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  • Frightened of elephants

    Hi all,

    Well after an extended free trial and attending a seminar in London last year I have finally made the committment and signed up to GTD Connect for a year. I should have done it ages ago but I am determined to make it work this time round. I've had numerous attempts at GTD over the years but I have a number of problems and I think the forums are going to be a key part in finally getting myself unstuck.

    My boss at my last job used to say to me when I was faced with a big project "How do you eat an elephant?". The answer of course was always "One mouthful at a time".

    But - what do you do if you fear the elephant. Various parts of the GTD methodology work really well for me and I've got a number of tools working really well for me - more on those in another post. But the problem is all around my lists and habits.

    I've signed up to Nozbe and I really love it - to each their own tool and for me this is the one I want to go with. The problem is not with the tool now - it's with me. I've got a list set up, some sensible projects and contexts. Not huge but a starting point. And now I'm avoiding it like the plague.

    I do the same with things like my online banking - if I know I might have over-spent or am near my account limit I will know that I need to log into the online banking and check things and perhaps move some money around or tighten my belt - but I will avoid doing so. And so it is with my Nozbe list - I'm not getting done what I can remember in my head and what's in my calendar - and if my calendar didn't have alerts that popped up I'd probably be ignoring that too.

    Why can't I just open the list and look at it? Why can I not bring myself to be positive about it and even if I've got the list into a state to put aside time and do a review cycle and sort it all out. I am aware this is a psychological issue than GTD methodology itself - yet I was surprised when I attended the seminar last year how much of it was based around mindfulness and thought patterns.

    Any pointers in the right direction would be much appreciated.

    James

  • #2
    My boss at my last job used to say to me when I was faced with a big project "How do you eat an elephant?". The answer of course was always "One mouthful at a time".

    But - what do you do if you fear the elephant.
    Then you should ride that elephant until you fear it no more!

    Some common problems with lists that cause resistance are:
    Incompleteness: If you haven't captured everything then you can't trust your list to have absolutely everything.
    Non-doable actions: If your actions aren't the very next step to take then it becomes difficult to choose one to do.

    Hope this helps.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by sparkyjf View Post
      I'm not getting done what I can remember in my head and what's in my calendar - and if my calendar didn't have alerts that popped up I'd probably be ignoring that too.

      James
      This point jumped out at me. If the calendar is working for you because of the alerts, then I would recommend putting a few GTD actions in your calendar to help you establish some key habits.

      I started out by scheduling two half-hour blocks per week to work on my lists. Doesn't seem like much but it at least got me familiar with those lists over time.

      I still schedule my weekly review - mostly to block the time off so others don't book me but also because some weeks my usual time is not appropriate and I want to guarantee I do my weekly review.

      You could also use the Intention Journal within GTD Connect to send you reminders (perhaps a daily "Look at your lists" reminder?).

      Don't do too much at once and try to be honest with yourself about what you're engaging with and what you're tending to ignore. Good luck and keep posting here - the folks here have great insights and a lot of experience.

      Comment


      • #4
        Another related problem is paralysis by analysis, which is closely related to the incompleteness issue. With this problem, you tend to get so lost in priorities and plans and contingencies and features and what-not, that you would rather do anything but look at your lists. A good cure is to go to a minimal system (paper is good, but most software is fine too) and do stuff, treating your list as an inert tool rather than a snake about to bite you. As The Man says, it's a lot easier to steer when things are moving.

        Comment


        • #5
          Welcome to the world of procrastination! I do a very similar thing with my lists if I'm avoiding something, and there can be a range of causes (and a number of different animals I might be frightened of). A very useful website I've found is an organisation called Procrastinators Anonymous. http://procrastinators-anonymous.org/node/386

          There's lots of useful information about both the reasons for procrastination, and how to overcome it, as well as a very active support group. You may find both the "signs of compulsive procrastination" and "tools for recovery" useful.

          Ruth

          Comment


          • #6
            For projects that I realy really don't want to do, don't want to look at, don't even want to remember that they exist, I assign myself _miniscule_ tasks, and I reward myself when I do the task.

            For example, let's say that you need to have a meeting with ScareyPerson. Maybe that seems small enough to be a Next Action, so you write it down, and two months later you still haven't done it. So apparently it wasn't small enough.

            In that case, I would shrink that Next Action to:

            - Look up ScareyPerson's email address and put it in contact list.

            That's all. That's absolutely all that I require myself to think about right now. And I give even _that_ task a Start Date a week in the future. And it comes, and I either put it off another week or I do it, but eventually I do it. And when I do it, I celebrate - yay me! I did it! I ignore that voice in my head that's griping that I should have already had the meeting two months ago - today, I Did My Job, and I'm entitled to not think about that thing for a little while. Did I say yay me?

