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  • Which came first …

    This is the scenario. You’re driving to work. You tell yourself that today it would be good if you moved three particular tasks to completion and get them out the door. They are not yet deadline sensitive.

    You arrive at your desk. The first thing you need to do to get started on the first task is get a partly completed report up on screen to continue where you left off.

    Then a voice in your head says: “hey, you are now @computer. Why don’t you get out your @computer list of NAs and start working through them?”

    You say “but I want to get this task done by 12 noon, and then move on to the second one of of my three things for today. This first task will involve not only computer work, but also some face to face with Joe, and two phone calls”.

    The voice says “Yes, but GTD/DA says that you should work through your items in a particular context when you are at that context”.

    The dilemma is – do I work “vertically” through the task I wanted to get finished, or do I work “horizontally” across all of my projects that happen to intersect the @computer context?

    I read somewhere that, overall, it is better to lean towards getting projects killed off one at a time, rather than try to keep them all edging forward as a pack. Apparently it is more cost effective, and leads to a better average customer satisfaction level.

    On the other hand, the GTD context based approach is very attractive and profoundly sensible.

    I KNOW there is an answer in GTD for this dilemma –David Allen and crew must have come across this question hundreds of times. Has anyone read/heard his response to this question?

    Thanks

    DFE

  • #2
    Re: Which came first …

    Originally posted by DFE
    I KNOW there is an answer in GTD for this dilemma –David Allen and crew must have come across this question hundreds of times. Has anyone read/heard his response to this question?
    DFE,

    I don’t know if there is an answer to your question in GTD, all I know is that the decisions we make usually are based on our characters and not on reason. My character in your situation would say: “Forget about "Getting Things Done” and get your three tasks done asap”.

    Rainer

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Which came first …

      On the other hand, the GTD context based approach is very attractive and profoundly sensible.
      Yes, the approach of the context based action lists is attractive and sensible. But the usage of this approach depends on the fulfilment of certain conditions, e.g. the intension to be productive in the context you are in, the knowledge “when it’s time to change context”, the lack of a decision what to do next in that given context, etc. There needs to be an empty space in our minds into which we can put the decision .

      This is the scenario. You’re driving to work. You tell yourself that today it would be good if you moved three particular tasks to completion and get them out the door. They are not yet deadline sensitive.
      If the decision has already been made during that internal discussion in my car before I get into the office-context (the empty space has been already filled), I write it down on my daily task list when I arrive at my office, check my calendar (if there isn’t any appointment that I’ve forgotten) and don’t bother about looking at my next action list before I have finished what has been decided during that internal discussion.

      It seems that we are more in "deciding mode" when we are driving a car than when we are staring at a computer screen. Maybe that's why I don't trust any decisions that have been made while quietly sitting. Sitting quietly is okay for thinking , but to make a decision that I can trust I need to at least stand up. Walking, running, driven a car or steering a shopping cart are better for making a decision for me.

      Rainer

      Comment


      • #4
        Contexts are artificial. Some people distinguish the following two contexts: computer work that requires one to be online from computer work that does not.

        So, I am typing a report at my office in my non-online computer context and I need to check something on the internet. But, that would require a change in context according to the way I have defined my contexts, so I stop my report writing and proceed to change gears entirely and do something else in my non-online computer context.

        The above paragraph describes an absurd scenario. There might be very good reasons to distinguish online and non-online @computer. But I can't think of a very good reason to lose the momentum I had toward completing the report and doing a totally different task and project in the same context.

        Note, if I only had an @office context and no @computer context, let alone @computer-online and @computer-offline, then I wouldn't bat an eye about continuing my report work by moving from hard drive to internet.

        If one really believed that it is unwise to change contexts, then one would give conflicting advice depending merely on how one chooses to describe contexts. That is nonsense!!

        The idea is to get things done. The idea is not to slavishly follow an a priori system. Pragmatism is the final test. If you get more done by changing contexts, then change contexts. Contexts are an organizational construct.

        In your situation I would change contexts. If, in order to complete the report I would have to leave my office and drive 40 minutes away to pick up a widget, then I might decide not to change contexts.

        GTD does not replace judgement. I wish it did. I wish there were a cookie-cutter model we could all follow to make everything easy. But we still need to face the stress of evaluating and judging and deciding. GTD does not, alas, eliminate stress. It does, however, give us a clearer understanding of what we are doing and what we want to be doing.

        Comment


        • #5
          Focus on outcomes!

