The “GTD” Anxiety

7November2012My life is about to go through a lot of changes. I will be moving in with a relative for a few weeks until I can find a job and an apartment in a new city. That way I’ll have some form of income before my graduate classes start in the fall. My to-do list absolutely depresses me—besides studying for finals and writing a few papers, I have to sort through all of my belongings and donate most of my old clothes and books, pack, update my resume, start applying like crazy for jobs that I am frankly under-qualified for, and juggle my social obligations to the friends I will soon be leaving and to my significant other who is also moving several states away. Oh, and did I mention that I’m nearly broke?

Deep breaths.

I really like the new post featured on Freshly Pressed: “Doing more only to do less – do we glorify busy?“. “Busyness” is definitely glorified in this culture. I even make a conscious effort not to use the words “stressed” or “busy” to describe why I’m struggling with projects or doing things on time because I feel as though the words are so overused. That, and I feel as though they’re very dismissive words—”busy” doesn’t really mean anything to me. There’s a reason why I get a funny feeling in my stomach if I’m having a hard time getting in touch with a friend and they cite “busyness” as the reason behind their lack of communication. Besides, I hate this whole “busyness pissing contest” in which someone claims to be very busy or swamped with work and others are quick to bring up how their lives are so much more “hectic” or “crazy.” In fact, I feel guilty for even leading into this post with whines about my own problems. I can’t speculate what it would be like, for instance, to be responsible for children on top of everything else required of daily functioning.

In an attempt to try to streamline my days, I’ve looked into some ways to improve my productivity. I downloaded the “Unstruck” app to my iPad. I make daily visits to for a kick in the rear. I subscribed to Clean My Space to inspire me to keep my habitat from deteriorating into an unlivable minefield of books and pajama pants (it hasn’t worked). I’ve also come across an entire time-management method known as “GTD” (or, “getting things done”). Although productivity consultant (imagine that job) David Allen is given credit for coming up with the system, a number of other start-ups and spin-offs have cropped up in the wake of his system’s success (lifehacker comes to mind). To be quite honest, although I recognize the usefulness these systems might provide people, they still depress the hell out of me.

Although my life would undoubtedly be easier if my room were cleaner and if I managed to implement a written agenda or routine that I could stick to for an extended period of time, I don’t know if I’m entirely convinced that the GTD lifestyle is one that I want. I’m skeptical of “systems” that you’re expected to force yourself into. What if you have an especially unique week? What even qualifies as unique? At what point do your obligations to your immediate needs and desires take a backseat to the careful execution of a task meant to ease your life in the future?

This is just my two cents, but I would argue that productivity and obligations—both long- and short-term—come in waves. I’m not trying to say that schedules and routines are ineffective (although, as a “Perceiver” on the Myers-Briggs test, I suppose that I am less likely to care for time management in the first place). I just meant to say that these task-managing and time-management apps I find inherently depressing because they never end. The “reward” is crossing off one task and moving on to the next. It’s like DDR from hell and the arrows never stop and neither does the shrill, repetitive music.

If these were tasks that you genuinely wanted to do in the first place, why do should you be expected to nag yourself  endlessly about all of the imperfections in your habits? It seems as though life is just reduced to a page of a calendar and as time goes on, more and more tasks and routines are squeezed in whether or not they’re even all that enjoyable.

Let me digress into an anecdote for a minute: I work out because I love exercise. Last semester I visited my school’s state-of-the-art gym every other day. I dropped a dress size and felt great. This semester, while working on my thesis, I’ve hit the gym probably a grand total of three times. My muscles have atrophied. I feel less healthy. But if I’m exhausted and don’t feel like going to the gym, why should I be expected to endlessly punish myself for not going? I know that the gym will make me feel good but I feel like I’m entitled to make the choice as to whether or not the effort is worth it. The result is just anxiety and a lingering cloud of shame. I associate the gym with routines and schedules when it should instead be associated with what my body needs and feels like it can handle.

About a year ago The New York Times featured an opinion column about the “busy” trap by Tim Kreider. Kreider calls to attention the guilt American feel if they aren’t somehow occupying their time with something productive and indeed, saying you’re “busy” is sort of akin to bragging these days. I think that “busyness” and the American obsession with occupying time—or at least, being convinced of productivity—is being packaged and sold in the form of these time management systems and apps. Consider the amount of “all of your social media, emails, blog readers etc. all in one place!” apps that seek to consolidate what I like to call “internet noise” in one “sleek” place. After all, what better way to convince people to buy something or to commit to a brand than to instill fear in them? Fear of being disorganized, fear of losing touch, fear of an unimpressive resume, fear of letting down our family and friends who can’t possibly have as high of expectations for us that we have for ourselves (it’s nothing personal—they just have their own “busyness” to immerse themselves in) all seem to make up a collective anxiety that many Americans—especially young adults—suffer from.

I would like to believe that my world will not in fact fall apart if I miss a deadline or make a spontaneous decision. It’s hard for me to try to push out the guilt and shame–the consequences of not being productive enough—out of my thoughts every night when I crawl into bed. One part of Kreider’s column seems to haunt my thoughts: “I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”

Sorry for such a gloomy post; this is all mostly the result of my speculation and a desire to justify my existence by way of not having to add up the crossed-out items on my to-do list. Although this is somewhat contradictory to all of my aforementioned thoughts, I would like to start posting regularly on this blog (or at least when the mood strikes me—which might actually mean me posting more often since I’m getting the hang of this). I really appreciate it when people “like” or follow my posts/blog. Thanks everyone 🙂


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