GTD Playflow


You know how to be productive at work. In fact, you might have mastered David Allen's Getting Things Done.

Here we use GTD to guide us on how to play, to pursue life outside of work, life inside your work, inject vitality and maybe even surprises.

Think of this as a major plugin to GTD. If you're an emac user, playflow would be a big as org-mode.


You may have gotten so good at getting work done you forgot how to play. For something that should occupy at least a third of your life (work, sleep, play), there's no established structure on how to go about playing.

It may even be fair to say there's no heuristic we can or should take seriously on how to play. What do we have: "work hard play hard", YOLO, that's all I can come up with. None of them inform you how the other third of your day should be done. We're simply running on "it's off work-hour now, just do what you enjoy." We can do better.

Meantime, I was reminded about the someday list in GTD (things you're not doing now and won't be doing next). Given a long enough list, items in there are more interesting and far more telling about where you psyche wants to lead you to.

For an in-depth look at the context, read the rationale behind how playflow the idea was conjured.

This framework is a direct acceptance of that challenge.


Let's use GTD as the workflow system as reference.

A brief recap first. GTD's fundamental idea is to unload things in your head onto a system that acts as your second brain, such that you get to focus on one task at a time without worrying about slipping up.

A playflow system does the opposite. It serves to load play-items onto the brain and synthesize until they cohere, with no expectation of outcome and possibly indeterministic results.

If getting work done is a finite game; playing is an infinite game. If playflow lives up to that, then it follows that playflow may encapsulte workflows, just an infinite game can contain finite games.

A playflow loop never closes, it has no end-state. A play-item done won't be taken off but rearranged somewhere else in the list.

We don't know if we're done with a play, because there's no done other than a vague sense of satisfaction. I know this makes Done in GTD a misnomer; well too bad.

The driving theme behind picking what to play, when to play it and how long to play for is this:


Energy here has more in common with qi than joule. It's about vitality not raw power.

It's tempting to think we wanna do things that give us energy, avoid things that take away energy. But energy-consuming activities are often what's meaningful; and energy-giving items are usually sources of excessive fat.

We wanna play in such a way that the energy level by the end of the session is at the right level for next thing we wanna do.

If you have a critical mission in the next hour, you should play something that's energy-restoring, maybe goof off on YouTube.

If you're gonna have a meal that recharges you next, you should play something energy-consuming until it tires you out.

We're not trying to maximize energy. We're trying to maximize meaning.

Think of your plays as serving your energy, rather than energy being the currency to conserve for plays.

Some nuances

What restores and deplete energy is contextual. Consuming (reading, watching, etc) does not always restore, creating does not always deplete.

Reading tough materials depletes energy; reading junk news restores; but reading news that makes you mad depletes.

Gaming restores if you win but depletes if it gets too tough, even when it's the same game.

Only you can tell what a play does to your energy. So monitor it.

Making Playflow

Have a Someday list and a Play list.

Treat Play list like todo-list. Keep it manageable, respect it. Don't put things there that you can't attend to.

Select and transfer items from Someday to Play from time to time.

When picking a play-item to play, pay attention to what it does to your energy. It either depletes or restores.

Energy-depletion items (writing, gaming or creation-oriented activities) are usually high-flow. Spending up your energy is great for sleep, you probably wanna do it by the end of the day.

Energy-restoring activities (reading, watching, general consumption) is great for curiosity, surprise-generation and inspiration. It may not be a bad idea to do that in the middle of work.

Given a large block of time, consider alternating between energy-restoring and energy-depleting items, perhaps even in quick succession.

So far, these practices requires that you pay close attention to your energy level, end-state of the play (how do you know when you're done), your level of curiosity to the items, etc.

For most people these are too abstract for everyday use. So for a simple steps, do these:

  1. Extract selected play-items from Someday list into a new list, call it Enjoy or Play.
  2. Break Enjoy list two sub-lists: Energy++ and Energy--.
  3. Energy++ houses energy-restoring items. Most consumption activities come here.
  4. Order Energy++ items in descending order based on your curiosity level. The one you're most curious about goes on top.
  5. Energy-- houses energy-depleting items, most creative activities come here.
  6. Order Energy-- items in order of quick wins.

Pick from Energy-- and Energy++ to do based on your energy level that is appropriate for the time of the day.

If you're in high energy having just woke up from sleep (and don't need to work), you wanna do an Energy-- item.

If you've run out of juice from an intense meeting, do an item from Energy++.

This may ruffle feathers. If you're about to call it a night, playing an Energy-- item to exhaust yourself might contribute to better sleep.


There are a few ideals I cannot yet say if this framework lives up to.

Does it invite encouragement? Your energy at an optimized level (not too much not too little) should make it so. In theory.

Does it load items into your head in a way that helps your cohere? Do we come out of this feeling a better work/play integration? I don't know yet. If it does not, how much does it not matter?

I've been putting this to battle test; I invite you to do the same.

If you're interested in feedback and discussions, Twitter is a good place to do that for me.