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  • Help - falling off that wagon with a bump

    I wonder if anyone can offer some encouragement. I've been using GTD for some months, but it's really starting to get me down.

    I seem to spend a lot of time maintaining, and resenting, my @desk list. It's my main list because I work mostly from home. When I say resenting, I mean that I feel 'ruled' by the list, not in control of it. On the odd train trip I can knock off loads of items and feel really good. But because I'm out of the office they pile up as quickly again. So I'm constantly chasing my tail trying to reduce the list.

    Then, I play a little game - to avoid adding to the @desk list, I put things as all-day appointments in my diary. This is great because I tend to burn through these things and clear them most days. I also find I look at my diary more than my lists so those things get done. But I know it's cheating. And another problem is that I scan all my lists each morning, but I seem to ignore my other lists during the day, like the @calls list, because any urgent calls I make right away. So one problem seems to be that the lists don't keep up with the workflow.

    I somehow feel I should be focusing on what my clients need (I run my own writing agency), rather than worrying about reducing my list. Maybe I just have too much to do!

    So, in summary, I certainly don't have a clear head. In fact I always know what the priority is. So I wonder what it would be like to throw all the lists away and trust my brain. Blimey, that would be a relief if it worked.

    thanks

    Ben

  • #2
    An item that you can "knock off on the odd train trip" doesn't necessarily belong on your @desk list. @desk is for things you can *only* do at your desk.

    You might find it helpful to break down your contexts further: @phone, @email, @desk and so forth. This helps keep any single list from becoming overwhelmingly long, and also tends to group similar tasks together for more efficient handling. And of course contexts separate out things that you can do while away from your desk, allowing you to make better use of out-of-office opportunities.

    It does sound like you might just have too much to do. If that's the case, GTD will help you see what the workload is, but you have to make the decisions about what to do and what to let go.

    Good luck!

    Katherine

    Comment


    • #3
      I know this isn't much help, but I'm in the same boat. I tend to put what's hot on my calendar and knock them off, ignoring my context lists.

      What I realize though is that it takes discipline to look at the lists when "at the context".

      Another point that is always suggested is to reduce the lists to the "very next" action, not what needs to be done. What needs to be done for example is "clean the garage" (not work related, I know). If I put that on my list I'll keep pushing it off until either my wife threatens me or some other external force is applied. When I do get to it, I will just start chopping away at it. Possibly get lost in rabbit trails of "oh I need this", "oh remember that", etc. Half the morning is gone and I have to stop. So it goes on the list as "finish garage". Again not appealing. So what it needs to be is a project broken down into individual NAs (drawers, sort x, organize fishing poles or whatever). It may seem like it would take longer but working on and completing the individual NAs chops away at the overall project while giving a sense of accomplishment which turns into energy to complete more NAs on the project. In the end it comes down to disciplining ourselves to constantly be looking at the lists and as its been said on another thread, the hot stuff will get done.

      I know I'm rambling but repeating this to myself is a kind of therapy too because like I said, I fall off the wagon too often even though I know the right way to work the system. Now I just have to find another thread so I can remind myself that weekly reviews are important too.

      Comment


      • #4
        I second the suggestion to have only one NA per project on the actual @desk list (if you need to keep track of more actions for a project, you can keep a list with the project file) and going through to make sure that every NA really is an NA, and not a project in disguise. I've found this can fix 80% of list-avoidance problems.

        If that's not enough, I'd suggest going one level up and examining your projects lists. Are they ALL projects you intend to move on in the next couple of weeks? In addition to a someday-maybe file, I have a "later" list for things I know I need/want to do, but that I'm not going to be working on right away. I review it and my active projects list at my weekly review to evaluate whether it's time to shift projects between the lists (or sometimes move them to someday-maybe or remove them.)

