Time Management Guru-itis: Mark Hurst vs. David Allen and Tim Ferriss

You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

I once asked Po Bronson how he beats writer’s block. His answer was “write about what makes you angry.” It works like a charm.

If I had writer’s block, this quote from a recent Entrepreneur magazine blog post would surely make the words flow like water. What follows is an example of guru fatigue and an overview of some misconceptions and principles of Bit Literacy vs. Getting Things Done (GTD) vs. 4-Hour Workweek (4HWW)

“Timothy Ferriss is focused on outsourcing and not checking e-mail so often. The last time I checked, the amount of e-mail you get is not a function of how often you check e-mail,” [Mark] Hurst says. “David Allen’s approach is a bit of a throwback to a pre-internet age when having complex flowcharts, filing papers and creating tickler items was relevant…”

“People need to learn how to let the bits go and do a better job of managing their to-do lists. Digital overload isn’t a function of too much e-mail; it’s a product of not managing your action items appropriately,” Hurst says.

Fortunately, I speak fluent sarcarm (“Last time I checked…”), but I’ll respond to the above without it to spare us all the irritation.

First, I’d like to observe four facts

-I know Mark is highly intelligent, hence my surprise and disappointment.

-Mark is the author of a book called Bit Literacy, which also serves as a sales tool for his paid web-based to-do list software. Much of his advice depends on its use.

-I have read both David’s GTD and Mark’s book in detail. For those of you familiar with how I index books and take notes, below is the one-pager from the 180 pages of Bit Literacy. It’s worth the read if you are an avid Mac user, enjoy reading about things like file extensions (I do), and are willing to use his software subscription.

Index and references from Bit Literacy

-Despite the disproportionate attention paid to them, personal outsourcing and selective ignorance are just two chapters out of 16 in 4HWW. There is a lot more to information management and intake control in 4HWW (interruption prevention, internal policies, scripts with superiors, etc.) than “batching” e-mail.

Second, in defense of GTD

I’ve had a number of dialogues with David Allen. I do not view his approach as an outdated “throwback to a pre-internet age.”

Though David refers to desk-based inboxes, tickler files, etc. in certain parts of GTD, the broader concepts are frameworks for proper filtering of inputs (“open loops”) and definition of outputs (“next actions”), regardless of technologies used.

Let us remember that good technology is a practical solution to a real problem, not a collection of whiz-bang features. The tech references in Bit Literacy have fewer applications and less shelf-life than GTD principles, which sometimes (but not always) manifest with paper and file tools.

GTD is, however, a bottom-up approach to time management that — used in isolation — can lead to becoming very efficient (doing things well) but decreasingly effective (not doing the right things). Readers on this blog have suggested reading 4HWW and 7 Habits prior to implementing GTD. The results and approaches are complementary rather than conflicting, but order is important.

Eliminate before you optimize.

(Credit: Whereswilliam)

E-mail: Why Frequency Begets Single Points of Failure

Now, a few theories with supporting evidence to refute Hurst’s assertion that “the amount of e-mail you get is not a function of how often you check e-mail”:

-The more you check e-mail, the more e-mail you send. This is the reason some investment banks (I was introduced to one of largest at the Web 2.0 conference in 2007), as well as forward-thinking tech companies, have policies — complete with punishments for non-compliance — limiting inbox checking to 2-3 times daily. Do people send more or fewer e-mail once adopting Blackberries or iPhones? Even the smartest users will abuse tools to the extent that immediate self-validation is possible.

-The more e-mail you send, the more e-mail you receive. Robert Scoble has told me, as have other digerati, that he receives an average of 1.75-2 messages in return for each single e-mail he sends. This does not scale. The more often you respond to e-mail, and the faster you do so, the more the volume of e-mail compounds. E-mail becomes IM and, using a medium designed for one-to-one communication, processing bottlenecks are inevitable.

The interviewer observes of Mark in the same piece:

Hurst must be doing something right. When I sent him an e-mail about being interviewed for this article, he responded within 20 minutes.

Is responding to all inquiries on a moment’s notice really success? I would argue it is a reactive mode that precludes life, at least the type of life I want to have.

Watts Humphrey, who retired from IBM in 1980, once led Big Blue’s software development. His group “who had never before made a delivery schedule, did not miss a date for the next two and a half years.” Here is a persuasive list of bullet points from one of his presentations (courtesy of Scott Rosenberg, founder of Salon):

-Unless you are independently wealthy, you must work to a schedule

-If you don’t make your own schedule, someone else will.

-Then that person will control your work.

Mark is highly intelligent and I’m sure he’s a nice person. I just take offense at his tone and blanket statements about people who are attempting to do the same thing as he: help others overcome digital overload. In the end, I think his comments come from a mistaken view that there is only room for one version of what is inherently “personal” productivity.

