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All set up...and I never glance at my lists

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  • All set up...and I never glance at my lists

    I rarely look at my Next Actions.

    I've been using GTD to various degrees for many months now. I store all my Actions in my Treo 600, which is convenient for me. I use my tickler well enough, as I can remember to check it every day when I get home from work.

    I do the weekly review about half the time, and my Next Actions lists are always acceptably up-to-date.

    But I rarely look at my Next Actions. I rarely even think to look at them. I'm usually enjoying or doing other things that aren't on my NA lists.

    Any suggestions? I'll happily provide further information if requested.

  • #2
    My suggestion is to start getting in the habit of reviewing your Next Action lists. How can you expect to get those things done if you are not reviewing them? I have an employee that I'm training to use the GTD system and he started claiming that GTD actually was causing him to get less done. Upon investigation I found that he was doing the same thing you are doing. Getting everything into your trusted system is only part of the job. The other part is to review those lists of tasks on a regular basis. I train my people to do daily reviews where they scan their Next Action lists daily, review their calendars daily and check their tickler's daily. They also know that the weekly review is the key to the entire system. When I first train someone on GTD I meet with them to do the weekly review. Once they have the habit going I let them do it on their own. So far I've trained 3 people in the GTD system and every single one of them is far more productive.

    Comment


    • #3
      Getting things out of your head and onto your lists with GTD can have a strange consequence. If you have been accustomed to doing the thing that was screaming loudest in your head, then putting it on a list can take it right off your radar screen. Your mind is so accustomed to looking for these screaming tasks that when they are out of your head it just kind of says: “well, looks like there’s nothing to do, let’s go do something else”.

      In other words, your traditional method of “prioritising” (loudest screamer gets done first) is gone; AND YOU HAVE NOT REPLACED IT WITH ANY OTHER PRIORITISING SYSTEM!! This is an actual danger that you must be aware of (it caught me out once or twice … or three times).

      So, you really do need to keep an eye on your lists, and don’t let that small neat writing make you think the things listed are unimportant.

      I’m not contradicting David Allen here – his aim is for us to have a free and energised mind, but I’m sure he too would caution that your lists are your control centre – not a drawer into which you put things you don’t want to think about!

      Dave

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      • #4
        One of David's measurements...

        One of the interesting measurements David had in his belt grades for GTD was not knowing who you need to call without looking at your list. If you rarely have to look at your lists, then maybe you still have too much in your head.

        That being said, I do find that if I'm doing my reviews regularly and really determining next actions for things when I put them in my system, I usually don't need to look at a list to find the next action for a particular context because one will come to me. However, I want to learn to look at the lists more often, because there is often a better one I could be doing than the one that came to me.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Brent
          But I rarely look at my Next Actions. I rarely even think to look at them. I'm usually enjoying or doing other things that aren't on my NA lists.
          Are you saying you FORGET to look at your NA list? Or do you NOT WANT to look at your NA list?

          When you say you are... "usually enjoying or doing other things that aren't on my NA lists", that sounds like procrastination to me. If that is the case, and you might have to do some deep introspection to discover it, then you might want to re-examine your Project List and NA's (i.e.: why are you avoiding them?/are they too complex?, etc.)

          If I am off the mark here and it has nothing to do with avoidance, then may I recommend paper. Yes, paper.

          I work in technology and believe everything should be automated. I am on my computer all day and I keep my projects and next actions in MS Access. But my biggest leap in GTD was when I began printing my context lists from Access onto good old paper. I created a report that fits all of my NA's onto one page grouped by context. At any moment I can pull the sheet of paper from my pocket and see every NA for every active project. No scrolling. Give it a try.

          Hope I helped.

          Comment


          • #6
            Stale and Moldy

            Perhaps your next actions have become stale to the point where they are obsolete?

            WOW howman, I had just recently started to print out my next action lists. I use an old palm divided up "the david" way with contexts and projects and sdmb. I noticed an amazing amount of difference in having a beautiful sheet of paper and how fast I checked them off.

            Back to the main point, there are lots of variables that could be at play here.
            -NA lists are over crowded with things that could have been done within 2 min.
            -skipped weekly reviews have made your NA lists stale and pointless.

            Some points that have already been addressed but worth drilling in:
            -love your context. get in it, and start hammering on your next actions, which- if clearly defined- i will say it again....if clearly defined-should be very fast and brainless.
            -i am guessing some NA's are really projects. I just went through this... I went and redefined about 10 NA's as PROJECTS. guess what happened? I looked up the phone number for the project and made the stinkin call instead of "plan x" or "decide x"- breaking things down like this REALLLLY unsticks things.

            and finally....
            GTD does not give you any more willpower or stamina to do the things that you just REALLY DONT WANT TO DO. Your @lists arent magic. they just show you the fastest way through the mundane.

            thanks for the post.

