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  • Next actions & filing issues

    I write next actions but they stay on my list because I don't know how to do them. Or they generate too many other additional thoughts that overwhelm me.

    For example, one on my list is - Send Richard the stakeholder engagement plan.
    But when I look at it I think - where is the plan? In my email? or is it in my H drive? Did I save it into the document management system? Maybe I should do that while I'm at it? Did I put a copy into the hardcopy filing system and on P drive? And what about the other supporting documents that go with that?

    And then I think - I really can't be bothered thinking about this, it's stressing me out.
    But almost every other next action I have is like this or worse (I did pick an easy one) so I'm very stressed out at the moment.

    Yes, there really are 5 different places to store things.
    So how can I setup my next actions so they are better? Should I have had a different next action in the first place (eg - look for stakeholder engagement plan and file)
    Should I go as detailed as 'file stakeholder engagment plan on document management system?' or just 'file stakeholder engagment plan on all systems' or just do the filing as I complete each next action?

  • #2
    If you had nothing else to do right now...

    One of the things that really stuck with me from David's GTD Fast CDs was when he talked about how to determine what the next action really is.

    The question he asked (paraphrased) was "If you had absolutely nothing else to do right now except for this one thing, what would I see you do? Where would I see you go?" In other words, what is the true next action?

    In your example, I'm guessing I would see you go to your computer and check through your email to look for the document in question.

    Therefore, I would put "Check email for stakeholder engagement plan" in the @computer list.

    I ask myself these questions all the time when I'm processing. Somehow the idea of having "nothing else to do except for this one thing" really clarifies my thinking about true next actions.

    HTH,
    Margaret

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Suelin23 View Post
      For example, one on my list is - Send Richard the stakeholder engagement plan. But when I look at it I think - where is the plan? In my email? or is it in my H drive? Did I save it into the document management system? Maybe I should do that while I'm at it? Did I put a copy into the hardcopy filing system and on P drive? And what about the other supporting documents that go with that?
      Hi, Suelin23!

      I know from your past posts that you are a seasoned GTD practitioner... so I KNOW you know that a next action is the very next action, not, perhaps, a more important step down the line. So how did non-next actions end up on the list?

      I know I sometimes do the same thing. If I put the step "write business plan" on the list, I'll anticipate that feeling of accomplishment when I check it off. I might not feel the same way if my next action was "search email" - even if that really is the next action. Completing that action isn't as fulfilling... but it's the one that has to be done first.

      I'm interested in your thoughts...

      Dena

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Suelin23 View Post
        I write next actions but they stay on my list because I don't know how to do them. Or they generate too many other additional thoughts that overwhelm me.
        These 2 statements say to me that they are not the real next actions and they may have hidden projects in there. I use the trick of playing a movie in my mind of exactly how I would do the action and often discover that the action I wrote down isn't the real next action. Sounds like you need to spend a bit more time with those actions and ferret out what the true real next action is and also tag where the related stuff will be filed.

        I often have actions like that and I need to be really specific about them or I ignore them entirely. One of my current ones is "Update Sheep NSIP data for 2010 drop - list of sheep, id & lambing ease in folder Sheep NSIP September in small cabinet" and the context is @Mac LibreOffice

        IOW I make the next action so simple that all I have to do is read the action, go grab the folder and get to work. Now in my case it turns out that next action, which I thought would take about 6-8 hours, is already at 14 hours and counting but at least it is a granular next action.

        When I started my action was "Update NSIP Data" and I'd been avoiding it for weeks. When I tried to do it I realized I needed a list of sheep to update, what their lambease scores were, what their ID numbers were and so I had a series of next actions to do before I could get to the update data one. I had to decide which sheep to update, assign new id numbers if required or verify existing ones, locate lambing records for 2010 to determine lambing ease scores and so on.

