Untrusted System

Untrusted System

It's kinda funny to admit, but one of the cornerstones of my Better Living Through Design talk is how flawed my brain is. It's a straight up blow to the ego, and it's humbling. It's almost embarrassing to admit it. But it is true.

And when it comes to Getting Things Done (GTD), the organizing system I've been interested in for a few years, my brain has fiercely held on. I first noticed it nearly two years ago, and have been feeling it ever since. I ended up in a place of quasi-GTD where some things were really, really handled well by my “trusted system” and others that remained in my head.

Within the past few weeks, I've had a change of heart. I am on the precipice of plunging right into GTD and truly implementing it. But I admit, I am afraid to do so.

Holding myself back

The biggest fear? Full on acknowledgement that I can't hold everything in my head. It's admitting, in a way, that my life is complex and complicated. It's admitting that I can't remember everything I need to do in the coming week, day, month, and so forth. It's an attachment to a way of being that is not... me. And wow, my brain is not a fan of that.

I've also been seduced by the marketing angle of all of it. GTD has felt like a Way of Life, in title case, and a big thing. That is both intriguing and repulsive to me.

Due in part to that perception, my mind then distracts me from the tasks at hand. It feels a lot more productive to reevaluate OmniFocus versus Things (my app of choice) again than just plunge in and organize my Things Inbox. And, in terms of the way I've handled GTD, the Inbox is where all of my loose to do items go. They require organization, clarification, and refinement – straight up work.

It's an IA problem

When I step back and look at the root of the problem, though, it's more about the IA (how I've organized my lists) than the UX (the tools and processes). There have been times when I've done the brain dump – getting all of those to-dos and items out of my head and into the Inbox – and nothing else. And I tell you, that alone feels good! Until I look at an Inbox with 75+ unsorted items. Then it's back to Overwhelming City.

GTD provides a system to organize these bits. It leans heavily on Next Actions: individual, physical actions that one can take to get closer to a particular outcome. Small tasks. Doable tasks. Then there are Projects, which sound daunting but are really a number of tasks grouped together. Some Projects and Next Actions go into a Someday bin, which means I care about them... but not necessarily right now. And there are Waiting items, those that are dependent on others.

On top of that, there are the concepts of Contexts and Areas of Responsibility. Contexts address where a task can be done (I surely can't change a light bulb in the kitchen when I'm at work), and the Areas of Responsibility live above Projects, addressing my bigger goals.

The system, as you can see, is carefully designed. There are processes and rules. I understand them. My brain gets it. But that fear? That is real. And it's coming from a place of concern that if I organize my entire life – setting aside the drama – then where will the spontaneity be? Where will the creative things be?

Yet, if GTD is reframed as not a thing to organize my entire life, but to organize the bits that crave to be organized... it's a tool, instead of a Way of Life. It's another thing I can use in order to clear up my head and get to the good stuff.

And so, in revisiting my post on GTD from April 2013, I feel I can end it with the exact same words.

So, I can say that thus far my experience with a trusted system has been fine - but I need to actually trust that trusted system first. Letting go is a big step.