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Is processing procrastinating?

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  • Is processing procrastinating?

    I have just spent half of Sunday pruning out my action lists and projects. Those items that I haven't Somedayed I have deleted. Amongst them have been quite a number of actions and plans that never got done and that were important a little while ago.
    Now, I admit that I have not been reviewing as often as I should; my business is going through a big change and overwhelm has been setting in. On top of that has been the inclination to do rather than plan and review. But, those personal failings apart, I am a bit worried about the tendency of the GTD method to waft important tasks into ever extending action and project lists, which consequently become increasingly difficult to access and deter the GTD practitioner from actually using the resulting, impossibly long lists.
    There you are with your long list of emails, phone messages, ideas and other assorted demands, and you get out of that tight corner by processing. You toss, file, do (if in less than 2 minutes) or create a project or a next action...and I sometimes feel - it's just too easy. I often have worried as I defer or create an action that it isn't actually going to get done.
    I am going to try a couple of new techniques to handle this situation but I'd be pleased to hear what other people think about it and how they prevent it.
    Last edited by Howard; 10-15-2007, 11:48 AM.

  • #2
    Why It's Not Getting Done List

    Here is a list I made for myself called Why It's Not Getting Done.

    Among the more notable mentions from that list is:
    • You like spending more time organizing your open loops than closing them
    • You've gotten used to not closing the loop. You've made a habit out of not closing it and the inertia is hard to break now
    • You refuse to close the loop because you're afraid of what closing the loop will require you to do next
    There are about 25 more listed in that file you can download at the link above along with suggestions for how to overcome them. There are lots of complicated reasons we procrastinate on things -- but usually it is because we are avoiding something we really don't want to be doing. And so, ironically, even learning GTD can become an excuse for not doing GTD. The key, really, is to get to the point where you crank when you need to crank and review when you need to review. There's just no way around it. The Weekly Review and the Daily Do are the two keys to balance. The doing leads you to have less to review. The review leads you to keep perspective and not let things slip through the cracks.

    Hope that helps.
    Last edited by Todd V; 07-02-2011, 12:06 AM.

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    • #3
      Whether these things are processed or not, they still need to get done -- whatever "done" means.

      GTD makes it easy (relatively speaking), because everything is written down and staring you in the face. Speaking for myself, pre-GTD, there would have been a constant rush of "what am I forgetting". This would have made deleting unnecessary cruft even more difficult because (a) it might be related to something else more important that I can't remember, or (b) I think my list is small enough that I don't have to worry about deleting it.

      As far as deferral is concerned, once again, having the full and complete list in front of you makes this insanely simple. Because you have everything right there in plain sight, it is easy to make decisions regarding priority without fear that you've forgotten something critical.

      Now, as far as, "when is that deferred thing going to actually get done?" Well, that is what the weekly review is for. If your week is completely filled with things that are, in fact, more important than the thing you deferred, then you know you're making the right decision to continue its deferral. If weekly is too infrequent for you, there is nothing that says you can't review more often.

      If the two minute rule is getting in the way, change it. Make it a one minute rule, or a five minute rule; whatever gets those nasty little buggers off your list before they have a chance to clutter your world. And if it's completely unimportant, then just delete it -- even if it would have taken less than two minutes.

      For me, the beauty of GTD is in the ability to make judgments regarding priority without fear. When I ditch something, I know for sure that it's because I have more important things on my plate. And if I leave something deferred, I have confidence that I will not forget about it when the time comes to raise its priority.

      Don't know if this helps, but I hope it does.

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      • #4
        I'm afraid I'm unclear on the problem. You're getting things done, right? And they're all things that you've identified as important, right? Your lists are large, but you're making progress, right?

        If you're "just" worried that it's "too easy," well, it isn't. Larger productivity issues come to light once these tactical problems get solved. It's like acting -- you may spend some time figuring out when to come on stage and where to walk around, but once that's taken care of, you start thinking about your performance in general.

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        • #5
          It sounds like you're procrastinating doing your big things by spendings time doing loads of little things on your lists that might not be so important. It's easy to get caught up in "the thick of thin things". If your intuition suggests you're focussing on the wrong things then it's probably right, so perhaps before you do those little procrastination things, review your lists, think about what you'd really like to have done, and then make an intuitive decision about what to do next.