        I bet your problem actions are equally as vague as mine were and once you get to a true next action you'll sail right along getting them done.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by artsinaction View Post
          So how did non-next actions end up on the list?
          At the time I put it on, I really did think 'send Richard the stakeholder engagement plan' is the next action. And I still do. I can envisage myself going to the inbox and forwarding the email.

          But that in itself is the problem - it brings up so many other thoughts to capture.
          And since I can't even capture and process today's emails, I don't really want to capture and process all the other thoughts that come up too.
          I could and have taken whole days off work and try to capture and process to zero and not even finish working out how to organise my system.
          I'm not a 'seasoned GTDer', I'm still a white belt trying to organise.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Suelin23 View Post
            But that in itself is the problem - it brings up so many other thoughts to capture.
            And since I can't even capture and process today's emails, I don't really want to capture and process all the other thoughts that come up too.
            The projects, ideas and thoughts are still there dragging you down. It's rough but you have to try to capture everything. When I get totally overwhelmed with too many thoughts coming at me at once I do a full mind dump onto paper. It can take an hour or 2 to dump and another hour to do minimal processing. Here's what I do:

            Grab a bunch of scrap paper roughly 4x5 inches in size. I use the backs of the tear off desk calendars we have. You can also use letter paper cut into quarters or even 3 x 5 cards. The idea is make it cheap, disposable and not too big. If you're like me you won't write half baked thoughts on good paper so it's important for it to be scrap.

            Keep a stack along with a pen or pencil or 2 everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. I have a stack in the bathroom, one on my bed stand, one by my desk, one over by my loom and I carry around a notebook too.

            When faced with that sort of overwhelming run thoughts put each single one on a separate piece of paper. So in your example I'd put the following items each on a separate piece of paper.
            1. Send Richard the stakeholder engagement plan.
            2. Where is the stakeholder engagement plan?
            3. Look in email for the stakeholder engagement plan.
            4. Look on my H drive for the stakeholder engagement plan.
            5. Look in the document management system for the stakeholder engagement plan.
            6. Put the stakeholder engagement plan into the document management system.
            7. Decide whether the stakeholder engagement plan needs to go into the hardcopy filing system.
            8. Decide whether the stakeholder engagement plan needs to go on P drive.
            9. Make a list of the supporting documents for the stakeholder engagement plan.
            10. Decide storage location for supporting documents for the stakeholder engagement plan.

            I might also add additional items based on those things like:
            • Define rules for filing documents based on access needs (hard drive H, hard drive P, document management system, e-mail reference folder, hard copy filing)
            • Create standard list of supporting documents needed for a stakeholder engagement plan. (This presumes that these plans are a recurring item for you with similar support document needs.)

            Then for organize it's clear that from the top list, that number 2 is the project. Or at least for me I'd separate out Find stakeholder management plan from who it goes to as 2 separate projects.

            So 2 is the top project, 1 is the project currently on hold because you can't do it until you finish project 2 and the next items are 3-5. Then items 6-8 are actually separate but they really belong as actions after you've finished the define rules for filing project because if you don't know how you are going to look for it you won't know the best place to file it. So I'd put all those as on-hold and instead make the define rules an active project. In my system I'd put items 6-8 as support material under the define filing rules project. Dealing with the support materials is also a whole separate project. Item 9 is the real project and also action. Deciding the storage location is a separate project and so is creating a standard list. They are probably both on hold for now if you've got too many projects to work on.

            But by defining them you maybe able to delegate one or more of those projects to someone else to reduce your load.

            Does that help?
            Last edited by Oogiem; 09-05-2012, 06:38 AM. Reason: remove most typos :-)

            Comment


            • #7
              Thanks Oogiem, really comprehensive answer.
              I think I'm avoiding making new projects - and the define filing rules would be a good one to tackle soon as it would streamline the process for many other action loops.

              I think I avoid making new projects because I already feel overloaded with the ones I have in my system, but I think I like your idea of putting projects on hold. I can load them all into my lists, but put some on hold so the NA list is still manageable.