          Here is my two cents worth. I focus on outcomes, via the RPM method of Anthony Robbins. I have integrated GTD with the RPM approach and it works beautifully. SO, in your case, you ask yourself, what are the most important outcomes I would like to accomplish today. Then you provide a purpose for wanting to do those. This is important! Finally, prepare a block of next actions that would bring you to that result/outcome. Label the "must" items with an asterisk. Then go forward with your focus on the three outcomes that you decided were most important in your car! The contexts are important, but I think one should always focus first on what outcomes you really want to achieve...

          Best to all,
          Longstreet

          Comment


          • #6
            Thanks for the great answers.

            Moises, you’re right – the key word is “momentum”. I am sure no one would support the idea of preserving momentum more than David Allen. I suppose GTD is the way to keep it all together when your momentum is disrupted, and you are bumped off the tracks.

            The context concept shows its real power when we move away form our office situation (maybe to the hardware store to use David’s favorite example).

            In my own example, if I am having face to face time with Joe, my @Joe agenda might show that I can clear three others issues with him in a matter of minutes, which would not really disrupt my overall momentum. (A variation on the two minute rule?).

            Rainer, your post reminds me of a thought that occurred to me today – the weekend is the natural time to do 10,000 to 50,000 foot thinking. It’s not because we have the time, but it’s because our faces are away from the details of work – the computer screens in particular! – and we naturally and unconsciously take a longer view over the week that has gone by, the week that is to come, and start to formulate the bigger questions.

            Longstreet, when I’m alone in my car, it’s easy to see what the best things are for me to do in the day ahead. But when I get to the office I find that certain drama-queens (male and female) have the ability to convince everyone that their project is much more important than anyone else’s. (I think it was Tom Peters who said that if you aren’t having the day you want, then you’re probably helping someone else have the day they want). In those moments, a little bit of Robbins grit and determination helps me stick to my decision. It looks as if the RPM approach captures this grit and helps us to create momentum for ourselves.

            DFE

            Comment


            • #7
              (Dis)Agreements

              Originally posted by DFE
              (I think it was Tom Peters who said that if you aren’t having the day you want, then you’re probably helping someone else have the day they want). In those moments, a little bit of Robbins grit and determination helps me stick to my decision. It looks as if the RPM approach captures this grit and helps us to create momentum for ourselves.
              And it looks like as if we need to keep and manage our disagreements, too, besides keeping and managing our agreements.

              Rainer

              Comment


              • #8
                RPM thinking in Outlook

                Longstreet –

                I used RPM as well and recently moved to GTD, using Outlook.

                You talked in your post about “prepare a block of next actions that would bring you to that result/outcome. Label the "must" items with an asterisk.” – any specific tips on how you use RPM thinking in Outlook.

                thanks
                Kevin

                Comment


                • #9
                  Before I got started on the three things I thought of in the car on the way to work, I would apply the four-criteria model for choosing actions in the moment. The three items might fit the time, context and energy criteria because I have the time and I'm in the context I need to be to get them done and I've decided I want to do them. But I would still want to double-check my calendar and next action lists to see where they fit in the priority scheme. For example, if I look at my calendar and see that I have a meeting that I forgot about, that meeting would be my hard landscape unless I am prepared to change my plans or have time to work around it. If I see higher priority items on my next action lists, I would want to make an intuitive decision whether they can wait so I can work on the three things and move those projects along or if the higher priority items are time sensitive so that I would have to work on them first. My next action lists are long so I generally want to review them frequently. For someone with shorter lists or a larger psychic RAM, that person might be more comfortable with planning their day without double-checking their calendar or their next action lists.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: RPM thinking in Outlook

                    Originally posted by Kevin Waldron
                    Longstreet –

                    I used RPM as well and recently moved to GTD, using Outlook.

                    You talked in your post about “prepare a block of next actions that would bring you to that result/outcome. Label the "must" items with an asterisk.” – any specific tips on how you use RPM thinking in Outlook.

                    thanks
                    Kevin
                    Hi Kevin,

                    I use the standard context areas of GTD -- @computer, @calls, @office, etc. for my master task/next action lists. I have these as categories in Tasks in Outlook. I have a separate category called !Outcomes; here I place the outcomes that I want that will take more than one next action. This is different terminology than GTD as David Allen calls these projects. I can have a due date, of course, for an !Outcome, so in Outlook I will know when I plan for the week what outcomes are due that week. For the notepad view in Outlook on the calendar page, I have it setup so that only next actions and outcomes that have "today" as a starting date are shown. This helps me provide focus on what either must be done today, or needs high focus for the day.

                    I hope this helps. I am revising a word document that describes my weekly review AND plannning methods, with integration of RPM and GTD philosophies. I believe GTD is best at the runway level, but for goal setting, project planning, and basing your focus on outcomes, the RPM methods are best -- 20,000 feet and up...

