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All my GTD attempts totally collapse in weeks

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  • All my GTD attempts totally collapse in weeks

    One part of GTD works for me really well and I've been doing it for maybe five years now. That's gathering all inputs in small number of places (these are one paper folder for physical objects, one folder on my desktop, and one folder in my mailbox - reducing this numbers seems rather pointless).

    Then I have a reference system (one for paper stuff, and one for electronic documents) which works reasonably well.

    Unfortunately every time I try to do the rest, it just collapses. I'd go through my inbox, get rid of most items by either trashing them or moving them to a sensible reference place; then turn the rest into projects and next actions. And invariably during the next few days or weeks I do a lot of small things, progress on a few stalled projects, and every system I tried turns into such mess that the only solution is moving all my lists to the inbox and starting all over.

    I've tried paper lists, and some electronic systems, it fails too quickly either way. Part of the reason might be that far too many items are not clearly actionable - they're in all shades of "waiting for but keep track of", "someday maybe but potentially very useful", "I thought this was a project or next action, but due to some inputs it needs to wait now" etc. And even when there's reasonable clarity, the volume of it all makes it difficult.

    So what kind of gear/software (I'm on Mac, that limits my options somewhat) should I try next? I know it's not purely gear-problem, but it's a big part of it.

  • #2
    Originally posted by starmie View Post
    I've tried paper lists, and some electronic systems, it fails too quickly either way. Part of the reason might be that far too many items are not clearly actionable - they're in all shades of "waiting for but keep track of", "someday maybe but potentially very useful", "I thought this was a project or next action, but due to some inputs it needs to wait now" etc. And even when there's reasonable clarity, the volume of it all makes it difficult.
    It's not the gear or tools but the process. The thing that struck me is your comments about the items on your lists that are not clearly actionable. That is the real issue to be solved and no tool can do that for you. I'd take a look at the workflow diagram and really apply it to each thought or potential project very carefully. It will take a long time to get them all clearly defined. Practice helps but I find I can sometimes spend 15-20 minutes taking one inbox item and really deciding whether it is actionable or not. So I have to find a lot of time for processing in between weekly reviews to keep caught up. With practice I am getting a lot faster but I can still get stuck.

    My tool of choice on the Mac is Omnifocus. What I'd do it dump all those things into the OF inbox and not move them out either to a someday maybe section or as active projects until you are really sure they are things you will be working on. Look at the

    Advantages of OF are that it can handle a huge volume of stuff. My personal system which includes all work and personal items currently has over 600 projects in it and over 2000 actions defined. I do define in advance items that are not next actions as I also use OF to store my project planning results. But my current next actions list is over 100 items in 17 contexts.

    Until you really sit down and define all your various inputs with clear edges you will never have a current system no matter what tool you use. But on the Mac I can say that after trying paper and LifeBalance and paper again that Omnifocus is the only tool that really works for me.

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    • #3
      I'll second OmniFocus. I use both the desktop & iPhone app and it makes managing the sheer amount of projects & tasks I have to deal with much easier. One feature that I really like is being able to select one group of projects or contexts so I can focus (no pun intended) on what I can actually do and not have the whole mass of actions, projects, etc lurking on the same page that can make it feel so overwhelming you don't want to even open your planner!

      As for your issues with GTD, I can sympathize What has worked for me when I have dealt with that kind of undefinable action/project is to picture what the end result would be (like Mr. Allen writes about.) If I can't get a clear picture of what the goal is I'll really focus on why I even consider this a project. Sometimes it helps me define the end goal and I can begin to focus on the next actions. Sometimes I realize this project isn't clear because it isn't really important to me at all and I can happily delete it or store it in Someday/Maybe and take it out during weekly reviews and decide if it is something I should act on.

      Also remember that even Mr. Allen freely admits he falls off the wagon now & again, so nobody is expecting you to be an expert. Just keep trying and use your GTD collapses as opportunities to examine what went wrong and how you can adjust the system to work for you.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Oogiem View Post
        It's not the gear or tools but the process. The thing that struck me is your comments about the items on your lists that are not clearly actionable. That is the real issue to be solved and no tool can do that for you. I'd take a look at the workflow diagram and really apply it to each thought or potential project very carefully. It will take a long time to get them all clearly defined. Practice helps but I find I can sometimes spend 15-20 minutes taking one inbox item and really deciding whether it is actionable or not. So I have to find a lot of time for processing in between weekly reviews to keep caught up. With practice I am getting a lot faster but I can still get stuck.
        They seemed actionable, and then either they got blocked by something else, or I needed to postpone the entire project into someday/maybe-ish territory but not trash it. What do I do when either of these happens?

        Most of the projects I want to do are not things I'm absolutely committed to doing - I have varying degree of desire or ability to get them done - so proper management of someday/maybe category seems at least as important as proper management of projects and next actions.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by starmie View Post
          They seemed actionable, and then either they got blocked by something else, or I needed to postpone the entire project into someday/maybe-ish territory but not trash it. What do I do when either of these happens?
          Put into someday maybe. Or just put the thing that is what is now blocking this project as the next action with a note of waiting for and set the context to waiting for.

          For example, I have a project to burn brush piles. It was active and we just burned one pile. But now if I update the project the next action is "waiting for L to repair brush rake and pile more brush" We can't continue burning brush until it's piled and the brush rake on the tractor is broken so that's now the waiting for.

          My own someday maybe list in Omnifocus is sorted by area of focus. So I have S/M things for each of my major areas. In OF I just select the project and change it to on hold to move it. At weekly review time I scrub my active list by moving the on-hold projects into a separate folder under each AOF that is labeled "area" Someday So I have an area of focus Sheep Work and within that I have a Sheep Someday for all my potential sheep projects. An example right now is make black wool show halters for sheep. A few months ago it was active and I was spinning black yarn to make rope. Got the yarn spun but now things are too busy so the actual making of the rope didn't happen and I know I won't get to that project until late summer so I put it on hold for now.

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