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Can't stay focused while processing - have tried for months

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  • Can't stay focused while processing - have tried for months

    I've tried to implement GTD off and on for a couple of years now - usually I pick up new information very quickly but for some reason I keep getting stuck with GTD. I know all the info backwards and forwards, have read the book several times, listened to the cds, etc. so am thinking at this point it is more of a mental block than not having all the info.

    My primary problem is this: I cannot seem to stay focused while processing - either in my daily processing or in my weekly review. When processing items to my lists, I keep finding that I'll get distracted with a challenging email, or will have an urgent need to get up from my desk and do something else, or any number of other distractions. I use the pomodoro timer to try to keep me focused, which has helped slightly, but I can hardly ever complete a 'full' pomodoro (focused attention for 25 min.)

    My work as a marketing consultant forces me to multitask in a high-speed environment, and I do get a lot done during the day - it's more just handling one emergency after another, however. I am tired of feeling that sense of dread each morning as I sit down to my computer, wondering what else fell through the cracks, so I really see the value of GTD - I just can't seem to implement it.

    The other issue I face when processing is that my mind resists project planning and defining the next action. For instance, when planning an enewsletter, I think - ok, what does success look like? When does this need to go out? What is the next action? And my mind goes "oh, you know how to do this, don't worry about it. You are hungry, go eat something (or some other distraction)." This happens over and over so my weekly reviews take around 8 hours (so I often don't do them as they are so excruciating.)

    The weird thing is that my business is very successful and I still get things done on time for my clients as my project planning kicks in when it 'absolutely' has to get done - it just is with a lot of extra stress on my part. Now I am so busy with work that it's becoming more crucial to plan things out though. Plus my brain hurts!

    Any suggestions would be much appreciated! Thank you.

  • #2
    If you haven't read "the now habit" I suggest you take a look at that book. It's about procrastination. I think you basically procrastinate on processing and reviewing but still get things done. You need to figure out and resolve underlying issues which result in procrastinating on processing

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by jennytg3 View Post
      I've tried to implement GTD off and on for a couple of years now - usually I pick up new information very quickly but for some reason I keep getting stuck with GTD. I know all the info backwards and forwards, have read the book several times, listened to the cds, etc. so am thinking at this point it is more of a mental block than not having all the info.

      My primary problem is this: I cannot seem to stay focused while processing - either in my daily processing or in my weekly review. When processing items to my lists, I keep finding that I'll get distracted with a challenging email, or will have an urgent need to get up from my desk and do something else, or any number of other distractions. I use the pomodoro timer to try to keep me focused, which has helped slightly, but I can hardly ever complete a 'full' pomodoro (focused attention for 25 min.)

      My work as a marketing consultant forces me to multitask in a high-speed environment, and I do get a lot done during the day - it's more just handling one emergency after another, however. I am tired of feeling that sense of dread each morning as I sit down to my computer, wondering what else fell through the cracks, so I really see the value of GTD - I just can't seem to implement it.

      The other issue I face when processing is that my mind resists project planning and defining the next action. For instance, when planning an enewsletter, I think - ok, what does success look like? When does this need to go out? What is the next action? And my mind goes "oh, you know how to do this, don't worry about it. You are hungry, go eat something (or some other distraction)." This happens over and over so my weekly reviews take around 8 hours (so I often don't do them as they are so excruciating.)

      The weird thing is that my business is very successful and I still get things done on time for my clients as my project planning kicks in when it 'absolutely' has to get done - it just is with a lot of extra stress on my part. Now I am so busy with work that it's becoming more crucial to plan things out though. Plus my brain hurts!

      Any suggestions would be much appreciated! Thank you.
      i think that you are far more like the rest of us than the exception. Your awareness on the issue is a big leap in the right direction. Just keep going...

      Comment


      • #4
        My perception is that your mind has been operating in distraction mode for so long that you need to retrain it to operate with focus and clarity. It's going to take a great deal of forceful conscious effort at first. If you're already in an overwhelmed state your subconscious will be tempted to give up and go back to busy trap because it's familiar and comfortable yet far from optimal. Additionally, your mind is not going to trust your GTD system right away even if it is "perfect" by all standards. The system has to *prove* itself to your subconcious that it can do a better job of managing your commitments. That process took six weeks for me. For the system to prove its worth, you must work the system diligently.

        To illustrate, the wires of a piano that's been out-of-tune for a long time will try to revert back to their previous pattern after they have been adjusted. They have to be readjusted daily for a while, then every other day, then twice a week, then once a week, (you get the idea) until they have accepted the new pattern. Once the new pattern is established periodic maintenance is needed to keep them there, but that periodic maintenance is much easier than the initial effort required to retrain the wires. You've got to do the same thing with your brain. I can't tell you how you should go about doing that, but I do have a few suggestions.

