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  • GTD for University Students

    Hello everyone,

    This is my first post on this board, even though I've been trying to follow it and read through older posts for the past couple of weeks. I've read DA's book over the last summer, and I've been trying since to implement it so as to handle the workload of my University studies (2nd u/grad degree). I'm using Outlook and synching to a Treo 600, which I always have with me for reference.

    I actually thought I'd write this post in order to try and sort out / collect my ideas on my implementation of GTD, and ask some questions on areas that I'm having trouble with. I admit I haven't been the most consistent follower of GTD principles over the past few months, but I'm trying to turn things around and become disciplined in my approach!

    Alright, here it goes:

    First, I've customized my @ categories based on my own needs: @Uni, @Home, @Pc, @Town.

    Things I need to do at Uni, such as borrow a book from the library, go to the relevant category. The rest are self explanatory, with @Town used mostly for shopping lists when I actually walk into town ...

    Being a master-procrastinator , I also try to give my tasks due dates to help me Get Them Done: Say I have to return a book to the library by a specific date, I'll put it in my ToDo section under the specific date, and also link to @Uni category. That way, I make sure not to forget dated items. In a sense, I am using the ToDo list as a sort of tickler file, only electronic.

    Of course, doing the Weekly Review is an essential part of the whole GTD approach. I have done this consistently for the past couple of weeks and find I am in a lot more control of my week. The most important aspect, for me, was to identify in advance what I needed to focus on for the upcoming week (had a presentation and 2 assignments coming up) and structure my N/As so as to get everything done on time!

    Below are some of my concerns, which I'm still strugling with.

    Question 1:
    Should items such as "Return book by 18/2" go into the ToDo list with a hard deadline, or in my Calendar, even though they are not associated with specific times of the day? Or maybe should I try to put them during a time slot in my calendar and try to enforce that? (say during a break between two classes)

    What I find is that, by putting hard deadlines in my ToDo lists, I tend to only finish those items that are due today, and overlook all the other undated items. I deal with this during the Weekly Review, by putting deadlines to the items I want to move forward, but I guess this is not the "orthodox" way of doing things, according to GTD..

    Question 2
    Another issue I am having trouble with, is how to structure my studying habits within an (essentially) unstructured day? I tend to have large blocks of free time between classes and in the afternoon. I've been trying to block "STUDY" appointments with myself, but find myself often distracted and do not follow through. This might be an issue of discipline, in that I know I can always get the studying done later... I do my best studying at night, when there's no distractions like friends calling (maybe I'm answering my own questions --> block time at night for studying.....)

    Finally, another issue (Question 3?) I'd like you to comment is how to structure the actual topics of studying. I have 5 courses, and usually need to read about 2-3hrs per week each in order to keep up to date, plus various assignments / papers etc.

    Question 3
    Should I assign specific time in my calendar for each course, say for example Mondays & Wed'days for Economics and Quants, Tues and Thursdays for Accounting and Management etc?

    OR, the other approach I am considering is listing all 5 courses as separate projects, each with a N/A, and simply block specific times each day as STUDY times and work off any Study N/A....

    I'm just looking for some suggestions, based on your experience, to help me with my implementation of GTD..

    Thank you in advance,

    Loukas

  • #2
    I was supposed to be signed in for this, but apparently that didn't work.

    I'm "Guest" from above ...

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: GTD for University Students

      Originally posted by Anonymous
      .... In a sense, I am using the ToDo list as a sort of tickler file, only electronic
      I also use due dates on the task list as an electronic tickler file. My hard and fast due dates are on the calendar. The "due dates" on the task list are just a means of bringing an item to my attention on a certain date. I am free to change the date. I don't use due dates for all of my next actions, just those I want to be reminded of on a specific date.

      Originally posted by Anonymous
      Question 1:
      Should items such as "Return book by 18/2" go into the ToDo list with a hard deadline, or in my Calendar, even though they are not associated with specific times of the day? Or maybe should I try to put them during a time slot in my calendar and try to enforce that? (say during a break between two classes)
      It depends upon how hard the deadline is in your opinion. If you definitely want to return the book on a specific date, then I would put it on the calendar. However, if the date is not as "hard" as other things, such as finishing a paper, then that is the type of thing that I would put on the task list with a tickler date so as not to dilute the significance of my truly hard deadlines (e.g., filing a legal brief). The key is not to turn the task list into a traditional to do list. If you have items tickled for a specific day, make a quick decision whether you want to do them that day or just tickle them forward.

