5 More GTD PitfallsThis is part 2 of my previous post about Common GTD Pitfalls. In the first post I wrote about the following 4 common GTD pitfalls:

  • collecting and processing but not doing!
  • reviewing infrequently
  • playing with your system
  • keeping stuff out of your system

Read on for 5 more common GTD pitfalls!


List of 5 more common GTD pitfalls

1. using your diary for next actions
It is a common habit for many people to jot down a quick to-do list in their diary for the current or upcoming day. This basically defeats the GTD system! You need to write down next actions (there is a subtle difference with to-do items!) on your next actions list and nowhere else. Your diary is for appointments and other things that need to be done (or known) on a specific day and time. To keep a clear view of the “hard landscape” don’t clutter your diary with other stuff. Keep your GTD system consistent, that is, write down next actions where you expect to find them later. If your next actions are all over the place, it is just a matter of time before you start distrusting your GTD system and things will start falling through the cracks.

2. too many inboxes
I have written before about keeping your GTD system as simple as possible (items 5 and 6 in this post). That applies to the tools you use to implement GTD, but also to the number of contexts, project categories and so on. It also applies to the number of inputs for your GTD system, also known as collection devices, or simply inboxes. I am trying to keep my physical inbox (a simple tray) central in my GTD system. My snail mail, my notes, my bills, all of it goes straight into my in-tray. Of course I use other inboxes when I’m on the road, mainly my mobile phone (voice memos, digital photos) and my PocketMods (handwritten notes). However, whenever I return to my office at home, I immediately put my “mobile inboxes” into my physical inbox, keeping it the central collection unit in my GTD system. E-mail is handled similarly. I check my e-mail very frequently. Important e-mails are printed and put in my in-tray right away. My e-mail inbox is always empty (read more about my e-mail setup in this post).
If you have too many inboxes, it will become increasingly difficult to frequently and consistently process all the “stuff” in each and every one of them. Finding a bunch of notes stuffed into the back of your diary after one month, for example, is not the most effective way to be productive as you may imagine.


3. from tickler to inbox… and back again
I have caught myself doing this many times, because it is such a convenient way to put things out of sight and out of mind. I encounter some item in my inbox, realize I don’t really know (or don’t want to know!) what to do with it right now, so I stuff it into my tickler file some days or weeks into the future. When that specific day comes, I empty the contents of my tickler file for that day in my inbox, ready for processing. And the same cycle happens over and over, obviously not getting anything done about that particular item. One solution for this could be to not allow yourself to put an item more than once in your tickler file. A better solution is to only put stuff you need on a specific day or month into your tickler file. Things you would like to think about later should be put into your reference system and tracked on your projects or someday/maybe list. Things you do not want to think about at all, should be thrown away instead of clogging up your tickler file. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you basically fear what you might encounter in your tickler file today!

4. no project outcome
A GTD project list is very useful, but can easily become useless if you let it turn into a “dead” list. Don’t put stuff on your project list just to get it out of your mind. Remember that the whole point of using GTD is to actually get things done! If your projects are merely listed on a piece of paper or in your shiny new GTD application they will quickly lose value. Projects need project support material that contains the current status of the project, upcoming next actions and most important a clear and SMART project outcome. A project without a project outcome will seem insurmountable and daunting. If you keep a specific and realistic project outcome in your mind (preferrably defined in present-tense, active words), it will become fun and effictive to work on it. Without a project outcome it will become difficult to come up with meaningful next actions and you will never know when a project is successfully completed.

5. writing about GTD ;)
Guilty! Obviously I write about GTD frequently. It is a great way to prevent myself from actually getting (other) things done! :)
Seriously though, the message here is that talking about, writing about or playing with GTD is not actually Getting Things Done. Practice what you preach, stop thinking about GTD, start cranking widgets!