To all readers, I thank you for allowing a self-indulgent rant, but there is one overarching point to this little diatribe:

Remember to think twice before not being nice. Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate.


Did you enjoy this little dittie? If so, please click “buzz up” or digg below for good karma and stronger fingers. Be like Bruce.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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65 Replies to “Time Management Guru-itis: Mark Hurst vs. David Allen and Tim Ferriss”

  1. I haven’t read Bit Literacy or GTD so I really can’t speak to them, though I have read and worked with 7 Habits and, obviously, 4HWW.

    However, I tend to view these types of books as points on a continuum, rather than each being the be-all and end-all.

    For instance, while the reactive GTD model may actually have some benefit to some people, the sense I get is that those who follow the GTD model to the letter will eventually find themselves in overwhelm mode. Then, and only then, will the practices of 4HWW start to make some sense.

    So I don’t see any of these books as being mutually-exclusive epitomes of time and task management; rather, they build upon one another, however inadvertently. For example, I see it as something like this:

    To establish the fundamentals, 7 Habits comes first.

    To understand planning and execution, GTD and Bit Literacy.

    To get a clear picture on WHY you do what you do, what’s REALLY important and how to balance that with the rest of your life, 4HWW.

    The order is a bit out of sequence with what Tim writes about what blog readers have suggested, but I think the point is clear: Each model has a role to play, and they’re not mutually exclusive. Pick and choose the best of each, use what works for you, and discard what doesn’t.

  2. Yea, Mark is a bit hard on GTD at times. I think he doesn’t quite understand the need for or joy of a complex model. I enjoyed interviewing him though–he’s one smart cookie!

    Many people have a difficult time with GTD because of all the moving parts, even though it’s simply making explicit what people are already doing.

    You said in this article “GTD is, however, a bottom-up approach to time management that — used in isolation — can lead to becoming very efficient (doing things well) but decreasingly effective (not doing the right things).”

    I disagree from interviewing David. On my interview I asked him directly about this and he said that many people can’t really focus on being more effective (getting perspective) until they have control, but he also emphasized flexibility to go to the higher altitudes whenever your intuition calls you to do so.

    Just like your 4HWW method is often reduced to personal outsourcing and selective ignorance, GTD is often reduced to efficiency, even though David has a very robust model for effectiveness (the altitudes).

    Similarly, Bit Literacy is reduced to bit levers and getting email to 0, and the 7 Habits is reduced to buying Franklin Covey planners and putting your big rocks in your weekly calendar.

    It’s my belief that if we all chatted we’d see more similarities than differences. I’d love to get all the gurus to dialogue together on Precision Change sometime.

  3. Hi Tim,

    David Allen has a nice system, but it’s only partially there. I first signed up for his newsletter when he first burst on the scene with an article in Fast Company. He sent out newsletters every 2 to 9 months, and usually apologized for the lateness. That sounds like a very organized person who manages his time well! It’s now much better – but that’s because OTHER people keep the newsletter on track.

    The best time management book is “Do It Tomorrow” by Mark Forster. It’s based on how people actually think – including our natural resistance to doing what we should be doing AND the tendency to get overwhelmed.

    His approach to to-do lists in particular is spot on. Read his section on closed lists.

    The book changed my life – and it’s helping me next use YOUR book to change my life. Check it out.


  4. I’ve read both GTD and Bit Literacy too. I thought Bit Literacy was a dreadful book.

    Aside from the primary flaw – that I basically paid $20 for a self-published sales flyer just to be told that I can’t possibly be productive without paying a continual fee for his website – the whole thing smacks of “if your internal life doesn’t match Mark Hurst’s in every respect, you’re doing it wrong”.

    It’s more revealing of the author’s personal preferences than anything else: for example, Bit Literacy contains an entire chapter on managing photos, but music deserves barely a couple of insultingly neophyte paragraphs – it assumes the reader needs to be told that “MP3 is pronounced em-pee-three”. One gets the distinct impression that Hurst likes photography but isn’t interested in music very much, and everyone else needs to follow suit.

    And it’s in dire need of an editor. Text programs like Notepad are overexplained with pointless pages about the history and structure of ASCII (umm… heard about Unicode at all, Mark?) and the book is full of arrogant this-works-for-me-so-it-must-work-for-everyone recommendations: For example, to be “Bit Literate”, you must file your documents in folders with MM-DD-YYYY names. Well, YYYY-MM-DD has worked pretty well for me for many years now, as I can sort them alphabetically to sort by date, but hey, I guess I’m doing it wrong again.

    Reading it, you’d be forgiven for thinking that no-one else in the history of the world has ever even _considered_ productivity in the digital age. Covey? Never heard of him. Drucker? Who he? Nobody else is worth mentioning. It’s Bit Literacy, and Bit Literacy alone.

