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Is putting time sensitive actions in "Next Actions" lists a risk?

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  • Is putting time sensitive actions in "Next Actions" lists a risk?

    From "Getting Things Done", Chapter 2:

    "The 'Next Actions' lists I advocate will hold all those action reminders, even the most time sensitive ones".
    Further on: "The way I look at it, the calendar should be sacred territory. If you write something there, it must get done that day or not at all".

    I find this approach quite scary and (after six months of GTD) still struggle with it. I have a lot of actions which won't be completely valueless the next day but who's value will greatly decrease if they are not done ON that day e.g. customer quotations, production of orders, returning important calls. Speed and reliability, in my business, equals a quality service. I dare not put such urgent but not necessarily time critical items in the actions lists for fear that I will miss them and they will slip through the cracks - after all, there are many actions in my lists but the small number in the calendar can't really be missed. I admit however, that I do end up with mini to-do lists - against the principles of GTD - in my calendar and there is often enough work here to prevent me getting near my context lists.

    I understand that DA is telling us to maintain "hard edges" in our "trusted system" and that requires that we respect the calendar as "sacred territory". It just seems to me that putting very time sensitive but not critical items in the action lists is an unnecessary risk and could end up lowering trust in the "trusted system".

    So is what I'm doing such a problem? Am I preaching heresy? Or, am I (once again) missing something really obvious that you folks are going to point out to me?

  • #2
    Heretic Howard

    As long as you review your entire context list when you are in the context nothing will get lost. If you review it enough to get it on your mind (or off your mind as DA says) then you won't even need to look.

    I think there might be a provision for a checklist if you want one. How many items are on the context list for which you don't want to let any NAs fall through the cracks?

    Comment


    • #3
      This is one area where I disagree with David Allen. If something should be done (but doesn't necessarily have to be done) on or by a particular day, I date the "to-do" (whether it's a Next Action or a Project). I use Outlook and a Pocket PC, so the dated to-do's show up on the calendar a-la Franklin Covey. I use the context lists for everything else.

      I came to this conclusion after getting burned by exactly the situation you're describing. Because my next actions were on a particular context list but weren't dated, I didn't realize that I needed to be sure that I was in that particular context on that particular day. I missed an important item as a result.

      That was the end of my strict adherence to the GTD dogma.

      But I should add that I keep the number of dated items to an absolute minimum, lest I slip back into an endless list of late items that weren't really all that critical to begin with (I think this is what DA is cautioning against when he says to maintain hard edges). Use your own judgment on this one, and do whatever works best for you.
      Last edited by jknecht; 05-21-2007, 02:22 PM.

      Comment


      • #4
        I think everyone's experience here varies.

        In my experience, the key is to triangulate between calendar, projects list, and action lists. A typical morning review would look like this:

        1) Check my long-term calendar first thing in the morning. Note any upcoming deadlines.

        2) Review my projects lists - make a mental note of urgent projects.

        3) Review my actions lists - make a note of pressing actions (optional: highlight).

        4) From 1-3 above, create a daily list of stuff I absolutely must do today - this is usually enough to help me keep on top of the pressing stuff and to develop good habits.

        5) Create a daily schedule that blocks out time to work on various context lists.

        [Sometimes I also create a weekly focus list - a small list of projects to push forward vigorously during the week.]
        Last edited by madalu; 05-21-2007, 03:27 PM.

        Comment


        • #5
          I put these sort of actions on my action list. Interestingly my gut instinct is the opposite of yours. If the deadline is "date X" I'd rather put the action on my action list and get it done BEFORE that date rather than wait until a reminder in my diary on the day it needs to be done when I might not have time to do it.

          If it is something I might well procrastinate on or if I have little time, I will also schedule a time to do it as soon as possible.

          I look at my action list every day without fail while I review items coming up on my diary much less frequently.

          There are other things I've tried in the past when I've been worried about not getting things done on my lists. For instance in the past I have put a question in my calendar e.g. "started customer Y quotation yet?" but I have since found this to be unnecessary.

          If you have very long actions lists which are taking too long to review each day then maybe you need to put some in someday/maybe to make the list more workable.

          Hope that helps. Good luck.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Howard View Post
            I find this approach quite scary and (after six months of GTD) still struggle with it. I have a lot of actions which won't be completely valueless the next day but who's value will greatly decrease if they are not done ON that day e.g. customer quotations, production of orders, returning important calls. Speed and reliability, in my business, equals a quality service. I dare not put such urgent but not necessarily time critical items in the actions lists for fear that I will miss them and they will slip through the cracks - after all, there are many actions in my lists but the small number in the calendar can't really be missed. I admit however, that I do end up with mini to-do lists - against the principles of GTD - in my calendar and there is often enough work here to prevent me getting near my context lists.
            ..
            So is what I'm doing such a problem? Am I preaching heresy? Or, am I (once again) missing something really obvious that you folks are going to point out to me?
            Yeah, I think you missed the boat. There are things that have to be done on a day, but not necessarily at a specific time. You put them on the calendar, just not associated with a specific time. Now we can go into a song-and-dance about what "must be done" means, but really it depends on your job's requirements. If the standard is same-day respsonse, or inside 24 hours, then that's the standard. A standard is a kind of agreement: you can hold to it, not hold to it, or re-negotiate. If you had a family emergency, you would re-negotiate your work responsibilities: ask a customer for understanding, hand off to a co-worker, et cetera. If you are consistently not getting discretionary time to do required next actions, then you also need to re-negotiate: maybe with your boss, your co-workers, your admin-assistant. Or maybe with yourself: am I good enough at my job to keep it? To want to keep it? The mechanics are not that difficult: in an ideal world I would have sent 5 quotes out today, but something came up, and I only did three. I blocked out time for the other two first thing tomorrow. The real question is what your job is, and what you have to do to meet its standards.

