There seems to be a polarization in the time management world between the old champion Franklin-Covey (FC) and the rising star David Allen (GTD). This is reflected even in software, which usually favors one approach at the expense of the other. In fact, one Pocket PC program I have explicity forces me to choose between the two—it has a FC mode, GTD mode, and standard mode for tasks; you must select one and only one.
I was doing just fine when I was using the FC Outlook add-in. My productivity actually took a dive when I attempted to impliment GTD. I don’t want to sound as if I’m bashing David Allen and his methodology; both approaches have valuable insights, and I think everone can benefit from applying them in whatever way works best for them personally.
The key insights from GTD that have benefited me are: decide what specific outcomes you want to attain, and then for each outcome (project), and decide what the NEXT specific action you need to perform will be. These are habits of thought that must be cultivated by anyone who wants to get things done. However, David Allen seems to argue against the part of the FC approach that has done more for my productivity than anything else ever has: the prioritized daily task list. Having a collection of undated next actions sorted by context has been much less helpful for me.
I rarely have more than two real contexts: I’m at work, or I’m not. And then I have my shopping list(s). If I need to be in a different context to accomplist a particular task, I do it as part of doing that task. Walk 10 feet and pick up the phone. Walk 10 feet and sit down at the computer. The nature of my contexts is such that I don’t gain much of a practical advantage by using them to organize my tasks—it becomes a mere academic exercise in taxonomy. And having several lists of things to do “as soon as possible” is, for me, a recipie for procrastination.
It might be worth noting at this point that I have ADD. I get bored entirely too easily, and I can always find something that seems very important or compelling at the time, but which usually isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps the problem is that my ADD brain is very bad at intuitively making the “importance, effort, time” decisions spontaneously and in the moment as David Allen suggests. So it’s better to make them ahead of time, while reviewing everything that I need to be making progress on.
This is where the FC practice of creating a daily task list has been invaluable to me. GTD next action lists don’t actually tell me what to do NEXT. When I review my lists, I’m asking myself, “Do I HAVE to do any of these things right NOW?” Usually, the answer is “not really.” So I then decide that it’s ok for me to do whatever is most interesting to me at the moment, which invariably is not the most effective use of my time. But if I already decided what I am going to do today and in what order, I can look at my list and see what’s next. Then I just do it. Is it really the most important thing? Am I in the right context, do I have the right energy level? Irrelevant. It’s what I’m doing today, so I do it, end of story.