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Overprocessing keeping me from NA's...

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  • Overprocessing keeping me from NA's...

    Hi!

    I've been working w/ GTD for about 6months now and love it... however I have been struggling recently and am hoping for advice/encouragement from the experts out there.

    I tend to have a revolving "huh" stack that I continue to process and re-process, afraid that if I put it on my NA list, I won't get to it in a timely manner (because I have very long NA lists). It seemed to be a vicious cycle as I would get myself to *really* process or do 1 or 2 items, and a few more would show up that I would be afraid to add to a list and file away. Since I don't "get to zero" and get a clean slate, I don't work off my NA list... (or not often enough at least)... which makes me not trust my system.

    I know this is also a symptom of just way too much on my plate, because I have so much coming into "IN" to be processed each day, I feel I am continually processing. I think if I can get a grip on some of my major projects, which include getting some help to offload some of the work, I would feel so much more in control. Since I constantly seem to process, I feel I don't make much progress on my projects.

    I admit this is also due to some procrastination... any feedback that will help me keep the system straight so I can focus on *not* procrastinating?

    Thanks !!

  • #2
    Based on what you've posted, I think there are a single dysfunctional problem that may be holding you back. The problem is manifesting two symptoms: The first, and probably most important is:

    Dysfunctional inbasketry: It is a simple (though not easy) thing really:

    1. Take one (1) item from top of inbasket.
    2. Decide whether it is actionable, otherwise file, pitch, or incubate it.
    3. If it's actionable decide what's the next action.
    4. Do it (two minute rule) or record the next action.

    Reprocessing doesn't make any sense, unless you fail to make the decision about the next action the first time.

    Inability to make decisions about priority and timelines. If you have too much on your plate then you need to learn a simple little word: "No." That word gets easier when you have a well defined project list. The inability to say No also comes from a lack of the ability to make strategic and tactical decisions. And that really is the fundamental problem.

    Once you decide and start putting things onto your next action lists and working off of them, you'll begin to trust your system. Until you do that it may be difficult to get much benefit from GTD...

    Comment


    • #3
      Have you considered pruning your NA lists? Either by moving things to Someday/Maybe or just letting them go?

      It seems to me that a list that is so long that things are getting lost is a Sign that you are not being realistic about what you can do. Until you match your commitments to your available time, no system will help much.

      Katherine

      Comment


      • #4
        Be realistic - use your Someday/Maybe list!

        Be realistic - use your Someday/Maybe list!

        Comment


        • #5
          Some thoughts and some questions

          Originally posted by sofiabella View Post
          I tend to have a revolving "huh" stack that I continue to process and re-process, afraid that if I put it on my NA list, I won't get to it in a timely manner (because I have very long NA lists).
          A couple of thoughts occur here:

          1) Sounds like you're not really processing. What do you mean by 'processing and re-processing'?

          2) How often do you process your In Trays? If more than once a day, I'd say that's too often.

          3) With the long NA lists, I'm beginning to suspect that either you're putting too many projects on your 'active' list, or you're putting things that aren't really NAs on your NA lists.

          For instance, I have my projects divided into Active, Pending, and Someday/Maybe, where Active contains things I think I can work through in the next week or two, Pending contains things that I'm committed to but know I can't work on yet, and SM contains things I haven't committed to.

          And for the NA lists, I only list things from my Active projects which I could do immediately if I chose. If it doesn't fit those requirements, it's not an NA.

          4) Are you doing a weekly review? Because that's absolutely crucial to making the whole thing work, and if you're not doing it, that might account for your worry that things would just disappear.

          5) As a guide, Merlin Mann of 43 Folders says that NAs should be on the order of 10 minutes work, or at least a lot of them should. And they should be things that don't take much thought: you just crank the handle and get them done.

          6) I also tend to jot down the date on which an NA entered my list, so I can keep track of which ones I'm avoiding, and catch them before they become a problem.

          Originally posted by sofiabella View Post
          I know this is also a symptom of just way too much on my plate, because I have so much coming into "IN" to be processed each day, I feel I am continually processing.
          7) I'm still intrigued by this processing: does any of this refer to email? Because email is a massive time-sucker, which can consume your entire day if you let it. If it is, the best thing you can do is check it only two or three times a day, at most, then process everything in one hit.


          Originally posted by sofiabella View Post
          I admit this is also due to some procrastination... any feedback that will help me keep the system straight so I can focus on *not* procrastinating?
          Try the (10 + 2) * 5 dash, or the progressive dash, on 43 Folders: they let you attack several projects by spending just a short time on each, getting some easy runs on the board fast without having to immerse yourself in something horrid.

