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  • Someday / Maybe vs. Incubation list - which is it, and how do you use it best?

    Hey guys,

    I've found that a common problem with the elements of the GTD system is the ambiguity/lack of sharp edges to really great concepts, which makes implementation difficult. One that has me a little stumped is how best to use the Someday/Maybe list. This post from a yahoo group related to GTD that I frequent highlights part of my problem:

    >"Once GTD got rolling for me, I called it 'someday/maybe" just
    >because I was instructed to, but that title always sounded a little
    >too untrustworthy to me, so I changed it to "incubate" because it
    >makes me feel like things are bubbling and working on their own in
    >there while I'm not paying particular attention to them -- and as
    >we've discussed, that's exactly what IS happening." - Deb.

    Now, here's my thought process: A "Someday/Maybe" list suggests "ideas/activities I might like to consider someday, maybe" or "possibilities for the future". Notice the uncertainty element: this is just a repository for cool ideas, it seems to me at least.

    On the other hand, an "Incubation" list suggests ideas/activities that I /definitely do/ intend to follow through on, but am just:
    i) unsure on how to act on currently, or
    ii) allowing to develop: either subconsciously in my own mind, or by the gradual aggregation of other ideas, which I then record.

    Or, to take it from another angle: they are ideas which, by being listed here and periodically reviewed, enter into your reticular activation filter, which can start to pick out and accumulate the appropriate ideas/stimulus to help you achieve that goal.

    Moreover, some of the ideas on a Someday/Maybe list are quite grand in scope or ambitiousa visit to Bora-Bora, taking up a language, for example), but also lumped in here are potential mundane projects that don't necessarily have to be done (clean the garage, repaint the kitchen). Similarly, some of these things are pleasurable things to do, or pastimes; others chores. You can see this from a snapshot of the headings that are currently under my Someday/Maybe list (where there is plenty of room for improvement, hence this post):

    -[-] Someday / Maybe
    -[+] Things to Read
    -[+] Possible Projects / Actions
    -[+] Places to Visit
    -[+] Films/Programmes to Watch
    -[+] Potential Purchases
    -[+] Skills to Learn
    -[+] Ideas for the Future

    The problems arise from how MUCH different stuff is being lumped under this list, which I find makes reviewing it and working with it difficult.
    • The big dream, "Someday/Maybe" things don't require reviewing very often - after all, I don't need to see my potential holiday plans every week if it's not feasible at this point of my life. These are nice to look over when your situation becomes more amenable to them, or for fantasising, or for broadening your horizons about what you might want to do (or helping you look at your work from a higher level / altitude, to use Dave's analogy).
    • Possible projects/actions... those I need to see every week, as I might take those on, or might not.
    • Potential films to watch or books to read are recreational: I want to see these when I am burnt-out with work or bored with it, or have a spare slot. I don't really need to see them during the weekly review at all.
    • And - this is critical- if I lump actionable items (incubating) with non-actionable items (that potential business project that is totally unfeasible at this period of my life) then I'll go "numb" to those items. An item incubates differently depending on whether you've defined it as "something I'm thinking about and intend to do", or "something I could do, if circumstances are amenable".

    So my questions are:
    1. How do you work with your someday/maybe list? do you "incubate" items in it, or do you file away great ideas? Or do you do both? Does mixing things you /might/ do with things you /will/ do, but /don't know how to yet/, work for you?

    2. As a development of this, what are your best practices re: Someday/Maybe lists? How do you categorise (if you do categorise) items that fit under it? How do you get around the problem that elements of it need reviewing more often than others?

    Ofc, it goes without saying that if I'm misinterpreting or confusing elements of the system, you should set me to rights!

    Thanks,

    Paraselene.

  • #2
    What I do

    Not that I'm perfect with this concept, but I put any project that I want to do but am not ready to actually start on before my next weekly review on "Someday Maybe - Review Weekly". I have a similar list for reviewing monthly, then a quarterly list. The reason I broke it down this was was because my list also was HUGE, but I like the concept of dropping ideas somewhere.