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          • #6
            Yes, Processing Can Be Procrastination

            Originally posted by Howard View Post
            I often have worried as I defer or create an action that it isn't actually going to get done.
            Howard,

            Processing can be procrastination. Any form of activity can be procrastination if you are doing it to avoid doing something else. You can do processing to avoid working on projects. You can also work on projects to avoid doing processing. We really know when we are doing this because even though we are working, we still feel a nagging anxiety.

            The worry about whether you will actually do an action that you have put into your system is evidence that you don't entirely trust the system or that you don't entirely trust yourself to use the system. You can learn to trust the system with regular practice. You can only learn to trust yourself by just doing the work day in and day out. It's one of those odd things, but we really do need to earn our own trust.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Brent View Post
              I'm afraid I'm unclear on the problem...
              The point I'm making here is that, in situations where there is too much to do actions can, even though being effectively processed, simply end up being moved to context lists and never get done. We should ask ourselves "am I procrastinating?" and/or "am I indulging in wishful thinking?".

              My experience is that despite the power of the GTD methodology, the time available to do actions is finite and that we still need to exercise realism about what is possible. Deferring an action will not automatically result in it's getting done and too many undoable actions in our lists make them harder to navigate and cause us to resist using them.

              In our early enthusiasm for GTD we can be inclined to create long lists (you read about it all the time in this forum) but I think we should discipline ourselves to be realistic about what we can achieve and about what is most important.

              I now do a daily, as well as trying to do a weekly review and have added the item: "Prune action lists as necessary" to the daily one.

              Many thanks for all the replies, as ever, useful and thorough.

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              • #8
                Long Time GTD'er

                Like so many others, I've used GTD methodology since the book first came out. Every year, I learn something/tweak my system/and get better. This years big "Ah-Ha moments" came from: Pruning my lists to what I can realistically do before the next weekly review and implementing a tickler file. Particularly with regard to the pruned lists, I feel this one behavior might make a huge difference for others too.

                P.S. I would never have discovered that if it weren't for this Forum. Your last post was right on the money, Howard.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Barb View Post
                  Every year, I learn something/tweak my system/and get better.
                  Thanks for the affirmation Barb.

                  And I agree totally with your sentiments. The implementation of GTD for me is a journey - not a destination, and there is plenty of material to keep the process moving forward for us, whether from just re-reading the book or participating in the forum.

                  I've found that I've sometimes become almost "too" good at certain aspects - in this case collecting and processing - only to have had to re-balance my technique with a new learning - this time, a more ruthless approach to the length of action lists.

                  I'm sure there will be more epiphanies along the way.

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                  • #10
                    Check in at Higher Altitudes First

                    One challenge I've had with GTD is that early on at least it was not clear why so much "stuff" was appearing on my lists, alot of which never ended up getting done. For me there was a minor flaw in the collection process that resulted in this phenomena. Specifically the first question we ask when processing something from the inbox is:

                    "What is it? Is it actionable?"

                    Too often, the answer is "Yes". I've found that by changing the question to:

                    "What is it? Given my higher altitude, goals, focus areas, objectives & projects, is it actionable?"

                    A longer question, but it is more likely when I ask this longer question that I will answer "No". No is the key word that many of us need to learn more effectively.

                    It's part of the "The better you get, the better you better get" phenomena. Many of us are taking on more than we can effectively and responsibly manage, and this is what leads us to the problem of long lists and undone next actions.

                    I find it helpful to keep a check list of my higher altitudes printed out and taped to the wall above my inbox. It's an easy way to measure what is a next action that should be done against something that could be actionable, but is not in alignment with (or at least tangential to) the results I'm trying to produce.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by jpm View Post
                      Specifically the first question we ask when processing something from the inbox is:

                      "What is it? Is it actionable?"

                      Too often, the answer is "Yes". I've found that by changing the question to:

                      "What is it? Given my higher altitude, goals, focus areas, objectives & projects, is it actionable?"

                      A longer question, but it is more likely when I ask this longer question that I will answer "No". No is the key word that many of us need to learn more effectively.
                      I second that another view could be a three question approach:

                      "What is it? Is it actionable? Does it lead to desired results?"

                      Yours
                      Alexander

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                      • #12
                        Wow!

                        Originally posted by jpm View Post
                        "What is it? Given my higher altitude, goals, focus areas, objectives & projects, is it actionable?"
                        Now THAT'S an ephiany!

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