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Problem scheduling *EVERYTHING*

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  • Problem scheduling *EVERYTHING*

    Ok, everyone. I've never read the DA books, but I do have the GTD audio book that I've listened to numerous times about 2 years ago. I think I should listen to them again as I feel I've forgotten or lost the skill to implement GTD anywhere close to properly.

    Here's my MAIN problem. I seem to have a LOT going on at any one time. I co-own a web design, hosting, custom software development company. I manage a LOT of projects, always have a queue of proposals to be done, sub-contractors to follow-up on, tasks I have to personally to complete projects, etc. My problem this past 6 months or so is that I put EVERYTHING on my calendar. My reasoning behind this is because 99% of my tasks have some sort of due date. There's very rarely a time when I speak to a client or prospect which then generates a task that does not have some sort of due date associated with it, even if it's a "rough" due date. Because of this, I TRY and put everything on my calendar immediately to insure it is done and done by the date I promised. With NAs, I have no idea how I'd know when things are due and what order to do them in, etc., and I KNOW that the whole point of NAs is for them to not have priorities, which totally makes it impossible to do what I need to do.

    What am I doing wrong? How can I better track these actions, their due dates, and schedule them properly to insure they are done ni a timely fashion?

    Thanks in advance for your time and suggestions.

  • #2

    My first thought is that you might be confusing projects with actions. At least for me, projects often have due dates, but actions rarely do.

    For example, "complete 1500 word article by April 1" is a project. If I don't do it, I have broken a commitment to a client. This goes on my calendar.

    But "call Jenn to brainstorm outline" is an action that can be done any time in, oh, the next week or so. It doesn't matter whether I do it at 9:00 Monday morning or 4:00 Friday afternoon, as long as it gets done. It goes on my @phone list, and gets ticked off whenever I have a chance to sit down and make some phone calls.

    At this point everyone says "But if I just put it on my NA lists, won't it get lost among all the other things I need to do?"

    No. Not if you are maintaining your system properly.

    Altogether now:
    Weekly Review
    Someday/Maybe list
    Weekly Review
    context-sorted NA lists
    Weekly Review
    Tickler file
    And did I mention the Weekly Review?

    Hope this helps,



    • #3
      Thanks, Katherine. Those are definitely good suggestions. Most of the things I have to do, though, DO have to be completed on a specific day, and ARE next actions. For example, on my schedule for the past few days have been the following items:

      * Review [project name] files
      * Review [project name] source code
      * Complete programming for x project
      * Document programming request for x client
      * Call [prospect] re: proposal
      * Update [client] web site per proposal
      * Return [client] phone call
      * Extract data from [client] software

      This is just a sub-set of what's really on my calendar the past few days. ALL of these things had to be done on the days they were on my calendar.. No choice.

      Maybe now that I'm thinking about this more the problem is that I'm committing to too many things that are due in the VERY near future (same day, next day, next few days, etc.) which causes me to have to fill my calendar over the following few days with a TON of actions that NEED to be completed on those days.

      You may say that the phone calls I listed above are things that could've been put on an NA but they couldn't because I committed to making them with the recipient on that specific day and sometimes specific time.

      Does this help any? Maybe now you have a better idea of what my problem is. Maybe it's not with my GTD implementation at all, and just with the fact that I am processing too many URGENT tasks which need to be completed in the very near future.

      What do you think? Anybody?


      • #4
        Originally posted by iTISTIC View Post
        Does this help any? Maybe now you have a better idea of what my problem is. Maybe it's not with my GTD implementation at all, and just with the fact that I am processing too many URGENT tasks which need to be completed in the very near future.
        That's what it sounds like. If your calendar really is that full, GTD can't do much to help.

        Franklin-Covey would ask how you accumulated so much urgent stuff in the first place, and what you can do to trim it back. For example, I know it's very tempting to give clients instant turnaround on proposals, but how many of them actually need a response that fast? How many will respond as quickly on their end? Right now, I owe a client a proposal for a project that I won't even start working on until July. I'd like to do it this week, but I've warned the client that finishing the project due NOW comes first.

        Good luck!



        • #5
          Yeah.. and I think another problem is that when I receive phone calls and emails I am afraid to say "NO" or "I can't handle that until at least next week" but even by doing THAT I'm guaranteeing a date, which forces me to put it on a calendar day some day next week to insure it gets done.


          • #6
            Originally posted by iTISTIC View Post
            Yeah.. and I think another problem is that when I receive phone calls and emails I am afraid to say "NO" or "I can't handle that until at least next week" but even by doing THAT I'm guaranteeing a date, which forces me to put it on a calendar day some day next week to insure it gets done.
            Katherine is completely right about that. If you have things that are due on a certain day (not by, on) and there are too many of them for you to get done, then you're overcommitting yourself.

            I did note, however, that some of the items on your NA lists are really projects rather than actions. This doesn't affect the due date issue, but when you've got something like "Complete programming of X module" or "Update client web site as per spec", that to me sounds ominously project-ish, rather than meekly NA-ish. This might affect your perception of your time available: if you look at your NA lists and only see 12 things there, you might be more likely to accept more Urgent Stuff-To-Do. If you broke your NA lists right down to the basic NAs, you might see just how much Stuff-To-Do you really have to wade through.

