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Managing Tasks -- HELP

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  • Managing Tasks -- HELP

    I am still a little fuzzy on how someone can Manage Projects & Tasks. I am following the book--I even downloaded the GTD Add-in for Outlook. I inputted all my projects with their relevant Next Actions. But when I look at all my projects--I even get more stressed out because I don't know where to begin managing them all. How can I realistically manage my actions without resorting to Daily To-Do Lists?? I would like to be able to wake up in the morning I know what has to be done for the day. Will this system work for someone who has been regimented most his life? Any help would be greatly appreciated!!

  • #2
    The key is context


    The key to managing tasks is contexts.

    You need to set up, for yourself, what YOUR contexts are. David suggests @Agendas, @Calls, @Computer etc. I have added a couple of my own that were relevant for me. For example, I work at a large medical center. My @Office context revolves around tasks that are related to where my desk and office and computer are, but I also have an @MEDCEN list for when I have to go wandering about down to Pediatrics, Human Resources. Patient Administration or the Pharmacy. For me these are not @Office because the limits of my @Office context are basically my department spaces.

    Next you need to put EVERYTHING in its appropriate context. If you get an email or letter or phone call or conversation, you need to ask what allowing it into your life means to you. For example, I am a physician. I recently received an e-mail from credentialing that informed me I had to renew my credentials to practice in the hospital. Hmmmm....pretty important thing for me to do and will require some multiple steps. Looks like a project. Here's what I did:

    -Print out the e-mail
    -Pull out my labeler and a manila folder
    -Labeled "Credentials Renewal"
    -Took the printed e-mail and quickly jotted down below the text of the e-mail the steps I could immediately think of (quick brainstorming session).
    -These steps were:
    1. go to professional affairs and sign off the forms
    2. get my CME's to Cece (CME=Continuing medical education credits)
    3. Check on DEA #

    Hmmm... #1 is a good next action so that goes on my @MEDCEN list since I have to go out of the Dept. But #2 and 3 are kind of vague. What do I have to do to get CME's to Cece. Oh yeah, I have to call over to Stacy in Staff Education and Training where they have the database and ask her to send me the latest updated report.

    Call Stacy in Staff Education goes on the @Calls list.

    Hmmm..There was some sort of problem with the DEA # and I can't remember what it was. Maybe while I'm up in Professional affairs I'll check on that too.

    Ask Helen in Prof Affairs about DEA # goes on the @MEDCEN list.

    Anything else to do on this one? Hmm... can't think of anything.

    I put the Credentials folder into my lower right hand desk drawer (that's where all my active project files are) and I'll see it on my next weekly review.

    So what's next? Hmmm... I have to see a patient in about 5 minutes. I know, I'll e-mail Stacy rather than call her and also do a quick e-mail to Helen too. No need to modify the list, I'll just mark both as done and when I get the results from them, I can go up and sign off the paperwork.

    I drag the tasks for Helen and Stacy into my Waiting For list.

    Project not done yet, but I know where its at and have stakes in the ground to mark my progress.

    Later that day, Stacy replies to my e-mail with my CME update. I print it out, open my drawer and stick it in the project folder. Still waiting for Helen's response.

    Later, Helen e-mails to say that I need to do a new DEA application. I can do that when I go up there to sign the other forms.

    See Helen about DEA # goes on the @MEDCEN list.

    Next time I am out and about, I look at my MEDCEN list. Go up to Prof affairs, sign off the paperwork and see Helen about the DEA stuff.

    Project Done.

    Is this what you meant? I hope this is helpful.


    • #3
      Try to see your context lists as "organized To Do Lists

      A perfect example by pshammer

      Since you have already set up your projects and defined your next action for each you have created a buch of "To Do" items. When you categorize these NAs into contexts (@phone, @errands, etc.) You have essentially the same thing as your familiar Daily To-Do Lists. I like to think of my context lists as SMART To-Do Lists. Everything I need to act on is there in a format that maximizes my performance.

      I've had a great lifting of "List Stress" since adopting GTD.

      All the best to you in adapting your system.


      • #4
        pshammer that was a GREAT example. I was wondering if anyone follows GTD with OUT using printed emails and physical file folders. I want to use this using digital folders and outlook...would you be willing to give an example how this would work? I know this may seem pretty simple but I would really like to the the same or similar example stepped through using some type of digital folder type tool.


        • #5
          Without printing it out


          I don't always print out my e-mails. Sometimes it helps, though, to jot it down in a quick planning session. I do use Outlook and have a lot of folders that I store all my e-mails in.

