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Figuring Out Next Actions & Priorities

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  • Figuring Out Next Actions & Priorities

    I've been trying to come up with a way to keep my NA list from becoming an old-style, Frankin/Covey prioritized daily task list. Still, the challenge is that I have so many NAs, and so many unrelated categories (different clients, different projects, etc.), that I have to do something in order to "see" what's important to do on my NA list.

    Since I keep my NA list in Outlook as tasks, I added the !Today category, and what I'm trying to do is review the NA list and move things that absolutely have to be done today to the !Today category. Then, from the !Today list, I choose the things that have to be done immediately and assign them high priority (hopefully there are only one or two things). And the final step is moving things to !Today that I need to get done today in order to advance long-term goals -- the QII (important but not urgent) items. I'm marking those with the little blue arrow that says "low priority," but I'm using that so I can sort QI items from QII items.

    The end result is a list of NAs for !Today on top of my complete list of NAs. I can see what needs to be done immediately, and everything else that has to get done before I can go home. I'm still working this out.

    One of my problems in implementing GTD has been that the idea of keeping lists of NAs by location or context (at the phone, at the computer, etc.) really doesn't seem to work well for me. I mean, I'm at a desk with a computer and a phone and everything else for most of the day, and when I'm away I'm nearly 100% of the time engaged in a particular task (meetings, usually) where there will be little or no opportunity to choose another NA. So I've been trying to group my NAs by clients and projects, which seems to work better for billing purposes and also keeps me from going insane. I mean, I cannot imagine just having one giant NA list that says "at computer" with no more context than that.

    So hit me with it! What am I doing right or wrong?

  • #2
    I do that exact same thing as you do and it works great for me. I'm guess I tend to be purist, so it took to me a while to figure out that this is "OK" So, here you, on behalf of all the GTDers in the world - it is OK to do this if it works for you. Permission granted.

    Here are a few things that have helped me with the issues you are dealing with. I'm not sure if this would work well if you were outside of an Outlook environment.

    1) I have a category called 1today and which goes right to the top of my NA list. In the morning I look over my whole NA list, look at my calendar and see how much time I have to work on NA's and put the things in 1today that I need to focus on and it gets reviewed a couple times a day. My NA list tend to get very long so reviewing it everytime I needed to figure out what to do next wasn't working for me.

    I imagine that the nature of some people's job is that they deal with lots of things that have to be dealt with right away and they might need a 1thishour type category for the truly immediate stuff.

    It trick is to revaluate this everyday or you will distrust the rest of your lists.

    2) The contexts that DA suggests in his book are a great starting point - but they are just a starting point. As far as my work life goes, like you, when I'm not in meetings, I have access to a computer, phone and internet all the time. My basic office contexts generally look like this
    @1today
    @agendas (these are a place where I put accumulated items for time bound meetings)
    @contacts (this could be email, a call or a face to face conversation - this always starts with the person's name, so if they happen to call or come by, I can find everything we need to discuss)
    @ drafts - holds pieces of things that will go in a major writing project - so as I get an idea, piece of info, it goes here
    @office - everything else that I would do at the office - (this tends to be long so I put a project "code" in front of it - see #3 below)

    That is it. I work mostly out of @ contact and @ office.

    3) to help me when I want to work by project - I have 10 or so acronyms for roles/huge projects/clients in my life. I'll put the acronym in front of the NA to make it easy to find the tasks by category. For example, home: call dentist to set appointment, client xyz: make follow up call on contract, etc. Then I just sort alphabetically and all my NA for a client, project, etc. are in order. I DON'T have a code for every single seperate more than 2 action project, just major categories.

    You could just make your context into projects @client XYZ. The only downside to that is that you'd be changing your structure as your change clients, projects.

    4)Another thing that has helped me a lot is using color to help me to see deadlines. I just like to use color - some people don't. I've set up Outlook with the following rules (let me know if you'd like the steps to do this).
    * an NA that is older than a two weeks turns green (think mold) - - that way I can see if something non-urgent is just getting stale so I can do it or dump it. It has been a great anti-procrastination tool
    * an item due within a week turns purple
    * an item due today is blue

    This has been a big help because my NA lists tend to get long and it makes it easy to see what is coming up.

    The trick here is to use the day that the thing really must be done (not the day you'd like to get it done) or you will start to ignore your dealines.

    The great thing about GTD is that it is flexbile - do what works for you.

    Comment


    • #3
      Hi md...

      So hit me with it! What am I doing right or wrong?
      I get the picture of...
      someone who has a system that reminds them what to do, when they need to do it...
      so that the most important things get done first...
      and so that you don't have to remember what to do, since you trust your system to remind you...
      so that you have a "mind like water" to deal with things in a timely way...
      and the only reason the most important things don't happen is that even more most important things took all your time today.