    My system is far from perfect, though. I'm anxiously awaiting other posts on how to use this.

    Comment


    • #3
      I keep separate lists for things to read, things to buy, and so forth. I don't review these lists at all unless I'm in a situation where they are meaningful. For example, I'll collect gift ideas for people in my family and save them until the next gift giving occasion.

      I keep future projects separate from Someday/Maybe projects. Future projects are those that I plan to do at some (known) future date, but that date hasn't happened yet. Examples would be the article I'm planning to write next month -- which I won't look at until I finish this month's article -- or the family vacation we're planning for late September, which I won't worry about until early August. These are tickler items, and the tickler is where I put them.

      True Someday/Maybe projects follow a trajectory from vague idea incubation to actual "live" project. As they become more concrete, I review them more often. I'm really pretty sloppy about capturing ideas, on the theory that the good ones will come back of their own accord, and losing the rest is no big deal.

      Katherine

      Comment


      • #4
        Another Trajectory

        Originally posted by kewms View Post
        True Someday/Maybe projects follow a trajectory from vague idea incubation to actual "live" project.
        Katherine
        That's the "Someday" part. Someday/Maybe items also follow a trajectory from vague idea incubation into the trash can. That's the "Maybe" part.

        Comment


        • #5
          My Use

          Paraselene,

          For me Someday/Maybe is a parking lot for things that it has occurred to me to do, but I am not going to go to work on right now. It contains anything and everything. I have never found that ideas incubate any better or worse depending on what kind of list they are on. However, if you find it easier to manage and review them by grouping them into different lists, they I would encourage you to do so.

          There was another discussion a long while back regarding certain classes of Someday/Maybe items. Here is the link. You might find it useful.

          http://www.davidco.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4388

          One last observation. The thing you are citing as a weakness of GTD, the lack of crisp boundaries between lists is IMHO a strength of the system. What DA is doing is providing you with a key principle, which is to separate things you will/might/want to/should work on from the things you are working on. He leaves the exact details of implementation up to you. If it drives you nuts to try to think about things you will do and ideas you want to develop at the same time, then separate them and deal with them separately. If you're like me and you're content to leave it all one big happy mess, then keep one list.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Paraselene View Post
            One that has me a little stumped is how best to use the Someday/Maybe list.
            I'm struggling with this myself and have been searching the archives for some guidance.

            My big problem is sorting out projects from my someday/maybe lists because everything on the someday list with only a few exceptions is something I am committed to doing, but maybe not this day or week.

            I've been having a hard time moving things back and forth from current project to someday/maybe and back again as they become currently inactive and then active.

            I'm also struggling with projects that can't be started until another project is finished. How do you use GTD to track and document those?

            Comment


            • #7
              I sympathize with your frustrations! I'll try to help.

              Originally posted by Oogiem View Post
              My big problem is sorting out projects from my someday/maybe lists because everything on the someday list with only a few exceptions is something I am committed to doing, but maybe not this day or week.
              Okay, that's a perfectly fine use of the Someday/Maybe list. What do you mean by "sort them out"? Personally, I scan the Someday/Maybe list linearly. Do you feel you need something more? Why; what's driving that?

              I've been having a hard time moving things back and forth from current project to someday/maybe and back again as they become currently inactive and then active.
              Why? What's hard about this? Can you describe your setup?

              I'm also struggling with projects that can't be started until another project is finished. How do you use GTD to track and document those?
              Those go on Someday/Maybe, which I see as a list of future Projects. Not doing them now, but maybe/probably will in the future. Of course, who knows what'll happen in the future?, which is why it's Someday/Maybe. Within 7 days of finishing the prerequisite Project, I'll see this one on my Someday/Maybe list (during my Weekly Review) and can move it to my Projects list.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Brent View Post
                What do you mean by "sort them out"? Personally, I scan the Someday/Maybe list linearly. Do you feel you need something more? Why; what's driving that?
                People seem to treat the s/m list as pie in the sky dreams. I do have a few of those things on my list but in general all are really going to get done. Just they may take a while or the time is not right yet for them to be started.

