Havne't posted here much lately, though I do use GTD principles.
A couple of months ago I read an essay by blogger and prolific entrepreneur named Paul Graham excoriating the notion of lists and next actions -- basically he said, just ask yourself what is the most important thing you need to do, and everything will flow from there. (I simplify greatly... here is the link http://www.paulgraham.com/procrastination.html. You will note that he specifically alludes to "getting things done."
What he wrote has stayed with me.
But this isn't specifically about that.
Rather it's about the issue of why some people seem to NEED (or, less stridently, benefit from) GTD and others coast by without nary a list in the world.
I think it comes back to what I consider for myself anyway the hardest thing to define in charting one's course through life: Values. The best self-help books, including those by Robbins and Tracy (say what you will about either, I think their systems are well-developed if nothing else) insist that defining one's values is the most essential step of the journey.
For myself, I can say it is the most difficult step. I don't think values were clearly communicated to me as a child or youth (indeed, values were POORLY communicated and when they were communicated, seemed contradictory and flimsy) and as I look at the areas of my life which now require inordinate FIXING, the values issue comes up -- I can see for the first time how values have led to problems and how values can point the way out of the problems (though solving them is more complex than just that).
Looking around me, I can say that those who seem to struggle the most either haven't defined values or have defined them poorly.
Incidentally, there is a parallel to this in the arts. As a writer, I have noticed that the best novels and films have clear themes -- and there are writing gurus who insist that their students first identify the THEME of their work BEFORE writing it out. That is a HARD thing to do -- everyone wants to begin writing about the cop chasing the bad guy and the cop wins and then the cop's estranged wife comes back to him. But the stories which actually work have a theme that can be discerned beneath the fabric of every scene -- love is more important than money, hard work trumps innate talent, big government is evil, true art takes great sacrifice -- whatever. If the theme is true in every element of the story, the story, no matter how many times it has been told, resonates.
I believe that "values" are the themes of life. If every action we do is consistent with our truest values, then you can coast, like Paul Graham.
If not, you need tools. GTD is a good one.
"In his famous essay You and Your Research (which I recommend to anyone ambitious, no matter what they're working on), Richard Hamming suggests that you ask yourself three questions:
1. What are the most important problems in your field?
2. Are you working on one of them?
3. Why not?"
As I read the Graham piece again it occurs to me how really, really, really hard it is for me to identify, claim and be true to values. Because if my value is simply "BE RESPONSIBLE" than the answers to Graham's/Hamming's questions become very easy to answer indeed.