The problem with GTD Lists: Life hacks by Charles Assisi

There’s such a thing as over-planning. Ask instead what values matter
GTD Lists are the worst kind of activity trap — they don’t even look or sound like one.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)
GTD Lists are the worst kind of activity trap — they don’t even look or sound like one.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Published on Dec 14, 2019 08:21 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByCharles Assisi

Any piece that screams about how to be insanely more productive or some such thing always got my attention. I have a hypothesis on why.

Now that the mid-forties have kicked in, between a paunch, career dilemmas, early signs of chronic diseases and the onset of common sense, panic has crept in.

A voice often asks: How could you possibly have been so irresponsible in your earlier decades? I guess this is what they call a midlife crisis.

One of the first things I did to course-correct was create lists of all kinds, to embrace the Getting Things Done (GTD) way of life. What, after all, is life without a plan? These lists, most literature has it, turn people into super-efficient creatures.

But after much tinkering with GTD tools and observing of how others use them, I’m convinced it isn’t worth it. This, because people are of four types.

Type 1: Those who make lists and get things done. The ideal way to be.

Type 2: Those who create lists and get some things done. An okay way to be.

Type 3: Those who create lists and get nothing done. A sub-optimal way to be.

Type 4: Those who don’t create lists and get everything done. A super way to be.

When I examined my logs over time, I realised I rarely behave like Type 1. I swing between Types 2 and 3. On asking around, it turned out most people are the same.

Everyone makes plans with the best intentions and their calendars look packed (what a satisfying feeling that is, isn’t it?). But asked how they feel at the end of the day, most people acknowledge that they haven’t done much — and have instead moved various tasks to other days.

Why? Well, when panic sets in, we humans have a propensity to create narratives that console. For our own sakes, we must appear important to ourselves. So activities are lined up. But it is then inevitable that we walk into Activity Traps where we’re so preoccupied with ‘utilising’ our time that we lose sight of the purpose of our activity, and even fail to prioritise.

GTD Lists are the worst kind of activity trap — they don’t even look or sound like one. A way around this is to embrace What Values Matter (WVM) Lists.

Ask yourself, what are my core values? For me, work apart, these include staying healthy, nurturing my family and bonding with friends. When examined, I found that the time invested in these buckets was negligible. It is then naive to expect my body to stay strong, daughters to bond, or friends to stick around ten or twenty years from now.

To make amends, over the last two months or so, I’ve been investing my mornings in strength-training. Every muscle aches. It’s the price of neglect.

I’ve been trying to reach out to my daughters; they still think it awkward. While I was obsessing over GTD Lists focused on work, we forgot how to bond. When old friends are called, after pleasantries are exchanged, long silences follow. Relationships starve when not nurtured.

But try I must. All good things take time.

(The writer is co-founder at Founding Fuel & co-author of The Aadhaar Effect)

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