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big vs small, important vs unimportant NAs

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  • big vs small, important vs unimportant NAs

    Something that I've been thinking about, having been implementing GTD for several months now. I wondered if others had any thoughts...

    The practice of defining the NAs associated with each of my projects has (as advertised!) transformed my life - I actually pay bills on time, and get back to people when I say I will - but sometimes I wonder if it hasn't transformed it a little too much. I find powering through a list of ten or twenty small NAs is so fantastically satisfying and enjoyable (tragic, I know) that it's hard to actually get stuck into the biggest NAs, which also usually seem to relate to the most important projects.

    Perhaps the answer is to break these NAs into smaller ones, but there seems to be a strong correlation between the projects that I can't break down into really tiny NAs, and the projects that really matter to me a lot.

    Or perhaps the answer is just discipline - just to do the more daunting big NAs and stop moaning about it. In which case I would like some ideas as to how...!

    Does this make any sense? I'm still learning the language here.

  • #2
    Will you give us some examples of next actions you are having problems with?

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    • #3
      Re: big vs small, important vs unimportant NAs

      I remember several questions similar to this in being asked in the GTD seminar I attended last year.

      The tasks were something like “Schedule meeting with vendor X”. David Allen's response was always to ask, "What is required to complete schedule the meeting?" "I need to call person A to verify availability" David would follow up with "do you have A’s phone number?" No. "Where can you get the number?" This would go on until the next action was "Call B to get A's phone number".

      The key is to break the task down to its atomic level, asking what need to be done to complete this task until the answer was the task itself.

      "Schedule a meeting with A, B and C" could be the task. I just went into Outlook and did that this morning; however, if you need to find out who is required at the meeting and how to contact each of several people yet to be named, "Schedule a meeting" becomes a small project, not a next action.

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      • #4
        Finding out what the next action REALLY is, as in the example above, in order to get going on a project is absolutely key.

        However, I think the initial poster might be talking about something that really can't be broken down further, perhaps, "sit down with my project materials for a few uninterrupted hours and think hard about what the successful outcome of the project would look like," or "figure out what and who a potential meeting might involve," etc. Or maybe just a possibly complicated but unpleasant task that is best done in one sitting, such as doing taxes.

        Heck, I don't know. For me, it's reading thousands of pages in several other languages in preparation for tests that are months or years away. Something that's best not left until the last minute, but sometimes hard to get started on, or keep going at consistently.

        GTD as really helped me knock off lots of small things quickly, some of which had been causing me significant psychological drain. However context lists are only moderately helpful to me because my most important projects require that I make myself sit down in the appropriate context and get to work. As was recently discussed: at the end of the day, GTD is a means of organizing workflow, not a substitute for hard work.

        I find it helps to think in terms of the time I'm spending, i.e. most days I spend at least x minutes on task A, x minutes on task B etc. Just putting in the daily time takes priority over most things on my lists. Continuous forward progress...

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        • #5
          To some extent this is where intuition begins to play a part.

          Deep down in our psyche there is no difference between the "big" or "important" NA's and the minor ones - they are all potential sources of stress. But breaking them down and distributing them on paper only achieves the first step toward getting them done -there's still the "doing" which has to be accomplished.

          We can't let defining the NA's become an excuse for procrastination. If we don't follow that up with action based on intuition, they can blow up on us in ways that are actually worse than simply keeping them in our mind and worrying about them.

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          • #6
            Therein Lies the Problem

            Originally posted by spectecGTD
            Deep down in our psyche there is no difference between the "big" or "important" NA's and the minor ones - they are all potential sources of stress.
            I think that is the source of the original poster's problem. Not only are they the same as sources of stress, but they give about the same emotional payoff when they are done.

            The poster's problem - as I read it - is that he is getting the same "jolt" from doing small, relatively unimportant NAs as he is from doing large, important ones.

            Granted, breaking down big, important NAs into a number of smaller ones is one solution, but some NAs just don't break down very well. An example is mowing my lawn. It is one action, done in one context, on one occasion, but it takes two hours. I can take two hours to mow the lawn, or with that same two hours do a half-dozen little NA's around the house. If I am focused only on getting lots of NAs done, then I will choose the latter, even when the grass is a foot tall.

            The real problem here is deriving satisfaction only from crossing off NA's. However, there is another, deeper satisfaction to be found, and that is from looking back over the day and realizing that you spent it giving your best efforts to accomplishing your most important commitments. This is in opposition to the sick feeling you get when you realize that you worked hard all day and did a lot, but didn't accomplish anything of any real importance.

            After all, the purpose of using GTD is not to maximize our accomplishment of lots of little things. It is to maximize our accomplishment of the things that matter.

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            • #7
              Scott: Excellent point - well stated.

              I would add that the "things that matter" are largely determined by an intutive process rather than a clearly definable process (except for those items whice have an external deadline).

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              • #8
                Originally posted by spectecGTD
                I would add that the "things that matter" are largely determined by an intutive process rather than a clearly definable process (except for those items whice have an external deadline).
                Agreed!

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                • #9
                  getting projects/tasks done

                  The book recommends we block out approx 2 days to implement GTD. Schedule 2 days of uninterupted time. Hmmmm......Sounds like good advice for any large project!

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                  • #10
                    Getting NAs done

                    I struggle with importance/priority decisions on a daily basis. And most Projects do in fact have a dead line. One NA for a "hot" project coupled with a hundreds of smaller NAs doesn't bode well for the project. Not to mention the other 30 projects, as defined by GTD. So thats why I mention David's advice in implementing GTD. The first NA was what?
                    It was "block out two days." So there you go. (There I go!) We've still got to control blocks of time for a project(s) and concentrate on the NA's related to it. What do you think?

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                    • #11
                      Granted, breaking down big, important NAs into a number of smaller ones is one solution, but some NAs just don't break down very well. An example is mowing my lawn. It is one action, done in one context, on one occasion, but it takes two hours. I can take two hours to mow the lawn, or with that same two hours do a half-dozen little NA's around the house. If I am focused only on getting lots of NAs done, then I will choose the latter, even when the grass is a foot tall.

                      I see NAs as threshold points to carry work forward. Mowing the lawn isn't an NA, IMO; it's better thought of as a project, which can then be atomized into the following NAs: (1) Go to the garage, (2) pull out lawnmover, (3) mow lawn for five* minutes, (4) decide whether or not to continue.

                      *Five is abitrary.

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                      • #12
                        I don't see any conflict at all between blocking out certain times on our calendar (hard landscape) to work on particular projects and having clearly defined next actions on our lists. At some time or another I am going to have to determine what my actual next action is, even if that time occurs during the block of time that I have set aside for it. It makes more sense to go ahead and identify the next action up front so that if I do happen to have an approriate moment of discretionary time I can move that project forwards even before the block of time that I may have set aside for it.

                        As for the lawn mowing example, I see that as a hard landscape item. (No pun inteneded, honestly! ). You know that it will take two hours and it needs to get done on a regularly basis (weekly for most folks) so you put it on your calendar just like any other meeting. I do find that a detailed work plan can get me more motivated once I recognize that the appointment has arrived.
                        1 - Walk to building. (OK, I can do that)
                        2 - Check gas in mower (OK, easy enough, I can do that too.)
                        3 - Fill up gas if needed (Another easy task)
                        4 - Check oil level (you get the idea.)

                        My aplogies if I've misinterpreted what other people were saying.

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