    I’m sure Mark Hurst is a smart guy: he went to MIT, and tells me so within a few sentences of the book’s beginning. But his actual bio is somewhat less impressive. Go read it. You’ll see bullet points like “2005: Launched Good Experience Games”. Then you go there, and realize what that means is “In 2005 I made a web page with links on it to games I like.” Uh, yeah. If that’s what I can achieve by being “Bit Literate”, it seems I’m not missing much.

    But I am thankful for reading it. Seriously. Because after this, re-reading David Allen was a breath of fresh air – it was a validation of how deep and flexible GTD can be.

  5. This sound like when rappers start beefs with each other so whoever is lower on the totem pole can catapult himself higher.

    I had never heard of Mark Hurst until today.

    I remember when Ruben Patterson of the Portland Trailblazers decided to call himself the “Kobe Stopper.” His coach said, We will see before I call him that.” He wasn’t a Kobe Stopper but if he had been it would have catapulted himself.

    But he ended up as a joke and a journeyman in the NBA.

  6. Hi Tim!

    LOVE your book!! Devoured it in 1 day. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what’s the best way to find companies to manufacture clothing items in Vietnam? Any advice would be greatly appreciated :).


  7. Good points, and I agree – blanket statements make Hulk want to smash. There is no one perfect approach to time management – it is different for everyone. Successful people will be the ones who read each of the schools of thought you mentioned … and pick and choose the parts that work for them.

  8. Tim,

    Whenever a conversation arises about 4HWW, I always mention that the most valuable parts of the book are not the Muse Creation or the personal assistants. Not even the 3-month-long global sojourns. I always reference your advice on batching e-mail intake, increasing efficiency through time management and elimination of multitasking, and the virtues of a low-information diet. Most people are mislead (and lured in, which is great for your sake!) by the hammock-and-palm-tree cover of your book, and they miss the simple, but somehow profound, advice you have for people just living life and working in a profession.

    I bought your book on a whim in June of 2007, on a trip to Barnes and Noble to find a book on retirement advice, oddly enough. Since then I have, in the following order:

    – Decided what it was I actually WANTED out of life, and what I wanted to do. (This section alone is worth the price of your book. More people need to do this simple exercise.)

    – quit my job, which had dead-ended me for 2 years.

    – Flew to D.C. to visit the USPTO in order to research ‘prior art’ for a patent application

    – Obtained a new job that left room for remote work agreements (able work one day a week remotely, to start)

    – Filed a patent application for a product I’m in the final stages of launching, assisted by a Filipino Virtual Assistant

    – Used your advice on e-mail strategies, the art of refusal, and the 80/20 principle to excel at my job and obtain a raise and promotion within 6 months

    – Took a week-long trip abroad, all expenses paid

    – Negotiated start-up costs for my product using your strategies, and reduced the initial order price by 40%.

    I’ve streamlined my life and learned to value time over money. The point is, your method is not simply an outline of Tim Ferriss’ Life After Reflection, but is actually an actionable blueprint for lifestyle design. I’ve heard the detractors for a year now, much like Mark Hurst (if only passively) in your post here, and their arguments always end up sounding like excuses. The start-to-finish execution of the principles in 4HWW is not for everyone, but there are elements of the book that everyone can learn from.

    I’m not exactly a success story, but I do consider myself a work in progress. When people ask me, “What do you want to do?” I simply answer, “I’m trying to design a lifestyle that I don’t want to retire from. That seems more sensible to me than planning for retirement.”

    I’ve only touched on a few ways I’ve incorporated your ideas into my life, but I just wanted to point out that some people are actually benefiting from 4HWW and not just marveling at the glamour. I’ll let you know how things turn out.



  9. Wow Marc better watch out or you will go back to the Slovic Republic and get a semi-automatic LOL

    I hope this doesn’t put you in a bad mood for your awesome trip to Greece. I am so jealous! I even have a picture on my desktop for 6 months of white houses and blue water.

    Even though I am sure there a quite a few misrepresentations out in the world for your work and others’, truth and people who want to read your work will prevail over some gross inaccuracies some will make.

    Don’t let them keep you down! You can always outsource your stress by hiring a PR firm.



  10. This is so funny. Just this morning I was thinking about what it would be like to combine GTD with 4HWW – I swear. I do tend to think they are complimentary and I find Mark Hurst’s suggestion that GTD approach is “a throwback to a pre-Internet age” to be insulting.

    If I do decide to implement both, simultaneously, I’ll let you know.

  11. I LOVE not checking e mail. I LOVE deleting e mails. I never had this thought process until you kept hammering home the immense benefits via your 4HWW and your interviews here, Tim.

    Thanks for the constant education brother!

    This one, simple adjustment, multiplies my efficiency at least 10 times greater. It’s that simple 🙂



  12. Tim, your views on e-mail are spot on. I’m actually enforcing this policy in our company this week. Keep up the good work, love reading your stuff!

