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  • N/A with Variable Deliverables/Steps

    I'm still having trouble, I think, on dealing with ambiguous tasks. These are cases where the exact deliverable has a range of acceptable quality and the exact approach for getting there can't be known in advance.

    e.g., lets say my task is "Sell old uke on ebay"

    One of my next actions is to get the thing boxed up. To do that, I need to know the size. So the task I have is:

    "Measure size of uke"

    but really the next action is to get a tape measure, but it seems silly to me to put

    "Get tape measure"

    when it's pretty obvious that since I'm already in that context (Home), I'll need to get the measure. But, is that the way I'm supposed to do it?

    The more complicated case is something like "prepare materials for status meeting X." In this case, the range of acceptable outputs is pretty variable. As I'm going through it, I might notice that material item x (the list of issues) could be automated. If I automated it now, I'd still get the task done, with better quality, BUT I could get the task done without doing it now and just spin this task off as a someday/maybe.

    Or, let's say I notice when I'm going through that some of the issue statuses are messed up or haven't been kept up to date. I could fix them permanently in their source (might take a while), or just paste and hack into the document. Again, I could spin it off as a separate task, but it's the same trade off.

    In these cases, I often end up tackling the separate task because of it's long term value, but I end up eating time that, if I looked at all my tasks in a in the moment or weekly review, I might not have picked that as a "must do now."

  • #2
    Two-minute rule, or a variation on it:

    If the "next action" will take less than two minutes, scale up the action a bit.

    Comment


    • #3
      As you said, you'll know when you see "Measure size of uke" that it's understood that you'll need a tape measure. It can be easy to get bogged down and too granular in your Next Actions. For the more complex projects, you'll get comfortable with what needs a specific Next Action, and what is implied as a preceeding Next Action, as you do your Project planning.

      Echoing the Two Minute Rule comment. I'm not Black Belt GTD yet, but I really try to adhere to that and it's made a big difference in my productivity.

      Comment


      • #4
        Just enough is good enough.

        Originally posted by furashgf
        The more complicated case is something like "prepare materials for status meeting X." In this case, the range of acceptable outputs is pretty variable. As I'm going through it, I might notice that material item x (the list of issues) could be automated. If I automated it now, I'd still get the task done, with better quality, BUT I could get the task done without doing it now and just spin this task off as a someday/maybe.
        Do not do too much in advance. The future is unknown. Maybe the project will be cancelled?

        If the quality of the outcome is acceptable and you consciously delay the higher quality part of the task you are becoming more productive. Maybe nobody expects this higher quality outcome at this stage of the project.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by furashgf
          I'm still having trouble, I think, on dealing with ambiguous tasks. These are cases where the exact deliverable has a range of acceptable quality and the exact approach for getting there can't be known in advance.
          Go for minimum acceptable quality (is the result fit for the purpose?). If you don't know what the minimum is, make it up. If you get it wrong then change your approach. Consider the risks of getting it wrong.

          Originally posted by furashgf
          e.g., lets say my task is "Sell old uke on ebay"

          One of my next actions is to get the thing boxed up. To do that, I need to know the size. So the task I have is:

          "Measure size of uke"

          but really the next action is to get a tape measure, but it seems silly to me to put

          "Get tape measure"

          when it's pretty obvious that since I'm already in that context (Home), I'll need to get the measure. But, is that the way I'm supposed to do it?
          "Measure size of uke" is a fine next action because it is the minimum you need to list in order to get the action done. When doing the next action you will automatically go and get the tape measure (you do have it stored in a place you can find it don't you?)

          Originally posted by furashgf
          The more complicated case is something like "prepare materials for status meeting X." In this case, the range of acceptable outputs is pretty variable. As I'm going through it, I might notice that material item x (the list of issues) could be automated. If I automated it now, I'd still get the task done, with better quality, BUT I could get the task done without doing it now and just spin this task off as a someday/maybe.

          Or, let's say I notice when I'm going through that some of the issue statuses are messed up or haven't been kept up to date. I could fix them permanently in their source (might take a while), or just paste and hack into the document. Again, I could spin it off as a separate task, but it's the same trade off.?
          Again, what is the minimum you have to do for the meeting? What is the purpose of the meeting? (Is there a purpose??) Is the time it takes to automate worth the improvement? What are the consequences of inaccurate or out-of-date data?

          Comment


          • #6
            I'm reminded of advice I read by a manager of a dot-com. He wrote that many big companies had the approach, "Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Fire," but in dot-coms, he learned that he had to use the approach, "Ready, Fire, Aim, Fire, Aim, Fire, Aim, Fire."

            In other words, take action first. Then adjust based on the results of your action.

            At least, that's the ideal.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Brent
              I'm reminded of advice I read by a manager of a dot-com. He wrote that many big companies had the approach, "Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Fire," but in dot-coms, he learned that he had to use the approach, "Ready, Fire, Aim, Fire, Aim, Fire, Aim, Fire."

              In other words, take action first. Then adjust based on the results of your action.

              At least, that's the ideal.
              This reminds me of the opening of Ready for Anything: (paraphrase) Look around and find something to clean up or put away. That will get you moving, and you'll begin to perceive what to do next.

