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  • Associated Tasks / Chain Reaction Distraction

    I have a question on how some of you all are dealing with 'associated tasks' a.k.a 'rabbit trails'. By this I mean tasks that get 'triggered' when doing a task. For example, calling the post-office triggers me to send a letter which triggers me to pack up my christmas gifts.

    I've tried following the 2-minute rule, which works well sometimes. However, the following things occur:

    -The associated task triggers another associated task, and becomes a chain reaction leading me off track.

    -The associated tasks are too numerous to get into my next action list. It seems like a bunch of 30sec to 1min actions strung together sometimes.

    -The associated tasks are actually a prerequisite for the task that I hadn't thought of, and my next action completely changes.

    I guess the bottom line is, in addition to the 2-minute rule:
    -How to make a decision whether to follow an 'associated task'?
    -How far do we follow an 'associated task'?
    -What are ways to stop ourselves from getting caught up in an 'associated task' sequence?

    Thanks for your help.
    Last edited by rkthunga; 09-14-2009, 02:15 AM. Reason: search change

  • #2
    Re: Associated Tasks / Chain Reaction Distraction

    Originally posted by rkthunga
    ---
    -The associated task triggers another associated task, and becomes a chain reaction leading me off track.
    ---
    I guess the bottom line is, in addition to the 2-minute rule:
    -How to make a decision whether to follow an 'associated task'?
    -How far do we follow an 'associated task'?
    -What are ways to stop ourselves from getting caught up in an 'associated task' sequence?
    ---
    Ranjeeth Kumar Thunga
    Ranjeeth, first I must ask *why* you don't want to follow these 'rabbit trails' - you say you get off track, do you feel you should post-pone the actions to a later time?
    The situation you describe could be a fit of 'flow', if so it should be saluted, not be viewed upon as a problem.
    Paraphrasing David A., when you do these actions back-to-back, do you fell good about what your not doing? If not, maybe that feeling should trigger you to step back, take a deep breath, review your action lists, and make that informed decision about 'what to do next'.
    HTH / Kjell

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    • #3
      If, during the course of doing next actions, I became aware of tangential work or next actions, I would take a moment to consider what would be more productive-- doing the next action or capturing it for later action. Sometimes it's no more than a 'gut feeling' about which is better to do, but either way you win.

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      • #4
        If I am working on something, and it occurs to me that there is something else I need to do, I take a second to put it on my next action list. Then I finish what I am working on. Sometimes I do this three or four times while working on, say, transcribing a tape and my mind is wandering to other things. But I stay on track by just jotting down my other thoughts and continuing with what I am doing.

        Pam

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        • #5
          Missing the point?

          I think the responses are sort of missing the point. What I got from rkthunga's original post was not that he's doing an item on his next actions list and getting "in the flow" and getting things done... he's trying to process his inbox, and a 2-minute action turns into a series of 2 minute actions a couple hours long, and he never gets his inbox processed-- a very dangerous thing, indeed.

          This happens to me sometimes. I'll be processing my inboxes, which includes our company's "defect tracking system." (I'm sort of a glorified programmer in addition to CTO.) I'll find an issue in there that needs to be dealt with that is under 2 minutes, so off I go... however, on closer inspection, finishing that 2 minute task illustrates the existence of another 2 minute task, and then another, and another. If I keep following this "rabbit trail" as rkthunga so aptly describes it, I'll never get my inbox processed, and input will stack up... and we all know what that means.

          Here's what I do: Keep in mind that the "2 minute rule" is really a guideline, or "rule of thumb." As David himself says, if you want to crank throgh your inputs quickly so that you can figure out how best to spend your afternoon, you might want to decrease it to 1 minute, or even less... on the other hand, if you have a large block of time available, you may want to increase it to 5 minutes and knock a ton of items off your proverbial "list" before they even BECOME next actions.

          Well, in the same vein, I have another guideline or rule of thumb: no more then 3 "2 minute actions" per piece of stuff processed. What does this mean? Well, if I am processing my inbox, and there is 1 piece of "stuff" that relates to a 2 minue action, I do it. If in the process of doing that 2 minute action, I encounter another 2 minute action, I do it. If in the process of doing THAT action I encounter another 2 minute action, I do it. The fourth time, though, it goes on my next actions lists.

          This works for me, and, again, is a guideline just like the 2 minute rule. If I'm in a hurry to get my inbox processed (like I just got back from a business trip and I have 800 unread emails) I may reduce the 2 minute rule to 30 seconds, and reduce the number of 30second actions to 1 per piece of stuff processed. If I have some time and want to get some productive work done while processing my inputs, I may raise the 2 minute rule to 5 minutes, and temporarily lift the ban on how many actions per piece of input, allowing myself to go down these rabbit holes.

          The key, at least for me, is to have some sort of rule that I agree upon before I start processing for how I am going to deal with these items. What the rule is isn't important-- it is just pre-establishing it that is important so I can feel good about what I'm not doing.

          That will be $0.02, please.

          --- JRJ

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          • #6
            Thanks everyone. Based on your comments, I now see "rabbit-trails" the having two very different flavors:

            ------------
            1) Those that come up while I am doing focused tasks:

            The rabbit-trails that come up when I am doing focused stuff interrupts my flow. However, they may still be taken care of based on a predefined set of four questions:

            a) How much focus do I need?
            Then,
            b) Anticipated length of time? (<2 minutes)
            c) Maximum # of steps? (3 steps)
            d) worthwhile to go further? (yes or no)

            Of course, emergency tasks that can't wait take #1 precedence no matter what.


            -------------
            2) Those that come up while I am doing general tasks:

            The rabbit-trails that come up while doing tasks are actually quite normal, and the way things actually get done. As long as I keep the entire set of next actions and all my contexts in mind while I am pursuing my rabbit trails, and ensuring that the rabbit-trail activities are the best/most natural activities at any given moment, then all is good.


            Thanks again for your ideas everyone. They are very helpful. If you have more, please post.
            Last edited by rkthunga; 09-14-2009, 02:16 AM. Reason: search change

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