  13. Tim, as soon as I read this, I copied it and put it in my quotes file:

    “Is responding to all inquiries on a moment’s notice really success? I would argue it is a reactive mode that precludes life, at least the type of life I want to have.”

    The Web may be a place where speed is of the essence, but it’s not worth it if it comes at the expense of really living and enjoying life.

    Some people think that a successful business is the end, but as you’ve argued, it’s the means to a better end–an enjoyable and fulfilling life.

    Keep up the to-the-point productivity posts. I’m enjoying them.

  14. It does I believe show what kind of man he is. He simplifies your work as if it is nothing but what you could learn in sentence, and then reduces GTD to the use of paper. For those here who have not used GTD it CLEARLY it is not, I use it ON MY COMPUTER – this is a system is designed to be used anywhere and is all about what works. He should say sorry to both of you, but somehow I doubt he will. I’ve noticed that people I’ve worked with from well known universities are often amazingly confident, and underestimate others, more often than not to their loss. Will I be using his software ? Not now!

  15. It’s uncanny…

    I think you might have the *best* youtube clips on any blog. And it’s obviously easy to link any number of great clips

    just an observation…

  16. Hi Tim,

    It’s nice to see you are a fan of Bruce’s. Have you ever considered training in Jeet Kune Do? It has always been frustrating to me that so few people actually train in the art that Bruce created…It’s almost impossible to find a real teacher and there is so much confusion about what his art actually consists of…I know the Bruce Lee Foundation is trying to work it all out but in the meantime I have to stick with my Heavy Bag and Wooden Dummy cause I can never find anyone to train with! I think it’s kind of a shame that people just focus on his movies and his physical condition without ever considering that there is a real, and very specific teaching behind it all.

    Sorry everyone if I’m off topic…couldn’t help myself…


  17. In the past, I used to go off and buy any success book that sounded great. I’d read some or all of them and then they would sit on the book shelf.

    I now realised that to successfully implement the learning from any type of ‘guru’ (e.g. health, wealth, time management, etc) and achieve the desired goal (more time, wealth, health and fulfilment) you need to find one or two individuals whose work you admire and whose approach suits your style and immerse yourself in their ideas and approach.

    So, from the start of the year, I used the 80:20 rule (or more like the 90:10 rule) to pick out the handful of authors from my bookshelf whose advice or system would help me get my desired lifestyle and TMI as quickly and simply as possible.

    Within the areas of business and time management that means I now have 4 people’s advice I follow – Steven Covey, Alan Weiss, Michael Gerber and Tim Ferris. (Plus tips and tricks from the Gina Trapani’s Llife Hacker blog)

    Which means I read their articles, newsletters, and blogs and frequently re-read or dip in and out of their books?

    From a time management point of view i suppose it is part of the ‘elimination’ process. Follow fewer gurus, but do what they suggest to get results.

    Having read some of the comments above I have no intention of reading Mark work!

  18. since reading and applying 4hww, the thing that paid off most was the 80/20 rule. Very simply doing more of the important stuff and simply not doing so much of the seemingly necessary (but not) stuff is what has moved me ahead (about 400% faster than same time last year!). Don’t know what GTD and Mark Hurst say about the 80/20.

    Thanks again Tim!


  19. Tim, as always you are my hero. Don’t let the haters hate!! Remember, the more succcesful you are the more haters you will have. You’ve changed thousands of lives, keep it up!


    David Weisburd

  20. Thanks for the link. Amusingly enough I have also written my own critique of Hurst’s Bit Literacy (for Salon, here) which I think has some merit but which simply doesn’t work for me:

    ” If you accept Hurst’s mission of ‘getting to zero,’ it will keep eating up more of your day no matter how efficient you are. And you’ll be letting other people control your time.”

  21. I agree that Mark’s book is not great. I also wrote a review, mainly about the tools. I like the tips about keyboard accelerators and such, but his todo list and email approach is just not feasible for a lot of people.

    Also this photo organizing thing is only applicable if you take many photos. I have the same as another commenter – I live music, not pictures.

    He also makes mistakes – for example claiming that you need 14 steps to put an Outlook message in your todo list. AFAIK you can drag-drop it and your done. In Entourage you have built in scripts.

    Anyway – here is the list with the tools for the Mac from his book that I found valuable: http://productief.net/blog/tools-from-bit-literacy

  22. What Mark Hurst and many others don’t seem to realize is that there is no one system that works for everyone. We all need to look at various possibilities and find the one (or converge a few) that works best for each of us individually. Anyone who professes to have the one solution for all is selling something.

