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Ethan Schoonover: Learn GTD's load-bearing walls

Knocking Down Walls: GTD Ownership vs Orthodoxy

Kinkless GTD developer Ethan J. A. Schoonover has some great insights on moving beyond GTD "orthodoxy":

Renting GTD means that you are living in somebody else’s system. You are limited in how much you can push it and make it truly fit your life. And if it doesn’t fit your life, I don’t believe it can really be a “trusted system”. The idea that there is only one correct, “orthodox” way to implement any system, GTD included, is like offering people only one style of house to live in. Uniform solutions are a myth...

Removing one too many walls

So you own your house, how far can you go? All this lovely talk of “ownership”… doesn’t that mean that there are no parameters to how much you can change GTD? That’s anarchy! Well, you can’t knock down every wall. The trick here is this: some walls are load-bearing, some aren’t. You can kick down walls that aren’t structurally critical, but knock down a load-bearing wall and the roof may fall in entirely. Most of the discussions about GTD orthodoxy seem to indirectly be about figuring out where the load bearing walls are in the system. I do believe that the GTD system is pretty tightly defined and that most of the framework is pretty essential, but there are lots of areas that can be changed to customize it for your life, mood, personality, weak points, etc.

This is probably the kind of stuff that any sensible software developer has to think about -- how can I make this work for a broad range of needs and applications without making the whole thing fall apart? -- but it seems especially true of a product based on GTD.

One reason I also look at GTD as a framework is that it is so adaptable to the way we each think as well as the problems we each face. For some people just "getting it all down" is 80% of the game, for others it's about contextual tasks, while for someone who's managing 10 crazy projects, the weekly review is where it's at. In any case, once you learn "the rules" of GTD, it's easy enough to start breaking or adapting them to make it work how you like. (Fair to say it's like Perl for productivity?)

For what it's worth, I continue to be really impressed with kGTD and have been using it enthusiastically for several weeks now with great success. I'm off Entourage completely (*gulp*), and am finding iCal wonky but entirely usable in the context of its integration with kGTD (when, God, when will we get alarms automatically assigned to new items? Jeez.).

As long as I'm passing out compliments, I'll also send another shout-out to OmniOutliner Pro, which is the app that runs the documents and scripts of kGTD. What an outstanding and intuitive piece of work this is. kGTD has gotten me back in the habit of using OO for a lot of the outlining I'd been doing (in a much more primitive fashion) in my text editor. If your brain is anything like mine -- and I fear it may be -- OmniOutliner is one of those apps that you'll find yourself using for many more things than you'd ever imagine. Worth every nickel.

About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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