GTD Wagons and Dirty Dishes

Part of using GTD is falling off the wagon. Everyone gets overwhelmed and lets their system linger a bit sometimes. If you keep up on some of the regular maintenance though, it’ll happen less often and when it does getting back on won’t be so hard. Just like a sink of dirty dishes tends to stay full, too many inbox items, or stalled projects, and you don’t even want to look at it. Unfortunately, just like the dishes it only gets worse if you ignore it.

As soon as you start letting items sit for days or weeks in your inbox, you’re doing more harm than good. By capturing items into a system you’re letting rot, you might trick yourself into thinking you’re staying on top of things when you’re really just letting them fester in inbox purgatory. It’s like if you let the dishes sit until they molded. You already know the solution, and you’ve probably even made attempts to do in the past: process everyday.

I have a potentially unnatural love of coffee, and I never forget to make it, regardless of what’s going on. Processing my inbox, however, happens all the time. Force yourself to turn processing your inbox is as much a habit as morning coffee, and there’s no way for it to get out of hand so much you’re scared to look at it. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but I think with work it can become easy.

The other time I get panic attacks when opening OmniFocus is when I’ve got stalled projects. Your GTD system is an evolving one, and it needs constant care and feeding. Letting projects sit with no path or intention for completion adds a lot of friction when looking for something to do. Reviewing your projects often (OmniFocus for iPad is great for this), getting rid of dead projects and redefining ones that are important to you is important for friction-free productivity, and I think one of the things people neglect doing the most.

Sometimes figuring out why a project has stalled can be pretty hard. There’s probably a lot of things I think I’d like to do that realistically I either don’t care enough about, or don’t have the time for. I think it takes honesty with yourself, practice to recognize what you will and won’t do, and ruthlessness to kill anything that’s just cluttering things up. I think deconstructing projects with no action steps to the point where you can work on it also takes a lot of progress. And – like most things worth doing – I think it takes doing it a lot to master.

The one thing your system needs to be is trustworthy. It’s okay to fall off the wagon, but you need to do your part to try and hold on if you’re going to build trust.