            Then the weekly review comes around, and the project that requires a meeting needs another Next Action, so I write another miniscule one - or maybe I wrote the action when I looked up the email address, so that I wouldn't have to see the project until the task rolls around:

            - Check my calendar for a time to meet with ScaryPerson, and note that in a draft email.

            And I put that off a week with a Start Date. And that date comes, and I do it, and yay me! And then I write an action, with a start date another week in the future, of:

            - Draft email to ScaryPerson, suggesting meeting.

            Draft, not send. Just draft. There's no commitment here. In a week, I can scribble a few sentences, and tweak it a little, and save it to Drafts, and I did my job, and yay me! And I write another action, again with a start date a week in the future, of:

            - Send email to ScaryPerson.

            Now I have everything that I need to send that mail - I have the address, I wrote the mail, I'm ready. When a moment of courage comes up, all I have to do is click Send. And then eat a pound of chocolate, because, yikes! But yay me! I did my job!

            And so on. For me, the key is that certain specific stuff makes me anxious, and I have a natural, I think genetic, rejection of anxiety. (Mom utterly avoided anxiety of all types, and when I need to be motivated to break that habit, I can look at her life.)

            I organize my anxiety into bite-sized moments, moments that I can tolerate. I still have to accept being anxious - I have to break my habit of rejecting anxiety, and form a habit of managing it. But I'm not going to get to that point by throwing myself in the deep end; I'm going to get there with gradual exposure.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by sparkyjf View Post
              Why can't I just open the list and look at it?
              James - I'd be more than willing to share the ebbs and flows of this process with you via Skype. I could use the support and accountability. Let me know.

              Comment


              • #8
                Personal hygiene for never dropping the ball.

                Originally posted by sparkyjf View Post
                Why can't I just open the list and look at it? Why can I not bring myself to be positive about it and even if I've got the list into a state to put aside time and do a review cycle and sort it all out. I am aware this is a psychological issue than GTD methodology itself - yet I was surprised when I attended the seminar last year how much of it was based around mindfulness and thought patterns.
                Why can't you just open the list and look at it?

                Because you don't feel the need (or benefit).

                Some people don't feel the need to brush their teeth. They don't care if their teeth are brown and weak or if people prefer not to talk to them face to face.

                Some people don't feel the need to take a shower or to wash their hands before eating. They don't care and... survive.

                But other people don't feel comfortable interacting with others if they don't brush their teeth and take a shower regularly.

                GTD is yet another personal hygiene habit to learn.

                I attribute my biggest successes to the way how I am perceived by others - the person who never drops the ball.

                How am I doing it? By writing everything down, processing, organizing, reviewing and doing.

                David Allen calls it GTD (or Advanced Common Sense). In 1960s my mother called it just a common sense and taught me how to do it to achieve great results in my primary school.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Do you really want to ride THAT elephant?

                  Another thought that comes to my mind is that perhaps there is some stuff going on at the higher levels (areas of focus, longer term goals) that you haven't thought through lately? So that means the things on your lists are not in line with your current reality and/or current desire for change. You might not have even verbalized your discontent to yourself, but sometimes aversion to the next action lists is a symptom of some deeper "what do I really want to be doing?" thinking...

                  And it's certainly way easy to procrastinate about that!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by sparkyjf View Post

                    "what do you do if you fear the elephant."
                    Hi James,

                    First, congrats on making a commitment to yourself to sign up to Connect.

                    As far as fear what comes to mind to me is from my own experience with public speaking. I used to be terrified! Seriously, I wanted to run away. My voice would shake, I would get nervous, pure fear. How did I overcome it? A little at a time. I didn't let the fear stop me. I attended Toastmasters and I kept at it. I think like anything, simply not giving up makes a huge difference. On average I speak to a group of 100 people a few times a month. Nearly every-time a moment arises just prior to getting in front of the audience where I feel that fear again. Usually for a second or two and then it fades away. It's great to play with!

                    Others have offered other tips too that will help...try it all, try some of it...but keep trying.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      First of all thank you everyone for your responses - I am overwhelmed by the support and glad to know I'm not alone. And perhaps true to form I have managed to allow 24 hours to elapse before studying and replying to posts - this is not out of disrespect to the people who posted but rather a reflection of what I'm fighting within myself.

                      Many things that were written struck a chord with me - I think perhaps I need to face the fact that I am a procrastinator. Also I have been trying very much to dive in at the deep end and instantly becoming discouraged when really I would have been better taking that single bite of the elephant. As several people have said I'm not great at sticking to it and I need to find a way to overcome my internal intertia and keep going.

