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How many items in a list is sensible?

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  • How many items in a list is sensible?

    Hi all,

    I am actively using the GTD system with my PDA & Outlook.

    I come to a point these days, that I accumulate a moderate number of NA in my lists, such that it's not as easy to have an overall impression of this "soft-landscape" when I evaluate them from time to time. This makes me struggle to keep my mind from taking the whole thing back into its consciousness.

    My point is, I am surely not having as many NA as most of you here (I'm only a student), so you guys must have a perfect strategy for this.

    I considered breaking large lists into smaller lists with more refined contexts, so every one of them does not carry so many. But I don't want to have too many lists too (for example, jokingly, breaking @Home into @Toilet, @living room, @kitchen, @bedroom... sounds ridiculous, unless I have a giant house).

    I also considered tagging items in big list with prefix like, @Desk, @Meeting etc. It's what I am doing now, but it does not completely solve my problem.

    Of course, after all, ultimately I should train myself to have more analytical power so I can sensibly evaluate ~20 items in any given list at a glance.

    What do you think?

  • #2
    I am constantly doing battle with the number of next actions on each of my lists too. I like to keep each context as small as possible, because too many items are difficult for me to get my mind around without spending too much mental energy. Here are some of my strategies...

    1. (as you've already mentioned) Refine the contexts. Most of the time, this is not necessary (because of my other strategies). When I do this, it is usually temporary.

    2. Defer. Sometimes I have to just recognize that my list is too long, because I've committed to too many things. In this case, it's time to renegotiate and get some things off my plate -- at least until my next weekly review.

    3. Do. I pick several of the smallest items on my list (especially the ones that I know have a low possibility of generating more next actions or turning into a project), and just do them. These are rarely the most important things on my list, but it does feel good to get those lists down to a reasonable size.

    4. Delegate. I have no problem at all if there are dozens of items in @waiting. Funny how that works.

    5. Dump. This is akin to #2 (Defer), except that it is a conscious decision to jettison the next action/project entirely. This is usually the most difficult one to accomplish for me -- probably because I have to admit that things have changed, and I'm just not that into it anymore.

    6. Combine. If I've got next actions that can be combined, I have been known to do that. For example, if I have 2 next actions: "Call Bill about party this weekend" and "Call Andy about party this weekend", I might just combine them into "Call Bill/Andy about party this weekend". After I call one of them, I just change the next action.

    Some of these things aren't too far removed from rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic; but if they help to keep things manageable for me, I don't worry about it.

    Hope something here helps.
    Last edited by jknecht; 08-03-2007, 08:10 PM.

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    • #3
      I'd say try have few nooks and crannys stuff can get lost in. If possible keep them together but find some way of indicating which items are meant to be done very soon. How, depends on your GTD solution.

      As you say, you're committing to too much. If so, you just need to start managing that commitment. So the real issue is "do now" vs "do a bit later", not whether it's in the bathroom or lounge. Solving a time (or priority) problem with a space solution isn't the way to go (IMVHO.)

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      • #4
        To make less things in the list you need to remove all non-important & non-urgent projects to your Someday-Maybe list. Take only 6 projects to move for the next week and go through them. That should give you not more then 6 Next Actions at the same category. If there're more - it means there're hidden projects that are not on your list.

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        • #5
          How many items in a list is sensible?

          Originally posted by Campion View Post
          How many items in a list is sensible?
          Put no more items on each list than you'll be able to do until the next Weekly Review.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by TesTeq View Post
            Put no more items on each list than you'll be able to do until the next Weekly Review.
            Is it possible to foresee if you can do all ASAP items you put on the list and how many?

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            • #7
              Originally posted by TesTeq View Post
              Put no more items on each list than you'll be able to do until the next Weekly Review.
              If you adopt this strategy aren't you just pre-defining your work in the strict manner as Frankliin-Covey and similar methods/planners? Doesn't this go against the flexible concepts of GTD?

              Paul

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Paul@Pittsburgh View Post
                If you adopt this strategy aren't you just pre-defining your work in the strict manner as Frankliin-Covey and similar methods/planners? Doesn't this go against the flexible concepts of GTD?

