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Any fixes for these processing time-traps?

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  • Any fixes for these processing time-traps?

    These are some aspects of processing that I find eat up a lot of time. Wouod appreciate any ideas on managing them better.

    I use plain vanilla Palm and list Projects in a Memo category so they are orderd A to Z. I use a set of prefixes so that project names are grouped-- such as PROF (professional), FAM (family), HSHLD, FIN (financial). During processing time, once I have determined that a piece of stuff is not trash, that I want to act on it, and that it is a project or project-related, the slowest activities for me are: 1) Determining if I have the project listed already. 2) If I do, adding something to it's description such as a possible sub-project or the existence of the support material. 3) Changing an existing n/a based on a new input from the stuff I am processing.

    Also, out of processing emerges projects that are active in the sense that they have a specific time frame, and I am responsible for having the time blocked out and resources at hand, but I will not know until the last moment if they will really take place. Is there a printable name for these? How do other folks cope with these in regard to project list, calendar, and sanity?

    There are also "Dated Future Projects". These projects do require not activity at present other than to establish start dates and benchmarks. But, I find that as soon as I recognize one I have to get it on the calendar with possible/probable intermediate steps noted by date but it can take a bit of calendar research and juggling to do so and I don't dare wait until the Weekly Review for this or park it on an undated next action context.

    Finally, just entering dates and small bits of information (that I would expect to take a minute or two) can also take more time because I may encounter a conflict between events and need to note that an event needs to be moved (that often gives rise to a new project and a n/a) or I find that entering a piece of information reminds me of something else that I must note (e.g., entering a new phone number for someone reminds me of something I need to ask that person, so I need to note that).

  • #2
    I'm afraid I don't understand. Can you provide some specific examples of data/projects that cause you problems?


    • #3
      Some examples:

      In processing my in box I pick up a piece of paper that is an advertisement that says "Backpack Jan Sport #980, 40% off at Richard's Sporting Goods" until 9/15, red, yellow or blue". A family member wanted a Jan Sport backpack but I can't remember if I made this an active project for which I am responsible, or just told my kid get it , or if he decided to use last year's backpack, or if we decided to wait and see if it goes on sale. How am I going to find out? He is in school and if I am going to get it, I need to go there on the way home tonight, I can search my active projects list where I may find FAM:School Supplies- Joe to have all school supplies by 9/15, $350.00 max. I may have note on the status of this-- "see FAM:School Supplies BackPack" - and under that project title I may have written "Joe wants Jan Sport, ok if $ left after buying books". Or I may have set out a next action (or completed one) so I need to search the N/As in various contexts. The so-called stake in the ground could be in one of a several places. First, I check @Errands. If it is not there I may have it in @Waiting For Joe:FAM:School Supplies BackPack-he will see if old one is repairable and let me know how much $ is left after books bought. Or, I may have in @LISTS FAM:School Supplies: Joe money left $15.00 9/1/05. The point is, that when processing I often have to hunt through all the projects and SDMBs to see if I have entered the project yet, and if I have entered it, I may need to change the outcome stmt a bit in light of the new info, or change the n/a. This eats up a lot of time.

      Another situation is processing the in box and encuntering a piece of information that is essential to a project that is complex, has a lot of contingencies, and then might never take place. In my in-box is the name of the guy who cleans the office's large chrystal chandelier. It takes a lot of calls to get in touch with him. Calling him will be an action on an existing project but the project is a moving target in regard to date and related activities and it might be cancelled all together. I search on my Project list and I find the project and it says:

      PROF:Big Cleaning: Waiting Room to be completely cleaned, esp. chandelier (have rug removed first), by 9/15 but only IF European salesmen are really visiting U.S. office on 9/21, also am and pm coffee, set on side table. If no Euros coming, possibly Mr. X will visit alone, so usual cleaning and office coffee ok, but fresh flowers on side table (pick up en route to work, so leave home early and pre-arrange a different car pool driver for kids). Mr. X may bring new hire for tour (someone available and cubicles lto ook good) and "Welcome Basket" to be stocked (should be done anyway). Note: If Euros not coming, have big cleaning week before Christmas Party, don't have chandelier cleaned if rug has still not been removed by then. So on the calendar go a lot of entries with question marks and these may possibly "bump" other scheduled events. So just entering the possible dates and blocking out time has now taken gobs of time and resulted in several contingent n/as, and in fact nothing may happen.

      Here is another. I have in my in basket copies of old brochures that I need to give to Mary, an assistant. I can't remember if I told her that she will need to develop the new brochure based on the old ones or if I even talked to her about the project at all. And this is really a subproject of another project, "SanFran trip".

      PROF:SanFran trip-Big Boss and John airport 3pm on 9/12 with presentation chart (my project) and 200 brochures (Mary's project under my guidance). Note: If he is running late, I am to drive him in his car, then bring his car back down to dealer to be serviced while he is gone. n/as: call Joe and explain contingency, confirm car appt. If he is running on time, he will pick up Joe en route to ride with him and will park at airport. Then I am to call Big Boss's wife so she can utilize his service appt for her car but I will need to drive her home (lucky me, if I remember I can pick up the chain saw that has been sharpened at place near the dealership where it has been sitting for a few weeks). If Big Boss can leave mid-morning, he wants to meet with a consultant, Mike, at Business Center or lunch spot near airport at 1pm. I need to pinpoint the location and contact Mike. Note:Big Boss has cancelled last two trips on short notice and then presentation chart is outdated.