                      I'm not feeling well today - which lets face it happens to all of us - yet that has given me extra reason to let things slide even though I have come into work (I have to be honest!)

                      I think there is a serious question raised over my higher altitude horizons - that I'm not doing what I want to be doing is a common complaint for me. I know that's not an excuse but nonetheless it does strike a chord. Recently I gave myself permission to play - just the odd game on my iPhone - and I realised how little I've allowed this into my life and how good it felt.

                      The other thing I've noticed is that I'm often most productive in the last hour or two of the day - when I know I'm up against a deadline. I might write a post separately on that - but it seems that the added pressure of having the deadline looming makes me finally engage.

                      Not sure what else to say at this stage - I'll add thoughts when I'm a bit clearer headed but I wanted to say thank you to everyone for their help - it's definitely given me a lot to think about and even if I have to admit I am a procrastinator - at least I can do something about it!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by sparkyjf View Post
                        The other thing I've noticed is that I'm often most productive in the last hour or two of the day - when I know I'm up against a deadline. I might write a post separately on that - but it seems that the added pressure of having the deadline looming makes me finally engage.
                        I used to be that way too. And I drank a lot of coffee. It's the excitement, the stress, the adrenaline rush, the all-nighter, the do-or-die moment. Now, thanks to GTD, the morning is my most productive time, I work ahead of important deadlines, and I drink three cups of coffee a day.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Doing stuff that you hate at the tactical level to achieve your strategic goals.

                          Originally posted by sparkyjf View Post
                          I think there is a serious question raised over my higher altitude horizons - that I'm not doing what I want to be doing is a common complaint for me.
                          Very often you have to do stuff that you hate at the tactical level to achieve your strategic goals.

                          Funny example - I really hate to wash glass walls of my shower cabin but... I like to see them clear. So when I am washing them I see the lovely result and I am able to overcome the temptation to procrastinate.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by sparkyjf View Post
                            The other thing I've noticed is that I'm often most productive in the last hour or two of the day - when I know I'm up against a deadline. I might write a post separately on that - but it seems that the added pressure of having the deadline looming makes me finally engage.
                            This made me instantly think: ADD/ADHD. Then I re-read the rest of your post and that reinforced my impression.

                            I'm positive that I have ADHD, though I haven't been diagnosed. The description of ADD/ADHD that hits home most for me is the idea that it's a dysfunction in the brain's reward center. Most people's brains "reward" them even when the task that they're working on isn't inherently rewarding. This reward allows them to maintain focus on those unrewarding tasks - allows them to do them.

                            By "reward", I don't mean, "Ooh, this is fun! Yay!" I just mean that the task is tolerable, bearable, that you're not fighting tooth and nail just to make yourself keep on working on the task, not having to focus full-force on "Keep doing it. Keep doing it. Keep doing it." To work on a boring task when you have ADHD is not unlike forcing yourself to drink an entire bottle of disgusting cough medicine; you can keep making yourself take another sip, but every single sip is a pitched battle against a brain that is shrieking that IT DOESN'T WANNA!!!!

                            So if your brain is lacking in rewards that are really mandatory for normal functioning in even non-scarey tasks, then tasks that are anti-rewarding, anxiety-producing, are of course going to be even more of a battle.

                            Stimulants--like coffee--help, for brain chemistry reasons that I don't fully understand. Urgent deadlines help for some reason--I don't know if they act like a stimulant, or if making progress toward that deadline serves as the missing reward--but only if the deadline is urgent enough. For me, stupidity--the stupidity that I get when I'm short on sleep or I have a cold--helps a great deal, though that's just an interesting fact, not something that I'm going to seek. Tryptophan-rich foods seem to help with me; they're supposed to be good for dopamine, which is important for that reward thing. I have a big, big bag of tricks that I use to keep on tasks.

                            So, I'd suggest reading about ADHD, starting with _Driven to Distraction_. If you don't recognize yourself, OK, it's just one wasted book. If you do, it might help lead to solutions.

                            Edited to add: And your mention of not allowing yourself to play suggests that you also have a bag of tricks, but that perhaps whatever you're using to keep yourself from "playing" is going too far. If your brain doesn't reward you normally, then it's my experience that you have to arrange to reward yourself. Playing games, watching nonsense on TV, puttering with hobbies, shopping within reasonable financial limits, whatever makes you happy without harming you, is probably worth inserting into your routine.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Gardener View Post
                              The description of ADD/ADHD that hits home most for me is the idea that it's a dysfunction in the brain's reward center.
                              This reminds me of "reward deficiency syndrome". http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.230...21101923739483 It's been said that
                              DMAE helps with this. Apparently sardines contain DMAE.

                              Comment

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