        It is painful putting things on the "later" list, but I've found that's where a good part of the GTD benefit comes from for me: to make the unpleasant admission that I'm not going to be able to do *everything* I want to do, and making concious & clear-headed choices about what will or will not get done. Then, the action lists are purged of things relating to the "not now" projects, which makes them much less nag-ful.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by wordsman View Post
          I seem to spend a lot of time maintaining, and resenting, my @desk list. It's my main list because I work mostly from home.
          One modest recommendation: have you considered renaming the list to something like @office or @home? I think I'd avoid a list called @desk because of the name - it would make me feel claustrophobic, chained to my desk - as if I had to sit down and couldn't move until I'd done a bunch of stuff on the list.

          For me, the key to "getting" GTD was to realize that I could work on stuff without robotically going through my lists - so long as I keep the habit of collecting, processing, and reviewing, then I knew that everything I needed to do was off my mind and safely organized in my lists. The lists are your friends - if they contain a ton of actions, it's not meant to make you feel guilty, but rather confident that you have reminders written down for all the work you're committed to so you won't feel stressed or worried. And if you review your lists, you'll have a strong intuitive sense of what you need to be working on.

          If something shows up on my radar that I have to do right away, I often just start working on it without writing it down on my list. The key: at the end of working on a project, I also write down the very next thing I have to do for that project. As long as I process these notes, then everything's OK.

          Here's a specific example: I'm making calls from my @phone list when someone tells me they need a form ASAP. I set the @phone list aside begin work immediately: I print out the form, do the necessary thinking and/or research, fill it out, stamp and address it (all without consulting any lists). Then, at the end, I make a note to myself that I have to mail the form. When I process the note, the item goes on my @errands list.

          One helpful trick: there's nothing wrong with making lists on the fly. One thing I often do after I review my context lists is to create a list of actions I'd really like to or need to get done today. I work off of this list for a while, knocking off urgent items. When it gets low, I can work from my context lists. If I don't finish everything on the daily list, then I throw it into my inbox for processing in case there's anything on the list that's not yet on my context or action lists. So everything get's synced up in the end with relatively little hassle.
          Last edited by madalu; 06-01-2007, 10:27 AM.

          Comment


          • #6
            Some really useful ideas there, thanks everyone. I think I need to refine NAs a bit. I'm pretty sure some are really projects in disguise. I'll also re-name the @desk list, although my desk looks out on gardens, through folding sliding doors which leave me basking in sunshine on a nice day

            Also, I'm probably not using the categories as well as I could. I hardly ever look at my someday/maybe list, to make my morning review quicker. My projects were broken into client work and others. I scrapped the client projects as they're now in an online timesheet system. But i've lost my sense of overview so I'm going back to my client projects list gradually.

            My other projects list is things like 'plan team's training' - important but not urgent, so it's easy to overlook, and I don't apply a two-week rule here - perhaps I should. Seems like I'm perhaps not 'working' the system properly just yet.

            The bottom line, is having 150+NAs and projects listed got me scared, so I've looked for ways to reduce the list volume (which doesn't mean I have less to do, of course). I'm down to about 110 items, which still feels like a lot. But if I plan projects properly, then I have more NAs. The list grows, and I get scared again!

            Tricky
            Last edited by wordsman; 06-01-2007, 02:21 PM.

            Comment


            • #7
              110 items *is* a lot. That's where the tickler, someday/maybe list, and other deferral tools come in.

              Remember, though, that you don't necessarily put *all* actions related to a project on your NA lists, just those that are immediately doable. The rest are project support. Crowding the lists with things that you can't actually do will cause you to ignore your lists altogether.

              Katherine

              Comment


              • #8
                Too much 'Stuff'

                Sounds like you've got too many NAs on your list, and this is causing you to go numb to them. There's a lot of helpful information in some of the older threads, like this one, that might give you hints about how to deal with this issue.

                The crucial point is that you want your system to be as simple as possible, so it's transparent (ie you don't notice the system, just getting the work done), as long as you've got the five stages of workflow management happening.