        1. Collect *everything* both inside outside of your head. Have a capture tool available at all times and a voice recorder that you can activate without looking at it in your car. Once you start rolling with the GTD habits baked-on, caked-on stuff in your mind that you had no idea was there is going to break loose and flow into your conscious where you can and must capture it. It will happen in the most inconvenient places so you must be ready with a tool at all times. Corral all of it into your inboxes.

        2. Eliminate distraction - especially during processing and weekly reviews. Processing your inboxes and doing your weekly reviews requires focus and elimination of outside distractions. Those times must be *sacred* to you. When you're not processing, don't allow yourself to get distracted. Turn off chimes that alert you to incoming e-mail. Don't permit yourself to check your social media every 5 minutes. Unsubscribe from RSS feeds and newsletters that aren't really benefiting your life. Be more selective about what you let into your life.

        3. Don't rush the processing and organizing decisions and *NEVER* file any of them in your head. Your action lists must be complete and current with real outcomes and actions, not stuff. You mentioned that your concious says "I already know how to do this...I don't need to track it." But your subconcious will nag you and bug you that you should be working on that thing that you already know how to do every single second until you externalize it or finish it. Your conscious will not know where the source of stress is coming from, either.

        Best of luck to you.

        Comment


        • #5
          thank you so much for all the specific advice, ellobogrande! I appreciate it very much and as I read through it, it really resonated with me. The 'retraining' idea makes so much sense - in fact I just started doing cross fit in an attempt to counteract the terrible posture I've gotten from working so much, and there's a lot of 'retraining' my body to stand and move differently. This seems like the perfect time to retrain my brain as well.

          Thank you so much for all your help.

          If others are having the same problem, let me know and I'll be happy to post how things are going and what I've found to work/not work.

          Comment


          • #6
            One minor thought: I find that when processing, I can't use the two-minute rule. Even if a task will take only two minutes, taking that two minutes and working on the task distracts me from processing so that I end up losing a good deal more than two minutes. So when I process I _just_ process, nothing else, no working on any action, no matter how small.

            Comment


            • #7
              Suggestions

              Hi, Jennytg3.

              For a while, I was trying to use mornings to get a bunch of urgent distractions
              done so I could focus on long-term projects in the afternoons, and I often found
              the whole day going by with one seemingly-urgent thing after another.

              I often write each action on a single sheet of paper, and I often have a few
              piles of those. At one point, to get more control, I decided I would start by
              just quickly counting the number of items in the pile, then working on a
              long-term project for a while, then later doing the things. This gave me a
              feeling of control: while counting them, I could get a sense of how urgent
              they were. Counting only takes about a minute, so if there is something
              urgent I can usually set it aside to do after I finish counting. I usually like
              the two-minute rule but don't usually apply it while counting (or maybe it
              becomes a 15-second rule or something).

              Here are some suggestions for you; what I might do in your situation.
              You can choose any that you think may be helpful for you.

              While processing, start by setting a goal of processing a small number
              of items. Suppose you usually get distracted after processing about 5
              items. Then you might set a goal of 3 items at first -- something probably
              achievable. Before you start, choose a reward you will get when you finish
              the 3 items. I find that for this sort of thing, the reward has to be something
              that can be done fast: otherwise the reward becomes another chore I don't
              have time for! A reward can be something like physically patting yourself
              on the shoulder; standing up, smiling and putting your arms in the air;
              turning around 3 times; playing with a yo-yo for half a minute; eating
              one potato chip; looking out a window with a nice view and taking a couple
              of deep breaths, etc. It almost doesn't matter what the reward is, because
              the real reward is the way you think while you're getting the reward:
              feeling proud of yourself for accomplishing something. And then of course
              you probably immediately set yourself a goal of processing another
              3 items, with another reward (the same reward again or a different one).
              After a few days (or one or two weekly reviews) you might start increasing
              the goal to 4 items instead of 3, etc., as you gradually learn to focus
              for longer, always setting a realistically achievable goal and realising
              that your ability to focus may go up and down for many reasons.

              While processing, allow yourself to set aside a few items to do as soon
              as the processing is finished. So at first, when you set a goal to process
              say 3 items, if you feel a strong urge to do one of them immediately, you
              can tell yourself "I will do it as soon as I finish processing the 3 items."
              Write a note in the middle of a big sheet of paper to do the thing, put it
              very visibly on your desk, finish processing the 3 items, reward yourself,
              then do the thing you had the urge to do. (Do it even if you
              no longer have the urge! You promised yourself!) Because you're only processing
              a small number of items, you don't have to wait very long to do it.
              As you gradually learn to focus longer on processing, you will probably learn to
              wait longer; but not too long, because you have to be able to trust
              that you will actually do the thing.

