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A Year of Getting Things Done: Part 3, The Future of GTD?
Merlin Mann | Dec 31 2004
Over the year or so that I’ve been working with GTD, I’ve returned to David’s book on countless occasions for refreshment, clarifications, and, more often than not, encouragement and inspiration. It’s a well-written book that’s full of practical advice—even for the most seasoned GTD nerd. But, as GTD has gained popularity outside the suit-and-tie business world, it's becoming clear that the stock system has its limitations, and that, frankly, the book is starting to show its age. I think it's time for an update, some new material, and a few second-generation products.
Time to branch out and drill down
As I suggested in "How Does a Nerd Hack GTD," David Allen’s system seems optimized for a certain kind of professional with a given set of demands on his or her time. I’d peg the notional GTD user as some kind of manager or sales person who works mostly in an office, travels often, and has lots of scheduled appointments in a given week. Each of those factors maps nicely to aspects of the "official" GTD program, but they obviously differ substantially for people with unconventional workflows, advanced technical skills, or highly focused job responsibilities. This seems especially true with contexts, where the needs of, say, a writer, a nurse, and a graphic designer are different enough to merit more specialized help putting together a system that's feasible to implement and maintain.
While most of the basic GTD practices are adaptable in some fashion, I would like to see Davidco make a more formal effort to reach out to specific slices of its audience. One solution would be to roll out a series of short books targeted at the needs of the folks who seem to have taken to GTD most enthusiastically:
While it's probably not practical (or profitable) to mount a "...for Dummies" scale level of market segmentation, there clearly is a demand for more advanced, specialized help. It would be useful to see more varied scenarios, detailed tool reviews appropriate to skill level, and implementation strategies that address the needs of these diverse audiences (but with the specificity of "my" interests and focus).
Having said that, I suspect that David’s toast is pretty well buttered on the seminar side, so there may be modest short-term incentive to devote time to writing and rewriting books that reach out to a "non-business guy" audience. Still I feel it’s time for a substantive update that spends more time on the specifics and speaks to the needs of his broader audiences.
Update for an "always-on" generation
I doubt that I’m the only GTD nerd who now has faster and more ubiquitous access to the internet than back in 2001, when Getting Things Done was first published. Just as one data point, I work primarily on internet-related projects from home on a 1.5Mb DSL line and house-wide wifi: "@online" is virtually all of the time for me. So, the GTD contexts associated with my work demand more subtlety to be useful (or even worth the bother of maintaining them).
Take me and multiply it by an order of magnitude for students with Hiptops, full-time AIM access, and a completely wifi campus with unlimited, lightning-fast bandwidth. I suspect that this desk-free, under-25 crowd are a group worth Davidco devoting some avid attention to.
More coverage of the range of tools for implementation
Visiting 43 Folders, the Davidco forums, and the many blog posts about GTD, you start to realize how enthusiastic people are about discussing the tools and tricks for implementing GTD. It's a bona fide fetish. And, as I confessed yesterday, it's easy to get distracted and disoriented by the range of options that are available. While the GTD book does a good job laying out some basic ideas on how to get set up, we could all use a lot more help exploring which options are right for us and why.
Additionally—as I hope sites like 43F have helped show—there’s a growing number of OS X- and Unix-based GTD nerds out there who've had a tough time seeing themselves in the Microsoft-centric world described in the current Getting Things Done; there may not be many of us non-Windows users in the aggregate, but a few of the tastemakers out there are definitely using and pimping Macs and Unix. Or, so I’ve heard.
Also, I realize this may be far-fetched, but I’d love to see folks from Davidco publicly collaborate with some of the developers who are working on commercial and open source tools for GTD-like implementation. (If they are and I hadn't heard, please clue me.) This is a crowd than can grok the basic points of GTD over dinner one night and be building powerful apps around them by lunchtime the next day. The GTD/Davidco folks could do worse that to get wired into that audience while plans are still on the drawing board or in the early stages of development.
In any case, it's hard to deny the groundswell of interest in finding and discussing options for GTD projects and tools. Smells like a hungry market to me.
Wrapping Up the GTD Year (and looking forward to the next one)
Getting Things Done has been a great help for me. No big surprise there. Because of the principles I've picked up from GTD, I feel much more in control of my work and have a stronger sense of ownership about what I choose to do and when. I still have lots to improve, and I want to get better at finding focus and agility with whatever implementation ideas come down the road. Plus, of course, I really look forward to seeing the tools that become available as peoples’ apps and site widgets continue emerging over the upcoming year.
I’ll also be keeping an eye on David and his estimable colleagues over the next year, more frequently encouraging them to spend some of their considerable web capital (as well as some real-world ducats) to reach out to the folks who have helped make GTD such a hit. It’d be great to see David's company grow by providing the kinds of materials, support, and access for which their fans are clearly clamoring. Having thousands of smart, evangelistic customers willing to spend a little cash is what the business types like to call "the right kind of problem." The question for ’05 is how will Getting Things Done help its increasingly broad—and increasingly nerdy—fanbase get things done their way. @Waiting On.
So, what's on your GTD wish list for ’05 and beyond? What kind of products, updates, and community participation would you like to see from David and his company? Let's give them a little free marketing info to chew on.
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