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  • GTD vs Personal Entropy

    GTD has been a big help for me, especially the "capture everything" idea. However, it's not quite perfect for me. For the last several months, my pattern seems to be:

    * set up new system for tracking GTD stuff (having gone through wiki, tiddlywiki, paper, iCal, backpack)
    * getting started into new system
    * I pay attention to my Next Actions, get higher productivity
    * buildup / backlog
    * eventually Next Actions list looks "stale", no longer reflecting what i need
    * I start ignoring Next Actions, get lower productivity
    * eventually need to reboot into a new system again, or sometimes go through a slow comprehensive clean out of my current system

    Lately my Backpack set up has been okay, although it's been backlog. (And even with all the problems above, I've still been more productive than above!)

    I would love some advice to help prevent this kind of entropy buildup in my system or, perhaps more reasonably, find an easier way of managing it. Any suggestions? Perhaps I should even embrace the entropy, and voluntarily change systems every few months or so to keep me from getting to used to any particular one.

  • #2
    Are you doing Weekly Reviews?

    Stale NAs sound more like a system maintenance problem, not a tools problem, and are exactly the kind of thing the Weekly Review is supposed to handle. Radically changing your toolset every few months seems like an excellent way to NOT get things done.

    Katherine

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    • #3
      Are you doing a weekly review? This is the single best way to keep it fresh.

      I would not recommend changing systems every couple of months. I have been there, done that. It won't help. Big waste of time. Pick a system that works for you and stick with it. Just review it without fail. Note to self: Do weekly review this evening.

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      • #4
        Are you doing Weekly Reviews?

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        • #5
          I was just wondering if you are doing weekly reviews.

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          • #6
            My apologizes for duplicating Katherine's answer but my computer was suffering innternet connection problems and did not see her post before I replied.

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            • #7
              Max: No, no! That wasn't meant as a criticism. It was meant as a humorous comment. In fact, when I read the original post, my first reaction was to ask whether the poster was doing the weekly reviews, so when I scrolled down I began to laugh at the replies.

              My apologies if I caused any offense; it certainly wasn't intended. I think you were spot-on with your advice.

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              • #8
                I in fact haven't been doing Weekly Reviews! This is part of that aforementioned pattern, where I miss one review and then my NAs no longer resemble something I feel strongly about. A Weekly Review consists of going emptying the inbox, looking over / updating the Projects, and generating NAs accordingly, right?

                One other possible issue here might be how I organize my NAs. One reason that they might look stale to me is because while I've organized the lists by the necessary resources ("Online", "At Home", "Running Errands"), I'm still hunting around for the right actions within that to fit; it's almost like there's another set of contexts going on ("Easy Mindless Tasks", "Requires More Focus", "Requires More Time Than You Have Now"). Does anyone have any suggestions for how best to brainstorm the right Context lists for the Next Actions?

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by DevP
                  I'm still hunting around for the right actions within that to fit; it's almost like there's another set of contexts going on ("Easy Mindless Tasks", "Requires More Focus", "Requires More Time Than You Have Now"). Does anyone have any suggestions for how best to brainstorm the right Context lists for the Next Actions?
                  Try scheduling time with yourself for the big stuff, or try to set up a routine. One trick I have used is to say "From 9:30 to 10:30 I am going to work on this manuscript. If I do nothing else today, if I make progress on that, it will be a pretty good day."

                  Some people have found it helpful to take things off the NA list when they schedule a time for them because it relieves the worry: "I've set aside time to work on that." Others prefer to have it in both places for security, or to have the option if time opens up ahead of schedule.

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                  • #10
                    Ideally, you should have everything DONE. Don’t be trying to find things to populate your GTD system with. Strive hard to get everything done and finished: then, the stuff that you just can't get done today is the stuff that goes into GTD. Your system should be a mirror of where you’re at.

                    GTD is there because we can’t do everything now. But make sure you have it the right way ‘round: GTD is there to let us know where we are in the things we have decided to do: it is not a taskmaster.

                    Shorter lists, or at least rapidly changing lists, are a sign that your life is moving forward: and you will find that constantly refreshed lists are actually inspiring and motivating.

                    If your system seems to be going stale, it’s because it’s not really describing your life as it actually is.

                    And don’t let GTD be an excuse to not do things: “Hey, it’s in my system, so I don’t have to think about it now”. If you do that, you’re whole life will go stale!

                    You should be striving to get everything done and out of your life once and for all.
                    I know, I know, we may never really catch up, and that there are maybe at least thirty projects on the go at any one time, with hundreds of hours embedded therein. But this might only be true at the point where you first start using GTD.

                    Setting up GTD for the first time is an experience no one will ever forget, everything in the massive dark mental loft is taken out, sorted, dumped, aligned, and set in motion. You will probably get through a huge amount of this stuff in a few weeks.

                    Personally, I realised that I had had been hanging on to some potential projects for many years, and that they had grown stale and uninteresting. When I decided to drop these jaded ideas out of my life, my list of projects began to get shorter and shorter. At one point I even began to feel quite boring when I saw that there was virtually nothing new and exciting going on in my life.

                    The bigger challenge was to allow myself to start to get excited about life again, and pick one or two cool things to do.

                    So, for an average guy like me, the GTD lists can be quite short, and it took a long time for me to realise that this was a GOOD thing! But I will never stop using GTD – I see my lists as the state of affairs at the frontline of my life.

