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  • Too Many Daily Tasks

    Hi,

    I've been using GTD off and on for about a year now. I have a simple text file that I use for everything. It has a Daily Checklist, a Next Actions List, and a Goals List.

    I work from home and don't go anywhere so my only two contexts are @laptop, @outside. On top of my regular "business" I'm also a writer, so I do a lot of work on the computer (writing, research, etc).

    Here's my problem: I have WAY too many Daily Tasks that need to be done. Only thing is, I never finish them all in a single day (even though I need them done every single day) and this has caused me to think I'm doing something wrong.

    Here is my Daily Tasks (or a checklist):

    Check Email
    Read Organization Book
    Math Problems
    Novel: Writing
    Novel: Editing
    Novel: Grammar
    Novel: Summary
    Novel: Research
    Novel: Blog
    LTB Translation
    LTB Commentary
    Millionaire MBA Book
    Personality Book
    Tipping Point Book
    New Your by Friday Book
    Bible Study Book
    Spanish CD
    Book Yourself Solid Book

    As you can see I do a lot of reading. I usually have four or five books or audio lectures in progress at any given time. I'm also working on at least 3 book projects that I'm writing at any given time: One that I'm currently writing, another than I'm working up the summary script for, a third that I'm doing edits on a finished manuscript, and a fourth that I'm doing background research on to write in the future. I also do an "assignment" of math problems each day (or would like to).

    One trouble I have is, I will start the day fine, will get three or four tasks done quickly, but will then get bogged down with a task like writing or researching. Don't get me wrong, I get bogged down because I love it. I get immersed in the process and hours fly by. But then nothing else on my daily checklist gets done.

    I also find myself picking and choosing from the list and only end up doing the things I "feel" like doing or the things I "enjoy" doing. But I keep telling myself that everything "needs" to get done. I haven't worked on Spanish in forever!

    I could make each book I write into a separate project and then break it up into individual Next Actions, but when in the writing process it is a fluid thing that I'm doing each and every day for a few months or more, so I would have in my Next Actions list 60 or more NA that are all the same.

    I've tried assigning my Daily Tasks a specific time, so after working from 8am - 9am on Writing I have to move on to Editing. The problem comes in that I'm working my "other" job every day, too, so I can be interrupted at any give moment with a client (which can take from 5-30 minutes each time), so each time I'm interrupted I get thrown off my time. I've even tried a computer stop watch program and that still doesn't work. Optimum is to work on a specific task for as long as I'm "in the mood" but also to not neglect the other tasks that really need to get done that day.

    What am I doing wrong here?

    why1942

  • #2
    None of your books are essential daily tasks.
    Your Spanish CD certainly isn't!
    Your writing tasks probably aren't essential every day.
    Most of the others probably aren't essential every day either.
    And the "Book Yourself Solid" one is just ironic.

    I would limit yourself to one reading book at a time. You will read as many words over a year no matter if you read books sequentially or parallel.

    Maybe you could have a daily reminder to choose a writing task to work on. If you think you have to work on them all based on deadlines, maybe you could incorporate the deadlines into your system.

    Comment


    • #3
      One thing is clear. Your problem is not a lack of ambition.

      You could change your expectations, and admit that since you haven't been getting these things done every day, you don't really "need" to get each of them done every day.

      However, if you want to spend some time on each of these things every day, I think there are probably ways you can find to do it. Here are some suggestions that might help. Most of these are just things I'm thinking up, not necessarily GTD things. I'm just another person.

      -- You can stop using the word "Tasks" and use the GTD terminology and talk about "Actions" and "Next actions" instead.

      -- You can write things on your list that are (more like) single, physical actions. For example, what exactly does "Novel: Blog" mean? Write a whole blog post and post it?
      Decide what you plan to do and write that on your list instead of the vague name of the topic of the action. "Write and post a (short!) blog post" or "Start writing a blog post" or whatever.

      -- Assign yourself smaller actions instead.

      -- When you're reading several books, is it really more efficient to read a little of each book each day? You could instead spend all your reading time on one book one day, another book the next day etc. I'd rather read a lot of one book at a time than a bit of each book. I have a bunch of books out of the library and not much time to read them.

      -- Sometimes when I read, I set myself a limit (for example, so that I don't stay awake too late into the evening). I look ahead in the book and choose a good place to stop such as the end of a chapter or the end of a paragraph. I paste a stick-note covering the beginning of the next paragraph after the place I've decided to stop, so it prevents me from continuing to read. You could choose short sections from each book and limit yourself to that.