          Another thing that helps procrastination is to make sure your NAs are absolutely, completely, positively, NAs, and not mini-projects. If it requires you to look for a phone number, or to plan anything, or is in any way vague or open-ended, your mind will balk.

          Something I do now and again is to divide my NAs into Nice and Nasty, where the Nasty ones are anything that makes me think unhappy thoughts. Then I get those out of the way early in the day, when I'm feeling strong, instead of having a big pile of ugliness waiting to spring on me.

          Comment


          • #6
            Thanks to all for some wonderful guidance! Your comments have helped me to identify a couple of the major issues I am having, causing the overall problem.

            I have been working on improving my "dysfunctional inbasketry" which I agree.. I have been bad about decision making and that is what has me putting some things back into "IN". I will make every effort to be better about this.

            Unfortunatley, my heavy load right now is not something I can just say No to easily. My Mother unfortunatley passed away about 1 1/2 years ago, and she had left a small business, commercial building along with her trust that I now manage. Along with my full time job, this workload has been overwhelming. I intend to sell or close the business, but it is a long and difficult process, especially with a full time job. The trust itself does not require as much time now, but because of the emotion involved I find it difficult to tie up the final loose ends and close it out. The property management is also not too time consuming in itself, but combined with the other 500 things it is a challenge.


            I agree though that I have too much on my NA list that is just not feasible to accomplish in the near future. In creating these, I was trying to go by Davids concept of getting everything off of my mind and onto my lists. If it was actionable I put it on my NA. Although it may not have the highest priority, I didn't want to leave it to someday maybe because I knew I wanted/needed to do it at some point in time. I agree though that;

            Until you match your commitments to your available time, no system will help much.
            To respond to some questions from 'unstuffed';

            What do you mean by 'processing and re-processing'?
            It is probably more accurate to say that some items I do not process appropriately. I either do not make a decision about it and so leave it in IN. I could put 'make a decision about X' on my NA list but am afraid it will get lost. Or, I have made a decision but don't have the time to do it now, again afraid it will get lost I leave it in IN to do later.

            How often do you process your In Trays?
            I used to do it every couple of days but IN would fill up so quickly it would take me 1/2 a day to process through them. So I began doing it more frequently, 1,2 or 3x per day. I'll try to stick to 1x per day.

            I'm beginning to suspect that either you're putting too many projects on your 'active' list, or you're putting things that aren't really NAs on your NA lists.
            I agree with both, and will work on improving this. I LOVE the idea of having a separate Project list for Active, Pending & S/M. Do you suggest then I only pull NA's from my Active projects and only either high priority goals/projects or those that must be done soon go on this Active list?

            Are you doing a weekly review?
            Yes, I have been more diligent about this. But because my lists are so long it is time consuming and somewhat draining.

            NAs should be on the order of 10 minutes work
            I need to pay more attention to this. Some of my items can be 1-2hour projects in themselves, how do you break down something like "figure out where a calculation has gone wrong.." into 10 minutes when it really requires pouring over the data and sometimes re-calculating...

            does any of this refer to email?
            yes & no. email is huge in my day job, but I try to keep this separate from my other jobs. I have made some improvements here as well just recently getting my inbox to zero . However, having just done this I have a central "TO DO" mail box that is 500 emails I am trying to work through. Again, this doesn't reflect in my 're-processing' question because I am tackling my regular (non-day-job) IN box after hours.

            One of my goals for today will be to diligently prune my NA list *and* separate my Project list into Active and Pending. Do you think it makes sense to also have Active and Pending NA lists? or is this too many lists? Should I just move those items that are not high priority or not feasible w/in the next couple of weeks to Som/Mayb until I can get to them later? Can anyone suggest a guideline of how many NA's is too much given my situation?

            Thanks again for all of your advice.. it is a HUGE help to me while I am working through this difficult time.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by sofiabella View Post
              I agree with both, and will work on improving this. I LOVE the idea of having a separate Project list for Active, Pending & S/M. Do you suggest then I only pull NA's from my Active projects and only either high priority goals/projects or those that must be done soon go on this Active list?
              My rule of thumb is that only things I expect/need to do in the next two weeks go on my active list. In the unlikely event I work through all of these items, I can always turn to the Pending list for more.

              I need to pay more attention to this. Some of my items can be 1-2hour projects in themselves, how do you break down something like "figure out where a calculation has gone wrong.." into 10 minutes when it really requires pouring over the data and sometimes re-calculating...
              I don't usually follow the 10 minute NA rule myself, as that's a ridiculously small amount of time to spend on many of my projects. Still, you might try breaking things down into the smallest steps that make sense. For instance, if a calculation has gone wrong the very first step might be to check the spreadsheet formula you're using, or to double check the data against the primary source.