            Comment


            • #7
              Thanks, all, for your suggestions! Grouping them:

              CoachMike: So, you're saying I should review my NA lists every day? When? If I review my NA lists, say, just after I get home, then I can only complete Actions that are in one context. How do I get into the habit of checking the other contexts?

              BusyDave: I agree with your comments; I definitely should keep a better eye on my lists. But thats why I posted this thread. Do you have any specific advice?

              Vramin: Interesting! And yeah, I'm definitely getting things done; I'm just not getting done a lot of the stuff that's on my NA lists.

              howman: Thanks for the suggestions! I definitely _forget_ to look at my NA list. I honestly think it's not procrastination. I feel no dread when thinking about NA lists (well, a little in some contexts, but not in general).

              I have tried paper, and it just doesn't work for me as well as my Palm for personal NAs and Projects. I do use paper for lots of other things.

              gtderik: Great thoughts! My lists aren't stale, though; I do the weekly reviews about 50% of the time, and my life moves slowly enough that my NA lists are acceptably fresh at that rate. And yeah, my NAs are pretty atomic and specific.

              Perhaps some examples from my "Home/Desk" NA list would help:

              * Get Frisbee clothes together
              * Drop a handful of 4x6 index cards in bag
              * Put Galaxy Quest in DVD binder
              * Re-print tax form for employee

              How does that look?

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Brent
                Perhaps some examples from my "Home/Desk" NA list would help:

                * Get Frisbee clothes together
                * Drop a handful of 4x6 index cards in bag
                * Put Galaxy Quest in DVD binder
                * Re-print tax form for employee

                How does that look?
                Honestly? It looks like your list is jammed with two minute items that should have been done before ever going on your list.

                It also looks like maybe you could stand to tweak your contexts a bit. Re-printing the tax form doesn't look like it needs the same resources as the others.

                You said that you are happily keeping busy without looking at your NA lists. How? What are you doing, and where are those actions coming from? If the majority of things you need to do aren't on your lists, then (1) you haven't captured everything in your system and therefore can't trust the system and (2) you don't have a reason to look at the lists, so of course you're going to forget them.

                Katherine

                Comment


                • #9
                  Interesting Brent....

                  Hmm... So you'r NA's are fresh, small, relevant, and things you want to accomplish? Do you think that it could just be a problem with procrastination at this point? Because if you are telling me that your system is tidy, i have to believe you that its tidy and well kept. In this case, alarms might be a help. I know that with me (I have ADD) alarms have helped me keep focus. I would recommend some of the Productivity Dashes from Merlin Mann and www.43folders.com. Try "dashing" through some NA's and getting a bunch done.

                  Also, remember what I said about LOVING YOUR CONTEXT. For me, home is the most difficult for me to open up the lists. There is no trigger to open up my lists. Whereas with @COMPUTER its easy- i just whip out the PDA and start knocking out the NA's, @calls I instantly look at when I get in the car, @WORK is when I am at my office, @errands is what I glance at when I am leaving home or leaving work. Perhaps you could try to practice openning up the palm when you get in certain contexts. If you do this enough you might start to actually open it up subconscously-when you really do need it. Also feel free to experiment and redefine contexts so that they are a better fit for you.

                  great post.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by kewms
                    Honestly? It looks like your list is jammed with two minute items that should have been done before ever going on your list.
                    I AGREE! Good point Katherine. Be good to the 2 min rule and it will be good to you!

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                    • #11
                      Maybe block off some time?

                      Brent,

                      A while back I posted on how to get to do the more important things? You
                      made a good suggestion about blocking off time for a few NAs - might that be a way forward?

                      (I should confess I too have a few stale-ish actions in my system. I've wondered about putting an entry date as actions are added , so at weekly review I could ask myself "how come that hasn't been done in the last x days?")

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                      • #12
                        Thanks to everyone for their replies and insight!

                        Hmm. Well, putting together clothes for Frisbee isn't a 2-minute job. It's also something that I was told about at work; I couldn't do it at that moment, so it went on my "@Home/Desk" NA list. "Drop 4x6 cards in bag" and "Drop GalaxyQuest DVD" were also suggested when I wasn't at home, which is why they went on my NA list. What am I doing wrong there?

                        Katherine, maybe I'm confused about contexts. What do you mean by "needing the same resources"? Re-printing the tax form has to be done on my home computer, which is on my desk at home. What sort of different context would you recommend?

                        Katherine asks, "You said that you are happily keeping busy without looking at your NA lists. How? What are you doing, and where are those actions coming from?"

                        I'm reading books, cooking, watching DVDs, etc. I do end up doing things that I enjoy. The problem comes with non-urgent but important tasks, like printing out tax forms. Those don't get done, not because I find them particularly distasteful, but just because I never think about them.

