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43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

A vacation from the endless lists

The “Not Insane” To-Do List @ AMERICAN DIGEST

LET’S FACE IT, we all have far too much to do. But the only reason this is so is because of the proliferation of productivity tools that respond to our insane lust to be “productive.” Driving this insanity is the To-Do list which is, being limitless, is unlimited in its ability to drive us insane. It’s time to stop the To-List insanity. Toss all you’ve previous To-Do Listing Systems you’ve got out — paper and/or electronic — and convert to this new, improved certifiably not-insane system.

Systems like Getting Things Done have gotten many of us into the habit of maintaining multi-page, contextual, cross-referenced lists of what we could be doing in a given day. And while I’m certainly not here to slag my “next actions,” I will confess that tending a theoretically unlimited list of verb phrases can start to feel like I’m entertaining a house full of ungrateful in-laws who won’t take the hint.

So, Gerard’s “invention”—very much in the conceptual spirit of the Hipster PDA, I’d say—addresses the “insanity” of a sprawling daily task list by forcing your ambitions south into reality. Pick the three things that you will do today, and then do them. That’s it.

Is it complete, pseudo-scientific, or cognitively gratifying in the same way that GTD can be? Hell, no. But it is a terrific concept for any day when you need a break from all your lists shouting at you—when you want to set aside “your system,” knock out some valuable work, and just go home.

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My big complaint with the...

My big complaint with the GTD method is seems weak on setting priorities and stripping the nonessential tasks out. From my reading of Allen's work, the emphasis seems to be very heavy on list-making. But I think prioritization matters far more. The old Charles Schwab technique is very useful. (It consists of picking the top six things that must be attacked, ranking them, and doing those first that matter most.) As a businessman, I also like to distinguish between stuff that is money-making from all the rest: money-making activities first!

The flaw in Allen's GTD system, in my view, is that he uses the computer as his metaphor for the human mind. The computer needs to manage a variety of tasks efficiently, and must context-switch between them. But Man is different: he chooses his tasks and priorities. And even more importantly, he decides what NOT to do. I do not see that Allen takes sufficient account of this. In my reading, his system seems reactive by design. And I think a reactive system is a dangerous system.

People who know GTD better than I may disagree heartily. I would love to hear their analysis. Maybe I have Allen all wrong.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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