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I don't know where to put these in my system!

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  • I don't know where to put these in my system!

    Hi all,

    I've had the book GTD for about 6 years now and just started on implementing the whole process again in earnest for the third time. This time from a professional perspective, which I think is going to help me to really make this happen. I've been reading some of the topics here and find it really nice to read all the helpful tips and suggestions!

    While working with my system the last few weeks I've come up with some things that I don't know exactly where to put. I'm guessing it really depends on each individual system, but I'm really curious about the way you would handle it!

    The situations are:
    1. I have an item I need to have finished by the end of this week, but it doesn't matter when I do it in the week.
    2. I have to make a phone call on Monday or Tuesday, it doesn't matter which day, but it has to be handled latest Tuesday 5PM.
    3. I have to prepare for a meeting today at 4PM. It doesn't matter when I do it today, but it has to be done before 4PM.
    4. There is something that I really want to finish before my holiday, but it could wait until after, but then I will have to run really hard after the vacation to get it done.

    Maybe here is a good time to mention that I have over 200 next actions (excluding waiting for and someday/maybe) in my system and usually so much predefined work that has to be finished that I can spend quite a few days not having to look at my lists, because I already know I won't be able to do anything of it.
    • That means for point 1 its a bit dangerous to put it on my normal next actions list, because I might not see it on time.
    • Item 2 I would put on my day specific list for Monday, but I might have to roll it over to Tuesday.
    • Item 3 I would put on my day specific list as well, just knowing that it has more priority than something that I can do later.
    • I'm not really sure how to deal with item 4. I put it on my day specific list as well, but had to roll it over until after I came back.

    Seems I'm using my day specific lists quite a bit, now that I look at how I managed these items myself. I'm really interested to hear the way you would manage this!

    I've already realized I've got too many open projects, some of them which I won't move on in the next couple of days/weeks/months anyway, because other things take priority over them, so one of the things on my list is to move quite a few projects and next actions to someday/maybe for the time being.

    I'm really looking forward to your feedback and ideas! Thanks a lot in advance!

    Cheers,

    Wouter

  • #2
    I don't see any problem with putting deadlines on your calendar on the day they are due, in the all day section - these will serve as day specific information. You can put your tasks in your regular lists where you will see them but also keep the deadline on the calendar as a safety net. If you've already done them by the due date just ignore it or delete it and be happy you're ahead of the game. Or, you may have a system that lets you put a due date on a task and see which are due. (as long as these are true deadlines and not artificial ones)

    I would really also encourage you to do a quick scan of your lists daily. If this is unappealing, then think about really purging your lists, revising, and moving items to someday maybe or even pending. Your lists should contain the things you want to be reminded of and if they contain things that you don't want to be reminded of, you will not want to look at them.

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    • #3
      David also talks about using daily to do lists, you might put some of these on such a list.

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      • #4
        If they were quick things to do I'd just put the due date next to them in my project/action list and give them priority. I might also put the due date in my calendar.

        If the actions/projects are going to take larger chunks of time to complete, I might block out time in my calendar to make sure they get done by the due date.

        For very large projects I'll even block out entire days to work on them.

        EO

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        • #5
          I'm writing this in the hope that I might take some of my own advice.

          GTD is about being realistic and being flexible. I see contradictory information in your post, suggesting a need for more realism: you don't look at your lists for days at a time because you know you won't be able to do anything on the lists, yet you have items you want to be reminded of that have to be done within 2 days!

          Maybe it's a chicken-and-egg problem: do you start a habit of looking at your lists every day no matter what, and then after that habit is established start trusting your lists and putting on them important actions that need to be done in the short term? Or do you start by putting those sorts of actions on your lists, and then afterwards start to look at your lists every day -- maybe after having been bitten once or twice by a missed deadline? Maybe there's a middle ground: putting those actions on your lists and also putting them in another system as a safety net while trying to establish a new habit of looking at the lists daily. Or just decide to start now looking at your lists daily, and at the same time start trusting yourself to do so and putting important actions there.

          I think it's more in the spirit of GTD to glance at your list every day to verify that what you're working on is more important than anything on your list. This allows for flexibility. Things might come up that are even more important than what you're working on, and you might have put something like that on your list and then temporarily forgotten about it.

          Although I think David Allen said it's OK to use day-specific lists, I feel that they're not really in the spirit of GTD. In the book "Getting Things Done" he says to put next actions on context lists, not day-specific lists, because when you roll things over from one day to the next, the act of recopying the lists is time-consuming and demoralizing. I suppose if the rolling-over is automatic -- either in an electronic system, or a paper system such as a single folder where things accumulate -- then it may be OK as far as that goes. Rolling over a small number of items is fine; the problem is when you've been using the system for a while and the number of items being rolled over keeps increasing and gets overwhelming.

