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Really questioning GTD

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  • Really questioning GTD

    After doing GTD for a while, I fell off the wagon. In the process of getting back on, I started to seriously question how effective GTD really is. My biggest concern is that the most important projects may not get the most attention in GTD. A second concern is that GTD takes a lot of administrative overhead.

    GTD says that scheduling your workday in advance is unrealistic because everything is changing all the time and your task priorities change, too. This really resonated with me at first. But if you have 200 next actions, how are you supposed to pick the best next thing to work on? Looking at a huge list many times during the day is demoralizing. I also feel that GTD encourages collecting too many todos. Maybe this issue has nothing to do with GTD, but the idea of writing down everything all the time grows lists massively, at least for me. Regular purging is a way to keep them shorter, but this means a lot of time reviewing each week.

    But the biggest problem is that the GTD NA list-processing algorithm does not necessarily structure your work time very well. In contrast, blocking out massive amounts of time each week in advance for important projects can net big dividends.

    As an alternative to GTD, I have been thinking about trying the Planner Pad organizer (https://plannerpads.com/) or something similar. I have been doing GTD on a Palm, so this would be a big change. I like the idea of having a weekly view. I like the idea of having projects at the top that show me constantly the big stuff that I want to accomplish this week. I like the idea of having a small (that is, realistic) number of daily todos. I like the idea of having the calendar there, too.

    When I first looked at the Planner Pad, I thought, wow, I could never fit all the stuff I have to do on this. But then I thought about the fact that a lot of the stuff I put in GTD never gets done, either, due to lack of time. (I know that you can move it to the someday/maybe list, but somehow this does not seem right to me, or at least a little depressing.) Having a limited amount of space on the Planner Pad might force me to be more realistic on the front end. And also focus my week on what is really important.

    What do you all think?

  • #2
    Use Someday/Maybe.

    Originally posted by SoftwareGuy View Post
    What do you all think?
    I think there is no room for 200 Next Actions on Planner Pad's weekly pages too. During the Weekly Review you should move more projects to Someday/Maybe category. Writing everything down is essential but most of these ideas should go to Someday/Maybe for safe storage.

    Comment


    • #3
      Knowledge-Working

      SoftwareGuy,

      could it be that your problem comes from the fact that you sometimes are a "knowledge user" and sometimes a "knowledge producer"?

      For a knowledge user there is no problem to decide quickly what to do next because the work at hand doesn't require any additional knowledge than the knowledge that is already in your head. For a knowledge user the GTD methodology as described in the book is sufficient.

      For a knowledge producer there often is the necessity to gather tons of information, learn what it means, research, and make decision regarding what you've learned before you can make any decisions about the work you were supposed to do and that started that knowledge-producing-process (aka "learning"). And of course you need an additional scheduling system.

      Right now I'm using a paper notebook that I arranged according the example of a Harvard Planner http://www.executive.org/planners/Ho...ge=E&numCols=2.

      And keep your lists closed, i.e. look at the amount of time you have available before you commit to a new project. And put everything that's not feasible within a reasonable time frame onto your list of ideas (Someday/Maybe).

      Rainer
      Last edited by Rainer Burmeister; 12-05-2006, 01:54 AM.

      Comment


      • #4
        Hopefully, my response won't come accross as trying to convince you to stick with one methodology over another, because that's not my intent. But, the problem may be more related to how you are understanding and applying GTD, rather than GTD in and of itself. I say that because of the way I hear a few things in your post ... for example ... (I'm still learning how to quote from posts, so bear with me)

        "GTD says that scheduling your workday in advance is unrealistic because everything is changing all the time and your task priorities change, too. This really resonated with me at first."

        I'm not sure that GTD actually says scheduling your workday in advance is unrealistic. It may, but I don't remember that. Instead, my take on the gist of GTD 'says' that the calendar should reflect a 'hard landscape'. So you *do* schedule your day, but with a certain understanding of how to schedlue it.

        "But if you have 200 next actions, how are you supposed to pick the best next thing to work on?"

