[Originally sent to Study Hacks Newsletter on 3/27/07]
In the previous post, sent out earlier today, I described the main
ideas behind David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology. In
this post, we identify where this approach might not work well for the
college lifestyle. This list is by no means inclusive. I encourage
you, therefore, to send me your own thoughts on where GTD , or
traditional time management systems in general, fall short of the
realities of being an undergraduate. As always, you can reach me by
simply replying to this message. Moving forward, we will tackle the
issues listed below (and any you send in).
THREE WAYS GTD AND COLLEGE DON’T MIX
(1) GTD’s projects are not handled quickly enough.
In GTD, when a project enters your world, you put the next action on
your next actions list and add the project to your projects list. Each
week, during your weekly review, you will look over your projects list
and then add more next actions as needed to keep things moving
forward. This is a good match for the typical business project —
e.g., this week I’ll look up the numbers for the Anderson report, next
week I’ll put them together into a Power Point — but a horrible match
for the typical college project.
Why? Because in college, more often than not, “project” means
“assignment.” And assignments are incredibly time sensitive: they have
to be done within a week. The GTD project system is too lazy to ensure
that the steps for an assignment all get done in time. We need some
way to ensures that these steps get done within the same week that
they are encountered. Furthermore, we need to ensure that they get
done with reasonable spacing (as I discuss in STRAIGHT-A, leaving all
the work on a given assignment until the day before is a terrible
(2) There is no college workday.
In GTD, while you’re at work you’re constantly review your calendar
and next actions list to decide what to do next. This fails at college
as there is no well-defined period during which you are always
working. Depending on the particular day’s schedule, you could find
your free time anywhere between early morning and late at night. As we
discussed in an earlier post, it is unreasonable to try to maintain a
scheduling mindset throughout the entire day. Clearly, we need a
better mechanism to specify when these sort of decisions are made and
when you can relax.
(3) Time is precious.
In the typical knowledge worker job, it is sufficient that you are
making efficient progress on work at at all times. For a student,
however, what’s important is that you somehow manage to finish the
large amount of concurrent assignments by their respective strict
deadlines. No one cares how you get this done. As I observed in
researching STRAIGHT-A, for many students, it can be difficult to find
enough time to stay on top of a given week’s assignments. Accordingly,
the GTD model of taking your day one action at a time, without
consideration of the bigger picture task landscape, might lead to
deadline disaster. We need additional planning mechanisms to make sure
that deadline-driven work always gets done.