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Having a hard time with Next Actions

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  • Having a hard time with Next Actions

    Hi everyone,

    I've been doing GTD since October of 2005. I was doing well for a long time but got stuck with NA's.

    I have most of the GTD way of life down (although I struggle and work at it all the time to keep myself on track and motivated). Where I have the hardest time is how to do NA's. When I'm at work what I tend to do is write down stuff like -

    Do Expense Report for "?"
    Set up meeting for "?"

    I'm an administrative Assistant for multiple people and my job is extremely busy and my time and what I do on any given day is extremely volitile. Today was a really tough day. Things were being thrown at me from many different people, most were extremely urgent and time driven. I had people calling left and right to reschedule meetings, wanting availaiblity of calendars, etc. A lot of the GTD rules don't really work for me because I can't block off time to sit and do "tasks" because my job is driven by the people I work for. If my boss or one of the people I work for wants me to do something urgent, I have to stop what I'm doing and do it. I'll have someone call and ask me to move meetings to accomodate another meeting they want to set up and I do this to people as well. Because everyone's calendars are so busy and most everything is urgent (tends to be the nature of my department and the people that my boss and manager's work with-they work with many VP's in our company so they call to move meetings based on the VP's calendar changing too).

    So my problem comes in when it would take too long to break down each and every task I get into NA's. Most things are just things I do. I couldn't imagine taking the time to write each step of doing an expense report, setting up a meeting, rescheduling a meeting, asking so and so to see if they can free up someone's calendar, make copies of handouts etc., write and agenda, etc.

    I feel like I'm so busy that I can't process what to do with a "project", where to put it and how to put it into a next action. Do I sit and write down each and every step to the project or do I just write the first NA? It overwhelms me because I don't have the downtime to get much done.

    One thing I do notice is that when I get close to getting all my stuff done and get close to being able to completely checking off all my "TO DO's" I get stuck and I procrastinate. This is where I know having NA's would help. But I just feel I don't know where to bridge this gap and learn this skill. I sufer from this at home too although I have been able to play around with NA's at home because I have more time to do this.

    Also - I keep two seperate systems for work and home - My home and work are totally seperate. At home and work I have a PDA and use a PALM desktop. This is where all my personal stuff goes. Nothing for work goes here. At work I use Outlook. Only work stuff goes in Outlook. For me, I would get stressed if I was looking at stuff to do in both places.

    Ok - I'm sorry if I have babbled and I hope it makes sense.

  • #2
    So my problem comes in when it would take too long to break down each and every task I get into NA's. Most things are just things I do. I couldn't imagine taking the time to write each step of doing an expense report, setting up a meeting, rescheduling a meeting, asking so and so to see if they can free up someone's calendar, make copies of handouts etc., write and agenda, etc.

    I feel like I'm so busy that I can't process what to do with a "project", where to put it and how to put it into a next action. Do I sit and write down each and every step to the project or do I just write the first NA? It overwhelms me because I don't have the downtime to get much done.
    What I would do in your case would be to record the NA as soon as I complete the previous NA for a project. This would serve me as a bookmark when coming back to the project, if I had to drop the project for some other task (urgent or otherwise) that may have intervened.

    The weekly review should make sure that there are no loose strings in incomplete projects.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by connfamily View Post

      1. I tend to do is write down stuff like -

      Do Expense Report for "?"
      Set up meeting for "?"

      2. A lot of the GTD rules don't really work for me because I can't block off time to sit and do "tasks" because my job is driven by the people I work for. If my boss or one of the people I work for wants me to do something urgent, I have to stop what I'm doing and do it.

      3. I feel like I'm so busy that I can't process what to do with a "project", where to put it and how to put it into a next action. Do I sit and write down each and every step to the project or do I just write the first NA? It overwhelms me because I don't have the downtime to get much done.

      4. Also - I keep two seperate systems for work and home - My home and work are totally seperate. At home and work I have a PDA and use a PALM desktop. This is where all my personal stuff goes. Nothing for work goes here. At work I use Outlook. Only work stuff goes in Outlook. For me, I would get stressed if I was looking at stuff to do in both places.
      I suggest that you:

      1. Look at Next Actions as a bookmark or next step that will allow you to easily jump into doing. If "Do Expense Report for "?" helps then put it down like this, if that of no help then make it smaller like "Write down expence report plan".

      2. Think if you need block off the time or not. If you really need 2 hours per day to make all your reports and office routines then you must block. Otherwise there's no way out and you will always be overhelmed.

      3. Write down only one next action. Because in reality there's always only one (usually). Situation changes and real next action today could be not a real next action tomorrow

      4. I think you should have one system for personal and business life. Thus you'll know everything you need to do. And that will be in one place.

