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

A Year of Getting Things Done: Part 3, The Future of GTD?

This is the final installment of a three-part series looking back on a year of doing Getting Things Done. Part 1: The Good Stuff; Part 2: The Stuff I Wish I Were Better At.

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:

  • Getting Things Done for Programmers & Developers
  • Getting Things Done for Designers
  • Getting Things Done for Parents
  • Getting Things Done for Students
  • Getting Things Done for Telecommuters

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.

More on Getting Things Done

Elf Sternberg's picture

Thanks for replying to my...

Thanks for replying to my previous post, Merlin. I'm honored.

I suspect David works from home. The "43 Folders" method works iff you have access to the shelf where you keep them 24/7; eitherwise, you need two sets of 43 folders, one for the tasks you're up to in the office, and another for the things you're doing at home like concert tickets and mortgages and the like. (My wife works at home and is notoriously disorganized. She's going to do the David Allen gather/purge thing Monday; I think I'll prep a set of 43 Folders for her.) And if you're going straight from the office to the baseball game, do you put the tickets in the previous day's home tickler file to be moved to the office tickler file, or what? And if, like me, you have a third place, a cafe where a remarkable amount of work gets done... You can get lost in details like this. Not all of us have a car where we can keep the 43 Folders in the trunk either.

One of the things that I carry with me from my Franklin Planner days that's an awkward fit for GTD is the notion of roles. For each project, there's meta-info about the role I'm playing: I'm a father, a husband, a writer, an open-source programmer, an employee, and so on. David has his own context lists, things he can do out on the road, things he needs his wife's advice to accomplish, things he can do when connected to the Internet, and so on. Working "context" into GTD seems to be an uncomfortable fit at the moment precisely because there's a centralized repository that's as big as a milk crate.

I wonder if investing in a hand-scanner and using a "43 Pages" Wiki is the solution. The two things I'm guaranteed to have at my side at all times are my laptop and my moleskien.




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