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  • GTD & Memory

    I have a couple of questions about GTD and memory.

    Ever since I started GTD, I feel as if my memory has gone slack--as if it isn't getting the exercise it used to. Given the important of mental exercise to continued mental acuity (especially in old age), how do you ensure that your memory is getting enough exercise?

    I find myself in a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, GTD has helped me to reduce stress and to take care of all of the little things I used to let slide. On the other hand, however, it has made me much less efficient on the big projects that require intense, intuitive work. I find that the process of writing actions on my list slows me down immensely and breaks up my intuitive work flow. With many types of projects, I actually work better when I'm juggling a lot of things in my mind. This is especially true of academic projects. GTD may be great for middle management and CEO types, but it remains difficult for me to integrate it into a creative, academic workflow.

    I've always been able to keep a lot of things in my mind. For years, I had a busy schedule and never missed an appointment or meeting, despite not keeping a calendar. And when I keep things in my mind, I make much better decisions about priorities. (I've recently missed a few academic deadlines I woudn't have missed before I was on GTD.) The main benefit of GTD for me has been in keeping track of the little things--shopping lists, errands, etc. But do I need a full system for this?

    I also feel that GTD has imposed an artificial layer between me and the world. It has made life feel more wooden and artificial, interrupting the intuitive immediacy with which I used to experience my days. I'm not sure I want a "mind like water." I miss the mental friction.

    Please pardon me if this post seems too negative. Has anyone else had a similar experience? Does GTD perhaps work only for certain personality types? Would I be better off going back to my old, memory-based system?

  • #2
    Originally posted by madalu View Post
    I find myself in a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, GTD has helped me to reduce stress and to take care of all of the little things I used to let slide. On the other hand, however, it has made me much less efficient on the big projects that require intense, intuitive work. I find that the process of writing actions on my list slows me down immensely and breaks up my intuitive work flow.
    Then don't do it. If you're working intensely on one project, the only time you need to write an action down is when you stop, as a bookmark to remind you where you left off.

    If the actions you're writing down have to do with other projects, remember that you don't have to process them into your system right away. Just capture them, throw them in your inbox, and get back to them later.

    In my experience, GTD gives me more immediacy, not less. I'm less distracted and more able to "be present" in whatever I'm doing. If you feel like your system creates a barrier between you and the world, perhaps you need to modify your system.

    Issues like missed deadlines sound like you might have a leak in your review process. That is, you're putting things on your lists (I assume), but then not checking those lists when it's time to set priorities. The deadlines aren't in your head (good), but you aren't checking elsewhere for them, either (bad). Are you doing Weekly Reviews consistently?

    Hope this helps,

    Katherine

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by madalu View Post

      I also feel that GTD has imposed an artificial layer between me and the world. It has made life feel more wooden and artificial, interrupting the intuitive immediacy with which I used to experience my days. I'm not sure I want a "mind like water." I miss the mental friction.

      Please pardon me if this post seems too negative. Has anyone else had a similar experience?
      I think the odd negative post on this forum makes things more balanced and definitely far more interesting. It also makes us all reconsider our own implementation.

      I´ve had the same sort of experience at times. I sometimes feel that extra layer too and there is a danger that GTD can make things artificial and over automatic. I think a lot of us have got used to a stressed up, adrenaline backed way of working and losing this can make things seem less immediate and less inspirational.

      I've found the key is to realise that while GTD makes thing easier, extra productivity is often up to you and how you drive towards your longer term objectives. I have to regularly look at the higher levels, my aims and goals and unleash GTD not only on the minutia of day to day work but also on the big picture.

      As Katherine suggests, GTD shouldn't be taking you away from the "here and now" and the most important aspects of your work. Doing good weekly reviews and considering the higher levels more may help you work in a more inspirational and intuitive way again.

      Comment


      • #4
        Katherine and Tom,

        Thank you very much for the very helpful posts. Again, I apologize if my original post seemed overly negative--but this is a really helpful way of reflecting on my system and working out the kinks.

        I think the problems have as much to do with my own work habits as they have to do with GTD. I think I've always relied on stress to kick-start projects--and if I keep things in my mind, I have more stress. Maybe it's as simple as getting used to the idea that I can get productive work done without feeling stress.