        Your best inuititive guess. And that's true no matter what methodology you use or how many NAs you have on your lists. Your decision making (even when simply following someone else's directives) is almost always your best intuitive guess. GTD simply puts this truth out on the table, and says ... OK, this is your time, your day, these are your responsibilities ... given your time, energy, goals, context ... what should you be working on right now?

        If it's totally unclear to you, it might be best to check in with your team, or your supervisor, showing them what your options are, and asking for input on prioritizing. It's sort of like studying for a final exam, when you could try memorize every word you read or heard all semester, but that's unlikely. Instead, based on your experience with that teacher and the material, along with input from other students, you make your best guess as to where the exam will likely focus.

        "Maybe this issue has nothing to do with GTD, but the idea of writing down everything all the time grows lists massively, at least for me."

        I think those lists already exist, whether you write them down or not. These lists aren't growing, strictly speaking. They are being exposed ... from the invisible lists in your brain, to the visible ones in GTD. Writing things down is like looking into a mental mirror ... 'oh, so THAT's what's in my brain! Boy, that's a LOT.' But's it's true whether you look at it or not.

        "But the biggest problem is that the GTD NA list-processing algorithm does not necessarily structure your work time very well."

        The term 'very well' is subjective. It depends on what structure you are looking for, and what 'very well' looks like. I know that may sound like semantics, but I don't mean it that way. GTD doesn't structure your time, you do.

        "In contrast, blocking out massive amounts of time each week in advance for important projects can net big dividends."

        Blocking out like this isn't in contrast to my understanding of GTD. It would be an example of GTD, actually, for me. When you know you need focused time on certain things ... you put that time into your hard landscaped calendar. It does pay big dividends. You just need to be cautious about how, when, and why you block off, so that you know what you are doing, why you are doing it ... and you know what you are not doing, and why you aren't doing that.

        "(I know that you can move it to the someday/maybe list, but somehow this does not seem right to me, or at least a little depressing.)"

        Someday/Maybe can be depressing when we get trapped into thinking that behind the words someday and maybe is a deeper "Really I should be" ... read: guilt. I think the S/M list is designed to inspire and motivate, spurring us into future of possiblities rather than remind us of all the things we *think* really we should be doing. This is sort of a modern day curse ... believing we could/should/would be doing 'it all' or at least 'more', while in reality we can't. We can only do one thing at a time and only be in one place at a time. As obvious as that sounds, most of us don't live or work in cultures where that is fully accepted. So for me, part of the beauty of GTD is that it reflects reality, or as close to it as I can get ... because this stuff is all in my head anyway.

        "What do you all think?"

        I wonder if trying a GTD coach might help you get you unstuck. It sounds to me like the uncertainty you are dealing with may get in the way of productivity and satisfaction no matter which methodology you end up using.

        Good luck!

        Comment


        • #5
          The ToDo-List Trap

          In their book "Managing Multiple Projects" Tobis and Tobis wrote:

          The ToDo-List Trap

          The fundamental problem is that the commitment process is muddled and there's no check for feasibility. Whenever anything "to do" comes up, it's added to the "to-do" list. The only real commitment occurs when an item is moved from the list to the calendar.

          The underlying problem is easy to understand. This sort of to-do list is open-ended. There's no way to tell from the to-do list whether you're overcommitted or not. There's nothing constraining you from adding items to the to-do list, even though your time is limited.

          This method may have little negative consequence when used for handling discretionary items, such as "Give Mary more public acknowledgment for writing reports," but it's a poor method for managing commitments, such as "Deliver report to customer." Adding a to-do, even with a due date and a high priority, does not guarantee that the item can feasibly be done.

          Time-Budgeted To-Do's (Commitments) vs. Optional To-Do's (Ideas)

          In other words, it's possible to maintain two master lists: one for things that would be good to do and the other for commitments, that is, items that are not yet on your calendar but are already accounted for in your time budget.

          A somewhat simpler, if more constraining approach is never to commit to anything without immediately scheduling it. In that approach, your to-do list can contain only ideas and no commitments at all.

          Without some sort of constraint from your time budget, your to-do list will grow endlessly — and the sense you will have and will convey to others is that you do not fulfill your commitments.