              One of my goals for today will be to diligently prune my NA list *and* separate my Project list into Active and Pending. Do you think it makes sense to also have Active and Pending NA lists? or is this too many lists? Should I just move those items that are not high priority or not feasible w/in the next couple of weeks to Som/Mayb until I can get to them later? Can anyone suggest a guideline of how many NA's is too much given my situation?
              I use a paper system, and try to limit each context to one side of a junior (5.5 x 8 inch) size sheet of paper. That seems to be enough to keep from running out of things to do between Weekly Reviews, but not so many that the list is overwhelming.

              Good luck!

              Katherine

              Comment


              • #8
                Answers, clarifications, and assorted wiffling

                Originally posted by sofiabella View Post
                I used to do it every couple of days but IN would fill up so quickly it would take me 1/2 a day to process through them. So I began doing it more frequently, 1,2 or 3x per day. I'll try to stick to 1x per day.
                Okay, it sounds as though you are spending a lot of time processing and re-processing, which is good, because it means that exerting a bit of willpower will give you decent results. I'd say definitely, stick to one Inbox processing per day, and process everything. More on this below.

                I LOVE the idea of having a separate Project list for Active, Pending & S/M. Do you suggest then I only pull NA's from my Active projects and only either high priority goals/projects or those that must be done soon go on this Active list?
                Yes to both. As part of your Inbox processing, if it's actionable, ask yourself (a) is it urgent, and (b) do you think you'll get to it in the next week or so. If the answer to both questions is Yes, go ahead and define the Next Action. Otherwise, put it in the Pending list.

                Then when you do your weekly review (and this is crucial), as well as all the usual stuff, go through your Pending list. If there are any projects that are now urgent, or that you now have time to start working on, move them to the Active list and define a Next Action.


                Some of my items can be 1-2hour projects in themselves, how do you break down something like "figure out where a calculation has gone wrong.." into 10 minutes when it really requires pouring over the data and sometimes re-calculating...
                If you can give me some idea of the process, I can probably make some helpful suggestions here. I've been a software geek and a mathematician, and now I'm a professional organiser, so I've got at least an even chance of coming up with something useful.

                However, having just done this I have a central "TO DO" mail box that is 500 emails I am trying to work through. Again, this doesn't reflect in my 're-processing' question because I am tackling my regular (non-day-job) IN box after hours.
                Something that might help is Merlin Mann's Inbox Zero series. He says that you can process (note: not respond to, but process!) 500 emails in 20 minutes using his advice. His email archive contains a lot of helpful articles, as does the procrastination archive.

                Do you think it makes sense to also have Active and Pending NA lists? or is this too many lists? Should I just move those items that are not high priority or not feasible w/in the next couple of weeks to Som/Mayb until I can get to them later? Can anyone suggest a guideline of how many NA's is too much given my situation?
                There's not much point in having Pending NA lists, since the Action lists are the lists of things you intend to do as soon as you can. If you restrict your Action lists to things in your Active projects list, you'll have shorter lists, achieve more, and procrastinate less. Then, as you complete things on your Action lists, you can move Pending projects to Active.

                It's all about controlling the flow of work. If you put it all in Active, and have NAs for all of it, it's like getting hit in the face by a tidal wave. If you pace the work, putting most in Pending and a rationed amount into Active, it's more like having a shower. For me, Active is for things I'm committed to and have to/want to complete as soon as possible; Pending is for things I'm committed to but can't do until I get something else off my plate; and Someday/Maybe is for things I'm not committed to.

                The key is the reviews. A daily processing of your Inbox ensures that you get to the urgent things in time, and a weekly review of the whole system, including Active and Pending project lists, will ensure that nothing slips past you.

                As for 'how many NAs are too many?', that's a piece of string question. I'm with Katherine here: give yourself enough NAs that you've got at least one for every Active project, and restrict your Active projects (and hence NAs) to a number that won't make you shriek whenever you look at your NA lists.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Na ???

                  Being new to the site - but not to the system, I'm wondering, what does NA stand for? Could it be "no action"? If so - why is it then on a list? I have read David Allens book several times and have not come across the expressions there either. Curious...

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Clarification

                    Originally posted by Kari Anne View Post
                    Being new to the site - but not to the system, I'm wondering, what does NA stand for? Could it be "no action"? If so - why is it then on a list? I have read David Allens book several times and have not come across the expressions there either. Curious...
                    Sorry: NA stands for Next Action. It's the very next thing that can be done to move a project along.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Lightbulb moment

                      Just minutes before I read your reply - it clicked! But thanks for your reply - it's nice to know their are friends out there who take the time to answer!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        This has all been wonderful feedback and I'm so glad I finally stopped myself long enough to ask the question. Thanks Katherine & Unstuffed!

