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  • I really don't like my lists...

    While I like the ideas of GTD - in day-to-day business I tend to avoid looking at my lists. I just don't look at them...

    Honestly speaking I'm a bit afraid of them. It is just no fun looking at hundreds and hundreds of tasks and projects.

    I've tried out quite a lot of systems. Starting with a paper-based System (time system) switching to a variety of Mac and iPhone/iPad software (ToDo, Omnifocus, Thinking Rock,...). None of these has ever met my expectations and proved to be useful.

    Does anyone have some useful hints that go beyond the mantra of being self disciplined?David Allen mentioned "your system should be fun to work with" - can anyone provide some ideas to get more fun into working with lists?

    Best wishes

    M3elin0

  • #2
    Some possible reasons...

    Some reasons you might not like your lists are that

    1. you haven't really captured a visible, doable, physical next action;
    2. you haven't taken full advantage of the someday/maybe list(s), so you're mixing up future "maybes" with items you actually have commitment to finishing in the near future;
    3. you need to do some thinking about your "upper horizons" - in other words - do you really want to be doing some of the things you've said you'll do right now? How do these things fit into your bigger picture?
    4. you've populated your lists with a bunch of "shoulds"

    These lists are really there to (a) take the job of reminding/remembering away from your brain, and (b) set you up to win and to move projects forward relatively painlessly. They're not meant to be a yardstick, or a club with which to bash yourself with!

    From your post it would seem that #2 is the most likely candidate, and I would also add - having fun with your lists is really about building fun into your life - and also from getting cheap wins! (The kind you get when you do something and then write it down on a list so you can cross it off as "done"!)

    Comment


    • #3
      Are you caught in the busy trap?

      At any given moment you can spend your time doing one of three things:

      1. Doing defined work
      2. Doing work as it shows up
      3. Defining work

      Many people are uncomfortable doing 1 and 3 so they get wrapped around 2. They figure if they just get busy enough then they can avoid having to think about the tougher and more important issues in their lives. D.A. calls this "getting caught in the busy trap."

      There's another reason why the busy trap is so seductive; it's familiar. Without a system for doing 1 and 3 you only have 2 left. Your subconscious may not be used to operating in 1 and 3 so it resists the unfamiliar. It takes time for your subconscious to trust your lists and your system. You can't just expect your subconscious to drop years of conditioning and trust a system that's unproven to your own mind.

      My brain didn't trust my system for almost two months; it kept trying to take back the job. Consciously I new that GTD principles work but unconsciously I still had old patterns so deeply ingrained that it was uncomfortable. I made the decision to stick with it regardless of my feelings at the time. Eventually my subconcious accepted that I had found a better system and it started to let go.

      I love working from an action list of things that I can knock off rapidly and get some quick wins. In fact, I look forward to Mondays because I do my weekly reviews on Fridays or Sundays. On Monday I have organized lists of defined work, I go on a "mad-assed tear" (as Howard Stern says) and I love it.

      In conclusion I'm really just trying to say that maybe your brain just doesn't trust operating with a mind like water yet. Stick with the habits, don't get caught up with the toys (use paper if technology is holding you back), be patient with yourself and decide after three months of dedicated effort if GTD is right for you.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by M3erlin0 View Post
        While I like the ideas of GTD - in day-to-day business I tend to avoid looking at my lists. I just don't look at them...

        Honestly speaking I'm a bit afraid of them. It is just no fun looking at hundreds and hundreds of tasks and projects.
        I'm at the upper end of projects and action items from what I've seen around here and I don't have hundreds and hundreds of tasks on my lists, yes, hundreds of projects, but most are sitting on hold, as a someday/maybe project and don't get looked at except at my weekly review.


        I'd take a look at each and every project.

        Do you have one and ONLY 1 next action available for that project? IOW are your lists clogged with possible or future actions that aren't really next? Yes, I know I and many others will put actions that can be done in any order on your lists but initially I think it's a good starting point to be more strict about only 1 action at a time per project that is active and available. If you are using Omnifocus then set every project to sequential to immediately eliminate all future actions easily.

        Then take a look at the projects themselves. Because of the nature of my work I tend to keep as available and active any project that I could possibly work on given the season. For me as a farmer that means I keep any project that I might be able to do or work on during this 3 month period. However, most people with more normal jobs will find it a lot easier to manage if you only have on your lists those projects you are committed to working on during the next week or so. So my second suggestion is to ruthlessly put on hold (again assuming Omnifocus) all projects that you do not plan to actually work on during the next 7-10 days.