          What I think would be a good way to handle these things:

          Shift almost everything off your next-action lists onto someday-maybe or an intermediate level e.g. "soon" or "maybe next week", so that your lists have only a small number of things and only things that you're likely to do quite soon. Look at the lists every day. You could write the deadline as part of the action, e.g. "Phone Sally Monday or Tuesday" or "Prepare for meeting 4pm today". When something has a deadline, make it a priority to do it soon; don't wait for the deadline to get close before you treat it as urgent.

          It may also be a good idea to say no to some projects, to keep the amount of work and the ability to meet deadlines feasible.

          How I would probably actually handle them:

          Since my next-action lists are clogged up with too many things, I would form an intention of recopying them and moving most things to a longer-term list, but figure I don't have time to do that now. Meanwhile I'd find some way to handle those particular items. If I had a functioning "day-specific list" system that I was actually using, then I suppose I'd use that. For the past few months I've had a "zero-folder" at work that I look at twice a day. I might put the things in there. I might set my watch to beep one or more times to remind me. I might have reminders pop up on the computer. Anything that works is OK.

          I try not to use a beeping watch as a reminder too much because it's annoying and because I might start ignoring it if I use it too much, but if I don't have another system that's reliable enough then I'll use it. It gives me an incentive to keep my other systems working.

          In general, I try not to overload any one system with too many items because I'll go numb to it. GTD is the first system I trusted to put everything into, because it has the someday-maybe part as a safety valve, and because it greatly increases the doability of the individual items (by identifying specific next physical action and by sorting by context) so that each item doesn't weigh down the system as much.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by wmeyers View Post
            ...not having to look at my lists...
            This wording suggests that maybe you don't enjoy looking at your lists. How can you make them more enjoyable?
            • reducing the number of actions on the lists by moving some to someday/maybe
            • increasing the doability of the actions on the lists by making sure they identify a specific physical action that you've already decided how to do
            • sorting the list by amount of time and energy required and by priority level, as well as by context, so you only have to look at part of the list each time
            • including some rewarding actions on the lists -- some things just for fun
            • giving yourself rewards when you do actions on the list
            • using a pleasant kind of paper and writing implement; decorating it (I have a happy face on the front of my little planning book; I like using 2B pencils)
            • sitting in a relaxing posture while looking at the list; making it part of a pleasant routine, maybe with something to eat or drink
            • looking at the list more often so you get used to it and it doesn't have as many unpleasant surprises

            The lists are supposed to serve you. Make them work for you, not the other way around. Think about what you want your lists to be like and what you want them to do for you, and design them to do that.

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            • #7
              Thanks everyone for the great comments!

              Originally posted by ero213 View Post
              If the actions/projects are going to take larger chunks of time to complete, I might block out time in my calendar to make sure they get done by the due date.
              I think I'll be doing more of this, but I've always found it going a bit against the flexibility of the GTD system. When you have blocked time to work on something and your boss comes in with a 'small', urgent request, you might have to reschedule. How do you deal with that?

              Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
              • reducing the number of actions on the lists by moving some to someday/maybe
              • increasing the doability of the actions on the lists by making sure they identify a specific physical action that you've already decided how to do
              • sorting the list by amount of time and energy required and by priority level, as well as by context, so you only have to look at part of the list each time
              I'll definitely purge my lists soon! Thanks for the other helpful suggestions

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              • #8
                Originally posted by wmeyers View Post
                When you have blocked time to work on something and your boss comes in with a 'small', urgent request, you might have to reschedule. How do you deal with that?
                One way to handle it is: say something to your boss like "I've been planning to
                spend today and tomorrow working on X. If I do this instead, I may have to delay X until next month." or "Here's my schedule and the list of projects I'm working on; which one would you like me to cancel or delay to do this other thing?" You can also (if you can) give your boss a realistic estimate of the amount of time it will take you to do the "small" request.

                Another way to handle it is: schedule some emergency time each week for things like this, and switch things around if necessary.

                Or ... just reschedule when you get the urgent request.

                The first method may discourage your boss from giving you such requests as often, making it easier for you to get your long-term projects done. Rescheduling may give your boss the feeling that you're reliable and available for these sorts of short-term requests. Either of these can be what you want to achieve, or perhaps some sort of balance between the two.

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                • #9
                  Messages...

                  I also send myself little "messages" via the calendar. For instance, for the "I could call this person Monday or Tuesday" task, on Tuesday I'd have an all-day activity in my calendar (or note in a paper calendar) that says "did I call so-and-so yesterday?"). And for the thing that has to be done by 4pm today, I'd DEFINITELY estimate how long it will take, tack on 1/2an hour, and block it. Say you think it'll take an hour, put an appointment with yourself in your calendar from 2.30 - 4.00pm. If you get to it before then, great - but at least you've gotten rid of the anxiety of having to keep reminding yourself "Oh, and I've got to get THAT done today too!"...