              Getting into motion and doing some little task -- could be almost anything -- makes the head work better, I have found.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by furashgf
                The more complicated case is something like "prepare materials for status meeting X." In this case, the range of acceptable outputs is pretty variable. As I'm going through it, I might notice that material item x (the list of issues) could be automated. If I automated it now, I'd still get the task done, with better quality, BUT I could get the task done without doing it now and just spin this task off as a someday/maybe.

                Or, let's say I notice when I'm going through that some of the issue statuses are messed up or haven't been kept up to date. I could fix them permanently in their source (might take a while), or just paste and hack into the document. Again, I could spin it off as a separate task, but it's the same trade off.

                In these cases, I often end up tackling the separate task because of it's long term value, but I end up eating time that, if I looked at all my tasks in a in the moment or weekly review, I might not have picked that as a "must do now."
                The only way to learn to make better choices is to make choices based on the information available, and see what works. Many people think they need some complicated evaluative process for their day-to-day work, but for the most part we learn how to best do our work without conscious effort. Sometimes an explicit evaluation of the best sequence of events is needed, but even in the most important decisions, gut feeling plays an important role.

                Many actions don't take as long as we think. On the other hand, if you find that you regret spending too much time on certains types of tasks. you should ask yourself if those tasks need to be done and really need as much time as you spend on them.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by tfadams
                  As you said, you'll know when you see "Measure size of uke" that it's understood that you'll need a tape measure. It can be easy to get bogged down and too granular in your Next Actions.
                  True. But on the other hand, sometimes we get stuck on something just this granular, and breaking it out can unstick us. If you're not stuck, no need to get more granular. But it's a good strategy when you are stuck. Hope that makes sense.

                  Do Mi

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    ...don't forget, of course, that additional granularity is theoretically infinite - you could say "get tape measure" or you could say "walk over to the place where I keep the tape measure" or "start walking across the room" or "move left leg", and the answer is to stop at the level that gets you doing stuff.

                    (That said, "move left leg" isn't actually quite as absurd as it sounds: in cases of severe procrastination, thinking of my next action as "open computer file" can actually help get things going, though I probably wouldn't write it down on a list.)

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I think also doing the gold-plated, potentially useful but tangental task often:

                      1. adds quality, but only to me, and given that the "customer" defines quality ...
                      2. is often something, that, on reflection, if I saw it on a task list during a weekly review, I might someday/maybe or delegate ...

                      I'm going to try the recomendation to collect but skip these tasks and see where it takes me.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        The "One" Rule

                        furashgf,

                        A rule of thumb I use in determining how granular a next action needs to be is what I call the "one" rule. A next action:
                        - produces one tangible product or accomplishment
                        - can be done by one person (me)
                        - can be done in one context
                        - can be done on one occasion

                        That being said, most of the things you are calling actions, I would call projects.

                        Selling your ukelele on eBay is probably a project if for no other reason that you will have a waiting-for period while bids accumulate. Boxing up the uke to send it to the buyer is probably a next action because you should be able to do it in one shot while you are at home. Getting the tape measure could be a next action if a neighbor borrowed it, and you have to go over to his house and get it back.

                        I would also consider preparations for a meeting to be a project because of all of the different things that would need to be accomplished and deliverables produced. Generally speaking, if I find myself using the word "if" a lot in describing what I might need to do, then I'm probably dealing with a project. The only time that's not the case is when I can take care of any contingency in the context I'm working in on that one occasion.

                        Whether or not you choose to add any "extras" to a project is up to you, although from your comments, it appears that you think that they are not really the best use of your time. My own preference (assuming of course that I have the time) is to make improvements in processes as I am doing them. This takes advantage of the momentum I have gained from being involved in the process and the fact that I already have everything out on my desk.

                        Only you can determine the tradeoff between the broader, and longer-term value of getting things fixed up front and the immediate needs of the moment. One key question to ask yourself when deciding is "Can I do this and still get the main job done on time?" This will keep you focused on what is really important. Another key question is "Am I doing this in order to do my job better, or am I doing this in order to avoid doing something else?" This will help you avoid falling into "productive procrastination."

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by furashgf
                          "Measure size of uke"

                          but really the next action is to get a tape measure, but it seems silly to me to put

                          "Get tape measure"

                          when it's pretty obvious that since I'm already in that context (Home), I'll need to get the measure. But, is that the way I'm supposed to do it?
                          The answer to this may depend on how well organized your home is and whether you know for 100% certainty where the tape measure is and that it will be there when you want iit. If you are not, then "check tape measure is there" or "find tape measure" or even "buy tape measure" could be your NA's. While the listing of this NA is simplistic, it could hold your project up if you had to make a special trip to the store to buy a tape measure and hence I would probably put it on the list unless I was 100% certain I knew where it was; then I'd just go with the measuring NA.

                          Paul

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Good advice about how granular the NA needs to be. The baritone uke thing, by the way, was a project, it's just that instead of putting 'get tape measure' I put "measure uke", since I knew where the tape measure was (1) and the tape measure was in the same context as where the measuring would take place (@Home) (2).

                            Regarding the gold plating, I'll continue practicing spinning off the nice to have, not necessarly valued by customer things as collection items that I'll later process and maybe do.

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