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  • I cannot seem to get me head around GTD

    Hi, I have read David's first book cover to cover four times, set aside time and cleaned out the files, and the mind. I am now the proud owner of a clean desk, nice files, that I can find, and a set of project files, and a list of Next actions.

    I am on a paper based version of GTD, and follow the @contexts set out by David, as a starting point. My problem is that a next action may or may not relate to a project.

    For instance, emailing someone with information maybe part of a larger project. Once I have emailed that person, I put them on the @waiting for a response, and a note in my calendar to contact them if I haven't heard by an arbitrary date. My brain will not let it go, as there are other actions for that project that I need to undertake. So I add three or four or five next actions for that project, and before long, I am organising lists of NA's and project and spending more time trying to determine where an NA starts and a project finsihes.

    On top of that are the one off NA's that are not project related, simply tasks to be done, such as call Brother about airshow tickets. Any assistance gratefully accepted as I appear to have lost the fundamental idea of GTD. I am sure the potential is there but I seem to have lost it somewhere

  • #2
    Re: I cannot seem to get me head around GTD

    Originally posted by lost in GTD
    Hi, I have read David's first book cover to cover four times, set aside time and cleaned out the files, and the mind. I am now the proud owner of a clean desk, nice files, that I can find, and a set of project files, and a list of Next actions.

    I am on a paper based version of GTD, and follow the @contexts set out by David, as a starting point. My problem is that a next action may or may not relate to a project.

    For instance, emailing someone with information maybe part of a larger project. Once I have emailed that person, I put them on the @waiting for a response, and a note in my calendar to contact them if I haven't heard by an arbitrary date. My brain will not let it go, as there are other actions for that project that I need to undertake. So I add three or four or five next actions for that project, and before long, I am organising lists of NA's and project and spending more time trying to determine where an NA starts and a project finsihes.
    A Next Action is a task that is immediately doable. A project is anything that requires more than one action to complete. This means that projects in the GTD sense are generally much smaller than Projects in the project management sense.

    In this particular case, my answer would be to first, jot down all the related actions for the project. Get them out of my head. Then, any actions that are immediately doable go on the Next Action list, sorted by context. Any that need for something else to happen first go in with the project support materials. I would use a dated To Do item, not my calendar, to remind me to followup on the email, but that's just the way my system works.

    Originally posted by lost in GTD
    On top of that are the one off NA's that are not project related, simply tasks to be done, such as call Brother about airshow tickets. Any assistance gratefully accepted as I appear to have lost the fundamental idea of GTD. I am sure the potential is there but I seem to have lost it somewhere
    If it truly is a project-free action, then it simply goes on the NA list for the appropriate context. (Actually, calling about airshow tickets is probably a less than 2 minute task. Why don't you just Get It Done instead of writing it down? But if you can't, say if it's midnight when you think of it, then it goes on the NA list.) However, remember that GTD projects are very small. You might have a "Go to Airshow" project that includes tasks like "call about tickets," "buy film," "pack picnic lunch," etc.

    Does this help?

    Katherine

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    • #3
      Well, I work electronically and I've started using the Outlook Add-in to manage projects but my old setup might work for you.

      I manage my projects by turning my project list into a Hierarchical outline broken down in subprojects and/or next actions (depending on how large the project is). When I'm reviewing projects and I've identified a new moving part or I've decided that the project has gone stale or for whatever reason I want to get a new next action going I use a macro on my computer.

      The macro will put a dash (-) in front of the item, copy it to the clipboard, launch my destop software and paste the item in as a task. At that point I can tweak the details of the task (choose context, set due date, etc).

      Notice that both the project list and the task have the dash in front of them. This lets me know when I'm looking at a task that it is part of a larger project. The dash in front of the item in outline tells me that I have started to move on this piece of the project, that it's "in the system".

      Some people like to use a 3-letter code for each project that you can preface or append to your task. I like the dash since it allows me to fully automate the macro and truthfully I've found that as long as I don't give my project items really cryptic names (i.e. put a little thought into making the name descriptive) that it's pretty easy to remember what tasks go with what projects.

