GTD and BPM Make My Eyes Glaze Over

Sam Carpenter

Written for The Closet Entrepreneur by Sam Carpenter…

Yes, I’ve read David Allen’s fine book Getting Things Done, maybe the most popular version of the concept of Business Process Management (BPM). There are lots of other management systems/philosophies too, most of them created by business consultants.

Good stuff, much of it, GTD, TQM and the like. But I have a bone to pick.

And before I begin this semi-rant, here’s something about me: I’m a small business owner, not a consultant. I’ve had Centratel, for twenty-five years and over the past ten years have been deeply buried in creating my own management methodology. GTD just recently came to my attention, so consider me a credentialed foreigner coming to town with some blank-slate observations. My credentials? In my work and personal life, I’ve found a simple, mechanical way to get everything that I need and want.

Until I changed my thinking ten years ago, my life was horrible. In the first fifteen nightmare years of my business, I was like the guy with the backwards hat, straining to see some distant object against the blinding sun: one hundred hour workweeks, poor health, no friends and no money. Then, literally, late one night I woke up. I stopped churning and grasping and whining and realized the solution to fixing my life was to, figuratively, simply reach up and turn the damn hat around.

Everything I needed to know was right there, metaphorically perched on the top of my head. Starting with that late night mini-enlightenment, repairing things — and getting what I wanted in the forms of free time, money, great relationships and personal health — was easy.

I didn’t fix things by adding complexity. I fixed things by eliminating complexity and thereby becoming tremendously efficient. First, I dug deep and got very specific about what I personally wanted in my business and my life. And second, I gained a better understanding of how the machinery of the world operates (really). Although my motivation to go in a new direction started with a new thought in my head, the execution came from a belief in my guts. There was nothing mystical about the new approach. It was dispassionately mechanical and absolutely believable.

No psychologists, life-coaches or consultants required.

GTD is the darling of Web 2.0 types, bloggers in particular. I understand and agree with many of the points the book makes for getting control of input and tasks through organizing and categorizing. However, the methodology circles above critical fundamentals: desired life style, basic wants and needs and the mechanics of how the world actually functions. Again, for emphasis: These fundamentals lie below any BPM over-lay methodology.

The thrust of GTD and the other BPM strategies is to gain control by becoming more efficient at handling input while keeping the customer’s best interests in mind, but most of the strategies demand hyper-control of details and these efforts are, in themselves, additional tasks.

After setting some solid, simple goals for our work and our lives, can we get unflagging control of input without adding yet another layer of protocol? Can we, instead, go deeper?

Try this “deeper” concept on for size: For the individual, freedom and wealth come from processing a large chunk of input elsewhere, not in personally repackaging it, overly categorizing it or learning how to juggle it.

Here’s my very simple methodology:

  1. Decide and then document what you want and how you will get there (one written page will do it)
  2. Decide and then document your fundamental guidelines for operating (two pages, maybe three)
  3. Systemize things, with attending documentation (here’s the on-going documentation work, the “work the system” part).

Why documentation? So your instructions are made permanent for yourself and for the people who work for you. Verbal instructions are feathers in the wind.

So, to “get things done,” there is no requirement for massive procedural structure and/or for bringing in a consultant, and there is no need for heart-felt philosophic incantations to staff. And, if you’re on your own – a blogger perhaps – there is no need to stop wondering what to do next and where to go, or to become expert in a myriad of BPM strategies. To begin, here is all that’s needed: a mental mind-shift to recognize that your world is a collection of individual systems; It’s not a confused mass of sights, sounds and events. Once this profound mind-tweak occurs (and it happens in a flash of insight in a single moment of time), you will ruthlessly apply the simple rules of efficiency that you have been anemic in implementing in the past: doing it now, eliminating the unnecessary, automating, delegating, deleting and yes, the protocols David Allen put together so well in his book.

Here’s the crux: Once the shift occurs, you will know instinctively what to do in order to get control of the relentless bombardment of input. For the first time, you’ll really see the systems of your life and then you’ll naturally “work them” to produce exactly the results you want. Since your systems will handle the input to produce the results you want, efficiency will ensue and this means more time and money for you.

It starts with a shift in the head. The rest is simple mechanics

So, go deep to identify the fundamentals of what you really want and how the world works. Don’t get caught up in add-on layers of complexity, or buy into the idea you can’t sort things out yourself. Turn your hat around and really see how the systems of your world operate. Get to that place and the next steps will be obvious.

About the Author…

Sam Carpenter is author of Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working less, (publisher, Greenleaf Book Group), available in hardcover at Amazon and book stores, or by download in pdf or audio format at In June, Work the System won the award “Best Non-fiction of 2009” at the New York book festival.

The Closet Entrepreneur

Photo by Sam Carpenter

» This entry was filed under Advice


  1. I couldn’t agree with you more! I have been arguing against complexity in business for several years now. As a consultant, I work with customers who have let their businesses become so complicated they are practically paralyzed. They suffer from constant problems but they can’t ever pinpoint the root cause of all the grief.

    However, one danger that you did not mention was the importance of differentiating between keystones and keylogs in the workflow. Keylogs are the causes of problems while keystones are the checkpoints that hold everything together. For more, check out:

    Thanks for the great article. I will be passing this along to several of my customers. Keep up the good work!

  2. Matt Butson

    I just found this blog through the redPear site and incidentally I came across this article that related perfectly to the realization that I had today.

    The last six months of my life have been all too crazy. I am a sophomore in college and I have taken it upon myself to put so much pressure in what I need to do that I am in actual fact not getting anything done. I want to run a marathon, I want to produce music, I want to have a website going, I want to succeed at school, I want to have a business ALREADY, etc.

    The subsequent result is that I try and put my focus on every one of those things throughout my day and it ends up backfiring! 5% of my energy goes towards those things, instead of the 100% that needs to go into the select few that are genuinely prioritized. I don’t get any result because of it which leads me to feel less productive/motivated. I can’t do this to myself anymore.

    Anyways, Good writing, I am going to continue to be a reader!

  3. Dan

    Great article.

    For implementing GTD you can use this web-based application:

    I would recommend checking out for an online GTD manager.

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A mobile version is available too.

  4. John Murphy

    Thanks for sharing your story Sam. I agree that simple is better, and that is how I’ve been approaching David Allen’s GTD since I attended one of his seminars in 1985. My systems are neither massive nor complex – I manage most of my daily activity with paper and pencil. The epiphany for me was that by having the daily stuff handled cleanly I became much more effective at practicing the kind of methodology you propose. My best ideas have come when I’m confident that all the small stuff is under control and I pull out a blank piece of paper to plan the bigger, more important ideas.

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