        Lastly, Do you have a FUL inventory of ALL projects? Including ones that are fun or hobbies or things that are of interest to you or are they all work? I found that I engaged with my lists and enjoyed the whole system a whole lot better once I also started including projects related to my hobbies and interests. A big bonus is that I got more of them finished too. I put a lot of those next actions into a special context "Inside by Myself Hobbies" so that when I am in the mood to do fun stuff I only see the things I have previously defined as fun that I want to accomplish. Current examples for me include "Mark where the buttonholes will go on my rust cardigan sweater" (a knitting project), "Lay out previous month's poultry pictures" (a scrapbook project) and "Write 2000 words on my Camp NaNo Novel" (a writing project).

        Once you do those things then see what you are left with.

        Comment


        • #5
          If you have hundreds of projects and next actions, what are you doing about them now? How were you handling them before you knew gtd existed? How do you feel if you sort them by "must do, want to do, should do, could do, not now?"

          Comment


          • #6
            42 is the answer.

            Originally posted by M3erlin0 View Post
            It is just no fun looking at hundreds and hundreds of tasks and projects.
            42 is the answer.

            Leave up to 21 Projects (with their Next Actions) and up to 21 standalone Next Actions on your lists. Move everything else to Someday/Maybe.

            Comment


            • #7
              This is great! Thank you

              I found D.A. books quite complete and rich of ideas. However, your answers to my thread are even more impressing. You get lots of suggestions on the internet about self organisation - but your replies show that you guys know, what you are talking about.

              Originally posted by CJSullivan View Post
              These lists are really there to (a) take the job of reminding/remembering away from your brain, and (b) set you up to win and to move projects forward relatively painlessly. They're not meant to be a yardstick, or a club with which to bash yourself with!
              CJSullivan, you got the point - I somehow feel like beeing bashed by my list, because it reminds me of what I should be doing... and still - I have my gut-feeling that not everything important is on it...

              Originally posted by CJSullivan View Post
              3. you need to do some thinking about your "upper horizons" - in other words - do you really want to be doing some of the things you've said you'll do right now? How do these things fit into your bigger picture?
              4. you've populated your lists with a bunch of "shoulds"
              structuring everything according to the "upper horizons" would keep me quite bussy. As an entrepreneur, running a hand full of startups, I tend to come up with "high flying visions" (...upper horizons) which might eventuelly turn out to be illusions just a few month later. Hence, the upper horizon will change a bit... from time to time. the problem is not that many projects and tasks become obsolete. It is more that the whole pyramidal structure of thinking (Altitude thinking) seem inappriate, considering the paste of change at the "upper horizons".

              Confused now? I am... Some ideas?

              Originally posted by ellobogrande View Post
              Many people are uncomfortable doing 1 and 3 so they get wrapped around 2. They figure if they just get busy enough then they can avoid having to think about the tougher and more important issues in their lives. D.A. calls this "getting caught in the busy trap."
              ellobogrande, this is an interesting point. Yes - I tend to question my list quite often and hence, find myself doing something different then I had planned to do. Still, ignoring the list can - from time to time - be a good idea. I refer to "gut-feeling" at this point, which is nothing else than accumulated experiance. Sometimes you just know what the right thing to do at a particular moment is. And at this time - ignoring whatever is on your list might be a goed decision. The problem is - some times the "gut-feeling" proofs to be wrong. For my part - I really struggle finding a balanced way of intuitive decision making and "sticking to the list".

              Thank you all for your comments and ideas

              Cheers

              M3erlin0

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by M3erlin0 View Post
                structuring everything according to the "upper horizons" would keep me quite bussy. As an entrepreneur, running a hand full of startups, I tend to come up with "high flying visions" (...upper horizons) which might eventuelly turn out to be illusions just a few month later. Hence, the upper horizon will change a bit... from time to time. the problem is not that many projects and tasks become obsolete. It is more that the whole pyramidal structure of thinking (Altitude thinking) seem inappriate, considering the paste of change at the "upper horizons".

                Confused now? I am... Some ideas?
                Glad you've found some of this helpful! The upper horizons will definitely change a bit. You know best how frequently to revise that view. Sounds like every 3 months at least might do it for you. You sound like you're in a really creative place in your life right now, with a very quick pace of change. The more you can keep your options open (by using someday/maybe lists and reviewing your goals & projects regularly), the freer I think you'll feel to have high-flying ideas with impunity!

                Regular review of all your horizons (goals, projects, next actions, etc.) will be KEY for you. It's the keystone habit of GTD anyway, but my theory is that the faster-paced your life seems, the more crucial regular review becomes. (And, correspondingly, the less time you think you have for it!) But if you do it regularly, you can look at these ideas and initiatives and happily say "Yes, still relevant...no, not right now...no, what on earth was I thinking?!!!"

