GTD is good for life outside of work too

I’ve read plenty of accounts of how GTD has made a tremendous impact on people’s professional lives. Increased effectiveness, higher productivity, reduced stress, maybe even quicker promotions (if my boss is reading, you may take that as you will 🙂 ). I myself have seen a dramatic improvement in my performance on the job. But what about outside of work?

For the longest time, my wife often remarked about how little I followed the principles of GTD when it came to my personal life. After thinking about it, I had to admit: she was right. It took some good reflection and thought to figure out why this was happening, but in the end I came up with the following reasons why it seemed harder to implement GTD in my life outside of work:

  1. My wife / friends / family couldn’t or wouldn’t fire me.
    Call it taking advantage of others’ generosity if you will, but it’s true. My relationships with the people in my life were established enough that they had just come to accept my forgetful, absent-minded ways as part of my personality.  Was it fair of me to have this attitude? Absolutely not, but subconsciously, it took a lot of soul-searching and re-affirming of my values and goals as a husband, a son, and a friend to get over it.
  2. By the time I got home from work, I never felt like doing anything.
    The key phrase here is that I never felt like doing anything. That is to say, I didn’t feel like I was in the mood to take out the garbage, call the heating company, or work on putting flooring down on the second floor of our house. In David Burn’s excellent book The Feeling Good Handbook, he identifies this pattern of thinking as the classic “putting the cart before the horse” mentality. In effect, what I’m saying is “Unless I feel like doing something, I’m not going to do it.” If you think about it, this is a very unrealistic perspective to have, as there are very few things in life that you will always feel like doing! Instead, Burns suggests that you simply follow that wonderful Nike slogan and “Just do it.” With action comes motivation, and with motivation comes more action.  I had to become aware of this and change my thought pattern to break out of this rut.
  3. I thought that I shouldn’t need some fancy system to keep track of my personal life.
    Let’s be honest here. When we make an agreement with ourselves to adopt the principles of GTD, we are implicitly admitting that our current skill set is in some way not sufficient to keep up. It was one thing for me to come to terms with this in my professional life, where I’m being constantly bombarded with information. But to agree that I needed this “helping hand” to be a better husband brought up all sorts of rather negative connotations in my head. If nothing else, I feared it would make my relationships with others less genuine, less spontaneous. But after contemplating my hesitations further, I decided that rather than see it as a mark of deficiency, I would view my use of GTD as evidence of my commitment to and care for my relationships with those around me.

I’m still far from perfect, and my habits at home have a lot of room for improvement.  But already, I’ve seen improvement in my life’s personal side.  I feel less overwhelmed when I get home, and find it easier to move projects along now that they are more clearly defined and broken into manageable steps.  Ultimately, the very thing that I was afraid would make my interactions more plastic and disingenuous is having the opposite effect; by freeing up my mind from trying to remember all the open loops, I’m able to really focus on those around me and live in the moment like never before.

How have you implemented GTD in your personal life, as opposed to work?  Do you follow the same principles and rules, or do you find yourself slipping?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments, and I’ll post the same question to my Twitter feed.