              Also I think I've been suffering because my projects are too high level - eg I have one project called 'GTD', and not small enough, so I think I'll change to doing them at the smaller level despite that increasing the number of projects.
              (seems to be a recurring theme - a phobia of too long a project list)

              thanks heaps

              Comment


              • #8
                I have lots of things to say on this, Suelin, but no time because I need to go to sleep -- and that brings me to one of my suggestions, which is that if you get more sleep you may feel better about all that stuff. Sleep helps with memory (remembering where you put that document), being able to do things more thoroughly or with fewer mistakes (so you might have written down the location of the document as part of the next-action) and with having the oomph to go ahead and do things even if they're somewhat difficult.

                Next action could be "Find out whether or not the document is easy to find in email". Then if you write "no", it's still "this action is done" and you can check it off and feel a sense of accomplishment -- OK, Dena, maybe not as big a sense of accomplishment as doing the whole thing, but still a sense of accomplishment, and I think it's important to stop and feel good about that for a second or two, and once you've done that, step 1, sometimes the rest just flows naturally. ... gotta go

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Suelin23 View Post
                  I think I'm avoiding making new projects....
                  (seems to be a recurring theme - a phobia of too long a project list)
                  Embrace the thoughts of so many projects that are exciting and fun to do you'll need 2 or 3 lifetimes to get them all done

                  And get used to big project lists. I feel really accomplished when I can get my projects down to less than 150 active ones, closer to 200 is my norm

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                    Sleep helps with memory (remembering where you put that document), being able to do things more thoroughly or with fewer mistakes (so you might have written down the location of the document as part of the next-action) and with having the oomph to go ahead and do things even if they're somewhat difficult.
                    You've suggested this to me before, and I have taken it on board. I now try to get 8 hours sleep each night, and it does help, I am finding I have more mental stamina, and can work for much longer.
                    I also find that first thing in the morning I'm having a lot more creative light bulb moments, when ideas come to me and I get some great new insight on things I've been working on, so thanks, it has been great advice.
                    I've also had some great ideas in the morning on how to organise things, which is really helping.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Here is what I would do.

                      First, I would take some of the steps that "Oogiem" pointed out.

                      Then once you figure out where the Stake Holder Engagement plan is enter that information into the "notes" section whereever you keep your next action steps.

                      This is easy to do if you keep your action lists in a digital form. But not so much if it is on paper.

                      If it is in digitial form, then how this helps is when you click on the next action, and you have that thought, "where did I save that file?" then you just click on notes, see where it is located on your hard drive, then you just open up your email program, attach it, then complete the action.

                      Easy, peasy.

                      My other thought, is that you might want to improve your filing system. The only reason I say this is reading your post I get the feeling that you are not trusting it.

                      So you will have to figure out how to setup your filing system so you can trust it.

                      But test out the notes thing if your actions are in digital form.

                      Even if it's in paper form maybe it could look like this.
                      Send Dave the Stake Holder Engagement Plan
                      (NOTE: This item is in X folder on the C: drive of my laptop)

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I don't trust my filing system because I haven't completely decided how to set it up. And over various different times and places I have decided to set it up differently. I wanted to setup my filing system by areas of focus and projects, then sub folders for subprojects. But I keep changing my mind, is stakeholder engagement an area of focus or a sub project under the mixing zone strategy?
                        So currently I have a few different folders structures and several places to look, and multiply that by at least five different locations for storing things and I get completely lost. And because I haven't set it up consistently between the different locations I can never remember my last decision on how to set it up..

                        Hmm - sounds like a project for sure in setting up file structure.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          File Alphabetically & Flat files

                          Originally posted by Suelin23 View Post
                          I don't trust my filing system because I haven't completely decided how to set it up. And over various different times and places I have decided to set it up differently. I wanted to setup my filing system by areas of focus and projects, then sub folders for subprojects. But I keep changing my mind,
                          I started out with filing by AOF and it was a disaster. Now I just file absolutely everything in a single set of flat folders alphabetically. There are a few groups that end up being together because of how I name the folders. The only exceptions are 2 sets of folders for 2 organizations where I am an officer. I keep them each in a separate file cabinet drawer and the folders are also a different color. Within those groups they are also alphabetical.