                  On the topic of "daily to-do lists," I definitely believe in taking time at the beginning of each day (and checking back in frequently throughout the day) to go through my lists, my "hard landscape" on my calendar, and decide where I'm going to get the biggest bang for my buck - using (instinctively, at this point) the "Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment" from GTD (Context, Time available, Energy available, and priority). That is a model I've definitely internalised and has done more for my sanity than I can express here!! So, if you want to call that "creating a daily to-do list," I guess that's OK! And I do think it's in the spirit of GTD, as opposed to those who ONLY create daily to-do lists and do not have the total life view from which they're just cherry-picking strategic next actions...

                  OK - I'm rambling now, so I'll stop!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    There are many programs out there with start and due dates that could probably help you managed these situations.

                    [*]I have an item I need to have finished by the end of this week, but it doesn't matter when I do it in the week.
                    I would create the next action with a due date of Friday.

                    [*]I have to make a phone call on Monday or Tuesday, it doesn't matter which day, but it has to be handled latest Tuesday 5PM.
                    Next Action with start date Monday, due date Tuesday.

                    [*]I have to prepare for a meeting today at 4PM. It doesn't matter when I do it today, but it has to be done before 4PM.
                    Next Action with due date today or in your calendar as an all day event today. Whichever you trust more.

                    [*]There is something that I really want to finish before my holiday, but it could wait until after, but then I will have to run really hard after the vacation to get it done.
                    If it's a "want to" but not a "have to" I would not put a due date on this. Instead I would recommend scanning your full actions and projects list quickly to catch this.

                    Maybe here is a good time to mention that I have over 200 next actions (excluding waiting for and someday/maybe) in my system and usually so much predefined work that has to be finished that I can spend quite a few days not having to look at my lists, because I already know I won't be able to do anything of it.
                    I think it's important to quickly scan your actions and projects list regularly for at least two reasons.
                    1. To get comfortable with what you're not doing.
                    2. To catch any new actions or projects without a due date that you should be working on instead.


                    • That means for point 1 its a bit dangerous to put it on my normal next actions list, because I might not see it on time.
                    • Item 2 I would put on my day specific list for Monday, but I might have to roll it over to Tuesday.
                    • Item 3 I would put on my day specific list as well, just knowing that it has more priority than something that I can do later.
                    • I'm not really sure how to deal with item 4. I put it on my day specific list as well, but had to roll it over until after I came back.
                    The app I'm using (and developed), Purpose, mitigates these scenarios because for each day this week you can see when next actions are due that day, start that day, and have been completed that day. It also shows you similar categories for actions in the last two weeks, and two weeks ahead. When I'm ready to start working I scan this Calendar view first to take care of real fires and then switch to the Context view and act by context and time available. Then throughout the day I scan the Projects list to make sure I'm ok with everything I'm not working on.

                    I hope that helps a bit and good luck!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      To be honest that seems fairly straightforward. In each case you essentially have a deadline, whether that's the end of a day or a time in the day. In the last case its a soft deadline.

                      In my case I would simply leave it on my next action list, but put a reminder in my calendar at the last point that I safely could. So if i had to call someone anytime as long as it was done by Wednesday Id put the reminder Wednesday. If it was noon Wednesday Id put the reminder at 11am Wednesday.

                      That way if I review my list I might get chance to do it sooner, if I don't i have a reminder in place before it gets too late.

                      In the last case its just good self-management, and while soft deadlines are usually a bad idea, with something like getting clear before a holiday I think its beneficial. Use carefully though.

                      Of course if you don't do a thorough weekly review the whole thing falls over. That's where you spot that your leave is coming up and you'd feel great if you did such-and-such before going so make it a priority; where you realise that you wont catch someone unless you can call on a certain day and so stick a reminder in your calendar; where you realise you might be busy this week and not see your NA lists and decide that a reminder or 2 in your calendar would make you trust your system.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Noel View Post
                        There are many programs out there with start and due dates that could probably help you managed these situations...
                        That will work for some. However my own experience is that its easier for me to keep reminders, hard deadlines and safety nets in my calendar.

                        I've occasionally set meetings only to find I had big bits of work due the same day and had a frantic day when I could have scheduled it for a quieter time. That happened because I had to also check my gtd app as well as my calendar, and didn't because i was in a hurry.

                        No big deal, just mentioning it.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by bishblaize View Post
                          I've occasionally set meetings only to find I had big bits of work due the same day and had a frantic day when I could have scheduled it for a quieter time.
                          Ideally, one would go ahead and do the stuff before the due date. There's not much logical reason to do a large part of the stuff on the day it's due; there is reason to do it ahead of time. (I don't claim to necessarily do the ideal thing myself, though.)

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