                Paul
                Ya. I ponder too. The next-action list in GTD methodology is, in my understanding, meant to be a collection of actions, without having to assess the "importance","priority" etc. when you collect them into your system. As far as I know, this evaluation comes into play at the "do" level, when you decide what you should do by context\time\energy\priority. Of course, there would be time when we eliminate redundant NA (when they are obsolete or when you don"t needa do it anymore), but it shouldn"t be a major routine, isn"t it?
                Last edited by Campion; 08-04-2007, 10:21 AM.

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                • #9
                  When processing an item out of your Inbox, "Defer" is one of the GTD-approved choices. There's nothing "anti-GTD" about deciding that you can't (or don't want to) deal with something right away. In fact, DA is very clear about the importance of deciding what *not* to do.

                  If your NA list is too long for you to evaluate the items when you're actively doing work, then it's also too long for you to actually do the items in a reasonable amount of time. Some of those items *will* get deferred. The Weekly Review is your chance to proactively decide which commitments to renegotiate.

                  Katherine

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Paul@Pittsburgh View Post
                    If you adopt this strategy aren't you just pre-defining your work in the strict manner as Frankliin-Covey and similar methods/planners? Doesn't this go against the flexible concepts of GTD?

                    Paul
                    If I think about Franklin-Covey versus GTD, I view GTD as an improved "Master Task List". In other words, "this is everything that I'm committed to doing".

                    In Franklin-Covey, you schedule the items from the Master Task List into particular days of the upcoming week. Whereas in GTD, you just carry the Master Task List around with you and pick the actions you can perform when you're in the right context. The key distinction being that, in GTD, things aren't scheduled unless they are part of the hard landscape.

                    In my view, there is nothing wrong with pre-defining the work. That is, after all, a major aspect of the weekly review. The problem comes when you start to schedule things in the form of daily to-do lists too far in advance.

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                    • #11
                      Just crank it out.

                      You pose an interesting question and I think I may have a solution for your conundrum:
                      • Pick a context list
                      • Go to that context
                      • Sit down
                      • Do the stuff on the list

                      You'll find its size begin to decrease dramatically, making it much easier to wrap your mind around.

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                      • #12
                        Limit the number of actions on your @context lists.

                        Originally posted by Borisoff View Post
                        Is it possible to foresee if you can do all ASAP items you put on the list and how many?
                        It is unreasonable to put everything on your context lists. If you know that you will not be able to do some action during next week - defer it.

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                        • #13
                          Unreasonable expectations.

                          Originally posted by Paul@Pittsburgh View Post
                          If you adopt this strategy aren't you just pre-defining your work in the strict manner as Frankliin-Covey and similar methods/planners? Doesn't this go against the flexible concepts of GTD?
                          No. I am removing unreasonable expectations from my @context lists.

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                          • #14
                            I agree with some of the comments about deferring work but this for me is where GTD is all a bit vague. I have the master lists separated by contexts. I do a weekly review and sure there are some things that I will make appoiintments with myelf for the following week so that I know that they will get done. There are other things on my list that there is no way that I plan to do them... unless of course the customers/boss etc yells for them the next week and pushes them higher up my priority list.

                            So maybe I take some calls off my phone list during the weekly review and I defer them to the someday/maybe. But then during the week I find myself with an hour to kill while waiting for something (e.g. my flat tire to be fixed that I hadn't planned for during the weekly review). Now because I shifted those extra calls I could be making onto my someday/maybe and off my calls list, I have to go through the whole list to figure out what calls I could have made again. That doesn't make sense to me. Why move them off the @calls list?

                            For this reason I don't play the game of shifting things from a next action list to a someday/maybe list and back again. I just have an @week and @today context category and check these in addition to my regular context category in order to flag the items that I want to do that week (or that day). If I have more time in a given context I can still check my original context lists (e.g. I haven't moved any phone calls off the list).

                            Paul

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                            • #15
                              More info

                              Paul, your concept of @Today and @Week sounds interesting. Can you explain a bit more about how you use them?

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