      That is a picture of success!

      Congratulations, you've arrived at a custom GTD system that works for you!

      I think there's everything right with your approach... for you!

      Comment


      • #4
        Speaking from GTD orthodoxy, time-specific items like meetings go on your calendar, as well as day-specific items. They don't go on the action lists. The GTD Fast CD, as usual, explains this much better than the book.

        In other words, if you have to get a proposal to FedEx by Tuedsay, it goes at the top of your Outlook calendar entry as an all-day item for that day, not on your @computer list, even though writing the proposal is an @computer item. Whenever you need to evaluate what the best use of your time is at that moment, you look at the hard landscape items on your calendar first to see what needs to happen that day; then the action lists are for use in the calendar's "negative space" -- when you're out of meetings, and when the deadlines for that day have been addressed.

        I'm a little wary of @today! lists, but I suppose that's more of a semantic issue that anything else. Functionally, it's probably identical to a day-specific calendar entry.

        Comment


        • #5
          Thanks for all the great feedback!

          I read the first DA book, and I also got it on audiobook (If you've got a long commute like I do, you've got to go to www.audible.com. I feel guilty when I spend that much time in the car and I can't find a way to leverage that time somehow. I'm not someone who dictates correspondence, so listening to a useful audiobook is the best use of that time I can imagine.)

          In reply to the post above about time-specific items, what I would do if I had to get a FedEx package out to someone by Tuesday -- I would create one or two next actions and give them a Monday due date. One task would be to prepare the package, the other would be to fill out the airbill, etc. And then on the calendar I'd set a reminder (in Outlook, an appointment with a certain start time and a 0 min. duration) so the reminder will pop up in time for me to get the package to the FedEx guy.

          I guess I view the calendar as a tool for blocking out time, and the NA list as a place to store tangible things that need to be done. If one of my NAs is to write something, for example, if I can I'll drag it to the calendar and block out time for writing. I understand the admonition against putting time-specific items into the NA list -- I just haven't yet figured out a way to do otherwise.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Bellaisa
            4)Another thing that has helped me a lot is using color to help me to see deadlines. I just like to use color - some people don't. I've set up Outlook with the following rules (let me know if you'd like the steps to do this).
            * an NA that is older than a two weeks turns green (think mold) - - that way I can see if something non-urgent is just getting stale so I can do it or dump it. It has been a great anti-procrastination tool
            * an item due within a week turns purple
            * an item due today is blue
            I really like your idea of turning older NA's to green but I can't figure out exactly how to write that rule. Can you share exactly how it's written (what field, what condition, etc.)?

            Thanks!

            Comment


            • #7
              Sure - I remember that being tricky

              Field: Created
              Condition: on or before
              Value: 14 days ago

              Another thing I remember being tricky is the order of the rules - you want to have them listed
              *overdue (my outlook was automatically set up to turn those red)
              *due today
              *due within a week
              *old

              Again, you'll grow numb to this if you have false deadlines -

              Comment


              • #8
                ^^^ How do you set rules for Tasks? The only place where I seem to be able to set rules is for the Mail function.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by remyc88
                  ^^^ How do you set rules for Tasks? The only place where I seem to be able to set rules is for the Mail function.
                  Probably referring to Automatic Formatting rules in the Customize View settings.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by remyc88
                    ^^^ How do you set rules for Tasks? The only place where I seem to be able to set rules is for the Mail function.
                    While in a task screen, you go to "Customize Current View" - an easy way to get there is right click on the gray bar near the top of the screen that has the headings (subject, date, etc.) which will pull up a menu that includes "customerize current view"

                    From there, go to automatic formatting and the rules pop up - I think Outlook has some preset rules that will show up.

                    This works on my machine.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Bellaisa
                      Originally posted by remyc88
                      ^^^ How do you set rules for Tasks? The only place where I seem to be able to set rules is for the Mail function.
                      While in a task screen, you go to "Customize Current View" - an easy way to get there is right click on the gray bar near the top of the screen that has the headings (subject, date, etc.) which will pull up a menu that includes "customerize current view"

                      From there, go to automatic formatting and the rules pop up - I think Outlook has some preset rules that will show up.

                      This works on my machine.
                      Which Outlook Task View do you start with? Detailed List?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Which Outlook Task View do you start with? Detailed List?
                        Macclarke - It shouldn''t matter which view - as long as it is a task view. If that won't take you to "customize current view" you can try

                        View (from main menu up top)
                        - arrange by
                        - current view
                        - customize current view

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Bellaisa & bdavidson: Works! Thanks so much!

                          And Bellaisa, thanks for Tip #4!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            You're welcome

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              This was a great idea for me. Now I can see by color which Next Actions have been sitting on my list for too long. Thanks!

                              Comment

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