Collaborative GTD?

A friend of mine that has been on the path to GTD for a long time now recently emailed me about using GTD in a collaborative environment. His specific question was pretty direct:

OmniFocus is awful in a collaborative environment. What gives?

I’ve been down this road, and his question prompted me to peel the layers back a few times on this issue.

What is GTD?

Let’s first start by taking a look at how Getting Things Done describes itself.

Getting Things Done (GTD) is the proven path to getting in control of your world, and maintaining perspective in your life.

We see a focus on “your world” and “your life.” Nothing about collaboration there. Let’s continue.

Much more than a set of tips for time management and organization, GTD is a total work-life management system that transforms overwhelm into an integrated system of stress-free productivity.

Now we see some other concepts like “work-life” and “stress-free,” but again nothing about collaboration.

I’m highlighting this definition just to level set on the objectives of the GTD method. I revisit this because like my friends question I have many times thought that it sure would be great if I could extend my GTD system to my colleagues at work. Wouldn’t it be great if the “Waiting for” context could be seen not just by me, but those that I’m waiting for? It seems like a little step to make, but when you extend it further, I think it’s a step too far.

GTD is Personal

I’ve been practicing GTD now for several years and if there is anything that I can guarantee it is that every person has a slight personalization to their GTD system. I use a combination of OmniFocus, Notes (built-in Apple version) and Due. Within those tools, I have a system of contexts, projects, and folders that optimized to my way of managing my activities.

I can guarantee that my structure of tools and the way that I use them is different from yours. Even if you use the same tools the way that you use them will be different. This is part of what makes GTD work for a wide variety of people. It isn’t prescriptive on the how, just the what. Go ahead and use note cards and a physical inbox or use electronic tools. It doesn’t matter.

To use a GTD tool in a collaborative environment would need commonality. It would require that we agree that the context “Work → Computer” is a valid context and that it means the same thing. Without the freedom of tooling and configuration, I don’t think people would be as successful in using GTD.

GTD isn’t Project Management

While GTD has many of the nouns and verbs of project management, it isn’t. It’s easy to look at the list of projects in your GTD tool, and the associated next actions and think of it like you are doing project management. However, you are not. This is a very lightweight version of project management.

Extending GTD tools into a collaborative environment is attempting to turn them into a project management tool. Leave this to the world of specialized tools like Microsoft Project or OmniPlan. GTD tools don’t have the proper capabilities (and should not) to do this type of work. I would suggest that when people ask about collaborating with GTD, they are asking about doing project management across a team.

What you can do!

I don’t see a good way to extend GTD tooling to a collaborative environment, but that doesn’t mean we are stuck only to use GTD methods alone. There are many things you can do.

  1. I routinely share my GTD experiences and tooling with colleagues. I share the Getting Things Done book with people and will highlight GTD rituals like a weekly review.
  2. I use GTD language, such as asking people what their next actions are for a project.
  3. Use your GTD system to interact with others, but always through a discussion. I will routinely bring up an OmniFocus perspective and walk through items during a status. The other person often is doing the same. We have different tools and labels, but it works just fine.

I do think that groups of people who use GTD together will be more efficient. However, I would hold on using a tool to solve the problem. Let everyone adopt the system that works for them, share the concepts and language.

Getting Things Done and GTD are ® trademarks of The David Allen Company.

Jamie Thingelstad @jthingelstad

This work by Jamie Thingelstad
is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License