The difficulties of finding the perfect GTD system

Last week I wrote a post about a fairly negative review of OmniFocus by Matt Neuburg. This prompted some interesting comments regarding the relative pros and cons of OmniFocus and Cultured Code’s Things.

This got me thinking. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how everyone gets different things from different software? I’ve tried a number of GTD apps (as covered in earlier posts) and the only two I used for any length of time were OmniFocus and Things. There were many other applications that just didn’t suit me, and yet others swear by them. There isn’t a perfect application to suit everyone. (And never will be.)

Everyone who has read Getting Things Done by David Allen seems to have a different take on it. We all come up slightly different variations to suit the way we live our own lives. And therefore we all have different needs when it comes to software. Features important to me include simplicity (in adding tasks and then viewing them) and the ability to create repeating tasks. I also want it to be enjoyable to use (or I’ll end up losing interest). So far, for me, Things comes closest, although it’s still some way off of perfect. Other people have priorities such as iCal integration or online access – features I’m not that fussed about.

A common problem for GTDers seems to be the difficulty settling with one system. Many of us chop and change regularly, tweaking here and there, trying to get it just right. “If I change to this new system I’ll be so much more productive.” I’m terrible for this. And I still haven’t got it right yet. GTD is an excellent method in theory but its implementation isn’t as easy as it would initially seem. Hence we’re all in search of the perfect application to help us in our quest to be more productive. But since we all want different things from GTD we all want different features in our GTD app.

Is it a good thing that there are so many GTD apps out there? Does choice lead to freedom? For me choice has meant many many hours fiddling with different systems trying to find “the one”. Things works pretty well for me but I still have this niggling doubt that there might be a better way. Forget digital and go to paper maybe? Aarrgghhh…if only I could find the perfect system!



11 Responses to “The difficulties of finding the perfect GTD system”

  1. Chris Says:

    ‘The perfect system’ is the modern day holy grail. I don’t think it exists (but that doesn’t stop me from tweaking when I read about somebody else’s system).

  2. Rachel Murphy Says:

    You’re right. If I had any sense I’d stop reading about others’ systems and concentrate on my own. But it’s a lot of fun looking at how everyone else manages to organise themselves – and thinking “ooh, that might just make the difference”!

  3. Bill Says:

    Like you, I’ve spent entirely too much time weighing the pros and cons of the TONS of productivity software, most notably GTD apps. It is frustrating. Two things seem to rise to the surface as potentially important. Integration into whatever system or platform you use most often, and the likelihood that the company authoring the software will see it through for the long haul. So, it may be an asset to go with a more diversified software company. But, you never know…

  4. Rachel Murphy Says:

    @ Bill: I think people sometimes overlook the question of continued support and development. But one should certainly take it into account when choosing a GTD app. Hopefully Things will continue to enjoy good support. Development seems to be very slow with Midnight Inbox 2. And iGTD2 looks like it’s dead (which is a shame as iGTD had a lot of followers). This is unlikely to be a problem with OmniFocus – and I suspect they will have gained a lot of users who have jumped ship from other seemingly abandoned apps.

  5. Dennis Says:

    Great post and so true. Like others, I have, at times, had a lot of trouble deciding which system to adopt. I guess that’s the “tyranny of choice”. Although, I’d still argue that it’s better than no choice or very poor choices.

    Bill makes a good point about long term viability, especially for a GTD app that you place so much trust in and rely on so heavily. On the other hand, most apps these days provide good (or at least good enough) export capabilities that allow you to migrate to other systems if necessary. It might not be a pleasant experience, but hopefully it wouldn’t happen too often.

    After doing your research and weighing all your options, there comes a time when you just need to pick something that best suits you and get back to work. Your choice may not be perfect, but, like Chris said, the perfect app doesn’t exist.

    For me, it’s OmniFocus. But I reserve the right to change my mind at some later date. 😉

  6. Rachel Murphy Says:

    Hi Dennis. I like your comment, “…there comes a time when you just need to pick something that best suits you and get back to work”. You could go on forever testing and evaluating GTD applications and systems – and never get any work done.

    Over this past week I think I’ve pretty much settled on a system using Things and a Moleskine notebook. I’m going to run with it for a couple of weeks and if it holds up, do a post on it.

  7. Dennis Says:

    Hello again, Rachel. That’s a good point you make about “[running] with it for a couple of weeks.”

    I’m convinced that it’s very difficult, maybe impossible, to make a really decisive judgement on any of these GTD apps without using the system for a couple weeks. There are just so many variables and intricacies involved that it’s hard to get your mind around it and consider all the angles.

    But who really has time for that kind of trial on every possible app? It’s a big investment of time and effort to keep migrating your stuff.

    So I think only after you’ve narrowed the field with some broad judgements can you then set into using your favorite of the bunch and just use it for several weeks to see how it fits. If there are problems, you then either tweak it or move on to your second choice.

    So I’m looking forward to reading about your experiences with your new system – the pros and cons and how it all fits together. Good luck and I hope this one’s a winner! 😀

  8. Rachel Murphy Says:

    @Dennis: So far so good. I’m actually starting to do the things on my lists rather than just fiddle!

  9. Dan Says:

    For implementing GTD you might try out this web-based application:

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A mobile version is available too.

    As with the last update, now Gtdagenda has full Someday/Maybe functionality, you can easily move your tasks and projects between “Active”, “Someday/Maybe” and “Archive”. This will clear your mind, and will boost your productivity.

    Hope you like it.

  10. Rachel Murphy Says:

    @Dan: Thanks for the link. Looks a bit like Nozbe. I’m not keen on web-based GTD apps. What if I can’t get online? I’d have no access to my lists. For now I’m happier with a desktop app.

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