When GTD Goes Too Far: How To Avoid Productivity Paranoia

Wednesday, July 27, 2011 at 1:34am by Site Administrator

Anyone interested in improving their productivity has no doubt heard about the Getting Things Done philosophy. Created by

David Allen

, this workflow program advocates a five step process to getting your daily to-dos under control. For many, it’s helped them turn their chaotic and unproductive work hours around and get their careers and jobs under control. But for others, productivity management has taken over their lives and their well being. If you feel yourself slipping into this kind of productivity paranoia, it’s not too late to salvage your sanity and your productivity. Here are some tips for getting your obsession under control.

  • Stop wishing you had more time. You can only fit so many tasks into so many hours in the day. Having one or two more hours isn’t going to make you any happier in the long run. If you’re going to plan your time, plan for the time you do have, not what you don’t have. Assign yourself an appropriate amount of tasks for each day that you can actually get done. If this means some things don’t get tended to, so be it. It’s not the end of the world.
  • Don’t quantify your output. You may feel good about getting more things done in a day, but getting more done isn’t really what it’s all about. The quality of your work is what really matters, and chances are pretty good that if you’re clamoring to cram in as much as you can, the quality of each of those tasks is suffering. Instead, pride yourself on the quality of the work you’ve gotten done each day.
  • Take a break. That’s right, take a break, as in stop working. When you get things done ahead of schedule or just have a few spare minutes, don’t try to cram them full with even more tasks. Reward yourself with some time away from your desk and your omnipresent task list. If you can’t bear to just do nothing, then add break times to your to-do list so you can check them off as if you’ve accomplished an important task.
  • Realize that getting more done isn’t the only thing that makes you an asset. Do you brag to others about how much you work or how much you managed to fit in one day? This shouldn’t be the quality by which you define your worth as an employee or a person. Being a hard worker is a great quality to have, but if you’ve become paranoid about your productivity, chances are you’ve taken it too far. Loyalty, creativity, and good leadership skills also help to make a great worker, so take a few minutes to reflect on what other assets you bring to the table besides your ability to multitask.
  • Stop the guilt trip. Didn’t get to everything on your list today? Don’t beat yourself up about it. You’re only human, after all, and even the best of us can’t meet goals that are unrealistic. Stop making yourself feel guilty for everything you didn’t get done and start thinking about all the things that you did get done instead. Chances are that you’re not giving yourself credit for having done a whole lot of work.
  • Narrow down what works for you. There are literally hundreds of GTD techniques out there, so many, in fact, that you could spend days reading about them. Many addicted to productivity spend an awful lot of time trying to find ways to squeeze extra minutes out of their days. Whether you use sticky note reminders or an elaborate online to-do list setup, find what works for you and stick with it. You’ll save yourself the stress of worrying that you could be using a better method and you’ll get the extra time to spend connecting with friends or doing small tasks.
  • Enjoy your time away from work. Many who are used to days crammed with back-to-back tasks find it hard to take a load off and enjoy a quiet evening at home with family or a vacation that doesn’t involve staying in constant contact with the office. The reality is that we all need a break and working too hard can lead to numerous stress related illnesses that can not only put a crimp in your productivity but in your health and well-being as well. Change your mindset when you leave the office and let yourself enjoy just doing nothing if only for a few hours a day.
  • Keep track of your accomplishments. For many addicted to getting things done, the to-do list is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it helps motivate and keep track of what you need to accomplish. On the other, it can make you feel terrible if you don’t check off every box by the end of the day. Break out of this guilt and let yourself relish in your sense of accomplishment for what you have gotten done instead of what there is still to do. Attempting to tackle everything is an unrealistic goal, as there will always be more work to do, so work your hardest, finish what you can and let that be enough.
  • Make things simple. If you know you have to get something done, you don’t always have to write it down or make sure it gets put into your PDA. Sometimes, the most productive solution is to just do it. For many, letting go of the lists and the calendars can be hard, but it can also help you to break the habit of turning your life into a to-do list instead of something you should be enjoying.
  • Time is worth more than money. You might pride yourself on working hard for every dollar that you earn, but at the end of the day those dollars don’t mean much if you don’t have guilt-free time away from work to enjoy them. Time spent with people you care about or doing things you love is just as valuable as time spent completing lengthy to-do lists. Keep that in mind the next time you’re tempted to make yourself feel bad for not checking off each one of those tasks.

Being productive is great, but when it starts causing you to stress out endlessly, it may be time to take a step back and reevaluate. There will always be more to do, and basing your happiness on getting more done in a day is going to result in disappointment. Make your to-dos manageable, and make time for the things that really matter in life, like family, friends, and enjoying the benefits of all that hard work. In the end, that’s what being truly productive is all about.


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