06 November 2005

Faith in the System

A large subset of the planner-using world is comprised of people who subscribe to one "system" or another of keeping their affairs in order. One that gets a lot of attention is "Getting Things Done," or GTD. If you somehow found your way to this site, it's quite possible you already know all about GTD. You may even be a GTD devotee.

I first heard of GTD when I ran across 43 Folders, a site whose obsession with paper and productivity dwarfs mine. My first thought was, "Hey, 'Getting Things Done' -- that sounds great. Who doesn't want to get things done?" So I trotted off to Borders to see if I could find this book that has inspired such a fanatical following. Man, was I disappointed when I saw it. It has the most boring cover, with a totally boring looking man on it. Check for yourself. Couldn't he have worn corduroys and Pumas? Or at least a black turtleneck? How about growing a quickie goatee or something? Sheesh. He looks like the man that I am deathly afraid I may be becoming: Yes, he may Get Things Done. But does he have any fun doing it? Does he loosen his tie doing it? I'm a damn lawyer, and I don't wear a tie unless something beyond my control compels it.

Why do people think you need to wear a suit and tie in order to Get Things Done? I Get Plenty Done when I'm wearing tee-shirts and paint-spackled shorts. In fact, if I need to look like the GTD guy in order to Get Things Done, let them stay undone.

I got beyond the cover long enough to open the book and flip through it. It quickly became apparent to me that Getting Things Done the GTD way requires work. There was lots of terminology I didn't understand. There were decisions to make about tickler files and folders and crap. As it turns out, all the Things you need to Get Done do not Get Done simply by adopting Getting Things Done. That was highly disappointing to me, and I didn't buy the book.

But some people are really into it. Some people are really into Franklin Covey too. The level of devotion that these people possess is creepy to me, and it makes me wonder whether they have reached a point where devotion to Getting Things Done exceeds the Things themselves in importance.

The Things are what are important to me, and I typically Get Things Done without subscribing to a system. However, for many, the system itself takes on religious dimensions. They are rules that must be followed, or the most dire of consequences will follow: You will fail to Get Things Done. Similarly, if you fail to adhere to the Ten Commandments, another dire consequence will follow: You will Go To Hell. All systems, be they organizational or religious, rest on the faith of the adherent. The adherent must say, "I trust in this set of rules. I trust that it will lead me to the promised land. As a result of that trust, I will follow the rules unerringly."

GTD is one thing; Franklin Covey is another thing entirely. I would not be surprised if that company actually seeks tax-exempt status as a religious group. I tried to go to a Franklin Covey store in a local mall a few weeks ago. I was greeted with a sign that said (paraphrasing), "Sorry, it's Sunday, and our organization believes Sunday should be the day for our employees to take stock and recharge and otherwise improve themselves." Hmm. Closed on Sunday, huh? Sort of like ... THE SABBATH. It made me afraid to get into Franklin Covey. Would I be allowed to watch football on Sunday? Or would I have to lie still all day, meditating on my core values?

Franklin Covey also evangelizes. Our local Target sells a low-cost version of the Franklin Covey system called "365." You can buy a binder with inserts for something like $10. Those cheap binders are missionaries that Franklin Covey has sent into the riff-raffy world, like free literature from Jehovah's Witnesses. Pretty soon, though, you're writing the big checks at the real Franklin Covey store. (But not on Sunday.) The Target models are gateway drugs; real euphoria must be purchased at the mall.

That's what I like about the Filofax: It's not religious, it's not dogmatic. It's spirituality divorced from ritual. Filofax doesn't tell you how to chant your mantras or perform self-acupuncture. It is just pieces of paper in a nice binder, configurable in whatever crazy-ass way you want. My Filofax didn't even come with suggestions on how to put it together. It had a set of cryptically named tags, various kinds of forms and paper, and a binder. And the package said to me: "Take me, pillage me, do with me what you will." Filofax is spiritual, not religious. Filofax, for all its Euro-coolness, is hippie at heart. "Hey man, I'm here for you. Rearrange me. Fold me. Cut me into useful pieces. Put crap into my slots. It's all copacetic, man."

I hope I'm not alienating my fledgling readership, since I believe that some of the Googlers who find themselves here may be seeking just what GTD and Franklin Covey are selling. To be fair, I haven't given GTD or Franklin Covey a fair shake. But I also haven't given evangelical Pentecostalism a fair shake. In both cases, I don't feel like I'm missing much.


  1. Rather apt parallels, religion and planning system, esp for me: after brief but intense explorations of nearly every major world religion, I now claim to be a born-again-atheist; after dabbling with the FCovey and GTD systems, I'm once again a Filofax free-for-all devotee. I'm all about configuring things any crazy-ass way I like.

    On the other hand, I did walk away from FCovey and GTD with a few useful concepts and tricks. I think the most important is the FCovey distinction between what's important and what's urgent.

    Now go sit in the corner and contemplate the quiddity of post-it yellow.

  2. "In both cases, I don't feel like I'm missing much."

    What an oxymoronic statement.

