Never Give Up! Never Surrender! | Skillshare Projects

Tiago Forte

Founder, Forte Labs



Never Give Up! Never Surrender!

It feels weird digging deep into your personal lives without telling you about my own journey with productivity. So here it is. Hopefully it will encourage you to stick with it through the hard times.


It took me 3 full months after starting to learn about GTD to hit my stride and see large gains in my productivity. Luckily I'm a stubborn bastard. I’m hoping this class will drastically shorten this timeframe for you, but be prepared for a period of experimentation and exploration before the rocket takes off.

This 3-month period was followed by a 241% increase in one month as everything clicked, and then a major plateau and decline for 2 months. This was a time of high stress and intense activity after returning from a long vacation, and I let my workflow break down as I reverted to old habits because of this “crisis.”

I racked up long hours, but didn’t see corresponding results. I let my life get out of balance, ignoring relationships, health, cooking, sleep, all in the name of “powering through” the storm. But instead of accomplishing more, I saw my holistic productivity break down in a very tangible way. Both the data and my feelings of well-being suffered, convincing me once and for all that life is a marathon, not a sprint.

above: definitely a low point

Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in sprints. But the problem is when people live life that way. We are not computers. We can’t overclock night and day without consequences. Everything that is alive pulses and flows, and ignoring that fact is not smart.

Although the data piece is interesting and informative, there’s also a deeper side to GTD that often goes unnoticed. It’s hard to articulate, but having an effective workflow has had implications that have reverberated throughout my mental and spiritual life.

So many “life philosophies” tell you to articulate your high-level vision and goals first, and assume all the details will work themselves out as a result. I’ve read all the best-selling authors, and I just don’t believe this to be the case. We live on the ground, not in the clouds. Our day-to-day lives are the way they are for a reason, and I think we need to start at that basic level before thinking about the Big Picture. This is why GTD is so practical - it’s not afraid to get down and dirty.

I’ve reduced my stress because I don’t have to keep anything in my brain anymore. Having nothing on your mind is a wonderful feeling I think everyone should experience.

I trust my workflow like a dear friend, because I know it will always come through for me, as long as I keep it healthy (like a dog?). It is like a personal assistant that I trust completely because it represents the best of me, the parts I’ve chosen to enshrine in a system.

I’ve stopped doing things big and small that I realized in my Weekly Review were not aligned with my priorities. It shocked me how many there were.

I’ve gotten to know myself better through simple weekly self-reflection, and actually put that new knowledge into action in my workflow. I realized, among other things, that the prestigious and impressive things I was doing were not my purpose, that I was doing them for others, not for myself. My life has changed drastically since then as I pursue what I know I can be great in, but it feels like a locomotive powering through a jungle, not a leaf blowing in the wind.

And actually the personal goals I've been able to reach because of more free time and better mental clarity have been even more meaningful to me than the work ones:

  • learning to cook, going from not knowing how to hard boil an egg to hosting a 30-person Brazilian feast
  • getting healthy and losing weight with yoga, running and biking
  • teaching a Design Thinking class as a side project at the incubator where I worked, leading to incredibly rewarding relationships
  • producing a TED talk on a topic I'm passionate about
  • starting side projects in design, programming, and crowdfunding that have expanded my horizons and given me new friends

above: the Design Thinking workshop I teach in SF, my first side project this year

The funny thing is, I’m in a productivity plateau right now, peaking at about 1 task per hour (not very impressive when you look at it this way, is it?). But it gets me excited, because I can’t wait to see the explosion that is about to happen as I dive deeper not only into productivity, but human performance in all its diverse glory.

How am I going to climb the next peak? I’m not completely sure, but I have lots of experiments going on to hedge my bets. In case you’re curious:

  • Quantified Self - measuring and analyzing data about numerous aspects of my sleep, diet, exercise, mood, productivity, finances, etc. to extract conclusions and improve.
  • Vipassana yoga - one of the most ancient forms of yoga, with an emphasis on pure thought and simplicity.
  • Paleo diet - a nutritional movement seeking to replicate the diet of our ancient ancestors. For me, the interest is in improving my health indicators and moderating my blood sugar levels for more consistent energy.
  • People - you remember them right? I’ve swung out of balance with work vs. my personal life, and this is neither healthy nor, in the long run, smart. I know connecting with others is key to my success.
  • GTD.LAB - that’s right, you! In the short time this class has been live, I’ve had some of the most meaningful interactions. You inspire and motivate me. As always, teaching has made me a better practitioner.
  • Outsourcing busywork - I’m just starting to experiment with using remote workers in developing countries. I have a very competent Filipina woman that charges a few dollars per hour to do something 90% as well as I would do it. We’ll see what comes of it (Outsourcing Like A Boss?)

Again, I don’t mean to harp on how cool and interesting I am. I want you to see yourself in my trajectory, and know that you are capable of at least that, and probably more if you set your mind to it.

Good luck, and be sure to get involved in this community of fellow travelers on the GTD journey.


below: sometimes I relax like a boss too


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