                Originally posted by Brent View Post
                Why? What's hard about this? Can you describe your setup?
                It takes a lot of time. Next actions are Tasks on my Treo phone. My Someday/Maybe list is a long Word file that I synch to my Treo using Docs to Go so I have it available at all times to look at. Within the list there are categories, my areas of focus, and projects are grouped under them. So I have a section labeled Sheep Work and under it all the projects related to the actual animals, another is Wool work, related to things I have to do with fleeces, roving or yarn. Sewing, Computer, Personal and so on are major categories. I have 35 of those and I have between 30-60 projects in each major category.

                My projects list is also a Word file and I move stuff between them but I'm not always in the house by the computer. I've been finding myself spending more time moving projects on and off vs actually doing the next actions!

                Oh and nearly every project on the someday maybe list has a concrete next action listed to move that forward. Many even have discussion about why they are listed and the vision for what I see when they are "done".

                Here's an example. In sheep work I have a project Vaccinate new lambs. This has to be done or sheep will die. I have a note in my calendar of the range for when it has to be done by (after this date and before this date based on their ages). The current top next action on this project is to pick up more syringes from the vet as I don't have enough to do this next batch. It's on my list as a task on my Treo under the context of the town where the vet is. With the price of diesel we're hoping to pick them up when we are already in that town but if it gets too close to when the lambs have to be done we have to make a special trip. We have 2 batches of lambs, so there are really 2 sets of dates, one is clearly a current project (my window for vaccinating opened this weekend and will close in 3 weeks) and the next will open in 7 weeks. So it's both a current project and a future project and if hubby and I died tomorrow, the neighbors would have to be able to pick up my files and data and know that it has to get done and do it. I have to have complete info in my list which is why even future projects have next actions listed in most cases.

                Originally posted by Brent View Post
                Those go on Someday/Maybe, which I see as a list of future Projects. Not doing them now, but maybe/probably will in the future. Of course, who knows what'll happen in the future?, which is why it's Someday/Maybe. Within 7 days of finishing the prerequisite Project, I'll see this one on my Someday/Maybe list (during my Weekly Review) and can move it to my Projects list.
                Ah but on a farm most projects will absolutely have to get done by either yourself or the person picking up the pieces if you cannot do it. BTDT when my mother passed away. I just wish she'd left a clearer set of current projects and status and the next action she had planned as it would have made our job a lot easier. Sure there are the ones that might go away, most hobby ones are like that but the vast majority of my projects really have to get done, just they are not going to be finished or maybe not even worked on until the season is correct.

                I'm trying to use GTD to be sure I don't drop any balls so to speak of the must do now stuff (even though it's seasonal or yearly and not daily or weekly) but also so I pay attention to and make progress, however slowly, on things that are really long term but that are enjoyable or important to me. My spinning, weaving and sewing a piece of clothing project for example, I'm now 11 years into that project but it's still going on and probably will for a few more years. One next action took 6 years to complete.

                I asked about that before under the really long term projects thread.

                Some projects won't be completed in my lifetime but hopefully I can move things forward so those that come after can start from where I ended rather than start over. That also means leaving a clear enough description of the eventual goal, current plans and next actions so it can be continued. And if I'm being really good, a description of my thoughts about the why and the context in which they were developed so that if the environment or circumstances change the people working on it after me can adapt the next actions as needed but hopefully stay true to the vision.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Although the someday/maybe (s/m) can have pie-in-the-sky dreams, I don't believe that most use that primarily for that. I have real concrete will-dos on my s/m lists. If it is a project that I need to start by a certain time period, then I will put a note in the tickler to make that project active. If it is something that will follow another project, I will put in as a last action in the preceding project "open project NEXT".

