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How many items in a list is sensible?

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  • #16
    I, too, think that moving tasks between someday/may and NA lists is not at all the essence of GTD. After all, chances that the scenario Paul describes will happen - and it happens all the time that unexpected time windows pop up and we can do what we didn't plan to be able to.

    I ponder if a @Week/@Today list is the solution. I am sure it helps in some ways, that it restricts your daily regime to only the @Today list. Then, however, still fall short in terms of flexbility since your priority/energy/time/context change dynamically in the day (okay~may be not "context"). You may become able to do what you don't plan for today (and thus in the @Today list), so you needa look for lists outside of "@Today". Once you look outside of @Today, the significance of this list becomes less obvious.

    I am thinking about other advices too, for example, the "commitment management" Catherine or others mentioned. We might think of too many "to-dos", and commit ourselves to too many things. Some might needa be considered "wild-ideas", and some might just be trashed. Defer is good, but putting things into NA is also a genuine form of deferment too - that they would be done ASAP, but not at the moment. Someday/maybe works more like "indefinite deferment" to me.

    What I'm curious is, DA mentioned in his book that a normal person constantly has ~100-150 NA in his list. I don't have that many, but I'm sure most of you guys, like DA himself, do. While DA lets that ~100-150 stay on his NA, what is to be done with it to speed up evaluation while preserving the integrity of action decision?

    I have difficulty in two areas :
    #1 DA mentions we need to feel good about having more NA (to-dos) than we can possibly do.
    #2 We need to be contented with what we don't do.

    To sum up, DA presumes the system to hold ~100-150 NA (in the NA list of course) for a regular person, so there must be some ways to work around long lists. Pulling things to someday/maybe, or out of NA in other forms, is totally sensible option. But I'd really like to know how, provided a constantly long list (~100-150 /or/ 15-20 in each context) is here to stay, what is the best strategy?

    Comment


    • #17
      I think each person has to decide what is reasonable, given their overall workload and also the type of item. For example, it's often quite easy for me to knock off five or ten phone calls in a day, so a list of 20 or more calls would not be unmanageable. On the other hand, a list of 20 NAs along the lines of "write intro to *topic*" might represent several months of work. Phone calls are relatively easy to work on in odd bits of time, too while writing usually requires large chunks of focused concentration.

      Perhaps the only universally applicable statement is that if you think your lists are too long, you're probably right. But the solution depends on the precise nature of the problem. Maybe you need to defer (or dump) some things. Maybe you need more granular contexts. Maybe you just need better list management tools. Treat the discomfort with your lists as a warning sign and go from there.

      Katherine

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      • #18
        Here's what I do, and it seems to work nicely. Obviously it's in my own application but you just have to find a way to replicate it in whatever you're using.

        I don't play around with the contexts. If something is in a @Calls context, it stays there. It's a call, so that doesn't change just because it's not hugely urgent.
        Instead, I have a "state" for each action. That can be "Next action", "Action", "On hold", "Done", "Waiting For" and "Someday/Maybe". If a call needs to be done now, it's a "next action". If it's something I must do but it's not critical, it's an "action".

        It just seemed logical to separate 1) where something can be done (context) and 2) what state it's in right now.

        [Update - to explain a bit more - I can filter on the state, so putting it on "show only next actions" will hide the others. This can be replicated in e.g. Excel with a bit of coding.]
        Last edited by richard.watson; 08-06-2007, 01:50 AM. Reason: as mentioned

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        • #19
          Originally posted by Campion View Post
          ...I am actively using the GTD system with my PDA & Outlook.

          ...it's not as easy to have an overall impression of this "soft-landscape" ...
          I tried to work from a PDA and found that the screen, which is smaller than a business card, was not adequate for me to get a good overview of my commitments. Having to scroll through a list somehow made it harder for me to work with intuitively. I find paper is better for this for me.

          Also, moving some things to the Someday/Maybe list for another week helps me focus on what really can and should be done this week.

          Comment


          • #20
            Hi all,

            Thanks for the suggestions again. I still hesitate to pre-define the priority/importance of tasks on NA before I really need to do about them on the field. However, I think Richard's solution, as all others', are completely sensible. It works for many, but I have a bit of paranoid and worry that priorities/importance change dynamically, and I couldn't make informed decision with pre-defined state.