      -- I have a Spanish CD too. I've forgotten where I put it, even. Actually, I prefer to learn from a book. I've forgotten where that is, too. Maybe I'm not being much help here. However, what's the action? "Put Spanish CD into computer and start listening at the beginning of chapter 1" might count as an action if you know where the CD is and are confident you know how to turn it on. How about "Find Spanish CD" or "Put Spanish CD into computer and check whether it works"? How about "Put in CD and listen to 3 sentences of Spanish"? If you make the action small and easy you'll be more likely to do it.

      -- I wouldn't have "Check Email" at the beginning of your list. That can take all day if you start replying to everything and stuff.

      -- Put things near the beginning of your list that you think you're likely to be able to do for a short time, and put things near the end that you feel like doing for a long time; think of them as a reward for getting through the other things.

      -- When you feel like continuing a task for a long time, you can stop anyway and do the other things on your list, telling yourself that you'll come back to that task as a reward when you're finished the other things.

      -- You can set a timer to go off every half hour. If you're talking to a client when it goes off you can ignore it. Otherwise, when it goes off you can stop, stand up, take a deep breath, realize how long you've been working on one task, and make a considered decision whether to continue the current task, switch to another task, or set yourself a limit on how much more you're going to do on this task.

      -- Each day you could choose one or a small number of actions you want to get done but don't feel like doing and do them first.

      -- Each day after doing about 3 actions you could take a break and get a few minutes of exercise. Then you might be able to do another 3 before getting bogged down/immersed.

      -- When you start each task you can choose a minimum and maximum amount of time you want to spend on it, and give yourself a reward if you stick to that. I'd make it pretty flexible, e.g. "between 5 and 20 minutes". (No reason not to make it that flexible. Don't be too hard on yourself. Or make it even more flexible than that.) No punishment if you go overtime, but a reward could be looking at a particular beautiful picture or looking out a certain window or playing with a toy for a few seconds or putting on some favourite music: rewards that don't take much time. If you miss that reward you can get a different reward for doing the next task for the assigned amount of time.

      -- You can start by choosing a subset of your list and developing the habit of getting all of those done every day, while continuing your current patterns with the rest. Then once that habit is routine, you can gradually add to it.

      I read "Tipping Point". It was good.

      Comment


      • #4
        Found a Hopeful Solution

        Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
        One thing is clear. Your problem is not a lack of ambition.
        You could change your expectations, and admit that since you haven't been getting these things done every day, you don't really "need" to get each of them done every day.
        It's funny you say this. It never occurred to me that the load I've put on myself is at all ambitious. In fact, I often think I should be doing more. This is one reason I liked GTD so much. My hope was it would clear, focus, and energize me so I could get "even more" done each day.

        I think I found my problem. I was skipping (or at least scrimping) on the Goals area and the subsequent drilling down from there to flush out the Next Actions. I cleared the slate and started with my Goals, using an outline format, drilling down each step to get to the next action. This way every step (action/project, etc) is available to me by quickly glancing over at the Goals sheet. Then I go in and collect just the Next Actions that need to be done first for each goal/sub-goal.

        Example: My novel I'm currently writing is a sub-goal. I have a series of next actions, i.e. writing scene 1, 2, 3, 4....50. Each one is a Next Action. I move the first handful over to my Next Actions list. Once completed, it is deleted from the NA list and go back to the Goals sheet for more, until the book is written.

        I did this with all of my Goals/subgoals and came out with a Next Actions list of about 25 "actions" for the week, all directly goal driven. This removes about 99% of the items on my Daily Checklist, and does not put a psychological stigma on me (i.e failure to complete the Checklist each day). Tomorrow I only have five Next Actions to do, after sorting them by importance. This will be much more manageable. There are still some Checklist items that I haven't dealt with yet (having to start from the main goal first) so this #25 might increase in the next few days. Will have to wait and see.

        why1942

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by cfoley View Post
          None of your books are essential daily tasks.
          Your Spanish CD certainly isn't!
          Your writing tasks probably aren't essential every day.
          Reading the entire book Millionaire MBA is not essential tomorrow. But getting it read is (for me) since it is an action I believe will lead (directly/indirectly) to my goal. Listening to the entire Spanish CD is not essential for tomorrow, but listening to part of it IS if I'm going to become proficient at Spanish. If I keep repeating my past actions (as of late) I will certainly NEVER learn Spanish. My goal here is to become fluent for a job position I would like that requires I am bilingual. So, if I want the job in the future, it will become essential at some point.

          Writing is absolutely essential every single day (for me), especially with the load I've taken on to achieve my specific goals. But, as I posted in my last post, the solution I think will be transferring these items from the Daily Checklist to the Goals, drilling down to next actions, then transferring the most immediate next actions to the next actions list. This way the Daily Checklist is reserved for things like Checking Email and Entering Publisher's Clearing House (because someone's going to win, might as well be me).

