GTD Reality Check - Am I really any more productive?

GTD Reality Check – Am I really any more productive?

I started out on this journey last year as the result of a realisation that I was being pretty chaotic in how I got things done – and that perhaps the techniques I was aware of, but had previously dismissed, could help.

I think it’s useful every now and again to reflect honestly on how things are going; to assess whether these supposed ‘productivity tools’ are having the desired effect.

So how’s it going?

I’m not drowning

I’m busy at the moment. Aren’t we all? I have a lot of stuff going on at work, and two young kids at home means ‘thinking time’ or ‘down time’ is in scarce supply.

I’ve found that the ‘Open Loops’ aspect of GTD – the art of writing stuff down so you don’t have to keep worrying about it – is working pretty well for me. I’m doing it better for work stuff than home stuff (I need to think about why that is) but I have healthy work and home lists and every item on each list is a worry bead that’s no longer rattling around inside my brain.

I’ve also found that however long the list, however many unread emails I find in my inbox in the morning, having an established structure for how to attack the day (coffee, email review, actions, etc) minimises the oh, shit moment that was a much more regular occurrence pre-GTD.

The Inbox Blast is working

In early January I attacked an inbox that was creaking at the seams with 700+ emails (most of them read) and after a few weeks got it down to Zero. That was a magical moment!

Having Zero as a starting point is a great enabler and incentive for staying on top of emails, and now I spend 15–30 minutes at the start of the day ‘blasting’ through my Inbox to get it back down to Zero.

I’m not working the emails at this point, I’m simply applying the Do/Defer/Delegate/Delete rules to get them somewhere they can be worked in in the right context.

About 60–70% of emails go from my Inbox to my ‘to Action’ folder, so the cynical observer might say this is nothing but a complicated Cut-and-Paste exercise; but I would make two observations:

  • Cutting that 30% out is an important first step
  • I now know that when I come to processing the Actions folder, everything in there requires me to do something

(confession: my ‘for Review’ folder, which is supposed to be for stuff I need to read at some point but requires no action, is a mess and I need to figure out how to manage it better)


My biggest failure is that I’ve got much better at processing and only a little better at doing.


There is definitely room for improvement in my email management. My biggest failure is that I’ve got much better at processing and only a little better at doing. I need to leverage the efficiencies that the processing gives me to give my doing skills a big kick up the backside.

Don’t underestimate the power of not experiencing the extended oh, shit moment though….that’s a big leap forward for me.

I’m more aware of what I’m not doing well

I’m much more self-aware now of how I go about doing stuff. It might sound a little obsessive, but I think it’s good that I’m able to catch myself procrastinating, or realise that I’m not following my own guidelines for capturing stuff and prioritising it.

I’ve written on several occasions about personal stumbling blocks – the Kryptonite Task and the Hub Task – and although I’d rather not have those issues I think being able to spot them, and think about how to beat them, is progress in itself.

My paperless workflow needs work

Much of what I set out to do last year revolved around reducing the amount of paper-based crap in my life. The productivity stuff sort of came second. What happened was I really focused in on the productivity aspect and after getting some early wins with my Doxie the paperless workflow sort of petered out. I need to get back on the paperless bandwagon.

Starting a blog was a bad idea

It was kind of a Narcissistic urge to write about my experiences at the same time as trying to improve myself. I guess you can consider it a ‘public journal’ with a few hints, tips and best practice techniques thrown in.

I’ve really enjoyed the writing aspect, and there’s a sort of honesty and self-discipline attached to admitting your mistakes and writing about how you’ll fix them. It has also introduced me to a community of smart, engaging people and I’ve had some great dialogue.

In productivity terms, it was a dumb move. Blogging is hard (at least for me) and takes a chunk of time and energy to ensure you’re engaging and posting regularly (which is required to get the conversation going, which in turn is kind of the whole point of blogging vs journalling).

So on balance, how am I doing? I haven’t freed up a ton of free time, though I am producing more now than I was before Christmas (i.e. this blog for a start). I definitely feel more in control, though you might challenge whether that’s reality or just my perception.

On the whole I think the techniques I apply most regularly – Capture & Review, Do/Defer/Delegate, 2-Minute Rule, Inbox Blast – are definitely helping. I could probably do more to get the full GTD process working to its maximum efficiency.

Some good progress, but plenty of room for improvement.

How are you doing against your productivity goals? What has been your most successful change and what is holding you back? Join the conversation and comment below!


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