          Here's how you could do it in Outlook.

          First the setup. You can create subfolders under Outlook's main folders. I have done this and my hierarchy looks like this:

          • -@Action[list:1e43a9859b] -Project A
            -Project B
            -Project C
          -@Waiting for
          -Emergency Management
          -Residency Training[/list:u:1e43a9859b]
          I have Outlook configured so that when I am reading my e-mail, I have the list of e-mails on top, the preview pane on the bottom and the folder list on the left-hand side.

          I also use an outstanding program called Nelson Email Organizer, or NEO. This program hooks into Outlook and has a terrific search capability. I just dump an email into a reference category and I can search out fairly quickly for what I need when I want to find it later.

          So here I am processing e-mail. First up is one of those news group e-mails about antidepressants. Immediately goes into defer. I can read that when I get around to it.

          Second is one from the department secretary with the department phone list update attached. I click on the attachment, save it to My Documents folder which mirrors the same categories as my Outlook inbox files. I then drag the e-mail over to the MHS (Mental Health Services Dept) folder and drop it in.

          Next is an e-mail from Mike on Project A. Projects A, B and C are the big honking gigantic multistep projects or areas. Mike and I have several sub projects, but sometimes when you have a big area, it is handy to keep all the stuff related to it in one file. Mike wants me to make a presentation to the executive steering committee on a big assist visit we have coming up. Hmmm....sounds like a new project.

          Drag the e-mail over to the task folder and it will create a new task for you. The task item window pops up with the e-mail subject as the name of the task.

          Hmmm.... Let's edit that and call it.....ESC Presentation. Go down to the bottom of the task where you see the category box and choose the category Projects.

          Now go back up into the note field and you will see the text of the e-mail. Scroll down to the bottome and do a little brainstorming on the next actions for this project and make a little mini list. Suppose we did this and this is our list

          -Draft ideas for ESC presentation
          -Research background on the assist visit
          -Call the executive secretary for the ESC and find out when they want to put this on the calendar.
          -Call Scott and discuss ideas with him.

          While the original task window is sitll open, hit SHIFT-CTRL-K and another task window opens. Type in Draft ideas for ESC Presentation. Go down to the category and choose, @computer from the categories you set up. Repeat this for the calls and choose @Calls for your categories. Save and close each task. Close the main project task.

          Repeat as you go through your e-mail.

          Now when you have your calendar view up, configure the task pane to show the tasks by category and they will line up @Calls, @computer, @office and so on. Projects will be down at the bottom.

          When you do the weekly review, you can go to the task folder and minimize all the @ tasks and just view the projects category.

          Hope this was clear and helpful.



          • #6
            Re: Managing Tasks -- HELP

            <<But when I look at all my projects--I even get more stressed out because I don't know where to begin managing them all. How can I realistically manage my actions without resorting to Daily To-Do Lists?? I would like to be able to wake up in the morning I know what has to be done for the day. Will this system work for someone who has been regimented most his life? Any help would be greatly appreciated!!>>


            I don't know how many projects and NAs you have so what I say might or not be relevant. This may get the GTD police) to come after me but I gradually transitioned from a "TO DO" list to the GTD approach because it was very scary to me not to have tasks on that calendar. I have gotten a whole lot better about this but I have decided that if I am feeling anxious about leaving a task or an NA off the list of stuff that has to be done on a certain day even though it isn't mandatory that it gets done like the other tasks, I put it there. If it is still there after about three days, then I need to review why it was there in the 1st place.

            Generally, here is how I manage by NAs. Anything that needs to be done first such as paying bills on a certain day goes on my high priority list. Everything gets a (1) priority unless I am truly undecided as to what to do first. That doesn't happen that often though.

            Once they are knocked off, then I go to my other NAs and sort by context. Because I did my weekly review, I know in my mind, which projects are the ones I want to be working on so it is easy for me to decide on which NAs to focus on.

            If I desperately want to get the project done and have NAs like calls to complete, I am only going to make the calls that pertain to the project unless there are only a few other calls. I get distracted easily and don't want to lose focus on what I am doing.

            If my projects are not time sensitive, then I definitely try to complete as many NAs pertaining to the context I am in.

            By accomodating the concerns and anxieties I have about things slipping through the cracks even though I may be deviating from the GTD process at times, believe it or not, that strengthens my GTD ablilities in other ways. For example, I have now gotten in the habit of look at tasks that involve errands when I have appointments, especially if they are close by.

            Hope this helps