          And the "Book Yourself Solid" one is just ironic.
          Not at all! My goal here is to double the business income in the next 5 years. I definitely won't do this by keeping myself booked at half capacity will I? Also, GTD might clear our minds from the static that typically goes on but I want to use GTD to clear that static so I can ADD MORE next actions to my already busy schedule - my motivation with GTD is to clear/organize/streamline so I can do even more than I'm doing. This will allow me to accomplish more goals in the same amount of time/space and/or accomplish the same goals in less time.

          I would limit yourself to one reading book at a time. You will read as many words over a year no matter if you read books sequentially or parallel.
          I have wrestled with this idea. The only problem with reading sequentially is my goals/plans/projects do not progress in tandem, but in parallel. If I read only 1 book at a time I would read the Book Yourself Solid, but would have to halt writing my current book project as I need to read another book for background research. Because of this I have to be juggling several books at a time. Also, I get really bored reading one book at a time.

          why1942

          Comment


          • #6
            Not about doing more!

            Originally posted by why1942 View Post
            It's funny you say this. It never occurred to me that the load I've put on myself is at all ambitious. In fact, I often think I should be doing more. This is one reason I liked GTD so much. My hope was it would clear, focus, and energize me so I could get "even more" done each day.
            Oh, I've heard David Allen saying that GTD is about feeling good about what you are not doing - not about doing more!

            I use it to do the same amount of work but in less time to be able to relax and reflect more.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by why1942 View Post
              The only problem with reading sequentially is my goals/plans/projects do not progress in tandem, but in parallel.
              But that doesn't mean that you have to read each of the five or so books _every day_. You could have a Monday book, a Tuesday book, and so on. Unless you can finish more than a book a day, that's still effectively reading in parallel.

              Comment


              • #8
                These are projects

                Many of those things are projects rather than daily to-dos, which is where you're getting stopped up.

                Look at how they're written, and this should pop out to you a bit. There is absolutely no way to accomplish all of those things in one day. It takes me about 4-6 hours to knock out a Gladwell title (and I'm a fast reader). So "Read TIPPING POINT" could never be a daily to-do. It would take up most of the day.

                Now, what I suspect is that you mean, "Read a little bit of TIPPING POINT." But even that isn't defined. Remember that what you need is "how will I know that I'm done?" How much is a little bit, that is reasonable to accomplish in one day? When can you let go with that book? After 30 minutes? After one chapter? After one section?

                So let's say you say, "One section." So now you have an NA that's more like, "Read TIPPING POINT, 'The Stickiness Factor,' Section 4."

                Now you have a widget.

                Again, with editing. I'm editing one of my novels right now. I usually work scene-by-scene, so my NA for any one of them is "Edit/rewrite 'Nameofscene'." "Edit novel" is not something I can accomplish in one day, not even in one month. It is useless for me to put that on any kind of list below the 10,000-ft level because it's going to activate that part of my brain that's going to see it and think "OMG I should have the whole novel edited TODAY!"

                Exactly the kind of gnawing sense of anxiety we're trying to stop, here.

                Once you have widgets on each of these items, then go back and try doing one widget on each project every day, if you really feel as adamantly that you seem to that you need to make progress on all of these projects every single day. One of two things is going to happen: one, you'll discover that hey, you can accomplish one or two widgets on each project every day, or, you'll realize that in fact, you don't need to edit every day, or you don't need to read all five books every day, or something of the sort. You'll renegotiate your commitments. Perhaps you really do need to be free to get absorbed in editing, and so it becomes a M, W, F activity, so that if you go beyond just that day's widget, you'll have time, and still be able to accomplish the other things on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Or maybe you'll discover that Gladwell isn't what you need to read after all.

                Get that list down to widgets.

                Comment


                • #9
                  For the books, you could do it like this: each day choose three books that are the highest priority for you to read that day. Read some of each of those, and spend the rest of your reading time on whichever book or books you feel like reading. If you neglect some books, then you can put them on your list of 3 priority books tomorrow or the next day.

                  For the tasks in general, you could do it like this: Start with tasks that are important but that you may not feel like doing, and continue through your list. Do each one for as long as you feel like. If you spend a lot of time on something, then leave it off your list for a week or so or however long is needed to balance it out to an appropriate amount of time spent on it on average. Things that are off the list you don't work on, unless you finish everything on your list that day and then you can do what you feel like, including those things.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by jesig View Post
                    Many of those things are projects rather than daily to-dos, which is where you're getting stopped up.
                    As I was reading through this I was forming up a response much the same as this one! You seem to need to go back over the concept of projects, and how that drives next actions. Remember - a project is ANYTHING that requires more than 1 next action, and certainly reading a book, and of course writing a book, do so. You'll need to work out what the best discreet split is for you (from a non-'writer' I can only assume chapters or some other linear measure, but you may be completely different on this) to drive this.