                  For s/m projects that I do want to achieve, but that aren't on a specific timeline, a few things help me keep them clear: the weekly review and my horizons of focus. I also have my s/m lists broken down by category. For example, personal s/m items are kept separate from marketing s/m items, for example. Alternately, a few users on this forum have split their s/m lists into separate someday and maybe lists. Perhaps the latter will help with pie-in-the-sky concern.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Oogiem, it sounds like you have a lot of date-specific work in your Someday/Mabye list. Indeed, it sounds like you're tracking a lot of specific, date-locked future work in your Someday/Maybe list.

                    Why not move all that stuff to your tickler, which is designed precisely to remind you of things that need to be done at a specific date in the future? And the tickler's organization and purpose is very clear to anyone taking over from you.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      reference lists

                      I think some of those "categories" are really reference lists rather than action or project lists.

                      So things like:

                      Things to Read
                      -[+] Places to Visit
                      -[+] Films/Programmes to Watch
                      -[+] Potential Purchases
                      -[+] Skills to Learn

                      would be reference lists, and you would use them as support documents. If you have a someday/ maybe of plan vacation, you could refer to your Places to Visit list for ideas, and cross one off your list after your vacation is over.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Brent View Post
                        Why not move all that stuff to your tickler, which is designed precisely to remind you of things that need to be done at a specific date in the future?
                        I see tickler files as very date specific items that can only be done on a specific day or must be looked at on that day but they are invisible until then. The whole point IMO of the someday maybe list is a way to review all your potential projects easily. Once things are buried in a tickler file they get lost and some may become active or urgent before the expected time due to environmental conditions that are unusual or unexpected. If I thought it took a long time now to move stuff into and out of current projects vs someday/maybe I can't even imagine what it would take to do a serial sort of my tickler when suddenly something changes and I need the info on a project I didn't think I'd get to until say January.

                        My tickler is the standard paper based 43 folder system for stuff that is due on a specific day. There is no easy way to move stuff into it from my computer files unless I print it out and I really don't want to do that because I will lose track of the overview I get from looking at all things on the list that are coming up over the next few months or years.

                        My project next actions are not stuff that has to happen on a particular day but rather need to happen within a range of dates or in a particular season or after some specific weather condition has occurred like after the first hard frost. There are also those that will happen years from now depending on results from projects completed before them. That doesn't fit the model of a tickler or of a calendar where the dates are fixed.

                        I am trying hard not to use much beyond the standard Palm desktop and word or excel files. I've been down the path of custom SW packages and invariably I end up having to go back to standard plain stuff when the program is orphaned or a new version loses some functionality I was taking advantage of. I also need to be able to see all parts of my system both on my Palm OS Treo phone and on my Macintosh computer seamlessly and synch between them. I have to be able to edit on both platforms although most editing is done on my Mac and most review is on my phone.

                        I've been playing with using Palm memos for each project. I've hit the limits of memo lengths with some projects so I'm not sure that will work. Plus I've got too many categories already with various checklists and other reference data stored on my phone.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Okay. You've convinced me. GTD isn't for you.

                          Best of luck!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Oogiem View Post
                            Once things are buried in a tickler file they get lost and some may become active or urgent before the expected time due to environmental conditions that are unusual or unexpected.
                            I wouldn't keep the project materials in the tickler file, rather just a note or or, in my case, an index card. Do you have certain worksheets/checklists for special environmental conditions? You could maybe put notations of projects on there. Then when it hails or you have a blue moon, you can pull out the worksheet and run through the project possibilities.

                            Another thought, you may want to create a special tickler file for agriculture.
                            Last edited by sdann; 07-15-2008, 04:53 PM.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Brent View Post
                              Okay. You've convinced me. GTD isn't for you.

                              Best of luck!
                              Laughing, well actually a lot of it does make perfect sense just the timeframes implied seem wonky.

                              The listing everything, only a few inboxes, keeping stuff empty, good reference filing and the clarifying projects to be things that need multiple next actions make perfect sense and work well no matter the application or job.

                              It's the boundary between what is a current project, a long term project, a possibility not even clearly thought out yet, and a project that will become important and current when some set of conditions happens that is the problem.

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