I very much enjoyed Cal Newport’s rumination on Getting Things Done (GTD), and Merlyn Mann’s contributions to personal productivity culture, in The New Yorker.

Finding Getting Things Done, through Merlyn Mann’s 43 Folders, was transformative for me. It supercharged my productivity, for a while at least, numerous times in my life.

GTD techniques and processes have not fixed the root problems with knowledge work, which Newport points out in the article:

In this context, the shortcomings of personal-productivity systems like G.T.D. become clear. They don’t directly address the fundamental problem: the insidiously haphazard way that work unfolds at the organizational level. They only help individuals cope with its effects. A highly optimized implementation of G.T.D. might have helped Mann organize the hundreds of tasks that arrived haphazardly in his in-box daily, but it could do nothing to reduce the quantity of these requests.

We have a workaholic culture that puts a lot of pressure on the individual worker to be responsible for many, many things that are outside the worker’s control. GTD is both a means of dealing with this pressure, and a personal methodology that prolongs one’s exposure to all this pressure. It increases the number of balls you can keep in the air, but doesn’t address the problem that others keep throwing more and more balls at you that they expect you to juggle.