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by M3erlin0 View Post
                  ellobogrande, this is an interesting point. Yes - I tend to question my list quite often and hence, find myself doing something different then I had planned to do. Still, ignoring the list can - from time to time - be a good idea. I refer to "gut-feeling" at this point, which is nothing else than accumulated experiance. Sometimes you just know what the right thing to do at a particular moment is. And at this time - ignoring whatever is on your list might be a goed decision. The problem is - some times the "gut-feeling" proofs to be wrong. For my part - I really struggle finding a balanced way of intuitive decision making and "sticking to the list".
                  True, it's not negative to do work as it shows up; it can often be the best thing for you to be doing in the moment. Fires and crises happen (if you're a fireman you plan for it and be ready for it) and unexpected opportunities that require immediate attention often arise. But there's a qualitative difference between doing work as it shows up because it's a good strategic decision rather than doing it out of avoidance of defining work and doing defined work. To make a good strategic decision you have to trust that your current inventory of defined work is complete and that you've weighed that work against work that shows up unexpectedly. That's really the only way trust your gut.

                  Your gut isn't always going to be correct no matter how GTD black belt you are. That's okay; you can't know or foresee everything all at once. But doing the habits of #1 and #3 will improve your batting average. I'm sure anyone would agree that there's a noticeable difference between being a great baseball player and being in the hall of fame. Most of the players in the hall of fame only have a 10% to 15% higher batting average than average players and they still missed more than half the time!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Dealing with Volume

                    Aside from everything above, I've found three things help me deal with the volume of my lists:

                    1. Use Someday/Maybe a lot
                    During my Weekly Reviews I find many things on my next actions list that really belong on Someday/Maybe. They are things that upon reflection I'm really not committed to doing. Maybe I "should" do them but don't have the bandwidth right now. Mixing S/M and next actions just kill my system.

                    I used to split my lists into S/M and Might Buy. I've expanded to two forms of S/M:

                    Someday
                    These are things I could move forward on but just don't have the bandwidth. They are feasible or things relatively short-term or known. E.g. - Spend Discover Cash Back Bonus.

                    Someday - Future
                    These are my longer term or fantasy things. E.g. - Qualify for Boston Marathon.

                    2. Breakup context lists that become large
                    I like small next action lists. After about 20 I look for natural groupings or ways to split into more natural contexts. For example, I no longer have a "Computer" list. I have things like Mac, Online or Web, Mind Mapping, etc.

                    3. Make sure the next action is at the right granular level
                    I think there is an inverse relationship between your aversion to doing something, something that cannot go on S/M, and how granular you should define the next physical, visible action. Some of my next actions are literally, "Open Word re: XYZ Draft" just to get some forward movement.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      You know, it could just be that there are parts of your job you dont like. Doesn't matter how nice my list manager looks, the project called 'Make staff member x redundant' is not a nice project. At the moment I have a tonne of unpleasant projects to do, and regardless how positive my self-talk and clear my lists are and how nice my lists look after the weekly review, fact is there are periods of the working life when you have to take the rough with the smooth.

                      When you get really clear on GTD it could just be shining a light on the fact that there are portions of your job that arent for you. of course if thats true, at least you know what it is you need to address - either find a way to like them, or change the work that you do.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Some of my lists are in the form of one item per sheet of paper. Sometimes it's just two words written in the middle of a letter-sized sheet. After I do it, I can erase the pencil marks and re-use the paper. Advantages: it's less intimidating because I'm only looking at one item at a time and fully focussing on it, rather than reading a list with several difficult items at once. Also, I can very easily sort the items by moving the pages around into different folders. Typically, I take the top item on the pile and deal with it in some appropriate way before moving on to the next. The way to deal with it might be just to move it to a different pile or decide to erase it because I'm not going to do it.

                        Your lists should serve you: the real you who has feelings and aversion to looking at lists etc., not just the ideal you. Years ago, before GTD, I made a great leap forward when I started giving myself permission to put X next to items in my lists, meaning I'd decided not to do them. When everything on a list had either a check-mark or an X, I would consider the list "done". Otherwise, the very items you don't want to do are the same ones you keep reading and re-reading because the ones you wanted to do have been checked off and removed. When you do look at your lists, you could mark some actions with "X" (or erase them) and mark others with "S" for "someday/maybe" meaning that on the next weekly review you'll likely want to move them to "someday/maybe", and then you can just look at the remaining unmarked items.

                        David Allen says that priorities are always changing. It sounds as if that's very true for you (though not so much for me). When you do things that are not on your lists, you're managing to take those changing priorities into account somehow. If your lists are to be any use, you need to get them to reflect changing priorities too. One way might be to think of the list as simply reminders of possibilities, not lists of things you should do; so that when a new thing comes up, you can just quickly scan your list and think "yup, as I thought: there's nothing here more important than this new thing" so you can feel free to do the new thing without worrying, or else you can decide to reject the new thing because there is something more important on your list (Hmph.) unless it's feasible to schedule both. Another way might be to keep changing your lists, for example the way I shift sheets of paper into different folders.

