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Processing the NA's

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  • Processing the NA's

    I've been working on fully implementing the GTD systems for nearly a year. There a certain aspects that have definately helped my life, the collection and processing of ideas have been incredible, and I can't begin to explain how much more organized things are now that I have a filing system. But in the past year I've gone from a PC/PPC system, to paper, to Hipster PDA, back to PC/PPC, and back to paper, but haven't been able to tie everything together in a way that I felt was truly improving my productivity. I've come to the conclusion that my problem was related to implementing the NA's.

    I work as a product director for a software company. My job consists primarily of talking on the phone, sending emails, going to meetings, and mocking things up in Excel, VB or SmartDraw. So let's say I have projects A, B, and C, each of which I have to make 3 phone calls, send 2 emails, and do 2 things in Excel for. With the NA's I cluster all my phone calls together, all my emails, and all my Excel work and bang through them. The reality is that my phone is a foot a way from my computer and all the programs I need to use are on my PC. To have NA context's for @Outlook, @Excel, @VB, @Calls seems like overkill to me since everything I need is within arms reach already.

    The bigger problem for me is what I call topic-switching. If I make 3 calls about each project, then send 3 emails about them, then do 3 things in Excel related to them I"m constantly switching gears. I'm only working on the projects superficially, I know that thats part of the point of GTD but I find its not really increasing my productivity on the projects. I've found that by working on Project A, making the call, sending the email, working in Excel, that I"ve completely immersed myself in the project and new ideas occur to me more frequently that I capture and evaluate later. Then I going through projects B & C and do the same thing.

    Maybe its not so much case of not using the NA's, but of how I process through them that has made the difference for me. I know what the actions that are needed to complete the task, I just don't cluster them together in terms of context. I process them more in terms of the project itself. So instead of saying I'm going to take 1 hour to answer all my calls, I'll say I'm going to take that hour and work on project A. Its definately relieved the stress in my work.

    So now I'm down this, a good old Day Runner planner with a calender for my hard landscape, a tab for 'Work', 'Home', 'Calls', 'Projects', and 'Misc' -shopping lists, ticker items, Someday/Maybes, etc. I run ListPro on my PC with all the projects and all the sub items for them both long term and short term. I take the one's I'm currently working on put the in the planner under projects and the put the items that need to be done for them as a 'ToDo list' (ugh!) under work, calls, or in the calender. Then I allocate some time and work through all the items for the project regardless of their context.

    I know this might seem like heresy but its working for me. I keep coming back to the old quote, 'The enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan.'

    Mike

  • #2
    Originally posted by mikeu1
    With the NA's I cluster all my phone calls together, all my emails, and all my Excel work and bang through them. The reality is that my phone is a foot a way from my computer and all the programs I need to use are on my PC. To have NA context's for @Outlook, @Excel, @VB, @Calls seems like overkill to me since everything I need is within arms reach already.
    Maybe this will help - Context overrides everything else. So, if all of the items that are in all of the above categories have to be done at the PC that you have at work, then they ALL should go under the @Work category. So, for example, if I have to make a call to someone at work (i.e. not from home, my cel, etc.), that goes in my @Work category, not my @Calls category.

    I, like you, spend the bulk of my day in one context, from where I can make calls, work on PC stuff, etc. So, all of the stuff that I have that can be done at work goes on my @Work list. Similarly, ONLY things that can be done at home go on my @Home list, calls that I can make from ANY phone at my discretion go on my @Calls list, etc.

    The bigger problem for me is what I call topic-switching. If I make 3 calls about each project, then send 3 emails about them, then do 3 things in Excel related to them I"m constantly switching gears. I'm only working on the projects superficially, I know that thats part of the point of GTD but I find its not really increasing my productivity on the projects. I've found that by working on Project A, making the call, sending the email, working in Excel, that I"ve completely immersed myself in the project and new ideas occur to me more frequently that I capture and evaluate later. Then I going through projects B & C and do the same thing.
    Nothing wrong with that... since your in the same context MOST of the time, so what? You can dice it up any way that you please, in whatever way works best for you. I mean, it's not like you're only going to be @Excel for an hour or two a day and need to maximize your time. You probably have the opportunity to be @Excel multiple times per day... Remember, NA's aren't really supposed to be "ToDo's"; Rather, they're just reminders that something needs to be done.

    Maybe its not so much case of not using the NA's, but of how I process through them that has made the difference for me. I know what the actions that are needed to complete the task, I just don't cluster them together in terms of context. I process them more in terms of the project itself. So instead of saying I'm going to take 1 hour to answer all my calls, I'll say I'm going to take that hour and work on project A. Its definitely relieved the stress in my work.
    I think that's how most of us work... I think where the contexts really come in handy is when say... you've got 10 minutes before your next meeting, and you're trying to decide how to make the most out of those 10 minutes. You scan your lists and come to your @Calls list and say, "I'll bet that in 7 minutes, I can knock out 3 of the calls on my list". That's where the real power is!

    So now I'm down this, a good old Day Runner planner with a calender for my hard landscape, a tab for 'Work', 'Home', 'Calls', 'Projects', and 'Misc' -shopping lists, ticker items, Someday/Maybes, etc. I run ListPro on my PC with all the projects and all the sub items for them both long term and short term. I take the one's I'm currently working on put the in the planner under projects and the put the items that need to be done for them as a 'ToDo list' (ugh!) under work, calls, or in the calender. Then I allocate some time and work through all the items for the project regardless of their context.

    I know this might seem like heresy but its working for me. I keep coming back to the old quote, 'The enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan.'

    Mike
    Mike, I've found that for me, GTD works the best when it's in its most "unstructured" form, if that makes any sense. And... remember the weekly review. That part right there is the key to the whole system!

    Anyway, hope the above helps.

    Jim

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    • #3
      Originally posted by mikeu1
      Maybe its not so much case of not using the NA's, but of how I process through them that has made the difference for me. I know what the actions that are needed to complete the task, I just don't cluster them together in terms of context. I process them more in terms of the project itself. So instead of saying I'm going to take 1 hour to answer all my calls, I'll say I'm going to take that hour and work on project A. Its definately relieved the stress in my work.
      Clustering actions by context is only necessary when context limits what you can or cannot do. An action list organized by context doesn't tell you what project to work on; it tells you what actions within a project can be done. You're the one who makes the judgement call about what actions to do in a given context, and if focusing only on actions related to a single project suits you better, go for it.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by mikeu1
        So let's say I have projects A, B, and C, each of which I have to make 3 phone calls, send 2 emails, and do 2 things in Excel for. With the NA's I cluster all my phone calls together, all my emails, and all my Excel work and bang through them.
        ...
        If I make 3 calls about each project, then send 3 emails about them, then do 3 things in Excel related to them I"m constantly switching gears.
        It sounds like you already know that you're more effective if you stay focussed on a project. That's why the gear-shifting is so jarring. The way I understand it, what contexts and Next Actions give you a list of things you can start.

        If staying inside the project means you pick up the phone, talk to someone, put the information they give you into a spreadsheet, and then fire off an email--so what if you're shifting contexts? It's only when you come up for air, or get interrupted, or have to break off that you need to set another placeholder for where to start next.

        PS. I think the standard example of "banging out a list of phone calls" only works if you leave a lot of voicemails.

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