What is Wrong in Talking about Tools?

Being an active GTD subscriber, I follow relevant discussions (e.g. the GTD LinkedIn group).

A significant percentage of these discussions and articles relate to tools around GTD. Or they relate to specific practices around a tool. How to use Evernote for GTD? How to organize your ticker files? What is the best online service for managing GTD workflow? What are the specific folders you create? Are you happy with a particular tool?


These are all useful discussions. I even gave out my toolkit for GTD.

But I also wrote about that using GTD is not about adopting a particular set of tools or practices. It is about a personal transformation. It requires a change of heart.

It is not that tools are not important. They are. They ensure that you really get the stuff done. But they come after you understand what you are really trying to do. They are means to the end, not the end themselves. Talking about tools before you understand the end-goal is like putting your first step on the third leg of the ladder. It’s putting the cart before the horse.

And to be fair, GTD itself never prescribes any tool. It lays out the philosophy, vision and process. Tools are implemented by others to achieve all these. There will always be a better tool tomorrow, but the essence remains the same.

Same analogy exists in the Agile world. Many organizations fail to become ‘Agile’ because they are more focused on tooling and specific practices rather than transformation. They are focused on adoption and not transformation. Agile too, needs a change of heart. Cherry picking and rehashing what already exists simply fails. That is why Scrum (the most common Agile implementation) never prescribes a particular tool.

Even in my own GTD 3-part series on this blog, the first article focuses on ‘Why’ I use GTD and then work through the ‘How’ and ‘What’.

This sequencing of Why-How-What is crucial. Most of us work the permutation of How-What-Why, occasionally dropping Why frequently as well. A change of heart or a transformation comes by addressing the Why first. The How and What follow the Why. Jumping right into a discussion of tools is talking the Hows and Whats. It is bound to fail. This is true if you are selling a product, making a change of culture, running a movement, building a tribe or doing a personal self-haul. Apple markets itself by selling a dream – the products are just a way to accomplish that dream. Great leaders sell a vision – and then talk about how to achieve it (Martin Luther King most famed moment is his ‘I have a dream’ speech). Life coaches connect you with what you want to be, before charting how to get there. If the dream, the vision, the destination – the Whys – do not exist, the Hows and Whats do not have much legs. (this wonderful TED talk exactly describes this model – it’s a must listen).

Following this right sequence is the differentiation between success and failure. Not doing so is what is wrong with the tooling discussion to get things rolling.

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