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GTD vs. 4HWW – and Flow

I just read an interesting and funny blog post that compares two well known – among certain people – productivity systems: Getting Things Done by David Allen and The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. I left a comment there that – in all my modesty – I’d like to share with you.

About four years ago I read GTD (Getting Things Done) for the first time. I was very busy – in fact slightly overworked – at the time. The methodology helped me to create an inventory of my “projects” and I used that inventory to start removing stuff.

It’s a fairly complicated system, but so is public transport; once you figure it out it pays. It’s no secret that I really like this book.

Although I liked a number of ideas in Tim Ferriss’ 4HWW, I had some problems with the “ethics” of it.

His book seems to advocate ignoring people / customers that add only a small percentage to your revenue. I and other critics on the other hand argue that good relationships are very important and often require a fair bit of unproductively to maintain. Spending half a year in Slovakia certainly taught me that. But he’s spot on when it comes to getting rid of relationships that make you feel miserable and add little value. Steve Pavlina also argues for that in his recent book. It’s a matter of finding the right balance.

I also don’t like the thought of just generating income regardless of consequences – by extracting money from dumb people for example. I got the impression that his focus was on selling random stuff at the highest price a fool would pay for it. Same for salary: get away with the minimum hours of work your boss won’t fire you for. Either I care about my job and boss and work hard for a fair(+) salary, or I quit. His advise makes sense only if you are forced to work for someone who obviously exploits you or if your company adds no real value to the world.

That said, if you follow more recent work by Ferriss, he sounds a lot more balanced than he did in the book. I enjoyed the book and learned a few lessons from it, but it wasn’t until much later that I gained enthusiasm for Tim’s more recent work.

I should emphasize that I may simply have misinterpreted him or misread the tone of the book.

My own cultural bias plays a role here too. Check out this chart of cultural differences between the USA and The Netherlands. You can read about the dimensions on that chart here or you can – and should – read the whole book.

Last but not least: working less is not necessarily a good thing. I’m not sure if either author is familiar with the book Flow. Amongst other things, it shows that people are often happiest at work even when they think they aren’t. Flow has had a really big impact on me.

The value of 4HWW is that if you are stuck in a job you don’t enjoy, there is a way out. GTD makes you better at the job or helps you plan an effective exit strategy. It would even remind you of that exit strategy at exactly the right moment. Finally, Flow will tell you that even the worst possible job can be thoroughly enjoyed with the right mindset.

I mentioned a number of books in this post. You should read them all, but if you have limit time in your life, at least read these three:

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