                        One thing that really helps me is pre-sorting my lists by priority and by energy required. Each context list is a page, and on that page I write things that will take more time and energy towards the top, and things that are more important further to the left. If I'm tired or if I only have a few minutes available, I don't even look at the top; I just start at the lower left, and I'm not reading anything that's too tiring to even think of doing right then. Usually I start at the upper left. That way, I usually don't have to read the whole list. I only read a few actions, and assume that all the other actions which are further to the right are of lower priority so there's no need to consider them right now.

                        When a new thing comes up, rather than just immediately doing it, you can write it onto your list and then do it. This might help you gain a sense of perspective as to how its priority compares with the other things.

                        You might want to post a few examples of your next actions, so that people can comment on whether they're expressed in a sufficiently doable way (or maybe you'd prefer to keep them private). E.g. "contact Sally about X" isn't GTD, but "phone Sally about X" or "email Sally about X" can be. Do you really know how to do each of the actions, or would you have to do a second or two of thinking first? Do that bit of thinking ahead of time. It really helps!

                        Sometimes I select a few actions and make a short list of the next few things I've decided to do (maybe about 3 actions). I'm just more comfortable sometimes knowing what I'm about to do. You might try that. Similarly, you might try reading over your list, once a day or whatever, at a time when you're not about to do something right then, in the spirit of thinking over what you might do a couple of hours from now or tomorrow or something. That may be less intimidating.

                        Or, you could decide that you're going to look at your list, select one action, do it, and then go back to your usual MO.

                        I don't think it makes sense to read over hundreds of actions every time you want to choose what to do next. You can pre-sort in various ways. When you design your list, think of treating yourself like a valued customer or something, and design a list that you'll find useful and enjoy looking at. What would a nice attractive list look like to you? How many actions would it have? How doable would they be? How long would each one take? Would there be things on there just for fun, or would there just be things providing satisfaction of a job well done? How many of the more difficult tasks would be included? Think about that and then try to design the list to serve the you who will be reading it (not the you that wishes all that difficult stuff could magically get done).

                        You can only do one action at a time, so presenting yourself with a list of hundreds of actions won't get any more done than presenting yourself with a manageable list of 5 actions. If you do get them all done you can always choose more out of someday/maybe. (At least, I've heard that in theory you can, though I'm not sure that's ever happened to me!)

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by M3erlin0 View Post
                          While I like the ideas of GTD - in day-to-day business I tend to avoid looking at my lists. I just don't look at them...

                          Honestly speaking I'm a bit afraid of them. It is just no fun looking at hundreds and hundreds of tasks and projects.
                          Is that a conclusion or do you feel directly that you don't like looking at them? I mean, if it's a conclusion it's like "hm, I haven't used my lists at all this week, why could that be? Must be because I don't like the lists, they're no fun with all those hundreds of items", and if you feel it directly it's more like "okay, I'm considering looking at my lists right now, but damn what a resistance I feel."

                          Just wondering, because I too don't use the lists nearly as much as I should, but I'm not certain that I dislike the lists. I don't feel any dislike directly and there might be other explanations, like simply inertia, or disliking the things I need to do rather than the lists themselves. I suspect the latter actually, that I'm not just into that whole work thing ("work" broadly defined). I have some problems with fatigue which makes many activities painful to some extent. But I also think I put too much on my plate given the circumstances, which is a problem with the list.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Discipline & Motivation

                            Does anyone have some useful hints that go beyond the mantra of being self disciplined?
                            M3elin0
                            Hello. New here. Great content, would like to add my contribution.

                            Discipline is our extra reserve for motivation. Like when you don't feel like doing something but you know it's good for you. You have to make it's use an exception, not the rule. To do that, the value of completing projects should be so evident, that any next action reminds you that you WANT to do it. No that you HAVE to do it.

                            Try switching the meaning of your lists. Read them as a collection of good opportunities to add value towards your goals and life as a hole. Don't fall for the trap where they become an obligation and they mean you are "at fault" with them.

                            Goncalo Mata

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by goncalomata View Post
                              Try switching the meaning of your lists. Read them as a collection of good opportunities to add value towards your goals and life as a hole. Don't fall for the trap where they become an obligation and they mean you are "at fault" with them.
                              This is something I have thought about and want to explore a little. The question is how exactly to do that change in attitude toward the lists. Just telling myself, saying the words, that the lists are a set of self-chosen opportunities and not an imposed drudgery from some malevolent external force clearly doesn't help. Changing an attitude is not trivial. But it's an interesting challenge. A new project to put in my project list that I don't look at enough?
                              Last edited by North; 08-26-2012, 04:54 AM. Reason: Small word error

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