                One thing that might be useful, actually, is to determine which stages are glitching. If everything else is working fine, but your Doing stage is annoying you, then it may only be the format of the lists that's bothering you.

                If you're working as well as you can, but losing ground, then you've got too much on your plate. Either shift some to S/M or Later, delegate, or drop it altogether.

                Personally, I find it helps a lot to reduce the NA lists in whatever way works for you: if you've got an overwhelming list of Stuff-To-Do, that can have a marked effect on your enthusiasm for the work.

                Another idea is to consider whether you're spending time on the right work: this involves thinking at higher levels than the runway, about what's important to you, what are the Necessaries and what are the Nice-To-Have-Dones.

                Just my $0.02. Australian.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Yes, I need to see which stages are sticking, I'm not sure at the moment.

                  And simplifying the lists might help. At the moment I use 'pocket breeze' for Windows Mobile which means I have all my lists collapsed on my phone. That means I see 15 items here, 10 there, and, oh 37 there (someday/maybe).

                  I think it might help top move all but by next actions from the phone. So keep my project lists and someday/maybe somewhere else so I'm not constantly looking at things I'm can't do immediatedly all the time.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by wordsman View Post
                    Yes, I need to see which stages are sticking, I'm not sure at the moment.
                    That's pretty easy to check: you just need to sit down quietly for a while and reflect. Ask yourself these questions:
                    1)Is there anything in your head that you haven't written down? If so, then the Collection stage isn't working as well as it should.
                    2) Do you go through your In Tray frequently? If you're not getting that cleared every day or two, then something's getting clogged in the Processing stage.
                    3) Do you have lists of the very next things you can do in each context? And do you know where everything is? If not, then the Organising stage needs work.
                    4) Do you look at your NA lists often, your project list less often, and your S/M list less often still, but still review them often enough? If not, it's the Review stage. As a rough handwaving guide, I'd suggest you should be referring to your NA lists a lot, checking your project list daily, to make sure that you've got NAs for each active project, and checking your S/M list weekly.
                    5) Does work get done off the NA lists? If not, then you might be procrastinating or otherwise not Doing as required. If you're doing work that doesn't even make it to the NA lists, think about why: it might be that you're constantly interrupting your semi-planned work for incomings, instead of sticking them in your In Tray to be Processed later.

                    Originally posted by wordsman View Post
                    And simplifying the lists might help. At the moment I use 'pocket breeze' for Windows Mobile which means I have all my lists collapsed on my phone. That means I see 15 items here, 10 there, and, oh 37 there (someday/maybe).
                    Yes. I'd definitely keep the S/M out of your daily view. Things you'd need to see often would be the NA lists (definitely) and your project list, and maybe your Waiting-Fors: everything else doesn't need to be checked so frequently.

                    Originally posted by wordsman View Post
                    I think it might help top move all but by next actions from the phone. So keep my project lists and someday/maybe somewhere else so I'm not constantly looking at things I'm can't do immediatedly all the time.
                    Yes. And Katherine's advice is excellent: your NA list should be sharp-edged, containing only well-defined NAs. An NA is something that you're able to do immediately if you choose (ie it doesn't require anything else done first) and it's an action. NAs start with active verbs, not nouns or passive verbs. Well-defined NAs are things like "Email John re: plans for world domination" or "Throw out all the moldy things in the fridge before they start holding free elections".

                    We often put things that are actually projects on our NA lists, which makes us resistant to them. Something like "Finish clearing out shed" or "Design faster-than-light drive" are projects which we're tempted to think are NAs. They're not.

                    There are two problems facing all of us in these situations: the first is to work out what is going wrong, and the second is to work out how to fix it. Separate the two to make it easier. Find the problem before looking for the solution.

