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  • Must you always start from scratch in determining what to do next?

    I'm new to GTD. I've tried (with only marginal success) to implement the system and am currently re-reading the book. Where I'm getting hung up is on the question of how to identify what the most important or most time sensitive "next actions" are to be focusing on. It seems that, in this system, every time you finish one thing, you have to go look again at the entire universe of possible next actions within your currently applicable context(s) and select on the fly what looks like the most important thing to be doing next.

    What about things that need to be done by a certain date? I'm not talking about projects that HAVE to be completed by a certain date or even next actions that can only be done on a certain date. Rather, I'm talking about next actions that you need to be getting done or to keep projects moving forward so that all the next actions on a project don't end up getting compressed right before something is due because you didn't schedule when they needed to get done...things you wouldn't want to wait until the last minute when it HAS to be done that day...stuff that's not on your calendar. There doesn't seem to be any recognition in this system that certain next actions have to be done by a certain date.

    In addition to time sensitivity of next actions, what about next actions that are inherently more important than others? How is that managed without some form of prioritization? It seems that your day will be spent constantly in the mode of re-evaluating your next action lists and repeatedly making decisions about what is most important and what needs to be done next based on timing and importance. Contrary to the goal of the system to free your mind up, this seems to place your mind under the regular and recurring stress of constantly having to decide and re-decide what to do next. This, in contrast to entering into the day with some clear priorities and decisions already made about what really needs to get done that day and in what order.

    Maybe I'm missing something because I'm just too locked in to the "traditional" system. But can someone please help me with this? I don't want to spend my days reviewing and re-reviewing all the possible things I could be doing next. Thanks.

  • #2
    Originally posted by scooter
    what about next actions that are inherently more important than others? How is that managed without some form of prioritization? It seems that your day will be spent constantly in the mode of re-evaluating your next action lists and repeatedly making decisions about what is most important and what needs to be done next
    I'm new to GTD as well, but from what I gather, DA believes listening to your intuition will dictate which next action must be done. Of course, for those of us who get overwhelmed quite easily i.e. staring at 45 projects and/or procastinate, my intuition tells me to surf the net just in case WW 3 has begun.

    For those who were used to Covey's system (or used PlanPlus), how do you jive the Covey idea of goals/projects i.e. never more than 4-6 at most (so that you dont' get overwhelmed) vs. Allen's i.e. everything requiring more than one N/A is a project.

    Am I the only one who see a mid-point b/w these systems? Has anyone created a hybrid system of the two, and if so, describe how you do it...day to day.

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    • #3
      As I understand it, this kind of strategic planning is the purpose of the weekly review, which is why the weekly review is so critical.

      In my weekly review, I identify the projects that I want or need to work on in the coming week. This narrows the total list of possible projects (huge) down to, in my case, usually 2-4 large projects and maybe half a dozen smaller ones. Some of these will have deadlines, some will need to move forward to avoid a deadline crunch later, and some will be time-independent projects that I've simply decided to work on this week.

      Narrowing down the current project list automatically narrows down the complete list of Next Actions. My current NA list is maybe 40-50 items, and it's rare for any given context to have more than a dozen. Moreover, I usually have several clusters of closely related actions: a batch of phone calls related to one project, or a batch of reading related to another.

      In other words, no, I don't have to start from scratch every time I complete an action. I have a clear idea of what's on my plate at any given moment.

      Katherine

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      • #4
        Hi scooter,

        I'm new myself, but I hope that I can offer some help. I think what you have to keep in mind is that, in my opinion at least, GTD is not so much a rigidly defined system as it is a framework within which to work. DA gives plenty of good advice on implementation, to be sure, but ultimately it is up to you to figure out the support tools you need to ensure that you are using GTD to its maximum potential.

        If you like elements of other systems (e.g., Covey), you can incorporate those into your system - I know there are others on this board who use priority tags to identify urgent NAs, for example.

        With that said, have you considered tagging your NAs to indicate a due date? For example, if you are using a Palm PDA, you could preface these kinds of NAs with "(20050916) - Insert NA here". Then the PDA would automatically sort these in order by due date.

        Or, if you are using DateBk5 for the Palm PDA, you could set up a NA as a ToDo within DateBk5 with a given due date, and set the "Advance" feature so that DateBk5 will show you the NA for a given number of days prior to the due date.

        These are just two examples off the top of my head, and I know they are geared toward PDAs because that's what I've used to date.

        Hope this helps,

        Matthew

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        • #5
          David Allen does talk about this in his book: "Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life", I was not sure if you have read it but he discusses a number of philosophical points regarding GTD. I am currently reviewing the audio book myself and have heard discussion on priorities in it.

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          • #6
            Yes, you are right. What are you hoping GTD can help you with?

            Scooter, I think you have an excellent understanding of some of the most significant limitations of GTD: 1) handling things that must be done over time to reach a due date, and 2) prioritizing on the fly.

            GTD's strengths, though, are 1) helping you capture all the stuff you need to do, 2) pushing you to decide exactly what action you are going to do next in order to move projects forward, and 3) various context-based ToDo lists in order to filter out things that cannot be done in a given context.