            I am thinking, may be every one of my lists is different in nature with all the others. For example, @Call/@Agenda list may as well hold 20-30 items without seemingly long; but >20 items in @Office/@Home would make it seem amorphous to me. Of course, I believe the specific strategy one takes depend greatly on personal taste. But I cannot come up with one that I'm totally comfort with, yet.

            Comment


            • #21
              I've moved towards the point that a NEXT action list should be NEXT-able.

              Given that NA's are at least more than 2 minutes (and usually much more than 2 minutes), having 200 items on my NA list simply doesn't help. By the time I get to item #200 it surely isn't NEXT anymore but something that happens quite deep into the future.

              Overload cannot be managed with or without GTD. It simply is. 200 To Do items is not sensible.

              This is where some of the things David writes and talks about make sense. With lists like we have in GTD you start to say "no" to suggestions, invitations and prospects. Because you know you're in too deep already.

              Likewise, these list help you say "maybe by the end of the year" instead of "tomorrow" because you know there is so much to do already.

              This is true for the self-employed as well as the employed. If you sit down with your manager and say, "look, if I were to take just ONE action on everything we're working on, this is the list of items we're looking at", you certainly will be able to make some progress in that conversation.

              Comment


              • #22
                Originally posted by Campion View Post
                I still hesitate to pre-define the priority/importance of tasks on NA before I really need to do about them on the field.
                I think that the reason why GTD doesn't incorporate a built-in priority measurement for NAs (like the Franklin-Covey A/B/C system) is that too many factors can change the priority of an NA between the time it's put on a list and the time you get to doing it. For example, "research a new multi-function printer/copier thingie" might be a low priority item at the moment. But if I'm doing the research because my multi-function device, which I rely on for my work, has a problem, the sudden failure of the unit during a busy workday might well push that "low priority" NA into a much higher priority position on my radar.

                After all, as David says, if you have a project to replace your tires, the NA that says "call tire shop for an appointment" might suddenly get replaced with "call auto club for a tow". Priorities change too quickly, and the trick in any system is the agility to respond to new inputs.

                That said, here's what I do: I put on my NA lists the items I reasonably would like to, and think I can, get done over the next week. I review and think about my projects, but I don't necessary spend much time capturing "potential" NAs for things I'm not ready to move on. If I know I have an action that I want to do ("Call Joe about the proposal") but I don't want to do it right now, I'll drop it in the tickler file for the next day on which I have a weekly review scheduled.

                In practice, if something comes up today that makes "Call Joe about the proposal" more urgent, I can simply add it to my list and take care of it. I trust my system enough to know that the "pending action" sitting in my tickler file is something I'll catch up to at my next weekly review. When the card comes out of my tickler, I can say to myself, "Oh, good, I already did that" and throw it away.

                To me, the purpose of the system is not to replace my intuitive moment-to-moment choices about what stuff needs to get done. Rather, by freeing my mind from having to worry about what I have out there, I make the space for fully-informed intuitive decision-making.

                -- Tammy

                Comment


                • #23
                  A Personal Strategy

                  My @Home list has accumulated so many next actions that I'm no longer able to effectively evaluate it and make a decision on what to do. There's a high "yuck" factor attached to that list and I don't even want to look at it.

                  Ultimately, I realize this might cause my brain to stop entirely trusting my system. I started searching the posting board to get some ideas on how to shore up this weak point in my system and I found this thread. After I read some of the excellent ideas here I connected them with this piece of text I saved from an old posting. In fact, I think David Allen wrote this.

                  GTD: Projects, Someday/Maybes, NAs

                  Projects lists should only contain those things that you need to deliver on in the next 9 months. Deliverables beyond that belong on your 'Someday / Maybe' list and can be turned into Projects when they fall into the 9 month window. If you include a review of your Someday/Maybe list in your weekly review, you won't miss the projects and you can get them off your mind.

                  Next Actions Lists should only contain NA's that you plan to complete in the next 2-3 weeks. Note other actions that you think of during the weekly review in your project support material and turn it into a next action when needed.

                  During the weekly review, one is supposed to review the action lists for completed items and identify at least one next action for every project on the project list. I've taken the latter literally; I've created next action for every project on a context list or on my calendar. However, I think that I've activated too many projects around the house, and as a result my @Home list has too many items for me to use it effectively.

