to really get things done; we are only human after all (well, most of us ;) ) and distractions and procrastination are always out to get you!

From my own experience I will describe -in no particular order- some of the common pitfalls I have encountered and probably will encounter again while practicing Getting Things Done. More importantly, I will try to give you some pointers on how to avoid these common pitfalls on your adventure in GTD-land.

List of common GTD pitfalls

1. collecting and processing but not doing!
In my job I deal with many clients, which results in many phone calls, voice memos, handwritten notes, e-mails and so on every single day. And I didn’t even mention the things going on in my personal life. All of this generates or simply is stuff I need to collect in one of my inboxes and process at least once a day. Every single day I extract new projects from the “stuff” as well as a large number of next actions. At the end of some days I’m just happy to get my inboxes back to empty and everything processed into my GTD system! Many times that leaves me with the satisfying feeling that everything is put out of my head into my trusted system, but at the same time with the annoying feeling that my lists of projects and next actions simply keep growing instead of shrinking! In other words, I’m not actually getting (enough) things done! I’m keeping track of all the open loops in my life, but somehow I don’t close enough of them.

If and when I find a satisfactory solution to this dilemma, I will post about it! :)

2. reviewing infrequently
This is what I call “breaking the chain”. If you do not update and review your trusted GTD system as often as you need to, you will end up with an incomplete and untrusted system. An untrusted system doesn’t exactly inspire you to get things done. One of the reasons that I sometimes skip my daily or weekly review is the “fear” that I might generate even more next actions on my already overflowing next action lists (see 1. collecting and processing but not doing!). Another reason is that sometimes I prefer to be actually doing things from my lists instead of spending hours on a weekly review.

In any case, skipping your review session is generally considered to be a Bad Thing. My solution to this situation is to do a short review at the end of every day, so my weekly review becomes less of a burden. My daily reviews ensure that my GTD system is always complete and trusted.

3. playing with your system
If you’re anything like me, you probably also spent quite some time in choosing and perfecting your analog and digital GTD tools. This has been a major pitfall for me (and probably still is), which has prevented me many times to actually get things done. I have tried, used and abandoned many GTD systems and tools, from analog to digital and hybrid systems, in only a few months time. Even now I like spending time on playing with my GTD system, tweaking and tuning, trying new tools, searching the internet for brilliant GTD tricks, sorting, filtering and grouping next actions… but not actually cranking widgets!

In hindsight I guess playing around with all the GTD tools actually ensured a firm grasp of the Getting Things Done methodology and also helped in discovering what actually works best for me. On the other hand, I now know it is best to settle on a simple system that is easy and fun to set up and maintain. This could be a combination of a pen, diary and notebook to keep track of your projects and next actions. When you feel comfortable with GTD and you are actually getting things done, then you might find it useful to play around with other GTD systems and tools.

4. keeping stuff out of your system
I noticed that I keep “stuff” out of my GTD system in at least two ways. First, I didn’t start GTD in the recommended way, that is, I did not put “everything” in my inbox in the beginning, but just the more “recent stuff”. The upside is that I feel I have more control over the things that are happening right now in my life. The downside, of course, is that my GTD system is still incomplete; it doesn’t contain everything I should do or want to do.

Second, I frequently catch myself jotting down to-do items on a piece of paper or even in my diary, even though I always carry my mobile GTD system with me. These items or projects don’t go through the regular GTD cycle, but are kept out of the system.

The bad thing here is that keeping stuff out of your GTD system renders it incomplete and sometimes untrusted, by definition! Moreover, doing next actions or even whole projects that are not even listed in your GTD system, makes you feel you didn’t accomplish anything during the day because there is no record of it in your GTD system!

The solution is simple but tough to keep up: use an easy-to-use mobile GTD system that allows you to capture every next action or project that pops up its head, do not try to keep next actions in your head and do not write them down on a piece of paper that is not an integral part of your trusted GTD system.

(to be continued in part 2)