            If you were to read many posts on this forum, you will find that in practice, people find ways to overcome the limitations. The first scheduling problem is generally handled during a weekly planning session: you look ahead in your calendar for due dates and be sure to move time-sensitive projects forward the following week accordingly. No, it's not a magical solution, just something you have to do with almost any system/tool. The second prioritization problem is sometimes handled by moving things that are not important enough to tackle this week to Someday/Maybe lists. (I don't believe this strategy was described in the book but has been advocated by official davidco coaches on this website.) Essentially this is pre-planning some priorities once a week instead of every day. Quite a few people on the forum have also admitted to making lists of things to do Today.

            What problem with your current system are you looking to solve by implementing GTD? If it is working really well for you, perhaps you should stick with it.

            I personally have hung onto to several of the gems from GTD, the strengths I described above, because they solved significant problems for me. I wouldn't want to give up context-based todo lists. I now ask "What's the Next Action?" instead of staring at "Mom's birthday" on my ToDo list. And I regularly capture stuff I need to do so that it ends up on my ToDo list, instead of trying to remember some of them.

            On the other hand, I also use Life Balance software to take care of exactly the problems you identified (and a few others): scheduling and prioritization. Even with 100 actions on my @Home context list, they appear roughly in order of priority, so I can work from the top down. Things with due dates appear for a lead time I define and rise in priority as they approach their due dates. So things that are coming due get pushed toward the top of the list. They also include little hourglass icons as a visual cue that they have due dates. With Life Balance, it is also easy to connect to my highest-level goals (a la Covey). In my evolved system, I have combined what worked best from both Covey and GTD principles.

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            • #7
              Great GTD Mistake.

              I think there is one important mistake that people make when they try to implement GTD. They think that GTD will tell them what's important in their lives and what they should do.

              It is the Great GTD Mistake.

              GTD is not yet another "you can be happy" methodology. It is the system for reducing stress while living productively and for clearing the mind of the details to make room for creative thinking.

              But you must define your goals - then your intuition will prioritize Next Actions appropriately.

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              • #8
                Brilliant, TesTeq! I wish that were posted at the top of the forum.

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                • #9
                  I think a lot of people work jobs where they have a million things coming at them and it's all they can do to keep their head above water. Their goal is to not sink. I know that's why my corporate job was like. I think GTD was written with that in mind. However, if you do have room in your life for goals or if you work for yourself, you must have goals or you will not have much in your inbox if anything at all. That's how I see GTD in terms of my former (corporate) and current (entrepreneur) life.

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                  • #10
                    Here's what I do. If I have a NA on my list, and it needs to be completed by a certain day, I'll give my self some lead time and put it on my calendar a few days (or however long it will take) before it's due. Remember, stuff that goes on your calendar include:

                    1. Time-specific events (i.e. appointments)
                    2. Day-specific events (i.e. if it doesn't get done today, it will die)
                    3. Anything else that you want to KNOW ABOUT on a specific day.

                    So... I believe that what you're referring to would fit into bucket #3. And, keep in mind that NA's aren't necessarily "To Do's", rather, they're reminders of what the next thing is that needs to be done. I believe that's an important distinction that often gets overlooked.

                    Where your lists really come in handy is in finding ways to use the "weird windows of time" that pop up. For example, you have 10 minutes before your next meeting - you consult your lists to see what options are available to you for filling that 10 minutes. Are you at a phone? Consult your calls list - the items on that list represent options that you have available to you that you can use to take advantage of that 10 minutes.

                    It's not like during the course of your work you say, "OK, NA #1 done. Let me think through this monster and figure out what NA#2 is and do that next". I know that my work doesn't flow that way... I'm pretty sure that yours doesn't, either.

                    The way that I usually come up w/NA's (i.e. options) is through note taking, mind sweeping, or when I reach a stooping point on an project and want to put a place holder in motion to remind me of what I need to do next. Hope that helps.

                    Jim

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                    • #11
                      I appreciate David's insight that GTD can be seen as a martial art. It's a method that allows you to respond to multiple inputs at multiple levels coming from multiple directions in multiple ways, without dropping the ball on any of them.

                      A martial art won't tell you how to choose your fights. It will tell you how to react when three guys are rushing at you.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Brent
                        I appreciate David's insight that GTD can be seen as a martial art. It's a method that allows you to respond to multiple inputs at multiple levels coming from multiple directions in multiple ways, without dropping the ball on any of them.

                        A martial art won't tell you how to choose your fights. It will tell you how to react when three guys are rushing at you.
                        That's great, Brent! I similarly like something that David said in the GTD Fast set that goes something like, "in the heat of battle, you don't have time to think... you need to have already thought"

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                        • #13
                          Every morning I do daily review. I look over my calendar, actions, and projects. It only takes about 5-10 minutes. With a fresh image of everything I have do in my mind, I ask myself "What I am worried about? What is causing me the most stress?". And generally I have my answer for the most important thing to work on. I find that my brain is quite effective at worrying about the most important things, so I just do those first. As a recovering procrastinator, I just do what I used to avoid.

                          I also follow DA's model through out the day:
                          1) Context
                          2) Time Available
                          3) Energy level
                          4) Priority

                          I find the energy level mention very powerful as my work a lot of the time has tasks that require intense focus, while others I could do half asleep. (but they still must be done!) In the past I made the mistake of doing low energy requirement tasks when I was at a high level, or the exact opposite. Not a good way to spend your time.

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