                  Admiral Karl Doenitz, commander of the German U-boat forces during WWII, stated in his officer's training manual that it was better to sink a few ships than to damage many. In essence, I've been doing just the opposite. I've only made tiny progress on many projects instead of focusing on a few and seeing them to completion. As a result, I don't get the wins I so desire, I don't even want to look at my @Home list, and sometimes I even hate my house because of all the stuck energy created by these open loops.

                  I've decided to modify the way I conduct my weekly review. As I review my action lists for completed items, I will decide whether or not I can or will commit to completing each item within the 2-3 week window. If the answer is "no", then I have several options to consider.

                  If the next action is not attached to a project, I will move it to Someday/Maybe. Until I feel comfortable that I can commit to doing it within 2-3 weeks, it does not move back to an action list.

                  If the next action is attached to an active project, I will note the next action in the project support material and remove it from the context list. However, that doesn't mean that I have to or want to move the project to Someday/Maybe. If I'm still committed to finishing it within a 9-month window, but need to shelve it for a few weeks to deal with more important things, I'll leave it on the Projects list. As long as I've identified the next action and recorded it in a place I'll look at least once a week, that should keep the project off my mind. I can always put it back on the appropriate list once I have the bandwidth to finishing that next action within 2-3 weeks.

                  As I review each item on the Projects list, I'll evaluate whether or not I'm truly committed to finishing it within the 9-month window (or if at all) and decide whether or not to jettison it or move it to Someday/Maybe.

                  I think that by doing this I can keep my @Home list down to a reasonable number of items, and keep me from committing to too many projects at a given time. I'll try this strategy for a month and post an update.

                  Have a safe and merry Christmas!
                  Last edited by ellobogrande; 12-20-2007, 01:29 PM.

                  Comment


                  • #24
                    Home help

                    You don't mention the type of items you have on your @home list, but I saw on this forum somewhere some ideas that came from www.flylady.net. I looked at the website (it's hoaky) and listened to some of her podcasts (even more hoaky). But you know what? I tried some of the ideas and I can't believe how I'm cruising with the housework now! I spend only 15 minutes a day....focusing on one room for a whole week...decluttering before I clean. My house has never been that bad, but in just 30 days here's what I have to show for the time:

                    1. I have company coming for Christmas. They will be here tomorrow. All I have to do is spiff the house a little and vacuum.
                    2. I have all meals planned for the entire holiday. Christmas morning casserole is prepared and in the freezer.
                    3. I FINALLY caught up on all of my filing, and now I'm cleaning out the existing files.
                    4. I have 11 large garbage bags of stuff to donate in my attic (have to wait til after Jan. 1 for tax reasons)
                    5. I've probably thrown away 5 garbage bags of useless junk.
                    6. All the laundry is caught up. I do one load a day...everyday...and it's far less of a hassle.
                    7. My kitchen is ready to go at any time. I clean my sink every night. (a big Fly Lady thing)

                    Anyway, blah blah blah and hooray for me....but I thought I'd pass it on.

                    Comment


                    • #25
                      Originally posted by ellobogrande View Post
                      My @Home list has accumulated so many next actions that I'm no longer able to effectively evaluate it and make a decision on what to do. There's a high "yuck" factor attached to that list and I don't even want to look at it.
                      ...
                      I think that by doing this I can keep my @Home list down to a reasonable number of items, and keep me from committing to too many projects at a given time. I'll try this strategy for a month and post an update.
                      Great post on an important issue - I think it'll work well for you.

                      I place great emphasis on hiding actions from myself! Your system shouldn't hurt your ability to action items, and by being "nagged" by them daily you grow a scab over them, reducing the chance you'll do them. So I fully support actively moving items between Someday/Maybe and NA's/Projects.

                      GTD should work for you, not you for it.

                      Richard

                      Comment


                      • #26
                        Am I the only one?

                        Sometimes I finish tasks and I have absolutely no clue why I just did that. It was on my @computer list, along with a gajillion other things, so I know it's supposed to be moving a project forward somewhere, but I have no clue which one.

                        I've completely failed at projects on more than one occasion because I did the next action, had no clue what to do next, and moved on to the next thing on my list. I got like a hundred little next actions done, meaning I crept forward incrementally on all my projects, but missed the deadline on the ones I should have been working on.

                        Before GTD I would have just hunkered down on whatever project was most urgent and gotten it done. I was stressed out, but at least I was getting projects done on time.

