The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

GTD Overview Part 3: Simplification

Some people may read the title of this post and think, "Simplification? That isn't based on GTD." True, there is no chapter titled "Simplifying: Make Things Easy on Yourself" in David Allen's book. But examine the concepts behind his system and you will find simplicity is self evident.

How It Fits

At its heart, GTD is about goals. How to clearly define them at all levels of your life, and then mapping out each step to achieve those goals. And to do so in a less stressful fashion.

All the bits about developing collection habits and making decisions about actions are merely there to make you better at attaining your goals. And there is only one chapter in the book that focuses on tools (chapter 4). Yet a good portion of GTD related material focuses mostly on these things. GTD can be implemented more effectively when a person has a good understanding of the underlying concepts.

And simplification can be used at each area of GTD. Collection buckets, your tools, your goals and the projects themselves—all can be improved with a heavy dose of simplifying.

How many buckets do you need? If you have more than two or three, how long before one of them does not get emptied consistently? Also, too many buckets means more possibility of distraction.

And when you step back and take time to brainstorm about goals you have for you life, the end result should be well defined, simple goals. Something like "Build new work bench". Nothing more is needed for a goal—the specific details can be added when planning the projects.

And when it comes to tools, Mr. Allen himself stated that the more simple the better.

Real Life Examples

In the book, an example project and stressor mentioned several times refers to the garage that needs a cleaning. Mine wasn't a garage, it was a spare room in the basement. And I hated even looking in the room when I passed by.

This was a good example of needed simplification. The room was filled with stuff that we had kept because we felt that at some point in time in may become useful. In the end, all that stuff (re: junk) was constraining. Getting rid of most of it lifted a weight from my shoulders and that room now serves a useful purpose as my area for woodworking.

Computer equipment is another good example. Does the average household of five require four computers? For some, it possibly does. But cutting our house down to two and recycling the others was a joyful experience. The older computers and all the accumulated spare parts were never going to have any purpose. De-cluttering is a great way to simplify.

Digital Examples

Another way to simplify is with tools. Read GTD focused web sites for a while and you find that a lot of people spend their time trying out new tools. Especially software tools. I am definitely guilty of this. As I mentioned in part 2 of this series, I've only recently settled into a set of tools and have really benefitted from staying put. I've been more productive and have a greater feeling of satisfaction using my system. Focusing on your tasks rather then the system will give anyone that same joy.

Just to illustrate how I've simplified in this area, here is a list of changes I've made:

Applications

  • Made some hard decisions and chose my tools (Things, Yojimbo, Mail, iCal etc.)
  • Uninstalled competing options to reduce temptation to tinker or compare (Omnifocus, Anxiety, Bento, Together etc.)
  • Put aside a good chunk of time to focus on exactly how I would configure and use those tools (tags, labels, usage, projects vs areas etc.)

The real benefit here is a sense of freedom from making a decision and accepting it. And also from getting to know the tools better. One cost of consistent tinkering is that you never spend the time digging deeper in an application.

Web Applications and News Media

Here's a few ways I've simplified:

  • Modified Twitter usage. I now have Twitterific turned off ninety percent of the time. This greatly reduces my distractions while working. When I have a few minutes to catch up I go to the actual Twitter web page (sounds funny doesn't it!?)
  • Reduced number of twitterers I follow
  • Deleted bookmarks to services I rarely use (and in some cases deleted the account itself) especially where I had accounts to services that were similar (example: Del.icio.us and Magnolia)
  • Deleted around thirty percent of my RSS feeds

This is an area that many would say has nothing to do with GTD. It depends on ones goals. Social web applications and news can be used as tools, but so often end up more distraction than tool.

And it's an area that has seen explosive growth the past few years. Options abound when the choices available include not only applications themselves, but aggregator applications to corral content from the primary applications (example: socialthing).


There are many more ways to simplify. And it's a great use of one's time to put some thought into how to do so.

Heck, make it a project.

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