    And that is just what Mark Hurst is doing…and one can see why. I have read all the books. I have come to my own system that works very well for me which uses principles of GTD, 7Habits, 4HWW and a few other things (such as the Now Habit) sprinkled in. I refined my concepts over time based on my own personal habits, foibles and personality traits and then applied a system of low-tech (pencil and paper) along with web 2.0 to create my personal system. I consider Covey, Ferris, and Allen as gurus and I find myself rereading sections of their books often.

    Bit Literacy on the other hand was a disappointment. The system was not as well refined nor was the underlying principles. And the underlying principles are a key element – the thinking behind the system can be as important as the system itself, especially to those of us who customize. Add in the poor writing style of Bit Literacy and I found it less than useful. Rather than gaining space on my bookshelf it was donated to the library.

    I think that is the key explanation why Mark Hurst has chosen a path of denigrating other authors. GTD, 7Habits and 4HWW have developed core followings because of their value. And each continues to grow as readers pass on the message to others (I know I do). Bit Literacy lacks the inherant value so word of mouth will not be as strong a vehicle. And when you have an inferior product, tearing down the competition may seem a better path forward than letting your product sell itself.

    And that is also why the comments on the Entrepreneur Blog post are not relevant to the long term. For in the long run marketing never trumps quality.

  23. I just didn’t “get” Mr Hurst’s book. It sits on my shelf barely opened because having flicked through it (I ordered from Amazon so no “flick” opportunity until it arrived!) and previewed the sections I thought looked most interesting I was really underwhelmed by his insights. I felt the same way about Mark Joyner’s “Simpleology” (although I read this cover to cover).

    4HWW and GTD on the other hand sit on my desk and both are showing the signs of being plundered on a regular basis. There is depth to both books alhough they are very different.


  24. “This is the reason some investment banks (I was introduced to one of largest at the Web 2.0 conference in 2007), as well as forward-thinking tech companies, have policies — complete with punishments for non-compliance — limiting inbox checking to 2-3 times daily.”

    Would you care to name the particular bank? Because from where I stand, they encourage their people to be 24×7 connected and available. Even the French ones (at least in NY).

    P.S. How do you get introduced to a whole bank? 🙂

  25. Hi All,

    Thank you so much for all the great comments and comparisons. I love hearing how people are able to pick and choose the elements from different sources. As it should be.


    Thank you for the great story and excellent points. You brought up a MAJOR point that I always forget to mention. 4HWW was never designed to necessarily be a start-to-finish book, and I never expected all readers to use all of the book. It was written in a modular fashion so that people could pick and choose appropriate techniques like food in a buffet. Thank you for bringing this up and contributing!

    @Brian W:

    I am a big Bruce fan, but I don’t actively pursue JKD, as I believe he was essentially trying to manifest a version of MMA when the lack of tools and practitioners precluded it. He loved Judo Gene, for example. Bruce did have a much sharper philosophical bent than most MMA fighters, but his tactical and experimental approaches were very similar. I think he would have come to similar conclusions as those now being borne out in the octagon.

    Off to Greece, ladies and gents, but I did schedule a post for y’all in the meantime 🙂 Ta ta!

    Pura vida,


  26. Tim,

    . . .got a great chuckle in reading through your notes on Bit Literacy. . .I love that you took the time to note the correct spelling of “frontier” in your note, even though it was clearly just for your reading. I find myself doing the same in my own notes, which I now take (thanks to your advice) in a sweet moleskin notebook that never leaves my company.

    I used to take notes from textbooks in college by putting page numbers next to noteworthy ideas. . .as a history major this made things SO much easier when writing papers. Since I read a ton of business books, I found that taking notes again actually allows me to integrate the ideas I learn into my business and personal life much more effectively, than if not taking notes.

    Some books have so much great information in them, they just whiz by and last only in my short-term memory. Note-taking reduces all the clutter in my brain, so all of those great ideas can now be put into motion like a major league playbook.

    Anyway, I thought the (ie) reference in your notes was pretty cool. Details. . .

  27. Hey Tim

    Loving your book at the moment as I churn through it. Hope you’re having a great time in Greece – any Ouzo Cruises between the islands? hehe

    I agree with the common sentiment of ‘different strokes for different folks’ coming through here with the variety of techniques/guidelines. I must say you open a whole new dimension in future planning and achieving (or ‘dreamlining’ as you so eloquently put it!).

    I’m currently in the throes of deciding what to do with life and relocating/restructuring my internet based dietary supplement/social tonic business due to a law change and impending arrival of baby number two at the end of June AAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!! Or as my 17 month old son Patrick put it so beautifully “Ohhhh Noooooor!”

    I can see some parallels to BrainQuicken with my products. I also think I have couple that would prove complimentary to yours if life ever gave us a chance to talk sometime?

