GTD in the Digital Academic Era

Sep 23, 2016 | | Say something

Jamel Ostwald has a stellar blog for academics at Skulking in Holes and Corners. If you’re thinking about taking GTD or organization as an academic seriously, you would benefit from reading through his Methodology tag.

I would like to reply to on comment in his post on GTD methodology.

“GTD is probably less useful (given laptops, smartphones and the Cloud) than it was 10 years ago, but it’s still extremely useful, and managing all those lists is even easier with apps.”

For perspective, I’m 28 and have been using GTD for around 7 years, and never had a pre-computer workflow. Nonetheless, I find that the amount of digital cruft that accumulates now requires the metaphors GTD presents even more than before due to the ease at accumulating information without action. How many times have you looked over the shoulder at a colleague’s bottomless inbox and thought “Oh, that’s why it took weeks (and several reminders) to receive a response.”

In the physical world, accumulated unprocessed information manifests in the surrounding space and demands action. Digitally, we can accumulate as much as possible, switch organization systems by installing a new program and no one is the wiser. Like Dorian Gray we appear spotless to the world while our digital lives decay. Today it is Evernote, tomorrow OneNote, then Google Docs…

None of these programs state, “This is an inbox,” “this is a filing cabinet.” Instead, developers bleed functionality. Evernote has reminders and bills itself as a text editor, Omnifocus lets you attach documents, Outlook has so many bells and whistles… The programs available have confused purposes and do not teach the users good practice.

GTD helps us determine what the purpose of each application is and provides the key structural decision for inputs: Do I archive, act now, delegate (rare for academics) or store for action later? How do I maintain one system for each of these actions?

The tools might change, but the fundamental ideas do not. The digital world has a faster pace than paper did. Getting out of sync, losing track of materials and projects, and becoming disorganized and scattered is easy, especially when the volume of inputs and potential storage systems is so high. GTD pushes us to actually review our easily-ignored digital information, building attachment to our chosen tools instead of allowing attention to wander.

Back to coding reading notes… thank you, Professor Ostwald, for your great posts on these subjects.

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