After using GTD since 2007, I have found priorities and goals to be the system's achilles heal.
I think there's a fair chance I'm doing something wrong, so I want to give the community a chance to correct me and defend GTD.
Time in life is short and finite. I have reached a conclusion that if you want to achieve big career and life goals, you have to cut out all of the unnecessary projects/tasks and focus exclusively on the absolutely best project that will advance you to that goal. There are lots of tasks and projects we could do, but 80% of our energy should be put into the 20% most important projects.
So I ran a little GTD experiment recently. At my weekly review, I started setting top priority projects for a 3-10 day span and timeboxing it. The idea is to find the project that is holding me back from the next level of success in life, and get it completed in a set number of days. So for example: until March 10th I am working on our fundraising documents for people to invest in our company, and after March 10th it's being marked DONE.
During my experiment, I replied to as few emails that don't deal with this project as possible, put off meetings on other projects, and anything that isn't directly achieving the goal I set. I went in my office and closed the door, metaphorically and literally. Because, really, I can do all of the medium-priority tasks I want... and they're not bad things to be working on... but if I really want to advance my career and my company to the next level as quickly as possible, this top-priority project is all I should be focusing on. It's a harsh reality. I guess an analogy would be, as Warren Buffet says, "Putting all of your eggs in 1 basket and watching it carefully." Instead of watering a thousand roses with my finite water bucket of time, I am watering 1 flower with a lot of water until it's bloomed big and strong.
I was a little upset at how well this experiment went, since I have trusted David Allen and GTD to tell me the best thing to do for 6+ years. The results? I got what would have taken 20 days done in about 4. I achieved my goal, and it moved the company and my life forward in a really big way.
GTD's answer to this, as I understand it, is pretty simple: set 50,000ft, 30,000ft, and 20,000ft altitudes (areas of responsibility and major goals) and review them at your weekly review. Then, as you go through your day, pick out next actions based on context, time, energy, and priority.
The problem with this GTD goal and priority system is: you're never picking out 1 30,000ft goal that should be done next, and systematizing it into your daily routine. There's context lists and project lists... but there's no "Do This Project and Nothing Else if You Want to Advance your Life And Career" list. There's no part of GTD that focuses you on that next most important goal. Instead, you're assessing goals and priorities every 5 minutes, and that creates a mental fatigue of sorts. That 3-10 day goal is never written down, making it easy to lose sight of what you really should be doing, even though you may identify this important project during those precious moments of weekly review zen.
Out of practicality, I've started doing a new activity during my weekly review: "What is the next most important project to complete that will advance my life and career more than anything else?" I write it down, open up Omnifocus, and hide all other projects except that one.
Therefore, I've started to see GTD as a sort of hamster on a wheel, a way to spend time on a lot of stuff that doesn't matter and avoid the harsh reality that I should be focused on the one project that actually matters, and saying "f*** everything else."
My question is: why aren't priorities and goals a part of GTD? Is GTD just that? Getting THINGS done. Don't we really want GTMITD? Getting THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS done? Okay, okay, the acronym isn't as sexy. But life is short, time is finite, and priorities (as defined by your larger goals) need to be systematized. I need something where I can go on autopilot during the work day. That's the whole point of mind like water, is I don't need to be thinking about my task system all day long. I need a better answer than, "Set up your 20,000ft review, and then reanalyze your priorities every time you complete a task." It's not working for me.
I hope this explains the problem clearly. It's a complex situation, therefore I may not have explained everything you need to know to render a reply. Please feel free to ask followup questions and I'll respond to them promptly. Thank you.