    I guess I’m more the proverbial ‘ideas man’ with a self-taught background in natural medicine (Western, Ayurvedic and Chinese incorporating plant pharmacognosy and amino acid interactions) trying to make things get off the ground (been trying for three years now hehe) – I’m hoping to iron out some of the creases with your guidance as well as the MBA I’m completing by distance. We shall see what happens………. 😉

    Hmmmmmm………If only I could turn a relative hourly rate of $1000 into more than four hours work a month!?!?!?

    If only Google Adwords would let me back on their site!?!?!?!

    Okay….enough whining!

    Where’s that book of Tim’s????? 😉

    Take care buddy!

    Mike and Family




  28. Hi Tim,

    Your life philosophy or philosophy of life is incredible and very


    Thanks for all.


  29. Bit Literacy was a huge disappointment. I can’t recommend it to anyone. The only thing I liked was the title.

    On the other hand . . .

    I recommend 4HWW to everyone.

    And I keep spare copies of GTD to give to people I like.

  30. The anti-Mark Hurst comments seem harsh to me, and seem to perpetuate misconceptions of Bit Literacy vs. 4HWW vs. GTD vs. 7 Habits vs. ZTD etc.

    In my opinion, Bit Literacy is very much compatible with techniques from 4HWW, including email batching, personal outsourcing, etc. Merlin Mann also recommends getting your inbox to 0 daily. David Allen seems to also lean in this direction. The gurus are in agreement!

    If you don’t wish to learn the inbox 0 discipline, you can always outsource it, but in that case, your VA is then doing the inbox zero processing for you. Help me out–I just don’t see the conflict here.

    In my last startup venture, we applied principles from GTD, 4HWW, Bit Literacy, and other sources as a team. As a company we cleared our email inboxes to 0 nearly every day, and we decided what kinds of things would be handled via email vs. phone vs. meeting. We found no fundamental conflicts between the various systems, although the implementations do vary at times.

    I personally found Mark’s terse writing very enjoyable. I also enjoyed Tim’s writing, and David Allen’s, and Stephen Covey’s, and Leo Babauta’s. Every author has a different voice and can be enjoyed for their own unique qualities. I found the clarity of Mark’s writing put me into a meditative state.

    When I interviewed Mark, I found him to be flexible in his thinking, and open to however someone wants to solve the problem of email overload for themselves. Of course he also had his own preferences, as we all do.

    There is value in all of these books and approaches. However you want to handle your life and your work is ultimately up to you, and I think each of these authors get this.

  31. Tim, great point about how the more often we check our email the more often we respond, etc. This one tip has helped me be more productive. I’m actually a blackberry user although I never reply to emails from it. I used to check my email 4-5 times a day. Now, I don’t check my email 4-5 times a week.

  32. I love the GTDInbox for gmail. That is one of the most dynamic tools ever. I have all my teams use it.

    If you aren’t already, switch to Firefox and put the GTDInbox tool to work. http://gtdinbox.com/ When you check your e-mail once or twice a day…

    Or when your assistant, or programmer, or book-keeper check theirs during the day, knowing that everything is ordered according to a shared “filing” (labeling) system with consistent reviews scheduled is a true efficiency.

    I believe most management can take place in the digital space. This tool is very powerful and frees a lot of time, energy, and communication.



  33. Tim-Don’t let Mark get you too riled up. Remember the saying about @$$holes and opinions…

  34. Your comment of “eliminate before you optimize” really struck a chord, and reminded me of how lean manufacturing and six sigma are complementary but must be performed in a certain order.

    – Six Sigma is about optimizing processes

    – Lean manufacturing is about removing waste (and respect for people)

    If an organization jumps on the six sigma bandwagon without first doing lean manufacturing, they risk optimizing wasteful processes… a common occurrence in the business world.

    This prompted some more thoughts along those lines – click on my name.


  35. I have read numerous books on this subject (including GTD), the fact is – none have driven me to action like Four Hour Work Week. I am continually looking for ways to automate my life to enable me to spend more time with my family and make more money. This could be due to timing, or ambition, but I think the truth is that the book makes you challenge the notion of traditional work, and really opens your eyes. It has allowed me to treat my work life like a machine for the purchase of examination, and so far so could – I have eliminated almost 6 hours of tasks within a given week, which has enabled me to spend more time on creative tasks – which will make me more money, and give me more time with my family.

    Tim, don’t take the article personally – he is just trying to make a living. You have to remember that each person’s ideas are like pictures of their kids (they are always the best). Rest assured, I (and many others)have chosen your techniques and will continue to…..

  36. Tim,

    Love your book. It’s been the thing that’s finally tied all my random knowledge together to bring about an understanding of the way things should be (at least for me anyway).

    Got to say though that I think your comments at the end could be taken as a thinly veiled threat, particularly as you have a video of Brue Lee kicking a man off his feet.

    I could be way off, but there was a hint of the unnecessary here for me.