            Comment


            • #7
              Howard - I think the key is, as you say, trusting the system. If you're making decisions based on that, then I'd say you're doing the right thing.

              So, if you do move very-time-sensitive items out of the calendar you need to put some kind of check somewhere that you trust. Could you use a tickler file for this?

              Too much in the calendar reduces its integrity, but dropping one ball will reduce your system's integrity, and your own.
              Last edited by richard.watson; 05-21-2007, 10:39 PM. Reason: spelling

              Comment


              • #8
                Interesting feedback

                A tricky one this. It's a question of getting the balance right between (a) giving yourself adequately visible reminders of urgent items and (b) not overcommiting your time on the calendar in a way that negates the benefits of GTD.

                Originally posted by gtdlater View Post
                As long as you review your entire context list when you are in the context nothing will get lost. If you review it enough to get it on your mind (or off your mind as DA says) then you won't even need to look.

                I think there might be a provision for a checklist if you want one. How many items are on the context list for which you don't want to let any NAs fall through the cracks?
                The problem here is that you can end up having to do too much reviewing to be reminded. True, nothing will "get lost" but it might not be noticed in time.

                Originally posted by jknecht View Post
                But I should add that I keep the number of dated items to an absolute minimum, lest I slip back into an endless list of late items that weren't really all that critical to begin with (I think this is what DA is cautioning against when he says to maintain hard edges). Use your own judgment on this one, and do whatever works best for you.
                I think you've stated the key issue: the definition of what is important for that day. If I'm honest, I'm probably using my calendar for items that I don't really need to.

                Originally posted by madalu View Post
                I think everyone's experience here varies.

                In my experience, the key is to triangulate between calendar, projects list, and action lists. A typical morning review would look like this:

                1) Check my long-term calendar first thing in the morning. Note any upcoming deadlines.

                2) Review my projects lists - make a mental note of urgent projects.

                3) Review my actions lists - make a note of pressing actions (optional: highlight).

                4) From 1-3 above, create a daily list of stuff I absolutely must do today - this is usually enough to help me keep on top of the pressing stuff and to develop good habits.

                5) Create a daily schedule that blocks out time to work on various context lists.

                [Sometimes I also create a weekly focus list - a small list of projects to push forward vigorously during the week.]
                I like this idea. Having read your comments I've set up a regular "Morning Review" based on the "Get Current" items and an "Evening Review" based on the "Get Clear" items.

                Originally posted by tominperu View Post
                I put these sort of actions on my action list. Interestingly my gut instinct is the opposite of yours.
                ...
                If it is something I might well procrastinate on or if I have little time, I will also schedule a time to do it as soon as possible.
                ...
                I wonder if that is because my action lists are too long and time critical actions are becoming needles in the haystack. Certainly, there are items there that I have not touched for weeks. As you say Tom, the difference between your instinct and mine is interesting.

                Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                If the standard is same-day respsonse, or inside 24 hours, then that's the standard. A standard is a kind of agreement: you can hold to it, not hold to it, or re-negotiate.
                I agree with you about being clear on the standards. Are you saying that if "the standard is same-day response" the item should be on the calendar?

                Originally posted by richard.watson View Post
                Howard - I think the key is, as you say, trusting the system.
                ...
                So, if you do move very-time-sensitive items out of the calendar you need to put some kind of check somewhere that you trust. Could you use a tickler file for this?

                Too much in the calendar reduces its integrity, but dropping one ball will reduce your system's integrity, and your own.
                My feelings, entirely. And I work in Outlook so it would be a matter of flagging the actions (if they are not going to be held in the calendar) prominently enough.

                I'd LOVE to hear a response from one of the GTD staff on this one. I do understand the reasons for avoidance of the calendar but this issue does represent a potential chink in the armour of GTD.

                Thanks, as ever, for all your comments.

                Comment


                • #9
                  I think that perhaps what you're getting tripped up on is the definition of what 'must be done' on a certain date. In my mind, if something loses value by the next day, then by definition it must be done the preceding day.

                  Anything can be re-negotiated, so really... there are very few things that truly 'must' be done by a certain date. It really depends on your standards, I think.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by jkgrossi View Post
                    I think that perhaps what you're getting tripped up on is the definition of what 'must be done' on a certain date. In my mind, if something loses value by the next day, then by definition it must be done the preceding day.

