Declaring GTD Bankruptcy

I would venture to guess that the typical person has at least a 100 items flow to them during the course of their day that are candidates for their to do list. These may show up by email, by phone, by mail, or by walking past an newly arrived home repair project.

David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology provides a 5-step methodology to process and filter input into the the trash, “waiting for” lists, delegations, ticklers, calendars, plans and next actions lists.

But here is the problem.

If you are processing 100+ inputs per day, then you are processing 3000 inputs per month and over 36,000 per year. IF your methodology works 99.9% of the time in separating the wheat from the chaff, after a year of GTD you accumulate 36 items that take up space on your project and task lists. These are the items have developed antibiotic resistance to your methodology. The triple-digit ages of the tasks are the first give away – “What part of someday/maybe don’t you understand?” Unfortunately many of these tasks are typically the “someday I really should/have-to” items.

A few dozen stale items may not seem like a lot, but it doesn’t take much to take the vitality out of your next action lists. A next action list is most effective if you can chew through it like a three course meal rather than snack on it like a buffet.

In my experience, a good “GTD” day might involve knocking off 15 items from your list. You probably do a lot more than that, but many items are immediate or 2-minute actions that don’t flow into the system. If you are knocking off 15 items, then a 100-item list is about 7 days of activity. If your 100 item list has 36 stale/”overdue” items that cause you to avert your eyes, your are not going to make as much progress on the vital ones. Even when you do make good progress, it will involve knocking your 100 item list down to 85. That doesn’t feel like a lot of progress. What you typically end up with are a few fresh items (0-3 days old) flowing through a swamp of aging tasks.

I developed the Next Action Analysis system as a way to try to keep vitality in my lists with mixed success. When I checked my home lists a few weeks ago, I found that I had only 60 next actions, but over half were over two months old and 12 were over 6 months old. While I generally practice strategies for dealing with aging tasks (see fire the oldest 10% of your tasks), the antibiotic resistant strains had accumulated. I also had several projects with a waiting-for task that had gone stale.

I got an Ipad 2 this summer and was experimenting with syncing dashboards over to it using DropBox, but decided to use the occasion to try a different track.

I declared GTD bankruptcy.

There are a number of ways one might go about this. I decided to start from scratch in a (gasp) different GTD software package. This forced me to go through the “Chapter 11” process of entering in my projects and tasks from scratch. I would guess that folks that adopt paper-based GTD systems fare a bit better in keeping their stale items at bay through the process of transcribing them. You can do this without changing your system by just printing everything out and then working selected items back into an empty system.

This process facilitated some renegotiation with myself on some aging tasks. One example stale item was “reconcile credit card transactions in Quicken”. In practice, changing this to “reconcile end of year credit card balance with placeholder transaction” was really sufficient. In the end, most of my “committed” tasks have migrated over, but a sizeable chunk of my stale tasks have been renegotiated or dropped. I’m surprised this concept isn’t common out there in the GTD venacular beyond an entry from Penelope Trunk.

I’ll review the software I migrated my home GTD system to as well as a new add-in that brings the content back to MindManager for visualization and next action analysis in future blog entries.


  1. robert griffith said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 2:15 pm


    On a few occasions i have carried out a similar exercise, clearing out my tasks and projects. I’ve enjoyed the freedom and clarity it gives but have always seen it as a indication my process and methods are failing somewhat.

    For me its retaining clarity on what’s important and sliding in the unavoidable incoming work to my schedule. Email is my biggest headache, 150 or more a day, the ones that relate to and change the plans on existing projects are the worst. Not processing these effectively is something i need to address.

    I’ve used every bit of software there is and enjoy looking for new ones way too much. I’m currently using a combination of Mindmanager and RM for the larger project stuff and taskline to manage the one off’s and small task (often email driven) to which i get a lot. I’m setting taskline to schedule certain hours. not sure if this will work but I find managing the smaller stuff in mm inefficient for myself even though its my preferred tool for planning.

    Very interested in your comment on a tool that pulls info into MM for visualisation, this is something I’d like to try.



  2. Isaac said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 2:57 pm

    GTD has no solution for electronic staff, like emails, articles you need to read online, presentation you need to comment on. It’s best with paper, getting mail, paying bills etc’. If you read the first book of GTD its all about paper system, and thus forget it for electronic life (in my opinion).

    Also all those online task lists, earn money from making you frustrated for not achieving your goals. Simple task list serve best.

    I think each of us has to develop what best for him, and for me CRM system works best, plus taking notes, and write list on Mindmaps.


  3. OmniFocus for Ipad Review » ActivityOwner.Com – Getting Things Done with MindManager said,

    September 3, 2011 @ 10:32 am

    […] I mentioned in my last post on Declaring GTD Bankruptcy, I recently decided to switch my personal GTD system to make use of my new Ipad […]

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