    Perhaps I’m alone here, but I thought I’d say it anyway.

    You’re a good man – there’s no doubt.

    All the best.

  37. Another powerful life management system that bridges the gap between old and new is Mark Joyner’s Simpleology (http://www.simpleology.com) because you can use it offline (which is what I did when it first came out) or online (which is what I do now). It’s the best system I’ve found (resonated with my style far better than Getting Things Done).

  38. Hi Tim:

    Thanks for the link love! For those who don’t know, I am the person who wrote the article to which Tim is referring.

    I wanted to clear up a couple of things:

    1. The content in question is my monthly column for Entrepreneur – not a blog post as indicated in the first paragraph of this blog post. I also do have a blog of the same title with Entrepreneur Media and I wanted to clarify this to avoid any confusion.

    2. As for Mark Hurst’s 20 minute response to my email…I say that not everyone can have a NY Times best-selling book and when the media comes calling, as I did with Mark, especially when the journalist tells you they’re from Entrepreneur Media, it’s best to be overly responsive rather than not responsive enough. I don’t think replying to a media request for an interview within 20 minutes as a “reactive mode that precludes life” – I think it’s a rather smart strategy for someone who’s trying to get their book some visibility.

    I think you put it best when you said “…at least the type of life I want to have”. Responding to a media request may not be at the top of your list, I don’t know…I certainly can’t speak for you and don’t presume to do so. Maybe you outsource this task, again, I don’t know. But, I do know that everyone has their method for increasing productivity and visiblity and for some people that means responding to urgent media requests ASAP.

    Thanks again for the linkage!


  39. Wow, this entire exchange makes me extremely leery of reading what competing authors may have to say about my own book. I heard an interview with Tim today and was so impressed that I came to this site. It’s kind of disappointing to see this very public fall-out, although I guess it served its purpose by driving me to visit both author’s blogs.

    [Hi Nancy. Thanks for the comment. I had been intending to write a post about GTD and other approaches + 4HWW, and addressing Mark’s factual inaccuracies just fit in. I have nothing personal against Mark at all, of course. -Tim]

    As is apparent by the title of my own book, I’m a big fan of email reduction, especially while on a “mini-retirement” (what I call unplugging). Being able to shut out the external chatter and focus on what our hearts are trying to tell us is key to any Personal Journey, and I love how Tim applies this to the world of business as well.

    I’m looking forward to reading Tim’s book and wish him much continued success.

  40. I couldn’t agree more with you – checking email probably wasted most of the precious time that is supposed to be used productively.

  41. Question for Tim or successful business owners:

    What is the first step to start successfully? And what are the next three steps towards success? How can I figure out a timeline that is reasonable but takes me as quickly as possible to targeted income? I plan to start a coaching practice and eventually make it a coaching business. Any help would be very welcomed! And I can throw in some coaching for your time!

  42. For a GTD implementation that includes also the up-bottom approach from Stephen Covey (Goals, so you know you work on the right things), you might try out this web-based application:


    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.

  43. I also haven’t read Bit Literacy, but there are people who think being and sarcastic is an effective sign of wit.

    But concerning the main discussion, there is no doubt a need for everyone working in this information age to use both a top-down and bottom-up approaches. Which one to focus and start with may depend on current level of productivity, choice of career and of course, personality. But generally, it helps to first have fundamentals of top-down approach to have an overall picture and then manage what’s filtered by effective principles with a lean flexible bottom-up system.

    I have read GTD, 4HWW and 7 Principles found them all very helpful (although Covey was a bit long-winded). I have also found helpful Tony Robbin’s system in “Time of Your Life” which is one way to integrate Top and Bottom approaches …

    In the end, like Tim said, it is “personal” productivity. So find what works from what you read and learn. But don’t read too much. Test tips. Be flexible. Don’t overplan. Eliminate physical and mental junk. Take action on the important things. etc. etc….

  44. 4HWW is awesome, GTD is a wonderfully flexible system to manage info, and ZenToDone combines both, simplifies GTD, and contains one missing ingredient from either: Setting up of routines.

    Success rituals.

    I don’t see how GTD isn’t a high level system. It’s based on projects.

    If the project is, “Get the fence painted,” okay, it’s not super high level.

    If the project is, “Get PhD so can begin to explore my ideas on nuclear physics, get funding, and advance mankind’s ability to finally colonize the solar system,” then it’s high level.

    It all depends on what the project is. Of course, we all have projects at different levels and of different topics and that’s cool.

    4HWW rocks because it presents so many excellent ideas on pulling back from culturally popular but generally unrewarding time-wasters… as well as helping one to design a better vision for the future. Which, whatever system(s) one follows, is important.