      PROF:Mary's Brochures to be in my office, x200, by 9/2. Note: If Mary gets design done by 8/22 I will proof read and verify stats (put on calendar as a possible). If after 8/22, Joe will proofread (n/a let him know and ask him to reserve time, he will need reminders regarding the stats and Mary will need to wait at the printers (will need reminder) and we may have to pay rush fee.If printing is within budget, order 12 tee shirts with logos but only if can deliver by 9/9 to office-will need sizes for all, unless Big Boss changes mind about tee shirts (send e-mail for sizes).


      • #4
        What about a daily review? For the backback thing, you could just note the sale, and then when you go through your daily review, you could find the appropriate stake and put it there. I only spend 15 minutes or less on my daily review, but I look over everything I have going and sort my "inbox" (which is where you would note the backpack sale) and it makes such a big difference in the amount of time spend looking for things later on. So have INBOX like you have PROF and gather things there that can be dealt with within 24 hours, and then deal with them all at once.


        • #5
          Looking at your examples, I have a couple of suggestions.

          First, you seem to spend a lot of time trying to remember what action you decided to take, what the current status on a project is, and so forth. The whole point of GTD is that you don't have to remember that stuff, because your system remembers for you. If you're having problems, perhaps either (a) you aren't taking good notes or (b) you aren't filing the notes in a sufficiently accessible location. (a) is a personal habits problem, while (b) is a system structure problem.

          Second, it wasn't clear from your sample project notes whether you have clearly defined next actions. For example, it sounds to me like the next step for the Big Cleaning project is to figure out whether it needs to happen at all. What is the very next physical action you can take to find that out? *That* is the only action that really belongs on your NA list. The rest can sit quietly in your project notes until needed. (In fact, in GTD terms, there is no such thing as a contingent NA. If something isn't immediately doable, it doesn't belong on your NA list.)

          Finally, it sounds like a lot of this schedule disruption is due to forces beyond your control, with meetings and trips rescheduled on short notice. There may not be much you can do to prevent the rescheduling, but you might be able to minimize its impact on you. If the presentation chart and brochures need doing at some point anyway, can you just go ahead and do them regardless of the trip schedule? Can you say, "I need a decision on the Euro visit by 9/12 in order to schedule the chandelier guy?" Can you find a chandelier guy who can come in with less notice? Can the chandelier stay dirty if necessary?

          To manage the calendar disruption you might try a really big wall calendar that lets you see (and adjust) everything at once. Or, you might keep everything except the next decision point in your project notes, not your calendar, on the theory that it's a waste of time to schedule something that you know is going to change three or four times.

          Hope this helps,



          • #6
            Excellent reply, Katherine.

            I would add that one way I keep on top of projects is to keep a page for each project in my planner. On that page I have the next action and any other notes. So I can find out the status immediately by going to that page. If the next action is something I need to be doing, it is on the appropriate context list.

            It sounds to me like you have a very long Waiting For list and that perhaps you need to figure out how to somehow encourage others to make decisions.


            • #7
              Simplify? Search?

              Overall in your scenarios I would aim to simplify. Take the backpack. Instead of checking various lists, how about searching. If I remember correctly you are using a Palm. Search works well; search on "backpack." If that turns up nothing, try "pack" just in case you spelled it wrong. (And try to be consistent in your spelling for this reason!) If nothing turns up, add "Buy backpack at Richard's" to your @Errands list.

              Now take the paper with the chandelier cleaner's number. To process this paper, just get this information into the Address Book of your PDA right away. Be sure to write "chandlier cleaner" in the note field so you can quickly search for it later. Throw away the paper. Now, IF you need to call him in the future, "Schedule chandelier cleaning" should show up in your NA list. Then just look up his number and call him. Don't worry about all that you might have to do later until it's time to do it. It is OK to have all those ideas captured in project information, but you don't need to check or change that information just to process this piece of paper with the phone number.

              The brochure issue is trickier. It seems that you are burdening yourself with pre-planning how to respond perfectly when your colleagues miss their deadlines. Just don't do it. It rewards and perpetuates their bad planning. Set a deadline for Mary. Check on her progress frequently before the deadline. IF she misses it anyway, THEN think about what to do next. Of course, you are ultimately responsible for the brochures so you want to pick up the pieces even if Mary is incompetent, but I would not do so for the Big Boss unless he appreciates it and rewards you for it.


              • #8
                OK, a few unordered suggestions:

                You should never pick up something in your system and ask, "What needs to be done with this?" If you're putting something into your system, put a stickie on it that tells you exactly what needs to be done.

                You seem to be waiting on a lot of things, and it looks to me like you keep those things around as active projects. Those are passive projects. When I have a project like that, I add a note to my Waiting For list, and file the paper in my filing cabinet. I review my Waiting Fors occasionally for projects that have become "hot" recently. But I don't want the reference material in my face, distracting me from the things I can actually take action on.

                I wouldn't worry about whether a project is part of a larger project; it's just a project. Projects can be large or small, and they can be part of other projects. It's just a label for a bunch of actions that must be taken to achieve a particular outcome.