Productivity System Smackdown: FlyLady vs. GTD

Many of us, it seems, meet day’s end with disappointment, not satisfaction. We started ambitiously, worked steadily–at something. But what is there to show for that? A barely diminished to-do list, and a burden for tomorrow.

I confess that my favorite way to procrastinate is to read productivity blogs. It’s by way of this habit (bad or good? Let me know) that I’ve learned about the following productivity systems. Readers familiar with both might be astonished that I’m comparing these, since they’re oriented towards such different audiences and spheres of activity–but having used and experienced both, I think they’re ultimately about the same subject, which is reaching that thrilling moment when your to-do list is blank.


Contender #1: Getting Things Done, a.k.a. GTD

David Allen
the book (Getting Things Done ), the seminars, the applications, the fans.
GTDĀ© is the productivity system outlined by David Allen in his 2001 bestseller. Allen proposes that a profound gain in one’s productivity follows from writing things down, rather than keeping them in one’s memory. Much of GTD centers on organizing that written data into recognizable prompts for action.
Ritual object:
Many items hold great importance in the GTD system, such as daily calendars, notebooks, and PDAs, but when I read GTD, nothing seemed more crucial for the system’s implementation than the File Folder.
  • As you can see from the options above, there are many sources of information about this system. Any practitioner seems ready to pounce on your least little question about how to use the system.
  • Held in great esteem in the US corporate workplace. Casually mentioning your reliance on GTD practices in a job interview will probably score you points.
  • Several of the principles are quick to implement and easy to remember (I expect Allen would prefer we make notes about them down instead).
  • Though Allen does include non-workplace examples, his is not a system to apply in all situations. I can’t imagine how blue-collar or domestic workers would use some of the GTD principles.
  • Generates more physical artifacts than I find comfortable. For instance, Allen suggests making file folders to organize even unique documents. Having joyously reduced my own files to just one letter-size box, I’m reluctant to add to their bulk again.
  • Has no apparent built-in protections against tipping into obsession. Taken to its limits, GTD could easily absorb all that time one used to spend in leisure or paying work.


Contender #2: FlyLady

Marla Cilley, the “FlyLady” (the moniker comes from her love of fly fishing)
the Website, the online discussions, the publications, the occasional workshops
The FlyLady’s system treats domestic concerns almost exclusively. Practitioners receive daily emails from the FlyLady reminding them to undertake various household chores in small (5- or 15-minute) chunks of time. The emails include testimonials from grateful participants, and homespun pep talks from the FlyLady.
Ritual Object:
The Shiny Sink, maintained nightly by faithful practitioners, though the Timer, the Calendar, and the Control Journal assume almost as much importance
  • Very easy to implement and follow. Much of the system establishes routines. One can begin them at any time.
  • Corny as they are, the FlyLady’s pep talks do address self-defeating behaviors such as perfectionism and procrastinating.
  • Many of the FlyLady principles can apply to other than domestic work.
  • The very feminine and very folksy tone of FlyLady messaging is likely to irritate most men and not a few women
  • Nearly all FlyLady emails will contain exhortations to buy one or more of the housecleaning tools for sale through the FlyLady Website
  • Since it is a system used by one of the most despised, “uncool” sectors of the population (middle-aged, middle-class, nonurban women), you probably won’t garner job interview points for mentioning it.

The Winner

The FlyLady.

Yes, really. Why? Because her system is simpler, doesn’t leave a lot of stuff behind (among her frequent themes is reducing clutter), and really addresses why we don’t Get Things Done: it’s because 1) we think we have to do them perfectly; and 2) we think they will take more time to accomplish than they really will. Though Allen does have the rule about working immediately on any task which will take fewer than two minutes, FlyLady combats procrastination by not even requiring one to assess which tasks those are.

As other systems are discovering, one’s best tool for productivity is a timer. Set the timer for an easy-to-accommodate sliver of your day, and work on one task, whether it’s decluttering your sock drawer, making cold calls, or even writing blog posts. The timer rings; you stop–and there’s one less thing to do.