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i love gtd! but my intuition is broken

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  • i love gtd! but my intuition is broken

    I had the same heart flutters that so many of you had when i read david's book the first time. Got ambitious, did everything, fell off the wagon, well not quite...hung on by the fingernails. Then I changed jobs and everything fell by the wayside. Probably the only gtd left in my system (not that it's even a system!) is that my to do lists are action-oriented. Which is a nice thing, but not enough.

    I'm genuinely trying to get back into GTD.

    my question is about PRIORITIZING.

    I know this has been covered before... a lot. I've read what Jason's said about prioritizing as procrastination, there's a lot of truth in that. And I understand the wisdom of identifying next actions and doing them. And I definitely understand the value of intution, but - My Intuition seems Broken!

    I can't seem to do next actions without realizing i'm not doing something else. Should I be doing the smaller project, getting things done on the bigger project, or ditching it all and working on my rock album?? I feel like when I make my NA lists, there's about 70 things on there, everything from the extremely pedestrian ("buy extension cord") to the man-i-really-oughta ("update portfolio and send" - yeah i know that's two actions) to the wildly ambitious ("write lyrics for X rock song") to the mind-numbingly intimidating ("brainstorm ideas for the RFP due Wednesday").

    I would really like to hear how others sort through their lists, or am I going about this all backward, from the ground up, as it were, without figuring out my life goals on the 50,000 foot level? (But I feel like I do know my life goals i just don't know what to do when to do it all the time.)

    -gregory arthur

    And as a P.S.- is "brainstorm ideas" really a next action?

  • #2
    a "physical" next action

    is "brainstorm ideas" really a next action?
    Great question - one I get all the time! Brainstorming - as per the GTD methodology - will be a next action considering you are capturing (voice recorder, notes, MindManger software, etc) those ideas for later processing and organizing.

    I've used "draft" as a next action for years. And, I even break it down for an article to something like:

    "Draft concluding paragraph for article on workplace desktop organization."

    That way, I can start, stop, look back, and have completed the "action" even though the project is still out there. The momentum builds, the actions progress, and eventually the project is managed.

    By the way, re: the intuition thing, perhaps think about it as "picking what I want to work on right now based on:
    Time available

    Then, the one you pick (because your lists are SO complete) will match perfectly to your ability to get it done...


    • #3
      Your intuition isn't broken - it's not focused!

      I've been learning and practicing GTD for about three years now, and the prioritizing issue has come up a lot for me -- and apparently for many others, to judge by many of the threads on this forum.

      Usually, I find trouble prioritizing when I haven't defined my projects and/or next actions clearly enough. If these are well-defined, I'll be more energized and focused on what's important -- and way more likely to take action.

      To my way of thinking, defining a project includes knowing when it needs to be done. If it has a hard deadline, that date plus reminders of the due date go on the calendar. If it does not, then I consider it something of a "fluid" project. It can bounce back and forth between my @Project - Soon list and the @Project - Active list based on how things are going during a particular week.

      Next actions have to be very concrete for me. In GTD Fast, David Allen asks the question "If you were to walk out of this seminar room right now to work on this project, what is the very next physical action you would take? Would you go to your computer, would you make a phone call, etc?" That's how detailed next actions need to be to get me started (as the child of two the most creative procrastinators ever).

      Once these are clearly defined, you might go back to the book and read the section on the Four Criteria Model of Choosing Actions in the Moment (P. 192).

      1. Are you in the right place to do any of your NAs?
      2. Which NAs do you have time to do right now?
      3. How energetic are you feeling at the moment --is your mental energy high enough to write those song lyrics, or have you just finished up your tax return and your brain is mush?
      4. And finally, which of your NAs is the most important right now?

      I'm on summer break before starting grad school, so at the moment, I have very few deadlines. That means the first three answers to these questions are All of them, All of them, and All of them! From your post, it sounds as though you may be in a similar situation.

      What I realized just this summer is that if I limit the number of active projects on my list, make sure the outcomes are clearly defined, have good, really actionable next actions, then it DOESN'T REALLY MATTER which of the NA's I choose to do first. I'll still be making progress on projects I am committed to do, and so I don't have to spend time worrying whether I am doing the "right action" at this particular moment.

      During the school year, I will create a new project list called @Projects - school, for all my assignments, tests, etc., and because the projects have hard deadlines, I'll put reminders of deadlines in my calendar. I'll clearly define next actions for each of these projects (ie. Summarize notes - 5/4/05 class XX), and I'll review it at the weekly review (or more often if needed). School projects will naturally assume a higher priority in my mind, and so my @NA - Studying list will get looked at (and done, hopefully) before other, lower priority actions happen.

      The real key here is the weekly review. If you have buttoned down all your projects, decided which ones you are truly committed to work on during the next week and have a set of totally obvious NA's in front of you, start asking the four questions. If you get to the end without a clear answer, close your eyes, drop a pencil on the list, and do the one closest to the mark -- at least you'll be doing something you've decided is important to do. I find myself surprised at how much I can accomplish this way.

      And yes, brainstorming is a next action. You need to 1) Be in a place where you can write 2) Have enough time to really get into the flow 3) Have the mental energy to have lots of ideas and 4) Believe that it is important to brainstorm in the first place. It is an action, just like "write lyrics to first 4 bars of song XXX" would be.

      Hope this helps.



      • #4
        too many open loops degrade intuition

        I am speaking from my own experience and it may have some value to yours or it may not. When I have too many open loops, I can't think think clearly, let alone recognize what my gut is telling me. What is the cure? Probably not one thing but I think it it helps to have two things at hand. First, a list of areas of focus and responsibilty. Don't make this a detailed job description, just a list. My suggestion on this is work on that for not more than an hour on the first day and then a little for 3 or 4 days. The second is your fairly complete project list-fairly complete because you may will be adding and one hopes completing or discarding. And, you know from GTD to describe each project in outcome terms, meaning what you will have/see/experience when it is done. Some of the projects might even be "thought" projects in which the outcome is a list or outline. Categorize projects as currently underway (C) and whether it has a time frame or not (CT=date), to start in the future at known date/timeframe (F=date) or SomeDayMayBe. Only reference real deadlines, and at that in context of your life activities and committments. In other words, look at your calendar and see if it will work. Put these on your calendar and make sure that they make sense. As a person who has a funny relationship with time, I am thinking that if there is a delaine it helps me to wrtie down why I have the deadline as part of the project statement. Priority is a funny concept. Sometimes it is a necessary first step, sometimes it is something urgent. I am thinking that you get to it my asking yourself something like "This is important to me because..."


        • #5
          Zen proverb: "Whatever you do, do that."

          Making a decision work is more important than making the right decision. Whatever you choose to do off your list, commit to it, knowing the the action you're completing will be one less open loop to distract you from something else on your list when you commit to doing that.

          And remember, there's a thin line between intuition and common sense.


          • #6
            Agreed with Gameboy70. I've discovered something new about this recently.

            I used to approach my to-do lists as a map of possible destinations. Each Next Action was something to compare with the other Actions so I could decide on which one should be done next.

            Last night, I looked at the @Online category of my NA list, and was reminded of a phrase David Allen frequently used, "cranking through your list." So, instead of figuring out which NA was best to do next, I just started with the first one and did each one in turn.

            When I was done, I was amazed at how little time had passed and how much I'd accomplished. Far more than I would have if I'd tried to balance my NAs against each other.

            I'm finding great value in consciously ignoring other considerations and digging in to the list right in front of me.