      Question 2
      Another issue I am having trouble with, is how to structure my studying habits within an (essentially) unstructured day? I tend to have large blocks of free time between classes and in the afternoon. I've been trying to block "STUDY" appointments with myself, but find myself often distracted and do not follow through. This might be an issue of discipline, in that I know I can always get the studying done later... I do my best studying at night, when there's no distractions like friends calling (maybe I'm answering my own questions --> block time at night for studying.....)
      You really are answering your own question here. Schedule study time for when your studying session would be most productive. If you prefer to study at night, then that's fine. When I was in law school, it helped to establish routines addressing when I would study and what subjects. If you schedule time by subject, you are probably more likely to schedule enough time across all courses and less likely to focus on only the courses that interest you the most. I would also utilize project lists and next action lists to track assignments. Be sure to include down time in your schedule (time with friends, exercising, whatever). If you overschedule your time with studying and classes, you are setting yourself up for failure. You could try both methods, scheduling specific times for specific classes or scheduling generic study time, and see which works best for you.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: GTD for University Students

        Originally posted by jmarkey

        I also use due dates on the task list as an electronic tickler file. My hard and fast due dates are on the calendar. The "due dates" on the task list are just a means of bringing an item to my attention on a certain date. I am free to change the date. I don't use due dates for all of my next actions, just those I want to be reminded of on a specific date.

        The key is not to turn the task list into a traditional to do list. If you have items tickled for a specific day, make a quick decision whether you want to do them that day or just tickle them forward.
        This is one of the items I'm struggling with. According to the "orthodox GTD" approach, I know I should tackle items by context and not by "due date". However, I find that for me, it works out much better to just assign various items that have to be done on a specific day to that day, in the ToDo list, finish them off and then feel satisfied that I have completed all I need to do for the day. Sort of a !Today category that is discussed elsewhere, only I let my Outlook or Palm do the filtering for me.

        Why is it so bad to assign "specific days" to our N/A, rather than leaving them open? Especially if our schedule is not very well defined, and we need motivation to move things forward... ?


        Originally posted by jmarkey
        Schedule study time for when your studying session would be most productive.
        ...
        I would also utilize project lists and next action lists to track assignments.
        This is solid advice that is kind of intuitive, but good to hear and confirm!

        Thank you for taking the time to answer my post jmarkey.

        Best regards,

        Loukas

        PS:
        I've been reading up some further posts in the forum, it seems my situation is similar to those who are self-employed, and have large unstructured time chunks in their hands, which they need to somehow fill in productively - without getting sidetracked.

        However, it was nice to actually put my thoughts down, it helps me organize them in my mind and sort-of decipher how GTD should be implemented for me!

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: GTD for University Students

          Originally posted by Loukas
          This is one of the items I'm struggling with. According to the "orthodox GTD" approach, I know I should tackle items by context and not by "due date". However, I find that for me, it works out much better to just assign various items that have to be done on a specific day to that day, in the ToDo list, finish them off and then feel satisfied that I have completed all I need to do for the day. Sort of a !Today category that is discussed elsewhere, only I let my Outlook or Palm do the filtering for me.

          Why is it so bad to assign "specific days" to our N/A, rather than leaving them open? Especially if our schedule is not very well defined, and we need motivation to move things forward... ?
          The calendar is used for hard landscape information, not for motivation. For instance, if my library book is due on the 18th, then it's due on the 18th, regardless of whether I choose to return it on the 19th or five minutes after I check it out. I can choose to accept the nominal late fee, but not when the late fees start.

          A tickler file (physical or electronic), on the other hand, is more subjective. I can choose to put "Return book" in the file for the 11th to give myself an extra week, then refile it on any date through the 18th at my convenience. But that's a reminder, not a next action, until I put it on the action list.

          In other words, calendar and tickler files have very different functions. If a paper is due on the 18th, you certainly don't want to start it on the 18th because it's on your calendar for that day. It's not an action list.