              While processing, you can put up something to remind yourself that
              you're processing, such as clearing your desk and putting a notebook
              that you use for processing in the middle of it, or putting a sign
              saying "processing" somewhere very visible, or even several
              signs, etc. You can send yourself an email with subject
              line "Processing" so if you check your email you'll see it. That way if you
              get distracted it may help you get back to the processing.

              Think about how to make the processing more fun, or more enjoyable,
              or more satisfying. Making it more effective may help it to be more
              satisfying. What is it that you find hard about it?

              You can improve your concentration with exercise. You can do the
              processing in a standing position, or while pacing back and forth,
              or do some exercise just before starting, or take breaks to exercise
              every few minutes. You can do the processing at a time of day
              when you have lots of energy, or split it up to do a few minutes
              at a time on different days.

              When you think "oh, I know how to do it": either this is effective,
              or it isn't. I mean, maybe some actions you really do know how to
              do. E.g. for "Make phone call" you don't have to specify "pick up
              handset, reach finger toward the "6" key" etc., you can just say
              "make phone call". Possibly for some people, "write newsletter"
              represents a reasonably doable specific action. Or possibly not.
              You can do this by experiment: choose a time when you're going
              to do the thing, and time how long it takes you from when you say
              "OK, I'm going to write the newsletter now" to when you do an
              actual physical action such as starting up a word-processing program
              on the computer. If it's less than a second, then it was probably a doable
              action. If it was longer, there may have been some thinking
              you could have done during the processing time. Then the next
              time something similar comes up, you can use that information
              to more objectively decide how much processing is needed.
              The processing takes effort! I find that translating a thing into
              a doable action often takes something like 2 to 10 seconds of
              real, hard thinking. You can give yourself a well-earned reward
              after doing a few of those.

              These are just my suggestions; I'm just another individual.

              Comment


              • #8
                Another thought: Is it possible that you're going into perfectionism mode, looking for the _perfect_ next action, perhaps planning beyond the next action when you don't need to?

                For example, you said:

                "...when planning an enewsletter, I think - ok, what does success look like? When does this need to go out? What is the next action?"

                To me, all of this doesn't need to be done when processing - it's not processing work, it's actual _work_. If you don't know when the newsletter should go out, you could make figuring it out your next action: "Spend five minutes brainstorming about release date for newsletter." Or, "Spend fifteen minutes brainstorming about the definition of success for newsletter." Write the action, and then move on to processing the next item. Performing the action - the actual brainstorming - is work, not processing.

                In fact, if I spend more than a couple of minutes trying to figure out my next action for a project, then I make my next action for that project "Figure out a next action". If I don't have the faintest idea how to process Item X, then on my single-action list, I'll add, "Process item X" or "Think about how to plan item X."

                This may not be textbook GTD, but it keeps me from getting bogged down in processing.

                Gardener

                Comment


                • #9
                  Thanks to all of you for your input - I really appreciate it! I have read the Now Habit, but need to re-read it as I think procrastination on the hard things is part of the issue.

                  I have gotten way better in the last few days about collecting - I've been using Recall on my phone when I'm out and about, and use Toodledo for my GTD system.

                  I am pleased to say that I got my inbox to zero over the weekend! That was a good feeling.

                  One of the concepts I struggle with when collecting *everything* is that when I get an idea to capture, part of my brain says 'why capture that, it's just one more thing you have to do then.' Or 'you may think you want to do this now but you probably won't have time so why bother writing it down and processing it?'

                  Anyone else experience this? Any solutions? Thank you!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by jennytg3 View Post

                    ---

                    One of the concepts I struggle with when collecting *everything* is that when I get an idea to capture, part of my brain says 'why capture that, it's just one more thing you have to do then.' Or 'you may think you want to do this now but you probably won't have time so why bother writing it down and processing it?'

                    Anyone else experience this? Any solutions? Thank you!
                    I suspect there is a positive circle you get into once you have a good GTD workflow running. When you don't yet trust your system, you over-capture because of the distrust of letting anything get by you. Once you trust the system, your subconscious has the confidence to let some things go, in the knowledge that you are in control of what matters.

                    So the trick is to keep working the five steps of the workflow until it feels good.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      thanks pxt, and by the way, I love your quote! I wrote it out and put it on my bulletin board for a good reminder.

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