      Regards,

      Eugene.

      Comment


      • #4
        Somehow, one thing I've liked about GTD is that different people approach it differently. And differently doesn't mean better -- to each his own.

        So when it comes to nailing the Next Action, I've found it helpful to just capture any actions that come to mind. (Call it a kind of "Collecting" I'll somehow Process and Organize.) I'll then sort these in some kind of logical stepwise sequence.

        I've found it much harder to try to get the sequence down first, I find it more natural to be scatterbrain, then appear to have my act together. Elsewhere, a musical mentor told me, "Stop trying to compose something so brilliant! Just get it all out, then extract from it something that actually sounds good that you can work on. The brilliance will come."

        In a similar vein, I seem to recall something about Next Actions needing to be physical, I want to get physical. So of all those actions I've come up with, I either look for the one that has a Physical component (e.g., producing a printout for the boss, assembling a report or other tangible widget) or something physical that arises from looking at the various actions I came up with.

        I've found that although we may all look electronic nowadays, boss figures still value that physical component, face time even. So isolating what has a Physical component helps me identify the Next Action. That's what I'll do first. It also does make you look and feel that you are getting things done, truthfully, esp. to the master in charge.

        I've also found that learning to quickly identify the physical components in the work involved lets you handle projects of any size, including those that seem like instant emergencies that you otherwise can't plan for because the boss wants it done by yesterday.

        Comment


        • #5
          You're in a special situation, connfamily. Your job is to be available all the time, so, as you point out, interruptions are a part of your work and you have to deal with them. Equally challenging is not having blocks of time to make progress on your work. Finally, the office sounds like urgency, crises, and many interruptions are part of the culture.

          First, I'd like to point you to an article I wrote on the subject that I hope will be useful: Best practices for GTD and administrative assistants

          Second, have you talked about the problem with the people you report to? If you're having a problem, it means *they're* having one, so the should be motivated to help make improvements...

          Comment


          • #6
            Good advice, Cornell.

            If things are so crazy busy that you don't have time for Weekly Reviews at work, or to manage what we all know to be a very workable system, then those you report to need to cut you some slack and adjust the amount of work flowing toward you.

            Let us know how things go, okay?

            Comment


            • #7
              Thanks everyone!!

              Hopefully things will settle down. We are hiring two new admins (we are a fairly new dept within the last year). There will be one in my location and one in the other state our department resides in. At the moment I am supporting 8 people and we are in a huge hiring frenzy and will eventually have 22 people.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by connfamily View Post
                When I'm at work what I tend to do is write down stuff like -

                Do Expense Report for "?"
                Set up meeting for "?"

                So my problem comes in when it would take too long to break down each and every task I get into NA's. Most things are just things I do. I feel like I'm so busy that I can't process what to do with a "project", where to put it and how to put it into a next action.

                One thing I do notice is that when I get close to getting all my stuff done and get close to being able to completely checking off all my "TO DO's" I get stuck and I procrastinate. This is where I know having NA's would help. But I just feel I don't know where to bridge this gap and learn this skill.

                A lot of the GTD rules don't really work for me because I can't block off time to sit and do "tasks" because my job is driven by the people I work for.

                Also - I keep two seperate systems for work and home -
                1) When something that you are doing is very routine, I don't think it helps you to break it down into the steps. Especially as long as it is working for you; you're getting the task done and not resisting it and you don't need the first step to be explicit to get started. It may be helpful when you get interrupted to note where you left off to have an easy "bookmark" where to start up again. So if you see Do Expense report and know that means the first step is you have to find the folder where someone left you receipts, and that's not stopping you from getting it done, I think that's fine.

                2) I think it's human nature when times are slow to procrastinate on the items that are left. This may be a good time to create a checklist for the items you automatically do so you can pull the next item off the checklist to get going. This may be when you need to change "Do Expense Report" to "Find folder with receipts for ?'s trip to Antarctica" or "Track down ? to get receipts for trip to Antarctica" to get yourself started.

                3) You may not be able to block out time, but I'm sure you are spending your busy time working the tasks that are on your list. Again, when you get interrupted, knowing that the task you are currently working on is already captured on your Next Actions lists should give you some peace of mind. Noting on your list where you left off "Continue ?'s expense report day 2 of trip." makes it even easier to pick up.

                4) I have found that having home and work in the same sytem but separate except for some specific contexts works for me. I put phone calls that can only be made during the work day on my @Phone list for work. I look at my @Errand list at lunch time and when I leave the office for the day even though most of the items on it are personal items. Other than that they are labeled separately, and separated although within the same system.

                Comment

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