From C.J. Chilvers:
I’ve been posting a lot lately about productivity, or un-productivity really, and wondering why I’m dissatisfied with apps like Omnifocus and Things for task management.
I don’t believe I’m alone. I believe it has to do with the difference between analytical thinkers and creative thinkers. [...]
I don’t know how it works for analytical minds, but for my writer’s mind, GTD has become a crutch, not a productivity tool.
I now believe, for creatives, the easier a system is, the more will get done.
Damn, I love the way C.J. Chilvers thinks. I could barely decide what to quote here, so please do yourself a favor and read his entire post. Especially if you are a creative person struggling to make GTD mesh with your process. I do, however, want to offer some counterpoint.
While I walked away from his post considering some of the fundamental differences between creative and analytical minds, there was a question that kept popping into my head. Does the analytical nature of GTD impact creativity? The answer: only if you let it. Those who obsessively tweak their system aren’t GTD fanatics, they’re distracted people doing distracted things. If I spent my day fiddling with my tools, I wouldn’t ever manage to get anything done. This has nothing to do with distinction between a creative or analytical mind. GTD at its core is not about finding a trusted system, it’s about having and using one to do your work.
I tend to approach my work from a more analytical standpoint, but I do see where C.J. is coming from. While structure occasionally helps my writing, I find I do my best work with a certain level of freedom. The writing on this site rarely comes from anything related to GTD or OmniFocus. I know how many posts I want to create a week and no one or no thing has to remind me to write them. However the structure that GTD offers has provided me with the focus I’ve so desperately needed to clear my head and write. Even in the face of the endless distractions from all aspects of my life that have often derailed me in the past.
At first, the thought of projects, perspectives, contexts, open loops, weekly reviews, monthly review, annual reviews and reviews of my reviews (that one’s a joke) scared me away from GTD. I’ve had to mesh the “rigidity” of GTD with the chaos of my ADHD (another post for another day), but over time I’ve found a balance that pushes my work forward. It wasn’t until I read the book and then started taking one concept at a time and evaluating it against the way I naturally like to work, that my system began to fall into place.
Knowing I have my system to fall back on gives me the confidence to focus in on what I’m creating. And I’m a big believer that finding a system, no matter what that system might be for yourself is essential. Where C.J. “picked up a cheap legal pad at the office supply store and began copying my tasks by hand with a cheap pen,” I wanted a technological solution to work around my contemptuous relationship with paper. Sure there are simple tools such as Task Paper that mimic the basic functionality of paper and only add the bare minimum features, but this didn’t lend itself to many of the tasks that are required of me.
In choosing OmniFocus, it wasn’t about the price I paid or its popularity. It was about the ease with which I can create tasks from a variety of media. It was about the long-term gain in the time it takes to process my tasks that proved to be well worth the short-term learning curve, which can be steep. It was about the flexibility of the application to be as present or as passive as I want depending on what it is I am trying to accomplish. If I were using a legal pad, it would be staring me in the face and pulling me away from my work. This doesn’t make C.J. or my way any better, we just both have our own versions of “enough” and have found different tactics to be effective.
Toward the end of his post, C.J. mentioned that, “I’ve learned that if I’m thinking about my productivity tools, I don’t have enough enthusiasm for my projects.” While this is a possibility, it’s not the only option. If you’re consistently thinking about the tools its just as likely that you’re either 1) using the wrong tools or 2) misusing the right tools by obsessing over how to use them. I’m also sure this phenomena extends to creative tools as well. It’s just as easy to obsess over the cameras, paintbrushes, paper stock, image editors or any of the other tools that creative minds use to accomplish their work. If you’re over-thinking any aspect of your work, you’re probably not creating all that much.
The mission is to do the thinking about your tools upfront. To find the system that works best for you so that you can use the tools and think about your work. To get to place where you only review the efficiency of these tools periodically rather than fiddling with them constantly.
C.J. is certainly onto something. There’s a difference between the tools that help you do your best analytical and your best creative work. It’s only through discovery that you will find the right set of tools that help you do yours. If you aren’t struggling, keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re still looking for something to help with creative work, I’d consider giving GTD a look from a less dogmatic perspective. I’m only able to speak from my own experience here, but it’s proven to be a big help, even in my creative endeavors. For those who have a hard time keeping your arms wrapped around everything in life, it can be a great framework to, well, get things done.