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  • Line blurred between Next Actions and Calendar

    Hi,

    Question about next actions vs calendar - hope you can help.

    The biggest revelation with GTD for me has been using my calendar for all time commitments, which gives me confidence that my next actions list has nothing on it that has to happen at a specific time.

    But there a few things that I would rather do at a certain time, but don't have to strictly be done at that time. Two examples:

    Non-urgent work
    Say it's due in 2 weeks and won't take more than an hour. Doesn't go on Next Actions, as is time-specific. So it should be the Calendar... but if I put it in in 2 weeks' time, just before it's due, then that's only a safe option if nothing else comes up that could disrupt that. So I'd prefer to put it in for sooner... but because it doesn't *have* to happen at that time, it's not guaranteed to get done, and the calendar is no longer sacrosanct, as DA recommends it should be.

    Courtesy reply to email
    Say I get an email that's not essential to reply to - but where doing so would be courteous and help build relationships, etc. What I like about Next Actions is that these are now things that don't have to happen at any point - so when my calendar is completely full up for extended amounts of time, I at least know that I don't have to worry about what's on the Next Action list. But if I create a Next Action to 'reply to XYZ', I'm not guaranteed to get round to it any time soon - I'd rather not leave it too long. But clearly shouldn't be on calendar either.

    In both of those situations - how best should I deal with them and treat the distinction between Calendar and Next Actions?

    Many thanks in advance.

  • #2
    Deadline in the action's title, 2-minute replies.

    Originally posted by jduk View Post
    Non-urgent work
    Say it's due in 2 weeks and won't take more than an hour. Doesn't go on Next Actions, as is time-specific. So it should be the Calendar... but if I put it in in 2 weeks' time, just before it's due, then that's only a safe option if nothing else comes up that could disrupt that. So I'd prefer to put it in for sooner... but because it doesn't *have* to happen at that time, it's not guaranteed to get done, and the calendar is no longer sacrosanct, as DA recommends it should be.
    Nex Action list - include deadline in the action's title - for example:
    - do non-urgent work - deadline 2013-02-02;

    Originally posted by jduk View Post
    Courtesy reply to email
    Say I get an email that's not essential to reply to - but where doing so would be courteous and help build relationships, etc. What I like about Next Actions is that these are now things that don't have to happen at any point - so when my calendar is completely full up for extended amounts of time, I at least know that I don't have to worry about what's on the Next Action list. But if I create a Next Action to 'reply to XYZ', I'm not guaranteed to get round to it any time soon - I'd rather not leave it too long. But clearly shouldn't be on calendar either.
    Writing "courtesy reply to email" is a 2-minute action - to be done during inbox processing. You don't need any additional information to write some pleasant, meaningless words.

    Comment


    • #3
      how best should I deal with them and treat the distinction between Calendar and Next Actions?
      Next Action that needs to be done ON day = calendar
      Next Action that can be done BY a day, or ANY day = Next Actions Lists

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by jduk View Post
        Non-urgent work
        Say it's due in 2 weeks and won't take more than an hour. Doesn't go on Next Actions, as is time-specific.
        I disagree. This is a perfect example of something which should go on the NA list. The whole point is to do things before they become urgent.

        Originally posted by jduk View Post
        Courtesy reply to email
        Say I get an email that's not essential to reply to - but where doing so would be courteous and help build relationships, etc.
        I agree with TesTeq, two minute rule applies. If it does take longer (personally I'm really slow at constructing emails) then it is a Next Action.

        Originally posted by jduk View Post
        What I like about Next Actions is that these are now things that don't have to happen at any point - so when my calendar is completely full up for extended amounts of time, I at least know that I don't have to worry about what's on the Next Action list. But if I create a Next Action to 'reply to XYZ', I'm not guaranteed to get round to it any time soon - I'd rather not leave it too long.
        If your NA's are taking too long to complete then it might help to review them a bit more. I try to look through my NA list at the start of the day and decide on the things which I feel really should get done that day. Ideally the answer is nothing because I dealt with everything way in advance (see my first point above) but in the real world there's always something I have to do on the day.

        Comment


        • #5
          Thanks everyone for your responses. I'll go to the two examples I cited:

          Non-urgent action (deadline 2 weeks away)
          I totally agree this doesn't have to be done at a specific time (merely by a specific time), so in that respect, the Next Actions list does seem like its proper home.

