7 Mistakes to Avoid for the GTD Beginner

Welcome Lifehack readers! Feel free to take a look around. Today’s guest post is from Al at 7P Productions.Enjoy!

They call it the “breaking-in” period. When you buy a new car, you’re supposed to allow for the first few weeks for the engine to have all its part work smoothly. Don’t push the engine too hard; drive consistently to get used to how responsive the gas pedal and the brakes are; check to see how much mileage you are getting. Once you get past the breaking-in period, driving and maintaining it falls into a comfortable routine.

Same goes for Getting Things Done… as you regularly use GTD, you will begin to develop your own rhythm and it will gradually become easier to fall into a productive routine. Along the way, try to avoid the following mistakes:

  1. Be realistic, not optimistic, about how long a task will take: If you are new to GTD, chances are you are already neck-deep in work and decided to use GTD to get things under control. In your zeal to get through all the things you need to get done, you might err on the side of optimism for how long a task will take. Trust the system – you will be amazed at how things get done even if you give conservative estimates for how long a task will take.
  2. Don’t try to take on too much: It’s true that you can be more efficient with GTD, but let yourself get into a comfort zone with GTD before increasing your normal flow into your projects inbox.
  3. Avoid abusing the “Tickler” folder: This one took me a really long time to figure out. When going through your inbox, spend a minute or two for each stuff – if it needs more time, then schedule it on your calendar for later. The Tickler folder is only for new projects you are considering. For me, about 80% of what went into my Tickler folder should have went to my calendar or to my trash.
  4. Don’t fall off the wagon: Sometimes the real world will throw something at you that will get you off your GTD rhythm – whether it be your PDA being stolen, losing your calendar, or being away on a road trip (and away from your folders). Try your level best to get back into the groove that you had, because it will get harder to get back the longer you delay it.
  5. Avoid taking shortcuts: If there is something you should put on your calendar, then put it on your calendar. Don’t follow old habits and use stickies or even just your memory. You will be following down the slippery slope towards #4.
  6. Don’t forget about maintenance: Just like for a car, you will avoid a breakdown if you routinely perform maintenance.
  7. Don’t over-complicate your GTD system: This advice complements #5. Just as you should not shortcut GTD, at the same time do not make your GTD too complicated either. GTD is a streamlined workflow; there is no need to put unnecessary steps. For example, I tried to maintain a calendar at work, a personal calendar using SunBird, and my PDA with Outlook. Syncing all my calendars took up too much time, so I reduced the number of calendars I used.

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7 thoughts on “7 Mistakes to Avoid for the GTD Beginner

  1. I like the idea of not over-complicating. This is important especially in implementation.

    Don’t work on all aspects of your GTD-system all at once. It’s just overwhelms you. Try implementing in chunks.

    - Try to get capturing stuff an emptying inboxes up and running.
    - Find a way to handle multistep projects
    - Find the right reference filing system
    - Decide on your own way, to defer actions to the future (Tickler files are not for everyone)

    And then STANDARDIZE – when you implement something in your GTD-system, then make a checklist of how to do it every time. This speeds things up! For example a checlist for your weekly review. When you tweak your system, upgrade your checklists.

    - Jens Poder

  2. Great tips, I like your phrasing there, Jens, “Implementing in Chunks”. We should think of a “GTD-esque” jargon word for that.

  3. Agreed on standardizing, Jens. It’s at that point that the “rhythm” of GTD kicks in. Great tips!

    Stephen – I like “Chunklementation.” You should trademark it :)

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  5. “’Implementing in Chunks’. We should think of a “GTD-esque” jargon word for that.”

    Isn’t that what “Chunking” means? I vote for simplicity.

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