                          For my electronic filing I am slowly chunking through the backlog and setting up the same structure. 1 big file cabinet folder with 1 or at most 2 layers of folders within it for electronic documents and for my portable electronic filing the same flat structure in DEVONThink that I carry on my iPhone and iPad. Folders within folders are a problem. Electronically I can see 2 layers being reasonable but once I get that third layer of folders I have problems unless it's clearly a reasonable way to file those things. Right now my only things that have 3 layers are pictures and a few folders for equipment and software. So I have a folder within my reference file cabinet folder called Oogie Pictures 2012 and within that are folders for each day. My camera automatically makes those folders and it makes it easier to find a given picture that way. Anotehr example of 3 folders is an equipment file for a hard drive where I have within that a folder that contains all the utility SW that came with it. But generally I try to stick with a single flat structure as much as possible. I also have a single folder that is the electronic "cabinet" for each of the organization's electronic files.

                          I am also using DT's indexing features so I can carry an index of the items in my electronic system so when I am searching I have one place to look for electronic things and one place for paper things. Makes filing and finding again very easy.

                          Sounds to me like defining and re-thinking the filing system is a higher priority project and needs some thought sooner rather than later.

                          I'd create the folders for a project that has sub-projects with names like "project - sub-project" that way an entire project will sort alphabetically together but you have a single flat file structure. I did that for some construction projects so I had folders names "208 3rd", "208 3rd - Electrical", "208 3rd - Painting" and "208 3rd - Plumbing"
                          The general stuff was in the first folder and the others were right behind it so it was easy to both file and find something when I needed it.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Suelin23 View Post
                            You've suggested this to me before, and I have taken it on board. I now try to get 8 hours sleep each night, and it does help, I am finding I have more mental stamina, and can work for much longer.
                            I also find that first thing in the morning I'm having a lot more creative light bulb moments, when ideas come to me and I get some great new insight on things I've been working on, so thanks, it has been great advice.
                            I've also had some great ideas in the morning on how to organise things, which is really helping.
                            Hey, that's really cool to hear that you took my suggestion and it helps!

                            I try to get 10 hours of sleep a night. I feel definitely short of sleep if I only get 8 hours, and can't think as clearly the next day. Of course, there's individual variation, but the book "Sleep Thieves" says that adults who sleep for 8 hours and think they're getting enough sleep are fooling themselves. Lying down for a rest in the middle of the day can help, too.

                            Sleep is great for those creative insights, and also for appreciating simple things like sunshine, enjoying life, laughing at jokes and getting along with people. Also for working a little faster and with fewer mistakes that take up lots of time later on, and spending less time sick, so it's worth the time.

                            Years ago I started taking phosphatidylserine and had the impression that it resulted in a significant reduction in the amount of time per day when I felt I was too tired to work. I have a bit of trouble getting enough sleep, so I usually take at bedtime 5HTP, phosphatidylserine, calcium, chamomile tea and GABA to help me sleep. I'm sleeping better this year, maybe because I stopped drinking fluoridated water. Insomnia and mental confusion have been related to fluoride poisoning.

                            I can relate to your example. Sometimes a very small barrier ("but I'm not sure whether it's in email or on the hard drive") can prevent me from doing something ("I'll do that some other time", over and over). And sometimes everything seems hard to do. I'm doing better, though. Maybe it's that fluoride-free water, or maybe it's because of the way I sorted things by energy required, or both, but I feel as if everything's doable now. Sort-of. Either doable, or filed appropriately: for example, I decided not to change the flat tire on my bicycle while I was sick.