      Working with paper you won't have the luxury of a script or macro to help tie projects and actions together but it would make it easier to implement a shorthand project code tag for your next actions.

      Hope this helps or at least gives you some ideas (I wasn't quite sure what your real question was). The project/next action connection is the area that people seem to get hung up on for some reason, so I just tried to address that in general.

      Drawing the line between a project and a next action can be tricky. I try to remember that next actions are next PHYSICAL actions to be taken. Unfortunately, there's no getting around having to ask yourself if it is part of some larger project.

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      • #4
        This is JMHO.

        One of the simple beauties of GTD is that a next action is a next action is a next action....

        Whether it is standalone or part of a sequence of actions called a project doesn't matter. As long as it is a discrete, doable thing then it is a next action.

        Having said that, if a NA belongs to a project, then its' completion should trigger the question "What is the next action to move this project along?"

        I put a project code at the start of a project todo in Palm desktop. This reminds me that I need to move the marker to the next step in the project. The trick is to not get bogged down.

        Grab the project support file and check the next thing to do - add it to your NA list. Haven't planned beyond the NA you just did? Create a new NA "Plan next steps project X". You can use the 2 minute rule here - if it takes more than 2 minutes to identify the next thing, the decision-making process itself is a NA.

        Re not letting waiting for items wait too long ......

        If I make a call (@phone todo="call fred re plans") and Fred needs to call me back, I alter my palm todo item (todo="W/F Fred to call re plans by 30 March" to include the who and when info, change the category to '@waiting for'. I review this list several times per week. If the time is up and Fred hasn't called, I can simply change the item (todo="chaseup Fred re plans") and switch the context/category back to @phone.

        If I'm working the system, waiting-for items never need to go on my calendar. If it's a matter of life or death I'd put it there but I don't often have actions that critical

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        • #5
          I am organising lists of NA's and project and spending more time trying to determine where an NA starts and a project finsihes.
          Why are you organizing lists of NA's and projects? If you have to do it, just write it down. You're not supposed to organize it.

          A Next Action is simply "I have to do this..." irrespective of what project it's attached to, or how many NA's there are per project. A project could have one NA or a thousand NA's, and GTD doesn't care.

          In other words, stop sorting your shopping list by recipe, when you're at the supermarket it makes very little difference if you're baking a cake or making pasta or both - you just need to buy flour. Having flour on your list twice will just make things confusing and difficult.

          If you think the kind of flour is important (there are some specialty flours) then use what I call a Cascading Next Action and write "Buy flour for Bread Machine" so you keep sight of the ultimate goal while you're carrying out the tasks.

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          • #6
            Re: I cannot seem to get me head around GTD

            Originally posted by lost in GTD
            For instance, emailing someone with information maybe part of a larger project. Once I have emailed that person, I put them on the @waiting for a response, and a note in my calendar to contact them if I haven't heard by an arbitrary date. My brain will not let it go, as there are other actions for that project that I need to undertake. So I add three or four or five next actions for that project, and before long, I am organising lists of NA's and project and spending more time trying to determine where an NA starts and a project finsihes.
            I think gekko's post is right on target.

            Part of the problem might just be that it will take some time for you to trust your system. I've been using GTD for a little over a year now, and at first my brain had trouble letting things go. After a while, though, I started to figure out that I really could forget something, and because an appropriate reminder was in my system, I could move on to something else.

            It might just be a matter of forcing yourself beyond gut-level behavior. In the example above, try forcing yourself to move out a project mindset, and just keep moving through your list.

            One other thing that I noticed - you said that after moving a note about email to your @Waiting For list, you added 3 or 4 or 5 NAs to your list. This might be too much - try just adding one at a time. I have a lot of projects with concurrent NAs (meaning that there are several actions that can be completed now, without waiting for another task to be completed). Still, I'm very careful about how many NAs I add to the list, because otherwise I get overwhelmed.

            I think you're on the right track - it just might take time to get used to this different way of thinking and doing. Stick with it.

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