          Sort Your To-Do List

          Distinguish between ideas and commitments. It's often said that a plan is an idea with a due date, but a commitment is more than that. A commitment is a plan that you can be confident that you'll fulfill. A commitment is a plan for which time is budgeted.

          One way to handle this is never to commit to anything without scheduling it immediately. Another is to maintain a time budget and two to-do lists, one for commitments that have had an impact on your time budget, though they may not be scheduled yet, another for ideas — options, theories, maybes, and "when-l-get-around-to-it's."

          You'll periodically need to purge your idea list of outdated and unrealistic items. Otherwise, it'll grow too unwieldy to be of use.
          Hope this clears up your problem, somewhat.

          Rainer

          Comment


          • #6
            I'm a tea drinker, not a coffee drinker, but some days are green tea mornings and some are black tea mornings. This is a so black I can't see the bottom of the cup morning... I was up way too late last night finishing a project for a client in China. (With the time difference, staying up got it to her a full business day sooner.)

            I mention this because my experience is that GTD is completely compatible with blocking off large chunks of time for focused work. In my experience, blocking off time is easier to do if you know what else you could be doing and have made a conscious decision not to do it. Then you can proactively handle potential interruptions, among other things, "I'm sorry, Monday is terrible for a meeting because I have to wrap up the Froz Boz project." I'm pretty sure that DA himself has a highly scheduled day, given that his work involves travel and teaching in large doses.

            The 200 NA problem is another example of the same thing. GTD says you should get all of those actions out of your head -- they are there already, whether you like it or not -- it doesn't say you have to actually *do* all of them. In fact, it includes tools (Someday/Maybe lists, Weekly Review) that let you ignore things temporarily, confident that your system will still have them when you have bandwidth to deal with them. One of the advantages I've found with a paper system is that the page size helps serve as a flag to warn me when I'm overloaded and need to start pushing things back.

            Finally, remember that GTD is tool agnostic. If you find that Planner Pad is the best way to manage your lists, great. Go for it! GTD is about the methodology for getting stuff into the appropriate lists, not about the particular forms you use.

            Good luck!

            Katherine

            Comment


            • #7
              You can and "may" schedule your workday all you want. If that is how you work well, why not? Makes absolute sense.

              GTD works just as well with a schedule as it does without. It doesn't eliminate any of the decisions you always have to make though!

              What will you put on the schedule this week? Which project will you write down in the planner pad for Friday?

              The truth is that neither the schedule nor the planner pad or GTD can come up with a system you boot, sit back and it says "Goodmorning SoftwareGuy, you'r top priority project is client X -- to keep this moving forward you now should do Y for 47.8 minutes".

              It simply doesn't exists...

              You have to determine what you should work on.

              I think I will make this one of my cardinal points: GTD is not a triage system to get Most Important on top.

              Reason why some think it is, maybe, is that if you're Next Actions are truly next actions and you manage to move through them -- then as a consequence you keep moving every project forward a little bit each day without letting anything fall through.

              Reality for most of us though is that we get only a small subset of our Next Actions done. To make sure important projects keep moving forward we ensure during the weekly review that we are aware of them -- and if needed schedule time for it.

              Finally -- GTD is a productivity system which encompasses incoming material and to do's, filing, and sorting. It is not a religion which claims you have to use it to the exclusion of anything and everything else. You can just as well use GTD on a planner pad... Or mix up Covey and GTD. Or... you get the idea

              When I first looked at the Planner Pad, I thought, wow, I could never fit all the stuff I have to do on this. But then I thought about the fact that a lot of the stuff I put in GTD never gets done, either, due to lack of time. (I know that you can move it to the someday/maybe list, but somehow this does not seem right to me, or at least a little depressing.) Having a limited amount of space on the Planner Pad might force me to be more realistic on the front end. And also focus my week on what is really important.
              So with GTD you don't want to give yourself permission to be realistic and put on your Next Action list only that which you think you will do -- but with the planner pad you would?