                    Sorry for wiffling on like this, but I'm a little tired.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I flirted around with categories like @email and @web, and found them helpful, but not helpful enough to justify sustained use. The one new context I am finding valuable right now is @research. I have four major research projects underway, all related to two upcoming conferences. Next actions on the @research list have a certain combination of importance and urgency. You can think of them as @writing next actions, although @research is a better description. These are next actions I can do both at my home office and at work, although I tend to do them at home in the mornings. I don't include research-related next actions that involve other people (@agendas) or work facilities (@work), nor do I include non-research related writing, e.g., administrative stuff. I find that if I can move on the next actions on the @research list in the morning, then I am free in the afternoon to give my attention to other matters. I find that I am experiencing more ideas at random times and places, which is always a good sign. The @research context has some aspects of the traditional daily todo list for me, in the sense that next actions on this list have importance, urgency, and require focus, but without a false deadline. In some sense, this context provides a center of gravity for the day's actiivities, giving me a clear vision of what a productive day would be. It may be just a summer fling, but it is working well for me now, and something similar may be helpful for others.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        This is all really good advice, thanks. Here's my thinking-out-loud on sticking points:

                        1. theres always lots of stuff rolling around my head, but I do make notes in GTD (on my phone) pretty religiously
                        2. In-tray is mostly empty, desk is clear, a big pile makes me stressed
                        3. The lists are always accessible on my phone, but I suspect I have projects masquerading as NAs - one to work on
                        4. I look at NAs daily, but avoid looking at projects and S/Ms because that whole review was taking a long time - couple of hours. I recon this is the major sticking point, I need to get back into proper weekly reviews. One problem may be that while I'm reviewing, I get distracted by emails and thing about the work I need to get on with. One solution could be to do the review away from my desk.
                        5. I'm constantly knocking things off the list, but they grow as quickly, and I'm also doing a lot that never makes it onto NAs. These can be urgent things for clients, and may take more than 2 mins

                        One other thing I've noticed, I'm not using S/Ms properly. At the moment this is just a parking lot. I don't move things in and out from projects/NAs based on the two week rule. I think this is because it takes long enough to just read through the lists, let alone start moving things around. Again, seems I'm not reviewing effectively enough.

                        Lot's to think about. I'm gonna get on with it now!

                        cheers

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          So much for 'I'm gonna get on with it now!'. That was yesterday morning. I got distracted by the day's work pretty soon after and haven't managed to get back into my review since then. That's two work days where I've continually thought about, and tried to get stuck into my review, but without success. Somehow I'm really resisting it. Really frustrating!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Some really great advice on this thread! Thanks all to sharing. Here's my two cents...some of it reiterates other's points, I'm sure.
                            • Make sure that your NA's are truly physical next actions. (Sometimes I have to imagine that I'm going to work on the project right now and ask myself "What would you do to start?)
                            • Consider syncing your Win Mobile device with Outlook. You might find the longer lists easier to work with on your computer. I use a Palm and Lotus Notes and only use the Palm when I'm away from the computer, which is my main tool.
                            • Can you consider deferring some of your next actions? I started another thread about what to do with next actions that you don't want to start until a later date. You might want to consider a tickler file for items you know you don't even want to look at until (next week, for example). That way your NA lists won't be cluttered with stuff that you really want to do as soon as possible.

                            Good luck!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by wordsman View Post
                              One solution could be to do the review away from my desk.
                              I do the review in two parts: an initial work review on Friday, and a full review on either Saturday or Sunday. I do the full review at a restaurant, starting over a late breakfast or early lunch at a restaurant or quick-service place. I block out two hours for the full review.

                              I have a hybrid paper/electronic system:
                              - Above the runway, it's electronic, in a pair of MindManager maps (employer, not-employer)
                              - At the runway, NAs are paper based in a 79-cent 70-page college ruled dime store notebook.
                              - S/Ms are on index cards
                              - I have two electronic inbox folders in two different email programs (employer, personal)

                              The initial work review clears out my work inbox, cleans up WFs so I can send out reminder emails, and gets NAs on the appropriate list. Then I sit down and do the more strategic review on the weekend, update my project/AOR mind map, make sure I have NAs or WFs for every branch, etc.

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