                            OK, here's the principle I'm trying to follow: I try to present myself with doable next actions, and not to present myself with things I'll say "no, I don't feel like it right now" about. One problem with saying "no, I don't feel like it" is that it saps my energy. Another problem is that it gets me in the habit of saying that: both a habit attached to that specific action, and a general habit of saying that about all actions. So, I try to organize things so that, as much as feasible, when I look at a list of next actions I see only things I find actually doable.

                            Sorting by energy is one way. When I write an action on a context list, I put it near the top if it takes lots of time and energy or seems difficult, and near the bottom if it seems easy. Then before I refer to the list to see what to do, I stop and think: how tired am I? How much time do I have? Most of the time I feel OK and start reading at the top, but if I'm tired, I might start in the middle or near the bottom and only read the easy things. That way, I pretty much only see things I'm able to do right then. But when I do have energy, I get the high-energy actions done, and I found that after using this system for a while, that my actions lists got much more doable: the high-energy actions were already done and a higher proportion of easy ones were left. The system may also have helped boost my overall energy level by decreasing the number of times I had to think "no, I don't feel like doing that right now".
                            Here's my blog post about it: http://woodgold.wordpress.com/2011/0...-required-etc/

                            I've already mentioned a lot of this stuff so maybe you've read it before, but anyway
                            I'll go on. I can understand a reluctance to create a lot of GTD projects. I and some other GTD users don't really use projects as such. This has been discussed on this forum before. Actually, I'm starting to use projects a bit. But mostly I do something similar to the Pigpog method: http://pigpog.com/2006/07/11/gtd-the-pigpog-method/ That is, if something requires more than one action, I just write the next action on my context list, and when I finish that action, then I stop and think what the next action will be and immediately write that down on the appropriate list. I guess I usually just write it like one action, but sometimes I also write the overall purpose too.

                            For example, you could write "Check whether stakeholder plan is in email or not (to send to Richard)". The project is to send it to Richard; the next action is really just "Check whether stakeholder plan is in email or not", but you write it as if the next action is that whole longer thing, and then you don't need a separate entry on a projects list. I think it's important to include those words "or not", because then if you look and don't find it, it's still a success: this action is finished, and then you can write the next action that logically follows from it.

                            Here's an idea: whenever you find yourself looking at a next action and deciding not to do it because it feels difficult, you can modify the next action to be more doable for the next time you look at your list. Or you can do this with at least one (or at least 3) next actions on your list when you feel that the whole list is difficult. For example, you can re-write the next action as suggested above. Or if it's written on paper you can append "(just check whether it's in email or not"), which is the real next action.

                            Making the next action easier can be just a matter of rewording it. Sometimes, though, I'll actually do something (generally something that takes less than 2 minutes) to make it easier, for example, looking up a phone number, or in this case you might actually check your email right then, instead of just editing the next action, and then the next action might become "look on P drive" or something.

                            When you originally wrote the next action, it seemed easy. Maybe then you knew where the stakeholder plan was, and later on you forgot, so the next action got harder. Some of my next actions become illegible or incomprehensible. That's a matter of taking a bit more effort when writing it. When I write a next action involving computer things, I try to write down the directory and filename, or the date of an email, etc. even if I think I'll remember it. Maybe part of the time I remember it anyway, but I think it's worth taking the time to write down for those times when I don't.

                            When I do go to look for something on the computer, most often I find it within about 10 seconds. (Mostly on UNIX and with simple searching and filing tools I wrote myself.) Nevertheless, that feeling of uncertainty of not knowing where something is can be a barrier, small but just enough to make me feel like doing something else instead.

                            I often record things in more than one place. I have various filing systems on the computer, too. I do some cross-referencing: I might file something in one place, and then in one or two other places on the computer I make a note saying exactly where I've filed it. Computers make cross-referencing easy. Well, OK, I still have to make the effort to make that note to myself; but I've made it a habit.