              With GTD I know where those actions you cannot/will not do go. They don't go in your "oh, I gotta remember to ...!" nor in the recycle bin: they go on a someday/maybe list. What do you do with the "stuff" you cannot/will not do in regard to the planner pad?

              I think you are experiencing a very valuable lesson, one which implementing GTD sometimes forces upon us: there is only so much you can really do.

              You can deal with that in two ways. One, throw away actions, as you suggest, be realistic with what you can do and only write down those things you know will get done by the end of the day/week/month.

              Another is to cut up some actions into even smaller actions. David defines a next action as the very next thing you will do. When asked how granular this should be he responded that this depends on what you think you will do. If "write review" is what you will do because you think you have that 8 hour block of time needed -- then do so. If you think you can do it in one sitting, it is your next action.

              Otherwise... Otherwsie you break it up in the very next action/step you can do in one "sitting".

              Thre could be your other way. Start breaking up your Next Actions into even smaller actions. Or do it with some of them. "Put paper on table to write review" may sound silly -- but if you get to it, by the end of the day you have moved that project a tiny step further ... whereas otherwise it wouldn't have moved at all.

              Finally... Before switching, figure it all out. If I call you know and tell you that I want ABC done on project XYZ you know what to do, where to write/store it, how to archive/file it, etc. With your day planner, where does it go? On "Just A Really Big List"?

              Comment


              • #8
                Wow, great responses, everyone! I cracked my knuckles to post a response, then read through the list and realized I have no advice beyond what's given here.

                I will provide an example. I use GTD quite a bit, and at the moment I'm following it almost completely (inboxes are empty, NAs and Projects up-to-date, doing the Weekly Review every week). And I have definitely had days where I schedule everything in advance.

                In fact, that's one of my favorite attributes of GTD. I've had days where I...

                ...am in meetings all day and my time is completely ouf of my hands.

                ...write a schedule that morning and work at specific times on several important things that day.

                ...write a list of things to do that day, and complete them in whatever order makes sense as the day progresses.

                ...work in a completely unstructured manner on many different projects.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Thanks for all the great advice! I am really impressed by the quality of the replies and how well you have thought through these issues. It has definitely triggered some thinking...

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by SoftwareGuy View Post
                    Thanks for all the great advice! I am really impressed by the quality of the replies and how well you have thought through these issues. It has definitely triggered some thinking...
                    Just keep in mind that true growth and understanding, of this or any other system, comes from questioning the process. It's great that you're asking the questions and challenging the system!

                    I'll keep this short because I think that all of your questions have been addressed in-depth so far, but I'd like to add that there's nothing wrong with blocking out chunks of time on your calendar to work on a project, especially if that's the most important thing that you should be working on.

                    GTD doesn't say, "don't prioritize". Rather, it says, "don't hard-code your priorities because they're going to change".

                    Also, realize that just because your 200+ "to dos" may not be written down, it doesn't mean that you don't have them! They're still their, just being ineffectively managed.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      What helps me make sure the "right" projects are being done is to be ruthless during the weekly review at moving lower-priority projects to "deffered" and removing their action items from my context lists.

                      Whenever I notice there are things I haven't been getting to, week after week, I ask myself whether the thing that's not getting done should be cancelled or moved to "deffererd"-- or whether something that IS using a lot of my time should be canceled or moved to deferred to make more time.

                      This is very subjective, but whenever I look at my action lists or my project list and think "ak! when am I ever going to get all this stuff done!?"-- again, it's time to ruthlessly move things to deffered.

                      That doesn't mean that everything left on my project or action lists is super-high-priority-- there are plently of reasons why things that might be called "low priority" would make the list. But it means that I aknowlege I have limited hours in a week, and use my weekly planning session (when I'm thinking about priorities) to narrow the number of choices I have to search through on my action lists (When I'm in the mode of getting stuff done and crossing off to-do items.)