                    Best regards,
                    Longstreet

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Moving Between Contexts

                      DFE wrote:
                      The voice says "Yes, but GTD/DA says that you should work through your items in a particular context when you are at that context".
                      A lot of people get hung up on moving from context to context. I think that this is one place that the GTD book is not very clear, possibly because David is thinking that you should just use your judgement to determine what to do next. He's right, but some folks (like me) need more explanation than that. Here is how I make sense of it.

                      Why would we move from one context to another, anyway? Here are some reasons.

                      We're done - I suppose that completing every next action in a context is theoretically possible, but I've never attained this exalted state, and I doubt any of the rest of us have, either. Even so, the question remains: "How did we get into the context in the first place, and where do we go next?"

                      We have an appointment - We make commitments to be at certain places at certain times, and we make sure to be at those places at those times. It can mean being at our desks at 8:00 AM sharp, being at the planning meeting in the Room 239 at 3:00, or being at the cozy restaurant at 7:30 PM to meet that special someone for dinner.

                      We make a decision - The way I understand and use the Four-Criteria Model, it is a runway level method to decide what to do next. It seems to me to presuppose that we are already in a context when we are applying it. The question we are asking when we use the Four-Criteria model is: "What is the most important thing I can do in the context I'm in right now with the time and energy I have available?" However, the decision to enter a context in the first place has to come from the kind of 10,000 foot thinking that asks the question: "What are the most important projects or outcomes to work on today?" If we know those, we should know (or figure out) what the next actions are and the contexts where they are accomplished.

                      The decision to change contexts results from considering four factors:
                      1. What context we are in now, and what next actions we can do in this context (Four-Criteria).
                      2. What our most important projects and outcomes are and the contexts in which the next actions for them need to be done. (10,000 foot thinking)
                      3. The cost/benefit of changing contexts.
                      4. The cost/benefit of changing projects.

                      If the next action for the most important project or outcome is in the context where we are, then our choice is made.

                      If not, then we have to decide whether to change contexts or change projects. It may be worth our while to change contexts because the project we are working on is extremely important, or we have built up a great deal of momentum and don't want to lose it, or the change in context entails nothing more than turning away from our computer and picking up the phone. (That last one is why I did away with my Calls context.) Then again, we might want to stay where we are and work on another project because it is almost as important as the current one, we're sick of working on the current project and would welcome a break, or the change in context demanded by the current project involves packing up and driving across town.

                      Am I advocating doing a formal cost/benefit analysis with every decision? No. Most of the time, these decisions can be reached fairly easily because one or two factors will really stand out against the others. For instance, we may be really sizzling on a project, so we'll go anywhere and do anything to keep going. Or, there may be eighteen inches of snow on the roads, so if we can't do it at home, we can't do it, period.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        My reading is that DA is quite consistent in his principles on ASAP NA's. Essentially, a commitment is a commitment is a commitment. Therefore, there is no priority ranking of ASAP NA's. If something stands out as obviously more significant than any other ASAP, and you would select it first irrespective of how you use the Four Criteria Model or what Context you are in, then it probably doesn't belong with the ASAP's and should be in your Calendar, which has a higher priority. (I'm not defending DA as absolutely right or relatively best. I'm just interpreting what he says.)

                        For people who don't have busy Calendars, Contexts may be better used for Planning than reactively. If you have a small number of objectives for the day, 2 or 3 desired completions, they can be put in the Calendar and then used in the same way as regular fixed appointments - as an anchor that tells you what Context you can anticipate being in so that you can pick out other ASAP's to plan to do while you are in that Context.

                        The one thing that I believe is missing from the whole Contexts/Combinig discussion is that I think that the bottom line of combining is Time, that is, what can you do or plan to do at the same time as something just done or planned. When the day is over, what you did is your history - a record (written or not) of how you actually did combine or move from Context to Context. That history is time-related. If you believe in planning with the end in mind, how can you ignore time as the currency of combining?

                        As a result, any combining of tasks is really Agenda, and most Agendas are ad-hoc. If I have an appointment at a certain place, I could select items from various Contexts and make myself prepared to do them. I can make a call from the car, review a report in a waiting room, etc., , but only if I planned ahead and have the materials I need with me. To be sure that I have the relevant materials, I can create an ad hoc Context that relates to the Appointment and transfer from the tentative - fixed - standard Contexts those items that make up that Agenda. I can prepare for this Agenda when I prepare for the Appointmnet. Once the Appointment and the related Agenda are over, the Agenda Context has no further use.

                        Andrew

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