          By assigning specific days to an action, it ceases to be a "next" action because it's been given an arbitrary dependency. GTD isn't time management. If Fred's out of town until the 18th, then the phone call you need to make to Fred goes on the calendar for that day. If there's no reason to delay the call, why put it on the calendar for the future rather than just make the call?

          I don't want to lie to myself. If something is due on the 18th, I don't want to tell myself it's due on the 13th in the vain attempt to put the fire under my feet. I want to know what the very next action I can do is that will get that thing to completion, and just do it. Unconsciously I know that the earlier date is false, no matter I much I consciously insist on it; and subliminally I'll sabotage my efficiency to relieve the anxiety created by the artificial date. That's why dieters rarely succeed in losing an arbitrary weight by an arbitrary date.

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: GTD for University Students

            Why is it so bad to assign "specific days" to our N/A, rather than leaving them open? Especially if our schedule is not very well defined, and we need motivation to move things forward... ?
            DA posits that traditional daily to-do lists do not work for two reasons:

            1) "constant new input and shifting tactical priorities reconfigure daily work so consistently that it's virtually impossible to nail down to-do items ahead of time." (re-writing your to-do list on the calendar from day-to-day "is demoralizing and a waste of time").

            2) "if there's something on a daily to-do list that doesn't absolutely have to get done that day, it will dilute the emphasis on things that really do.

            Having said that, however, DA also states that "[h]aving a working game plan as a reference point is always useful, but it must be able to be renegotiated at any moment."

            People often overestimate what they can accomplish in a day. If you keep a daily to-do list, this means that every day you could be moving forward items that didn't get done and feel demoralized for failing to complete them. I believe, as DA suggests, that you can successfully develop a working game plan short of a daily to-do list as long as you have somewhat of a paradigm shift. In my case, I target no more than half a dozen next actions as part of my working game plan for the day. This usually leaves plenty of time to complete the dated next actions plus work straight off of my undated next action lists. If, for some reason, I don't follow my working game plan, no guilt allowed. I simply chose to shift priorities and renegotiated my commitments with myself. In addition, I keep hard and fast due dates on the calendar so they do not get diluted by other entries in my next action lists.

            PS:
            I've been reading up some further posts in the forum, it seems my situation is similar to those who are self-employed, and have large unstructured time chunks in their hands, which they need to somehow fill in productively - without getting sidetracked.
            I believe that to be both productive AND happy, most people need both structured AND unstructured time, although the balance between the two may vary by individual. If the problem is too little structure, individuals can work some routines into their day. If the problem is too much structure, individuals may need to step back and set aside some unstructured time. Unstructured time is not necessarily unproductive. It just may be a period during which the individual has more flexibility to choose which next actions to execute.

            Comment


            • #7
              Dear JMarkey and Gameboy70,

              Thank you both for your replies.

              I especially like JMarkey's reply, as it is closer to my current implementation of GTD:


              Originally posted by jmarkey
              I believe, as DA suggests, that you can successfully develop a working game plan short of a daily to-do list as long as you have somewhat of a paradigm shift. In my case, I target no more than half a dozen next actions as part of my working game plan for the day. This usually leaves plenty of time to complete the dated next actions plus work straight off of my undated next action lists. If, for some reason, I don't follow my working game plan, no guilt allowed. I simply chose to shift priorities and renegotiated my commitments with myself. In addition, I keep hard and fast due dates on the calendar so they do not get diluted by other entries in my next action lists.
              This seems to describe exactly what I have been doing recently, and it seems to be working for me. Going over my lists, either during the weekly review or in the morning, I select a few items I would like to accomplish today and put hard dates in them on the TODO list. If, by the end of the day, I haven't completed them, I simply transfer them to a more appropriate day or remove the "date" from the TODO item, thus transfering them back to their @context lists.

              The only thing that's missing is that, by using the above approach, I tend not to look at the @context lists during my day, as I have my outlook to filter and show only today's items that I have already prioritized in a sense. This can of course be solved with a "mid-day" quick review of my action lists, following the procedure outlined above (bring the items to my view by assigning today's date)..

              Bellaisa has recently posted a very informative post on using a !today list, which is a similar concept.

              Once again, thank you for your replies. Still working on fully implementing GTD, but at least I'm at a stage where I'm trusting my system and the fact that it captures all projects and n/a, and now have to continue using and improving it.

              Loukas

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