                      It's much easier to prioritize a list of 15 items on a context list on the fly than it is to dig through a list of 200. So I do the "heavy lifting" during the review.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by SoftwareGuy View Post
                        My biggest concern is that the most important projects may not get the most attention in GTD. A second concern is that GTD takes a lot of administrative overhead.
                        If you recognize certain projects as the most important, you're already making intuitive choices. GTD is just a natural extension of the process. The "administrative overhead" issue is a common complaint, but I think it arises from the fact that you can explicitly see your administrative process: you have all your agreements defined and in front of you, or are consciously defining them. You're in the position to pick and choose what to do instead of inconclusively thinking about what you should be doing. In GTD it typically takes 30 to 90 minutes each morning to process in intray to zero. Compare this with intrays of workers without a system, and you'll notice that their intrays will often hold the same stacks for hours or days without significant progress. Since it's impossible to prove a negative, there's no demonstrating that no system incurs more overhead. The only way to really know is to give up GTD for a week, and see which experience is more efficient.

                        GTD says that scheduling your workday in advance is unrealistic because everything is changing all the time and your task priorities change, too. This really resonated with me at first. But if you have 200 next actions, how are you supposed to pick the best next thing to work on? Looking at a huge list many times during the day is demoralizing. I also feel that GTD encourages collecting too many todos. Maybe this issue has nothing to do with GTD, but the idea of writing down everything all the time grows lists massively, at least for me. Regular purging is a way to keep them shorter, but this means a lot of time reviewing each week.
                        Looking at a list of 200 next actions is clearly impractical. It's not only too much to choose from, but likely contains many actions that can't be done in the current context in which they're being reviewed. Having to discern which actions can and can't be done each time you review the list is probably more demoralizing than the number of actions on the list. Those actions need to be split into their appropriate contexts.

                        But the biggest problem is that the GTD NA list-processing algorithm does not necessarily structure your work time very well. In contrast, blocking out massive amounts of time each week in advance for important projects can net big dividends.
                        All things being equal, blocking out massive amounts of time up front can only be a benefit -- if you have that luxury. Those of us not working at home usually find even grabbing one uninterrupted hour unrealistic.

                        GTD isn't really about time management. It's about clarifying what your work is. If you don't know what you need to do, then having more time to do it won't help much. Often when people talk about needing "more time," they're really asking for more time to decide what they need to do about a project. It still helps to make those decisions on the front end, so that any additional time will be used for doing work instead of figuring out what that work is.

                        As an alternative to GTD, I have been thinking about trying the Planner Pad organizer (https://plannerpads.com/) or something similar. I have been doing GTD on a Palm, so this would be a big change. I like the idea of having a weekly view. I like the idea of having projects at the top that show me constantly the big stuff that I want to accomplish this week. I like the idea of having a small (that is, realistic) number of daily todos. I like the idea of having the calendar there, too.

                        When I first looked at the Planner Pad, I thought, wow, I could never fit all the stuff I have to do on this. But then I thought about the fact that a lot of the stuff I put in GTD never gets done, either, due to lack of time. (I know that you can move it to the someday/maybe list, but somehow this does not seem right to me, or at least a little depressing.) Having a limited amount of space on the Planner Pad might force me to be more realistic on the front end. And also focus my week on what is really important.

                        What do you all think?
                        The emptier your head is, the more effective your system becomes. Not putting a project or action down into the system (either as a next action or a someday/maybe) means that you'll start collecting more stuff in your head. In my experience, working from an incomplete list cultivates a lack of trust in the system, because part of me knows that a priority choice made against a partial inventory may not be the best thing I could be doing -- even if it really is. Someday/maybes don't go away just because they're unwritten. I've found it more effective to know what I'm not going to do this week than wonder what I'm not going to do this week.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Gameboy70 View Post

                          GTD isn't really about time management. It's about clarifying what your work is.
                          Gameboy70, this deserves a post of its own, with a frame around it. Thank you.
                          Last edited by Day Owl; 12-05-2006, 03:16 PM.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Amen. That's an excellent post.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              What tools are you using now?

                              Are you already using a paper system, but think the Planner Pads look more useful to you? Or are you using electronic, and are feeling drawn to paper?

                              I gave up on electronic pretty quickly (which really surprised me) and am loving GTD with a paper system. If you want to explore that further there is a yahoo group that is devoted to analog GTD.

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