The Science Behind GTD

A pair of Belgium scientists (Francis Heylinghen and Clement Vidal) published a psychology paper that actually gives scientific ground to David Allen’s (and Kelly Mc Ghee, and others with similar methods) methodology.

They even propose an extension of GTD for collaborative work purposes.

In this paper, the researchers focus on a couple of human brains attributes that explain why GTD concepts work that well.

  1. Limited short-term memory capabilities
    The concept that the Pyramid Principle book talks about too is that the human brain cannot remember, without structure, more than a limited number of things (typically 7, give or take). This fits perfectly with the "trusted system" concept of GTD. "Free your mind"
  2. The brain is much better at recognition than at recall.
    If you remember a time where you had the name of this person on "the tip of your tongue" you know what’s meant with limited capabilities for the mind to recall. However, perceptions (sights, sounds, scents, locations…) help trigger memories. For those familiar with Marcel Proust’s "A La Recherche du temps perdu" and of his Madeleine (a French cookie), you’ll get what I mean exactly.|
    GTD, with its "@Computer", "@Home"…. recognizes this. When in the right place, with the right next action you’ll know what to do.
  3. The brain works best when given feedback on actions than in a vacuum. It’s also what motivates us most.
    GTD’s clear "what’s your next action" and the immediate reward of ticking it off (and the sense of accomplishment that goes with it) clearly maps to these psychological traits of ours.

Other aspects are also mentioned so I’d advise you to read it if you’re still not convinced GTD does make sense.

The authors then review the advantages of using GTD in a collaborative environment.

Additionally to the obvious ones (better team productivity through better individual productivity, clearer deliverables…), they also point to project planning type activities where clear next actions, shared and clear goals, single place to store data on a project will help and, looking forward, a potential system where action would not be done depending on job description but on individual capabilities and a "point" system resembling a lot like a permanent open market for skills within a team.

Now we just need someone to map Agile and GTD methodologies to see how to get to a best of both world approach.

One thought on “The Science Behind GTD

  1. Pingback: GTD Comes to Houston | slightly insightful

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