                    I saw an advertisement recently in a home décor magazine. A girl was standing looking out a window on a sunny day, sipping coffee. You just knew that she had everything done, and was looking out at the horizons of her life ahead, thinking new thoughts, and new things to do. Idealistic maybe, but it reminded me that I had utterly forgotten the state of mind to which that I used to aspire.

                    Dave

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                    • #11
                      Nice post!

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                      • #12
                        I'm guessing BusyDave does his weekly reviews.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by DevP
                          Does anyone have any suggestions for how best to brainstorm the right Context lists for the Next Actions?
                          I think this is going to depend on you -- on what kind of "stuff" you have, and on what makes the most sense in terms of what you have to manage and how you prefer to organize it.

                          That being said, I tend to recommend starting with the contexts that are given in the GTD book (in chapter 7), and thinking long and hard about what you're gaining when you add to/change that list. I've found that the broader my contexts are, the less time I spend playing the Monkey Mind game of "where does this belong?" My goal is to make the process of processing my inbox as transparent as possible, so that I spend my time getting work done and not messing with my system too much. So, I have 8 "big picture" contexts (@Home, @Computer, @Office, @Call, @Errand, @Anywhere, @Someday and @Waiting) and I fit all my next actions into those contexts. Smaller buckets wouldn't help me be more productive.

                          Perhaps it's time to step back and review what your goals are for your system. Is your goal to have everything perfectly categorized and fitted into small, neat compartments? Or is your goal to get things done? My system (implemented with NoteStudio) tend to be pretty free-form and messy, because rigid structure means I spend more time figuring out where my stuff goes than I do actually doing it.

                          You can always refactor or revisit stuff once it's in your system, especially when your system is digital.

                          -_ Tammy

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                          • #14
                            The weekly review and contexts

                            Originally posted by DevP
                            A Weekly Review consists of going emptying the inbox, looking over / updating the Projects, and generating NAs accordingly, right?
                            No this is incorrect. Emptying your inbox is not part of doing the weekly review. It is a separate activity that should be completed prior to starting your weekly review. Inbox processing and the weekly review are separate and distinct activities. If you try to do them at the same time you end up with confusion.

                            My guess is that one of the reasons you're not doing weekly weekly reviews is that you aren't successfully doing daily inbox processing. I struggled with this a lot. Sometimes I still do. If my inbox isn't empty on Friday morning then I focus on that so that I can do my weekly review Friday afternoon.

                            Nothing makes the weekly review more daunting than an over-stuffed inbox. Nothing makes the weekly review easier than an empty in-box.

                            ...it's almost like there's another set of contexts going on ("Easy Mindless Tasks", "Requires More Focus", "Requires More Time Than You Have Now"). Does anyone have any suggestions for how best to brainstorm the right Context lists for the Next Actions?
                            GTD page 48-53 and chapter 9. This takes you back to the first of three models for making action choices.

                            The four criteria model for choosing actions: 1. Context; 2. Time available; 3. Energy available; and 4. Priority

                            The context is set already by your next action lists which are divided by context. Once you start doing weekly reviews, you will weekly a.) reinforce the overall objective for each project, and b.) identify the next action associated with each project. Perhaps less noticable is the fact that you also begin to familiarize yourself with all of your next actions and begin to identify the other four criteria in the four criteria model.

                            If I've done a weekly review I can look at a list of next action items on my @computer list and intuitively know which ones fit the time I have available, which ones will require more energy or focus than I can currently muster, and which ones are of higher priority. David writes that we use our intuition to discern among the items on a next action list for these different factors. They are not in and of themselves different contexts.

                            Depending upon your implamentation you could categorize each next action along the Time, Engery, and Priority dimensions (however, I would not recommend using these as contexts--context is a different and your most critical dimension.). In Outlook for example you can use the Total Work for the Time dimension and the Priority field for the Priority dimension. For energy level you could either use a custom field or hack one of the existing fields such as Billing Info or Milage from the Outlook task item. Of course only the priority field will sync to your palm to do list (and not exactly at that).

                            In reality we rarely need to move down more than one or even more rarely two levels in this model before we can make a good choice. As an example. Consider a list of @computer next actions. I'm in the Admiral's Club and have 40 minutes before I need to head to the gate for my connection. I've made the first decision and am looking at @computer. Next is time available. I may have 40 items on my @Computer list. Only 20 of them can be done in under an hour. Only 10 in a half hour. I can probably make a good choice intuitively from these 10 items and get something done in the time available. If I've done a weekly reveiw, looking through the 40 items on @Computer I may even be able to intuitively discern which actions I can do in under an hour without thinking much about them.

                            My advice would be not to worry too much about contexts. Get the habit of inbasketry and the weekly review down first. Then contexts will work themselves out over time. I've experimented a lot with contexts over the year and a half I've been doing GTD, and I've circled back around to pretty much the original contexts listed in the book. They work pretty well for me.

                            And don't worry, once you get past the challenges of inbasketry and the weekly review, and once you master the four criteria model there will be the three-fold model for evaluating daily work and the six-level model for reviewing your own work.

                            GTD truly is a martial art and black belt only means that you are ready to begin learning...

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                            • #15
                              Great posts here.

                              Busydave's post got me thinking--maybe your projects & NAs refer to projects that actually belong on a Someday/Maybe list. If you don't feel any urgency about doing them, are you positive they need to get done?

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