          But my BIG question here is: am I wrong to have a NA list that could be left alone for a month, providing I'm meeting my calendared commitments? (It feels like that's not quite right.) And if I do make my NA list a bigger part of my day (currently my calendar dictates 99% of what I do), how do I make it that way? Two questions to that:
          a) can I integrate deadlines into Next Actions? Is there good 'formal' way of doing that - e.g. using the Due Date field in Outlook?
          b) Should I be blocking time in my calendar purely to address Next Actions? This feels like the only way I'm going to guarantee getting round to them.

          Courtesy reply
          I phrased this badly - in the instance I was thinking of, the message merited a more substantial reply that would take way more than 2 minutes. To the point above, Next Actions is where it belongs. But where I struggle is this: it doesn't need a deadline, but nor would it be great to not get round to replying for several weeks. And under the way my current NA list works, that could happen.

          It feels like the answer here is to have a Next Actions list that's much, much more prominent than it is for me now. But the thing I want to avoid is having a list of 'Urgent Next Actions' - that feels exactly like my pre-GTD to-do list that caused me a lot of trouble!

          Thanks again.

          Comment


          • #6
            Calendar reminders

            Hi,

            Nothing in GTD says you can't park a reminder on your calendar that you have a deadline. I often put a simple reminder on my calendar ahead of an important due date like "Output data for Project X abstract due to Gloria in 2 weeks."

            When I see the reminder 2 weeks before the deadline, I can go to my next actions list and start working on the next thing that needs to be done on that project.

            Or not. There might be something else I'm working on that is more important at that moment.

            The great thing is that when I do my weekly review on Friday, I review the last few weeks on my calendar, so I see the reminder. Then I can decide if I need to make an appointment with myself to work on Project X (goes on the calendar), or if another reminder is needed closer to the deadline (goes on the calendar), or if I'll prioritize that project and work on it when my weekly review is done (goes on "things to work on today" list).

            HTH,
            Margaret

            Comment


            • #7
              If you are a digital GTDer, you might like my idea of giving projects specific numbers, such as p103 or p654. This is what I do. Then in the example above, you can put your to-do in your Next Action list as well as somewhere on your calendar, such as towards the absolute due date.

              On the calendar, near the due date, I would write:

              p103. Do this thing before Frdiay the 6th.

              And in my Next Action list I would write:

              p103. Do this thing before Frdiay the 6th.
              (or you can write something else if you want).

              And then, when you do this thiing, you must keep an eye out for the project numbers (not everything will have a project number). But if you do this thing from your Next Action list, for example, and you also see p103 embedded into the Next Action, then you must take an extra step here and use the Search function on your digital device, and search for p103. All instances of p103 will be shown to you, including on your Next Action lists, on your Calendar, on your projects list, in your project support material, etc. Wherever you embed that 3-digit code, it will show up. Then you can delete all instances (or mark them as "complete".... whatever you decide).

              Chas29

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by jduk View Post
                But the thing I want to avoid is having a list of 'Urgent Next Actions' - that feels exactly like my pre-GTD to-do list that caused me a lot of trouble!
                I suggest doing some thinking about how and why the pre-GTD to-do list gave you trouble, and what it is about working with your calendar now that you like so much better. Then, try to include aspects of what you like about your calendar into your NA (next actions) system; or check whether GTD already has ways of making the NA list more palatable for you.

                Some calendars show a week at a glance and also have a space at the side to write things for that week that don't have to be done on a particular day. (or goals or themes for the week, or motivational quotes etc.) You could use something like that, and limit the number of NA's for each week (putting the rest on someday/maybe).

                Comment


                • #9
                  Someday/Maybe list in disguise.

                  Originally posted by jduk View Post
                  am I wrong to have a NA list that could be left alone for a month, providing I'm meeting my calendared commitments?
                  Yes, in my opinion you are wrong.

                  To have a Next Action list and not look at it for a month defies the purpose of such list.

                  It is a Someday/Maybe list in disguise.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    But you could have a NA list that you look at regularly and don't do

                    In your example you indicated that you live 99% by your calendar. If you are that booked up and your Next Actions really can wait, that is ok as long as you are engaging with your lists as much as necessary to trust that everything on there really can wait.

                    And that seems to be the problem - it seems you aren't trusting the list.