                        Comment


                        • #27
                          Barb, the Flylady is very popular around the place: I know of several people here in Adelaide (South Australia) who swear that she's saved their lives, marriages, sanity, and probably the world as well.

                          Sir Smilez, I think that's an indication that either you've got too many projects on the go or that you're not reviewing often enough. What should be happening is that you review at least once a week, and that review includes checking which projects need new NAs, and which projects might need to be moved from Someday/Maybe to current.

                          I'd recommend, as would some others here, that you do a mini-review at the end of each day. This just consists of going through the NAs you've completed, finding the next NA for that project, and re-acquainting yourself with your project list. It should only take a few minutes (about 5 or 10, for me, but YMMV), but it means that you're then kept aware of which projects the NAs relate to and how those projects are progressing compared to their deadlines.

                          The other thing that might be happening is that you're restricting yourself to completing only the NAs on the list. If so, you don't need to do this: if you've got a project that needs a lot of work done on it, you're free to keep working once you complete the listed NA. And one of the reasons that you can feel comfortable doing this is that you've got a good handle on the rest of your projects by doing a daily mini-review, so you know that the other projects can be left for a day or two.

                          Comment


                          • #28
                            Originally posted by wordsofwonder View Post
                            After all, as David says, if you have a project to replace your tires, the NA that says "call tire shop for an appointment" might suddenly get replaced with "call auto club for a tow". Priorities change too quickly, and the trick in any system is the agility to respond to new inputs.
                            How very true! I had just such a project. In April, I added "Switch to summer tires" as a NA. Last week, I agilely deleted it to respond to the snow.

                            Comment


                            • #29
                              Next Actions, Projects, & Futures

                              In fact, I think David Allen wrote this.

                              GTD: Projects, Someday/Maybes, NAs

                              Projects lists should only contain those things that you need to deliver on in the next 9 months. Deliverables beyond that belong on your 'Someday / Maybe' list and can be turned into Projects when they fall into the 9 month window. If you include a review of your Someday/Maybe list in your weekly review, you won't miss the projects and you can get them off your mind.

                              Next Actions Lists should only contain NA's that you plan to complete in the next 2-3 weeks. Note other actions that you think of during the weekly review in your project support material and turn it into a next action when needed.
                              During the weekly review, one is supposed to review the action lists for completed items and identify at least one next action for every project on the project list. I've taken the latter literally; I've created next action for every project on a context list or on my calendar. However, I think that I've activated too many projects around the house, and as a result my @Home list has too many items for me to use it effectively.
                              @ellobogrande and SirSmilez: Not to tout software as a silver bullet, but one of the things I like about MyLifeOrganized is that it has two main views of your tasks: as a project/task hierarchical outline, and as a ToDo list (filtered by context, ordered by relative importance of the parent projects). And you can mark a task as "Hide this task in To-Do List".

                              So if I ever - I mean, WHEN - I do my weekly reviews, if I want to come up with Next Actions early, I can do that, and just hide them from the To-Do list till the project actually starts. And if I don't, I'll see that this project has no next action, and I'll add one at the appropriate time. There's no mucking about with writing Next Actions in the support material, and then moving them to the task list.

                              Oh, and for FlyLady fans: she sounds like Hints from Heloise. If you want more tips like "My candles never seemed to give off enough light, so I decided to use a match to set them on fire", you'll love this:

                              John Kelly - Washington Post

                              Comment


                              • #30
                                Originally posted by SirSmilez View Post
                                Sometimes I finish tasks and I have absolutely no clue why I just did that. It was on my @computer list, along with a gajillion other things, so I know it's supposed to be moving a project forward somewhere, but I have no clue which one.

                                I've completely failed at projects on more than one occasion because I did the next action, had no clue what to do next, and moved on to the next thing on my list. I got like a hundred little next actions done, meaning I crept forward incrementally on all my projects, but missed the deadline on the ones I should have been working on.

                                Before GTD I would have just hunkered down on whatever project was most urgent and gotten it done. I was stressed out, but at least I was getting projects done on time.
                                Perhaps your NAs need a bit more information. For example, "rewrite intro for house of widgets presentation on 1-2-08." A quick reference, be it in acronyms, to the project will bring you back to your deadlines. I also second that you should do more mini-reviews. I don't always work down the NA list; mostly I move back and forth from NAs to projects etc. I have many NAs on my list that do not take priority over a project with a strict deadline.

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