  3. To be frank, it doesn't sound like you've checked Covey out too much.
    The reason I believe they're off on Sunday is for their 7th habit (Sharpen the Saw). You're lack of understanding in that area was what lead me to believe you hadn't actually checked out Covey.
    I sort of understand you're anger with GTD. I felt very stressed when I was on GTD. It was very hard to tell what was important & what wasn't.
    Simply put, GTD is a track to run on. You take what you like (I liked their inbox), leave what you don't.
    You're comment that GTD & Covey believers were something like fanatics (it was never quite said though it was implied) worried me. To me (a Covey believer & GTD dabbler), you sound like a fanatic; just like the way GTDers & Covey believers sound to you.
    To the person who said they were an Atheist. I am also one & still believe in Covey. Covey isn't a religion (although admittedly it has the feel of a philosphy*).
    I don't know much about Filofax. I plan to check it out once I finish this post.
    Nice speaking with you & sorry for the long post.
    *For those who don't know the difference between a religion & a philosophy is consider this:
    Buddhism is a philosphy, Christianity is a religion. Christianity has a set of rigid principles that one must (or at least is supposed to) follow. Examples- No premarital sex, alchohol etc.
    Buddhism on the other hand, has no real principles. The religion encourages individuality to the point where almost anyone could be a buddhist.
    (Note: Not all Buddhist religions are like this. Only certain ways are like the one noted above.)
    Those familiar with LaVey would understand.
    (Note: This is not an official definition although many refer to religion & philosophy as such.)

  4. Thanks for your comment, Loi

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  6. Just to clarify, Christianity is not a set of rules: it is God reaching out to man because He loves us. The rules are there to show us how we should live, for our own benefit, but God knows we don't and He loves us anyway. Christianity is about love, caring, and forgiveness. If that wasn't your experience, then try another groupt of Christians.

    The Franklin Quest (before Covey) approach is to identify what is most important to you, then break that down to what you do everyday: "When your daily tasks are in line with your governing values, then you have a credible claim to inner peace." Nobody uses the system exactly the same way; it is meant to be customized. Most people probably have never had the training, so use it like any other day planner.

    I used to use Franklin Classic (never tried GTD). But now I keep virtually all info in my Treo smartphone and keep a Filofax Mini (Franklin makes a very similar one) in my shirt pocket just to jot down notes. I want to try a handwriting recognition program like Grafiti some time to see if I could do everything on my Treo. But I do miss the focus the Franklin system brings to tasks for each day. I would be interested in a Treo version of the Franklin system.

  7. Guh, this was weak!

    People are enthusiastic about the other systems because they work.

    You may have no trouble getting things done - in which case why the hell are you looking into systems for getting things done?!?!?! Just go do them and leave others to their own methods.

    You have evangelized Filofax here just as much as others do for their preference only you predicate your choice on your ignorance and prejudice of those other systems. (That and stupid superficial reasons like goatees and aesthetics)

    The moment you are able to help as many other people get organized and be more productive as GTD or FCovey I guarantee that you will have as many 'devotees'.

    I don't predict you can though. Evangelize your own systems and hate all you want but to me that sounds pretty judgmental and not better than the negative assessment you give towards others.

    P.S. what's with the boring site? I would hope that after trashing someone else's book cover you might bring a little bit more to the table than a stock brown template and a cheese ball pic....

  8. Hey, Anonymous - I can't respond directly to your criticisms of this post, because I didn't write it. It was written by the originator of the blog, who no longer writes here.

    I do think, however, that there's a misunderstanding on your part. No one here is trying to become an expert or guru or evangelist. The blog's about sharing our own experiences, opinions, and advice about using Filofaxes in our lives. Most of the commenters get that, and we have some lively conversations going on in the newer posts.

    But thanks for reading, and I agree the blog needs a redesign. This is just one of Blogger's templates. It's on my to-do list, probably for next year.

    Sorry you think I look like a cheeseball.

  9. May God Bless you for this--the real one, not the planning system. I am SO VERY glad I found this article. I am a Franklin Covey junkie--much to the chagrin of my own family and friends. I have abandoned all that I previously knew to purse the FC system. It is hypnotizing--it is a religion, and after many years I finally had to admit myself into rehab. There are 12 step groups for those of us who decided to actually give up on pursuing life on life's terms, just to "organize" all day. I have even heard that there are strange cults, above who's portcullis rests a single binder,complete with instructions on how to plan ones life--down to the minutest detail. However, once one becomes part of this cult, you realize that you will never get out, and that it will actually take all 24 hours of every day to plan your days, resulting in NEVER getting to actually experience those planned out days. Take it from me--don't get started--once you pick up that first form and start writing you will never stop. You will wind up in a jail, an institution, or just sitting in a cafe all day writing about what you want to do with your life, yet never doing it. For those of you still suffering--I urge you to just put down the pen, get filofax, or ANY other system. Do not succumb to covet the Covey system. You will lose family, friends, and possibly your home. Get help--take it one day at a time and NEVER go back to the Covey. N.E.V.E.R. *God, grant me the serenity to accept my days without endless forms to fill out, the courage to face life without an intricate planning system, and the wisdom to recognize the EVIL Covey--Wherever it may exist!

  10. Hi AngelSeraphGurl - Thank you for your comment, and I hope you enjoy reading the rest of the blog! I used Covey for a while, but I found it didn't help me do or know what I wanted to do.

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  12. Filofax had pretty shiny planners. Franklin Covey has pretty shiny planners with big rings. That's all I need to get things done :)

  13. This post is LOL funny and accurate!