                        Although I could see the potential of GTD, I haven't been maximizing the process and so wasn't getting all of the benefits. One area that worked right away was just getting all of the open loops captured and out of my head. But my processing and organizing was faltering and leading to completely unrealistic NA lists which were just making me overwhelmed in a new sort of way .

                        I already feel better that I have shortened my NA's to a manageable amount and I know that these NA's relate to my *Active* Projects only. I've actually reduced (& moved to Pend/S/M) my Project list down to 12 from a whopping 94!!


                        Originally posted by unstuffed View Post
                        If you can give me some idea of the process, I can probably make some helpful suggestions here. I've been a software geek and a mathematician, and now I'm a professional organiser, so I've got at least an even chance of coming up with something useful. .
                        I'd love to actually.. but I will need to put it on my pending project list for now because my active list is full

                        Originally posted by unstuffed View Post
                        If you restrict your Action lists to things in your Active projects list, you'll have shorter lists, achieve more, and procrastinate less. .
                        I feel this already... I think the overwhelm of staring at a 30+ list of NA's was making my mind block doing it at all... which led me to process and re-process... I think you have nailed it in your description above, just the thought of achieving more (because it is more achievABLE now) makes the mind want to procrastinate less.

                        Originally posted by unstuffed View Post
                        It's all about controlling the flow of work. If you put it all in Active, and have NAs for all of it, it's like getting hit in the face by a tidal wave. If you pace the work, putting most in Pending and a rationed amount into Active, it's more like having a shower. For me, Active is for things I'm committed to and have to/want to complete as soon as possible; Pending is for things I'm committed to but can't do until I get something else off my plate; and Someday/Maybe is for things I'm not committed to.

                        Again your description is great, Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom on the subject

                        Sofia

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by sofiabella View Post
                          I already feel better that I have shortened my NA's to a manageable amount and I know that these NA's relate to my *Active* Projects only. I've actually reduced (& moved to Pend/S/M) my Project list down to 12 from a whopping 94!!
                          Excellent! That makes a much more do-able collection, and you'll be able to see some results happening, as well as feeling less overwhelmed.


                          Originally posted by sofiabella View Post
                          I'd love to actually.. but I will need to put it on my pending project list for now because my active list is full
                          Quite understood. And well answered.

                          Originally posted by sofiabella View Post
                          I feel this already... I think the overwhelm of staring at a 30+ list of NA's was making my mind block doing it at all... which led me to process and re-process... I think you have nailed it in your description above, just the thought of achieving more (because it is more achievABLE now) makes the mind want to procrastinate less.
                          I'm so glad I was able to help a little. I'll be interested to hear how it's going.

                          And yes, having a mountain to scale makes us want to have a good lie down until it goes away, but if we can reduce that to a 10-minute stroll, we're far more likely to get it done.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            One of the most valuable assets in the web.

                            This whole discussion is yet another proof that the DavidCo forum is one of the most valuable assets in the web.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Processing an Emotional In-Box

                              Originally posted by sofiabella View Post
                              My Mother unfortunatley passed away about 1 1/2 years ago, and she had left a small business, commercial building along with her trust that I now manage. Along with my full time job, this workload has been overwhelming. I intend to sell or close the business, but it is a long and difficult process, especially with a full time job. The trust itself does not require as much time now, but because of the emotion involved I find it difficult to tie up the final loose ends and close
                              it out.
                              I enjoyed reading all the postings and I am sorry to hear about the loss of your mother.

                              When my mom passed away, it was incredibly difficult to sort through her personal belongings and process her paperwork. I was mentally frozen because I was in the "grieving process" and not capable of making wise decisions. It took several years before I could let myself toss out all the clutter. I can't imagine how difficult it will be for you to close up her business.

                              A friend of mine is a successful banking executive and was the executor for her parent's estate. In her business life, she could process an in-box very effectively. But it took three years to resolve the estate due to all financial transactions and bickering. She ended up battling depression and almost losing her marriage. She now wishes that she hadn't worried about trying to please everyone or doing it perfectly, which caused considerable procrastination. A neutral person to help work the "emotional in-basket" would have been a great help.

                              As you close up your mom's business, have you visualized or considered what personal outcomes you would like to have happen during this process? Better defined outcomes might help you to clarify your in-box Next Action steps.

                              I hope this information helps. May you have the courage to hang in there, get things done, and celebrate the outcomes, like writing an article or story about your mother.

                              Nancy
                              Last edited by nancyrezmer; 02-22-2007, 09:26 AM. Reason: Grammar errors.

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