Getting Things (You Don't Want to Do) Done

With the rising discussions about GTD and productivity have come the counter arguments on how managing all of those lists and maintaining software and systems is a waste of time.

Jeff Atwood posted on CodingHorror about how to-do lists1 can distract from getting the things that are actually important done:

For the things in my life that actually mattered, I’ve never needed any to-do list to tell me to do them. If I did, then that’d be awfully strong evidence that I have some serious life problems to face before considering the rather trivial matter of which to-do lifehack fits my personality best.

When I’m really driven to do a project, I don’t need a list or reminders to get it done either. I know in my head what I need to do then I do that.

But the flaw in Atwood’s argument is when there are things in work and life we don’t really want to be doing but they still matter to someone and need to get done. Task lists are more about managing the things that we don’t want to be doing but have to do anyway.

It seems like our memories do a pretty good job of forgetting things we don’t want to do. Yet that stuff is a reality. Features like start dates and contexts in OmniFocus are about reminding you at the right time and place of some thing that you’d rather not do but should do. The process of capturing allows you the temporary relief of not having to think about that dreaded task until it needs to get done.

Until I’m at a point where I get to do whatever I want at any given time, I’ll stick with my lists.

  1. I think part of the Atwood’s problem with to-do lists is he’s looking at GTD as a process (and missing a lot of important aspects) not a framework, like discussed in episode 37 of Mikes on Mics with guest David Allen.↩︎