                    When I first started I put a reminder on my calendar to check my Next Action list and I did block time for Next Actions. When this time came around I looked at my lists and then decided if the best thing to do was some items from the list or if work had shown up that was more important.

                    Depending on the type of work you do, you may not have a lot of capacity for next actions. But then you'd better be sure that you are truly committed to the next actions. If not, they really need to be deleted, delegated, or moved to Someday-Maybe.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by SiobhanBR View Post
                      But you could have a NA list that you look at regularly and don't do.
                      Thanks. Or, one could have an NA list that's usually empty. One could look at it occasionally to verify that it's actually empty: a quick glance.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by jduk View Post
                        a) can I integrate deadlines into Next Actions? Is there good 'formal' way of doing that - e.g. using the Due Date field in Outlook?
                        Easy- just add "by 3rd Feb" or prefix with due date (use international date code eg 2013-02-03 and you have the ability to sort by date) etc, etc. In practise though I associating dates with actions to have little value. I find that I instantly know the urgency of each action in my mind. GTD's about taking things out of your immediate working memory but it's all still there in your head- you just need reminded about it at the right time. You can priority code all the actions on your list but that just gives you more work because you have to re-prioritise when things change (and then try to remember if you remembered to re-prioritise the item).
                        Originally posted by jduk View Post
                        b) Should I be blocking time in my calendar purely to address Next Actions? This feels like the only way I'm going to guarantee getting round to them.
                        Should you be working so much from your calendar? I don't know what you do but I find it hard to believe that 99% of activity can be scheduled predictably.

                        Originally posted by jduk View Post
                        Courtesy reply
                        I phrased this badly - in the instance I was thinking of, the message merited a more substantial reply that would take way more than 2 minutes. To the point above, Next Actions is where it belongs. But where I struggle is this: it doesn't need a deadline, but nor would it be great to not get round to replying for several weeks. And under the way my current NA list works, that could happen.
                        I'd be tempted to just do the reply right away here, even if it takes more than 2 minutes. The message you want to reply to is fresh in your head and the guilt you feel in trying to do a "two minute action" which will take more than 2 minutes will motivate you to finish it quickly.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                          Thanks. Or, one could have an NA list that's usually empty. One could look at it occasionally to verify that it's actually empty: a quick glance.
                          I suspect that what would happen here is that the brain would get used to there being nothing on the list and then assume there is never anything there and ultimately you would never check it.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by treelike View Post
                            I suspect that what would happen here is that the brain would get used to there being nothing on the list and then assume there is never anything there and ultimately you would never check it.
                            Good point. Note I said "usually empty", not "always empty"! So, it actually helps the system if you occasionally put actions there, hopefully ones you can remove again quickly so it's still usually empty.

                            Actually, I was going to suggest to jduk: How about an NA list that usually has just one action listed? It would be the one action you consider most important or urgent. That way, you can quickly look at the list, verify that what you're doing now is more important than that, and conclude that what you're doing is more important than all the other actions on your Someday/Maybe list as well. Or, occasionally you could actually do the NA action, and then either leave your NA list empty for a while, or immediately select another action to move to it from Someday/Maybe.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Thanks everyone

                              Thanks for all the comments - been really helpful.

                              Few thoughts on pre-GTD and where I am now:
                              - to answer one question, I hated the old to-do list because I didn't use it at all well - i.e. putting big projects on there, not next actions. That probably left me averse to relying on lists in future.
                              - and the other thing I hated was that it led to my time being double-counted: the to-do list would contain work I'm committed too, but at the same time my calendar would become completely full up with meetings and the like. 99% was an exaggeration, but it has often felt like I've had almost no time to actually work through a list of actions, hence why I wanted them on the calendar.
                              - so putting more tasks on my calendar was a noble effort, but misguided when the tasks weren't things that had to be done AT that time. Led to them being constantly moved, which made the calendar less sacrosanct.
                              - and to answer another point, my NA list has definitely been a mixture of Next Actions and Someday/Maybe items. I liked the fact, in a way, that I could review it regularly but not have to actually do any of the items straightaway. But that led to quite a few Somedays creeping in, which weakened the whole list.

                              Realising all that means I'll try making far more use of NAs in future, blocking out time for them, if only to stop that time being filled by meetings. The biggest problem was that I simply wasn't using that list properly at all. That alone accounts for 99% of the problems I've had with GTD.

                              Thanks again!

                              Comment

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