    1. Hi Christoph,

      Good point. I should clarify what I mean by “high level”. It refers to strategic vs. tactical, not the intellectual sophistication. For me, the “highest” levels also reflect levels of abstraction (though not impractical; quite the opposite) and broader implications. Thus, values are higher than priorities (“Is this important?”), which are higher than projects, which are higher than tasks. 7 Habits is the highest, 4HWW is a lot of priorities (what to do) and some projects (how to do), and GTD — at least the application I usually see — is mostly project/task based.

      Hope that helps,


      1. Interesting points ,Tim. Again, I go back to the benefit of GTD is psychological well being rather than getting things done. Many (in fact most) people actually enjoy a simple life. There is no statistical correlation between happiness, money, and achievement as done meta analysis of many psychologists. I understand a lot of people who follow this blog have the personality structure bent towards achievement. The highest values that David Allen talk about pertain to values. Values can be corrlelated with personal-social well being. I think that is the value of GTD. He allows stressed out execuatives to make their job eaiser. Break out of analysis peralysis. To me, there is more value in getting stuff done stress free as compared to getting lots of stuff done stressed out. Of course, there is a happy median that each person can work out for themselves. My vote tilts toward the value of being stress free. Then again, my personality is very stress sensative and stress adverse.

  45. I agree with the emailing stuff, I send more email and I received more, I think that just the theory right.

  46. Strategic v tactical; great way to put it. I’m afraid the Bruce Lee video has gone bye-bye, though; deletion by misadventure, no doubt.

  47. Thanks Tim. Great content. I love this stuff. 🙂

    I’ve been immersed in personal productivity and human potential work for close to 10 years now. I also lead a peer-to-peer accountability and support community called Peer Success Circles. Peer Accountability and mastermind support is I believe to be the missing ingredient in most productivity and time management systems. It’s essentially a way to meet promises and come from choice, especially done with the right context.

    I agree that it’s really about balance when choosing the propers systems. David’s approach is the bottom up approach to efficiency and he does touch a little on the bigger 40K and 50K runway approaches but not enough. A person can get stuck if they start out their day doing this.

    I blend all different approaches for myself and when I coach clients.

    For example Tony Robbins has a very strong state-inducing Top Down approach to personal productivity in his TOYL program. It’s highly impactful and requires much invested time early on to set up and it’s worth it. It takes Steven Covey’s formula and adds a strong engaging visceral element to it.

    Yes, I highly believe strongly in setting deadlines and applying Parkinson’s law and Perritto’s 80/20 rule. I know you also stress these in

    There is something I call the Inside Out approach which I encourage some of my clients to take on. It involves very simply doing practices that “take the pressure off”…such as free flow list building, EFT, and various other written, spoken and physical exercises to get really clear so that they can effectively choose the appropriate next step whether it be a top down approach or bottom up approach. Cutting away detrimental foods and cleansing the body are other examples.

    Message me at successcircles.com or jvny.com if you want to hear more.

    I’ve streamlined my life to an amazing degree where I wake up pretty inspired daily.



  48. GTD main points are not about maximizing productivity. They are about turning work into a peak state of flow as described by psychologists. If you are completely present with what is, you loose track of time, self, and become completely engaged. I arrive at work @ 9AM and after a blink it is 6PM and time to go home and find that I am energized rather than drained as happens to most people when they leave work. Time just flies by. This is because my attention is completely immersed with what is in front of me.

  49. I apply 80/20 and peak performance and get some scary good results. I make a lot of people look really bad at work. That is a problem with working at a large company is the comparision and jealousy from being able to produce at such a high level. I am too risk averse to start my own company. I like the stability and health benefits of a large corp.

    Here are some other productivity tips with large corp e-mail management:

    1-Determine how high up the chain an e-mail will affect. Pleasing upper management is very important. Spend more time on e-mail responses to those high in a company and maximize your output of looking better. You can often ignor a lot of e-mails not involving high priority projects and lower level associates without much backlash.

    2-Ask very specific questions that clarify what a person wants. Make very specific statements too. Don’t be vague. Once you find out what a person wants, deliver that to them or tell them who to contact to deliver to meet their needs. If you are vague in e-mails that ends up turning it into all out confusion and complications.

    3-Phone contact – I speak with a very friendly tone when people call me. However, I provide very breif answers and will often say that isn’t my departments responsibilities. That gets people to think you are nice (with the nice voice) but not a clear reliable source for infomation. That keeps a lot of people off my back without upsetting people. Most of communication is not what you say but how you say it. That is key.

    4-Walk ups. I had a system adminstrator walk up to me with a long list of a certain requests. I listened to him for a bit but there was no way I was going to get anything done in this intereactions. I said, (in a nice tone – i cant emphasize speaking politely enough) ” that sounds great, please send me an e-mail telling me what needs to happen to get this task done”. He aggeed and walked away. I was free to add that to my GTD e-mail list that I would later tackle in my flow state.