                        This seems to be my central problem: As soon as an NA hits my NA list, it goes clear out of my head.

                        Maybe "Home/Desk" wasn't the best example. Here are a few more things from my "@Anywhere-Day" list:

                        * Go to DMV and change address on driver's license
                        * Call [number] to schedule appointment
                        * Call Will at [number] about house re-estimate

                        Those have been on my "@Anywhere-Day" list for months. And I don't particularly dread doing them; I just never even check my NA list to see that they need to be done.

                        gtderik suggests, "Perhaps you could try to practice openning up the palm when you get in certain contexts." I think this hits the nail on the head. I think I currently have no trigger to open up the NA list.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Keeping lists in your face and procrastination

                          Originally posted by Brent
                          CoachMike: So, you're saying I should review my NA lists every day? When? If I review my NA lists, say, just after I get home, then I can only complete Actions that are in one context. How do I get into the habit of checking the other contexts?
                          How often do you look at your lists now? You should review your lists more than once a day -- you should do it whenever you need to choose something to do.

                          I agree with the "print it on paper" suggestion -- I keep my printed lists in a copystand on my desk, so I can just turn and look at them. Keeping my lists in my face helps me stay aware of those actions and get them done.

                          I have tried paper, and it just doesn't work for me as well as my Palm for personal NAs and Projects. I do use paper for lots of other things.
                          You don't have to keep track of things on paper -- just use the paper for reference and checking off. Keep them organized on your Palm or wherever you like, but print it on paper to put the lists in your face.

                          I'd also like to follow up on one of the other suggestions: GTD is not a motivational system. Adopting GTD finally got me to focus on procrastination as a problem for me -- I ended up with nice neat lists of things that weren't getting done.

                          You may not be working your lists for other reasons -- as you suggest, you're not looking at them. If you get to the point where you look over your lists regular and still don't get them done, then you can worry about procrastination as an issue.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Brent
                            Hmm. Well, putting together clothes for Frisbee isn't a 2-minute job. It's also something that I was told about at work; I couldn't do it at that moment, so it went on my "@Home/Desk" NA list. "Drop 4x6 cards in bag" and "Drop GalaxyQuest DVD" were also suggested when I wasn't at home, which is why they went on my NA list. What am I doing wrong there?
                            If it were my system, those items would go into my inbox/capture device, not directly into my NA lists. I'd then take care of them during my next inbox processing block. For me, that both makes sure that the two-minute items get done, and keeps my NA lists from getting cluttered with "stuff".

                            Katherine, maybe I'm confused about contexts. What do you mean by "needing the same resources"? Re-printing the tax form has to be done on my home computer, which is on my desk at home. What sort of different context would you recommend?
                            I don't know what your life looks like. But I find it helps me to keep home computer stuff separate from home maintenance stuff. Otherwise, I spend so much time running around the house doing dishes, folding laundry, and collecting books for the library that the bills don't get paid (a computer-based task), and vice versa.

                            Maybe "Home/Desk" wasn't the best example. Here are a few more things from my "@Anywhere-Day" list:

                            * Go to DMV and change address on driver's license
                            * Call [number] to schedule appointment
                            * Call Will at [number] about house re-estimate

                            Those have been on my "@Anywhere-Day" list for months. And I don't particularly dread doing them; I just never even check my NA list to see that they need to be done.
                            Again, I'm a little confused by your use of contexts. For me, the first item is an @Errand, and the other two are @Phone. If all my errands are in one place and all my phone calls are in another, both lists become more relevant and easier to remember.

                            gtderik suggests, "Perhaps you could try to practice openning up the palm when you get in certain contexts." I think this hits the nail on the head. I think I currently have no trigger to open up the NA list.
                            Much as I love my Palm, this is why I don't use it anymore. Paper has a way of making itself known.

                            Katherine

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by kewms
                              Honestly? It looks like your list is jammed with two minute items that should have been done before ever going on your list.

                              Katherine
                              That is a good point, but sometimes you get an idea for a two-minute item, but you're not in the context to be able to do it. Therefore, it does end up on the list...

                              Brent -- you asked "when do I look at my lists" -- for me it's not a discrete action, it's sort of part of the "dance of work" for me... First I look at my calendar, then I review and do whatever day-specific items need to get done, then I look at my lists (if I still have chunks of discretionary time) for whatever context I'm in. It really is a ridiculously SIMPLE process -- but as someone else here remarked, letting go of thinking we need to THINK about what needs to happen in the moment can be a tough hurdle to sail over. The key is to have already thought and to have a "punch list" of "easy win" next actions to just churn through.

                              It's funny, too -- I notice the stupider an action sounds like when I read it on my list, the more energy and movement it usually produces! It's the paradox of GTD!

                              Carolyn

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