            One thing that might help is backward planning, or whatever they call it. If you're doing repeated work of the same kind (say, web site construction, basic software dev for which you can use prior art, etc), you should be able to (a) write down all the steps to completion, and (b) estimate the time required for each one. Then, if you count back from the due date, saying "If it's to be done by the 14th, I need to spend at least a full day on the last step, which means the second to last step needs to be complete by the 13th" and so on. If you work back, adding the times into each day, and find you've got the time available, go ahead and say you'll do it. Otherwise, give them a later due date.

            There are two issues involved in instant response. One is that they'll get used to it and keep abusing you that way, and if you ever fall down, they'll be cranky. We used to estimate time needed for a project fairly reasonably, then we'd double it and up the units. So something that we estimated would take 3 days would be quoted to the client as available in 6 weeks. Partly because we'd have other clients, and partly because things can go horribly pear-shaped in the research software world. So we would always deliver on time, and always deliver a quality product with minimum stress. It makes an enormous difference.

            The other issue is that if you start telling them that you're busy but you can fit them in by X date, they'll likely start to see you as someone who's much in demand, and professional enough to have time estimates and scheduling and all sorts. This builds your professional reputation. Trust me on this. It works entirely in your favour, in addition to easing your stress levels.


            • #7
              You sound as if you have a similar problem to me only much worse! I have a long list of projects and NAs, but I never get off the stuff that comes in and HAS to be done by a speciifed date, usually no more than a week or two ahead. Because of the nature of my work (I'm a doctor) most of my work is hand landscape - patient appointments and meetings, and I have one, or at maximum two half days a week to do everything else that isn't appointments or meetings.

              Reading other people's posts on here has made me realise that the problem is that I have too many things I am supposed to be doing, and physically not enough hours in the day to do them. GTD has helped me identify what I am and am not doing and what my priorities are. It has also helped me make my use of time more efficient so I get more done, but it can't take away the underlying problem that I am being asked to do more than there are hours in the day to do it all in. So one of my NAs is to brainstorm how I can change that situation!

              It's very hard saying "NO" especially if you are your own boss, but if you realistically aren't going to be able to do the work anyway, why raise false expectations?



              • #8
                Reminds me of a DA quote from GTD Fast:
                "Though these days, I think particularly in our culture--though I've noticed it globally, too--I think most people's eyes are bigger than their stomachs, and they've actually taken on a lot more than they've taken responsibility to manage well."


                • #9
                  some ideas

                  Not sure there is one solution but you can start thinking about factors that impacting and maybe whittle away at the problem.

                  1. Some of us have worked on a scheduled or micro-scheduled appointment/meeting basis for most of our adult lives, or lived that way as heavily over-committed students, so we know that sheduling works to a large extent and is needed for certain kinds of work to be done. Because we got so good at working a schedule, we are now "promoted" in a new type of work environment. So we need to learn new physical and mental methods or procedures that can support productivity when relying on scheduling does not really work as well. This can be really hard and we will have some poor results for a period of time. So, we are likely to do what worked for us in the past and do it with more intensity and volume, this results in more asssigning a time for more and more actions and deadlines, as if the mere act of assigning a time will get the work done. It is hard not to do more of what s=wroekd before when we are faced with challenges and crises.

                  2. When work is done in teams, there is usally some work that is done by certain people on a very specifically scheduled basis. For example, certain employees open and close the store at certain times, orders are placed on certain days and deliveries are expected at certain times. But other teams members (managers, and owners) are doing a lot of work on an unscheduled or partially scheduled basis. They need to be available for tasks that are not so routine and predictable. They still need to have some shcheduled events and activities.

                  3. When you are one person running a business or a family, or if the the business is you (and the product is your personal and profession functioning), you need to learn how to find the optimal balance between scheduled and unscheduled work actions, and utilize the different degrees of "schedule" that might lie in between the two extremes.


                  • #10
                    One additional thought: I find it helps to differentiate "Do On" actions and "Due By" ones (this is straight from the Time/Design folks). I'd argue most actions (say up to 3/4 of them) are "Due By," and therefore belong on your actions list(s), not on your calendar. The "Do On" actions belong on the calendar.

                    That said, I often recommend putting a "safety net" entry on the calender for the former projects, e.g., "deadline for client x design." This is what David Allen calls day-specific information, and you use it during your review (daily or weekly) to "heat up" the related action(s).

                    As you point out, if you've packed your calendar with "Do On" actions, then there's not much you can do. But if they're "Due By," and you've left enough time to do the important ones by their due date, it should be workable...

                    Hope that helps!


                    • #11
                      I do my best to get all my work done and agree to things. However.

                      Every time I've said "No" to someone in business, my relationship with that person has instantly improved.

                      Other people KNOW that nobody has infinite time. If you say "I can't do that now because of other commitments," who's going to think that that's an unrealistic answer? Who won't say "Okay, well, can you do it by this date? Or do you know someone else who can do it? Or can you do just this part of it by this date?"

                      There are two common outcomes: understanding, in which the other person will renegotiate; or rejection, in which case do you really want to work for someone who can't live with your schedule? Especially when you already have plenty of work?


                      • #12
                        Eminently sensible observation, Brent. Somehow, too many of us got the idea that if we weren't superhuman and couldn't do the impossible, something was wrong with us. And Everyone Would Know (the horror). Once we recognize this attitude, instead of being driven by it, we're better equipped to change it.