        I do weekly reviews, but I honestly think that some of my challenges have to do with deeper procrastination habits. If I have a list in front of me, I find that I immediately gravitate towards the easier, mosquito tasks and put off the more difficult tasks. One of the things that stress/memory used to do for me was to keep an urgent task front and center until it was done. But the problem was that I would let all the little things slide until they also started to cause stress.

        So perhaps I need to address why I'm avoiding some of my tasks.

        Comment


        • #5
          GTD will not force you to do anything.

          Originally posted by madalu View Post
          So perhaps I need to address why I'm avoiding some of my tasks.
          You are right. GTD will not force you to do anything. But it will help you to achieve your goals with less effort.

          Comment


          • #6
            I can totally relate!

            madalu,

            I can totally relate to what you are saying. When I first started GTDing, all was great... I had my lists, and things were getting done. After a few months though, my lists were still relatively OK, but I was forgetting all kinds of things.

            My problem was exactly what Katherine and Tom have already mentioned... I wasn't reviewing. Or at least, I wasn't reviewing in any sort of mindful manner. I would look at my lists, but that was all. I had not internalized them. It was "in one ear and out the other". I would look at the list, pick out one item, do it, and by that point I had completely forgotten what else was on the list.

            It was around this time that I heard the Merlin Mann/David Allen podcasts. DA was talking about why you don't need to link projects to next actions. He mentioned something to the effect of "if you're really reviewing your lists, you won't have to link them." Something about that message resonated with me, and I realized, "Hey! I guess I'm not really reviewing my lists; I'm just looking at them!"

            Ever since then, I've tried to really pay close attention to each and every item on my list. I wouldn't say that I memorize them; rather, I get to know them well enough that I can pretty much tell you what's important for me today, tomorrow, and over the next week or two. If I catch myself glazing-over while I look at the 23 next actions on my @home list, I stop myself and say "pay attention!" (yes, I do say it out loud sometimes).

            The other thing that I found helpful was to do my "weekly" reviews every 3-5 days. Because they're more frequent, they take less time; but they're incredibly helpful for staying connected to your system. In the beginning, I was probably closer to 2-3 days; now, I'm out to about a 5-7 day cycle with a quick daily review.

            I'm no black belt... far from it. But I've definitely been in your shoes (at least from the "memory" point of view), and this is what helped me. Hopefully, it helps you a little. If nothing else, know that you're not alone.
            Last edited by jknecht; 04-23-2007, 11:13 AM.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by jknecht View Post
              madalu,
              It was around this time that I heard the Merlin Mann/David Allen podcasts. DA was talking about why you don't need to link projects to next actions. He mentioned something to the effect of "if you're really reviewing your lists, you won't have to link them." Something about that message resonated with me, and I realized, "Hey! I guess I'm not really reviewing my lists; I'm just looking at them!"

              Ever since then, I've tried to really pay close attention to each and every item on my list. I wouldn't say that I memorize them; rather, I get to know them well enough that I can pretty much tell you what's important for me today, tomorrow, and over the next week or two. If I catch myself glazing-over while I look at the 23 next actions on my @home list, I stop myself and say "pay attention!" (yes, I do say it out loud sometimes).
              Fantastic advice!

              Might I ask if you have any tips on how to review more effectively? Is it a matter of moving through lists more slowly? Do you ask any particular questions about each item on the list? (E.g., What is it? Why am I doing this? Etc.)

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by madalu View Post
                I find myself in a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, GTD has helped me to reduce stress and to take care of all of the little things I used to let slide. On the other hand, however, it has made me much less efficient on the big projects that require intense, intuitive work. I find that the process of writing actions on my list slows me down immensely and breaks up my intuitive work flow.
                I identify with this. I learned early on not to write down every little task when I'm in the flow of a project.

                Instead, unless I actually need a record of the task, I rarely write down every task with these kinds of projects. Yes, I do plan and once a week I try to do it in at leat some detail. That get's me to think, "Oh, yeah. I need to order this." Or "Hmmm. I'll need that in two weeks so I better write him now about it." But once a plan is in place, I don't bother about deviations on a minute-to-minute or hour-to-hour basis. Its just going to fall apart again, anyway. I just work on the project throughout the day and stay flexible.

                The key for me is to remember to leave a stake in the ground and to make sure it fits into some sort of general, revised plan with at least some direction at the end of the day. I don't put the file away or clear it from my computer screen until I take care of this. It helps remind me what I was thinking when I left and makes sure that whatever it was, it doesn't fall through the cracks.