                    Anything can be re-negotiated, so really... there are very few things that truly 'must' be done by a certain date. It really depends on your standards, I think.
                    DA is quite explicit:
                    "The way I look at it, the calendar should be sacred territory. If you write something there, it must get done that day or not at all"
                    ...and this is where the controversy arises.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I have to say I like the crisp edges David Allen recommends regarding the calendar, and I buy his argument that mixing things that have to be done with "would like to" items leads to problems. But as others have pointed out, to use the calendar this way requires reviewing it regularly, along with your actions list. The Time/Design people use the same approach re: calendars, and have a nice way of thinking about it. I wrote about it in Problem scheduling *EVERYTHING*:
                      Originally posted by cornell View Post
                      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...
                      This is consistent with madalu's excellent comment.

                      (I wrote a bit about Time/Design at Some thoughts from attending Time/Design's trainer certification, FYI.)

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Howard View Post
                        DA is quite explicit:
                        "The way I look at it, the calendar should be sacred territory. If you write something there, it must get done that day or not at all"
                        ...and this is where the controversy arises.
                        The problem I've run into so far after a few weeks is that on multiple occasions, I have "big rocks" dropped on my head soon after getting to my desk at work and by the time the world gets free, I don't have the mental energy level for the equally big rock creative task already on the calendar. This happens mostly with writing tasks, where I'm being paid to be creative in how I explain a complex topic, and somebody throws a client crisis in my lap before I'm even at the office.

                        This issue in fact is the main reason why I bought GTD and went to the Chicago Roadmap last week.... When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I used to be a night owl - I could throw off five hours of creative work starting at 10pm, get four hours of sleep, and be at work at 9am. In the last three or four years, my creative clock shuts down earlier and earlie and now it's difficult for me to do those tasks after about 2pm. I've compensated by getting up at 2am once every couple of weeks to get in a solid five hours of work while I'm still fresh and a hard deadline isn't right on top of me, but I pay for it dearly for two days after that.

                        One of the things I've learned already with GTD is that the "@work" context for me is really two contexts: @work-creative and @work-manage/admin. It's far more easier for me to have a "mind like water" at 6am at a diner before the phone calls start than it is to try and do it at 3pm after four conversations where I want to smack somebody and I'm tired and cranky.

                        Where I'm hoping that GTD will kick in is in four or five more weeks, when the number of items pushed to end up on the calendar have dwindled down to one every couple of weeks. I think that will help reduce the stress level and allow me to be more proactive about funnelling stressful conversations into the afternoon.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Two kinds of GTDer?

                          Having further considered all the posts on this thread I am coming to the conclusion that GTD often means different things to different people.

                          Some people's work has a lot of flexibility i.e. more options on when certain tasks can be carried out. Writers, programmers, creative workers - these sort of roles can be much less reactive than say those of doctors, customer service representatives and military personnel.

                          I do believe that the type of work we do has a big effect on the way we use GTD. For instance, those whose work is more PROactive can afford to, and must, look in more detail at their projects. Those whose work is more REactive will find it more difficult to frequently review projects and very frequent in-to-empty processing will be much more important, as will a constant awareness of Next Actions.

                          It just occurred to me in the debate about whether to put time-sensitive but not critical actions in the calendar or on the context lists, that how busy you are and how much time you have to keep looking at the lists does make a difference to how you get the best out of your system.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I think that's a fantastic point.

                            I'm I'm doing my job completely efficiently, it is about 85% proactive, and 15% absolute train wreck reactive. Add in 50% on the road, 50% at home, and it's easy to see when previous systems have failed me.

                            The problem I have faced in the past is that I didn't have a system to get me back from completely reactive to mostly proactive in a short amount of time. I'd eventually get there via brute force, which I can't mentally or physically do for weeks on end any more. To borrow a cliche, "work smarter, not harder."

                            In my @work context, I'm finding that the ratio of NA to WF is a good indicator of how I'm doing. Right now, NA/WF < 1, which is great. Earlier this week, it was around 5, and I was rather annoyed.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Is putting time sensitive actions in &quot;Next Actions&quot; lists a risk?

                              Personally, I have NO problem assigning dates to my lists (in the Tasks portion of Outlook). In fact, I do this with all actions ready for attention in the coming week. I do not, however, put a task on the Calendar unless it is a hard landscape item. I use many of M Linenberger's ideas from "Total Workday Control Using Microsoft Outlook" to manage my tasks in that software, and he advocates using the "Due Date" as a means of sorting various views (for example, I often consult a "This Week" view). This doesn't preclude me from using a context to choose what action to take in the moment.

                              For me it's a matter of considering my Calendar the hard landscape and Task dates as a means of manipulating my lists. The Task Due Date also serves to remind me of how long a task has been languishing if I didn't get to it when I intended. I do not beat myself up if a Task due date slips by; it's the Calendar items that are non-negotiable.

                              I also agree that the nature of one's work determines how much an individual can benefit from reminders of what is timely and what is not rather than relying so heavily on shifting contexts. I frequently remind myself that DA is a consultant, road warrior and company President/CEO, whose relationship to commitments and resources available for delegation, etc. are very different than many other types of knowledge workers.

                              Kris S

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