                            I can type a short command on the computer to record my current working directory in a file, along with today's date, for later reference. Another short command brings up a text file where I can type where things are, and search for keywords. I also use a wiki, which is convenient for searching.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Suelin23 View Post
                              But that in itself is the problem - it brings up so many other thoughts to capture.
                              And since I can't even capture and process today's emails, I don't really want to capture and process all the other thoughts that come up too.
                              I could and have taken whole days off work and try to capture and process to zero and not even finish working out how to organise my system.
                              I'm not a 'seasoned GTDer', I'm still a white belt trying to organise.
                              Some suggestions:

                              -- Set a threshold for capturing everything: for example, think of an example action, and decide to capture everything at least as important as that action. Capturing less important things can be optional. You can start at a high level of importance, and feel the benefit of knowing "there's nothing really very important I'm forgetting right now." then later maybe reduce the threshold.

                              -- Try to capture everything you expect to get done within the next week (or month) and don't worry about capturing other stuff.

                              -- Find ways to reduce the amount of stuff you're trying to do. E.g. work part-time, quit driving a car, move to the Bahamas, or at least delegate some tasks to other family members at home and co-workers at work, get in the habit of saying no to requests from various people, etc. Trying to do more than you're actually able to do may not be as effective as being realistic. Well, they say optimists accomplish more, but it's not good to be under a lot of stress. Learn to get comfortable with thoughts like "If I had some spare time I would normally do that, but with my current situation I'm deciding not to." Think the unthinkable.

                              -- Change your way of thinking. I've spent a lot of mental effort over many years learning not to tell myself I "should" or "have to" do things (or "should have", "shouldn't have", "maybe shouldn't have", etc.) It's more comfortable to think instead "I want to..." or "it would be useful to ..." or "it's important to me to ..." or "I decided to ...". Less stressful. See the book "Feeling Good" by David Burns.

                              -- Not sure if you've already tried this, but try capturing just from your mind: that is, sit down with a blank sheet of paper and write down the stuff that comes to mind, without referring to other documents.

                              -- From time to time, do some capturing, but set a time limit. For example, two hours every weekend, or half an hour a week, or ten minutes a day, or something. You might not aim to capture everything, but you might tend to catch at least most of the more important things, along with some less important ones.

                              -- Use big categories to capture things. I think David Burns gives an example similar to this: put in your in-box a note saying "sort out the stuff in the brown filing cabinet". OK, in some sense all the stuff in there isn't captured yet, but in a sense by just putting that note in your in-box, you've instantly captured everything in the filing cabinet! See if you can capture everything in that sense.

                              -- Don't bother capturing things that aren't at least a bit important. If I think I might want to do something and realize it doesn't really matter to me whether I do or not, I might not write it down. It could go in someday/maybe but maybe it isn't worth the effort of putting it there. I can just forget about it, and maybe someday I'll do it. The key is: if the thought is going to keep coming up and bothering me, like "I've got to remember to do X someday", then capturing it will help. Otherwise, maybe it's not needed.

                              Ah. That makes the decision of what to capture an individual thing; and that reminds me: I was going to say that "next actions" are individual, too. That is, in my opinion, it doesn't really depend on what is defined as a single physical action. It depends on what seems to you to be one, doable step.

                              For example, David Allen considers a phone call to be one next action. I've pointed out that this can be broken down into smaller actions: lift the receiver, dial the first number, etc.

                              Suppose you want to make a phone call but it's emotionally difficult because it involves making an apology, passing on some bad news etc. Then it may actually be useful to break it down into smaller actions: Stand up. Walk over to the phone. Pick up the receiver, etc. It might not make sense to write these down, but just within your mind if the first action is "stand up" it may feel a lot more doable than the whole phone call. People actually do that, pausing after they stand up.

                              The point is: the way something is broken down into next actions depends on your own personality, mood, how tired you are, etc. Of course you don't know what your mood will be later on when you'll look at your list, but you can have a good idea of how you usually react to your lists, and design the actions to be comfortable and doable for you, leaning towards designing them for when you're more tired or overwhelmed. Be nice to yourself.

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