                Tom S.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by madalu View Post
                  Might I ask if you have any tips on how to review more effectively? Is it a matter of moving through lists more slowly? Do you ask any particular questions about each item on the list? (E.g., What is it? Why am I doing this? Etc.)
                  Umm, yeah. I guess I do sort of "ask questions" about each item, though it's not terribly formal. It's not really the same set of questions for each item either, but more of a general acknowledgment of the item as an individual thing I need to do.

                  One technique that I've caught myself using is to imagine that the current item I'm looking at is the only thing I need to do today (more or less, I pretend that my list only has this one item on it). Then I just visit with that item for a few seconds -- not long, just enough to let it sink in, to make sure it really is a next action and to decide how much weight I should give it relative to the other things that I'm pretending don't exist. (As an analogy, imagine greeting each child on their way into a classroom, spending just enough time to notice if their shoes are tied, their hair is combed, if they need a kleenex, whatever...)

                  Hope that helps.
                  Last edited by jknecht; 04-23-2007, 01:06 PM.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Is this really a next action, or is it a project in disguise? (And if a project, what's the next action?) Do I care if it gets done (and if not, should I?)? When do I need to/expect to do it?

                    Mindful review is one of the side effects of a paper system for me. I limit my context lists to one side of a junior-sized sheet. That means I end of re-writing pages pretty regularly. I've found that's a very effective guard against lingering tasks: after I've rewritten something two or three times it becomes obvious that I need to look at it more carefully. Limiting the length of the list is also a rough guide to how much work is on my plate. If I'm running out of room, I'm probably also running out of available time.

                    Katherine

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by madalu View Post
                      Katherine and Tom,

                      If I have a list in front of me, I find that I immediately gravitate towards the easier, mosquito tasks and put off the more difficult tasks.
                      Yes, I've also found that having a long list of ALL the things one has to do, can feed the tendency to do anything BUT one particular action one are procrastinating on.

                      I find I have to prioritise each day, making a subgroup of stuff that is actually crucial that I really must do before the less important stuff. Using someday/maybe can also take some of the bulk out of the main action list such that one is more likely to focus on the important stuff.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by madalu View Post
                        I have a couple of questions about GTD and memory.

                        Ever since I started GTD, I feel as if my memory has gone slack--as if it isn't getting the exercise it used to....

                        ...On the other hand, however, it has made me much less efficient on the big projects that require intense, intuitive work.
                        My opinion:

                        An important thing to realize is that what most of us associate with GTD (Project lists, Next Action lists, etc.) do not constitute a project management system. Rather, they are simply mechanisms for tracking and bridging all the things we have to do. Project lists are commitment lists and next actions are just book marks for those commitments.

                        The idea is not that you dumb down your life, but that you free up your mind for more valuable work. If your mind has gone slack, you're simply not taking advantage of one of GTD's most important benefits.

                        For example, if you have a big project, you should be managing the project separately from your GTD lists. If you have a big project that requires "intense, intuitive work", don't just leave it as a project name and a next action in your GTD system. Instead, get out a blank piece of paper or load up MindManager, and brainstorm the entire project. Where is it right now? What constitutes optimum results? What barriers exist? How can you take the project to the next level--and actually exceed expectations with the same amount of effort that it would have taken if you were carrying the whole project (and seven other big projects) in your head.

                        C

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                        • #13
                          I feel that its helped me a bit

                          If I could add my 2 cents here. I think its actually helped me. For quite sometime I would blame my forgetting things to do on a very short memory retention. Not that I was professionally diagnosed. I feel that GTD has helped by the process of adding anything I can think of that pops in my head onto my task list (I use Outlook and a Windows Mobile PDA that syncs with outlook) and in the appropriate categories that I have setup. I have been using GTD for about a month now and have been quite please so far.

                          Adding to the lists usually takes me maybe less than 20 seconds on the computer and maybe about 40 seconds on the PDA. If I am driving I just make a call to my jott account and enter it into my task list later.

                          I recently started printout out my task list every morning now, with just a few categories (because I don't need to see what I have to do @Home when I am at work) and just scan through and highlight the task that has been completed as I go along depending on the mind state that I am in and the energy level I have at the moment too.

                          But for the past month I also feel quite obsessed with the methodology reading up on it every day, listening to the audio books in my car daily and reviewing other GTD sites for different personal implementations. All are fascinating.

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