“The Rise and Fall of Getting Things Done” by Cal Newport

Cal Newport, who wrote a book I like called Deep Work, recently wrote an article “The Rise and Fall of Getting Things Done” on the decline in popularity of productivity tools, largely due to their inefficacy dealing with a steadily increasing onslaught of said things.

I’ve tried GTD and various todo apps and can relate. Inbox zero still has value for me, though I’ve had more success with regular, aggressive purging than meticulous categorization. The former has also been an effective strategy in general, eg binary prioritization.

I’ve found team autonomy to be an effective goal, and was interested to learn about a history of the term in the workplace:

[Peter] Ducker argued that autonomy would be the central feature of the new corporate world

Newport makes a distinction that autonomy doesn’t mean isolation:

Productivity, we must recognize, can never be entirely personal

I agree. Prolonged isolation is an anti-pattern, but I still think there’s value in reserving time for focus work, focusing on the things we can change, and ensuring folks have what they need to make the changes they’re tasked with.

Newport has a great insight regarding overload being caused by a lack of awareness into other’s time:

Because so much of our effort in the office now unfolds in rapid exchanges of digital messages, it’s convenient to allow our in-boxes to become an informal repository for everything we need to get done. This strategy, however, obscures many of the worst aspects of overload culture. When I don’t know how much is currently on your plate, it’s easy for me to add one more thing […] Consider instead a system that externalizes work [emphasis added]. Following the lead of software developers, we might use virtual task boards, where every task is represented by a card that specifies who is doing the work, and is pinned under a column indicating its status. With a quick glance, you can now ascertain everything going on within your team and ask meaningful questions about how much work any one person should tackle at a time

The article repeatedly reminded me of agile, which is eventually alluded to: “Following the lead of software developers … What if you began each morning with a status meeting in which your team confronts its task board? …”

I like the idea of constraining input to status meetings. It’s a challenge in practice, but worth exploring in principle.

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