                    Can I also recommend you to check out Michael Hyatt's wisdom (http://michaelhyatt.com/ or on twitter, @MichaelHyatt). He was CEO and is Chairman of Thomas Nelson, has just released his own book, and among other things is a big GTD user. I'm sure there will be things in his view of the world that would be specifically helpful to you.

                    Good luck!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Why1942: you might consider adding these books to your reading list:

                      "Eat that frog!" by B. Tracy

                      "Willpower" by Baumeister and Tierney

                      The basic idea of "Eat that frog!" is something like this: choose the one thing that's
                      your highest priority and/or the thing you least feel like doing. Do that first
                      at the beginning of the day. Do more-or-less what you feel like the rest of the
                      day. (I'm not sure if I have that last part right.)

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by jesig View Post
                        Many of those things are projects rather than daily to-dos, which is where you're getting stopped up.....Get that list down to widgets.
                        This is exactly what I have changed. I realized that I was adding NAs without them be directly created/tied to a project/goal. Once I went back and started with my main Goals, then drilled down, I was able to attach all my NAs correctly. This removed 95% of my Checklist items.

                        There is absolutely no way to accomplish all of those things in one day. It takes me about 4-6 hours to knock out a Gladwell title
                        Yeah, never occurred to me that the an item like "the tipping point" could be seen as "do it all in that day." It was never my intention. As you stated, on the checklist I meant read a little bit from it each day. I think what I discovered was I kept putting all of these actions on the checklist (daily to-do list) so I could keep track of them, or at least feel like they were not slipping through my fingers, simply because I did not have my Goals and Projects adequately formulated. I also think having it on a checklist, if I were to read a chapter and then check it off, only to uncheck it at the start of the next day, the list ended up becoming futile and boring, hence I wasn't getting much done. Now that most of the actions are moved over to my NA list, progress is much better.

                        Also another major challenge I was having was finding a digital package for my GTD. I've tried several programs and none of them worked the way I wanted. I have since found a small notes program that has just the right options. My GTD is nestled right in with all my other data, but GTD is on its own tab and i can quickly and easily add, delete, move from all my different lists, as well as sort by priority. Now it seems to be working quite well.

                        why1942

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by cfoley View Post
                          None of your books are essential daily tasks.
                          As others have said - your list seems more 'want' than 'need' to do.

                          When I'm putting together my Actions for the day, I've started asking myself "If this doesn't get done, will I lose money/ lose clients/ lose respect/ break a commitment/ cause the world to end" - if the answer is no (or even probably not), then I un-tag the item from my TODAY list and it goes on the Next Actions list

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Hi!
                            I am still struggling a bit with the same issue. But one of the conclusions I have made which I think applies in this case is that you, as I did, mix actions with things that rather should be scheduled.

                            Actions are things that has no extension into time. That is, they can be performed without specifically allocating time for them. One you start them, you should also be able to finish them. For example book a meeting, make a phone call, or as I will clarify in a moment schedule time for something.

                            On the other hand, you have things that will require a continous block of time. Those should not be actions but rather allocated slots in you calendar. For example, investigate something, write a chapter for a book, read a chapter in a book and so on.

                            If you identify the need to read a chapter in a book, the action for that should not be "Read chapter in book" but rather "Schedule time for reading chapter in book". That is actually the next step for moving such a project forward. And the action, the actual scheduling, can be done in a minute.

                            The point is the need to distinguish between things that can be done in a short time, actions, and things that needs allocated time, which is not actions.

                            I think with your particular problem this will make a significant improvement.

                            Cheers,
                            Jonas

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Reassess your Horizons

                              First, the list above seems to be an amorphous thing to me. If other people can't tell what the outcome or next physical action is then that might mean that information is still in your head. And if it's still in your head it means a thorough assessment hasn't been done. So first thing I would do is start at the bottom, at the actions/project level and really define your successful outcomes (what does wild success look like?) and the very next physical action (if you imagine yourself doing it, what do you see?). Once that work is clear then you need to go through your higher horizons (areas of focus, goals, vision, purpose) and really have a conversation with yourself as to what matters to you the most, where you want to be in a few years and why. This higher level thinking is critical if you want to get rid of that day-to-day feeling that you're not working on the right things.

                              Comment

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