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  • Two GTD sticking points: time needed and a today list

    I'm rebooting my GTD for 2008 as a kinkless GTD (Now that I'm a Mac user and since OmniFocus is still alpha-beta), and things are good except for two sticking points I've had with GTD since the get go:

    1. Time needed. Given that I have x number of minutes in a day, should I not be tracking how much time I estimate I need for each Task?

    2. A Today List. With 70+ projects, each with at least one Next Action, I need some way of organizing the next actions I want to tackle today. Yet there's no where in the GTD methodogy I can see for this, other than ceaselessly scanning my Next Actions and acting on one. That seems to be a great deal of overhead and leaves me at the mercy of what I may want to do vs. what I should be doing to further strategic goals.

    Any suggestions/thoughts would be appreciated.

  • #2
    Originally posted by Bob Walsh View Post
    I'm rebooting my GTD for 2008 as a kinkless GTD (Now that I'm a Mac user and since OmniFocus is still alpha-beta), and things are good except for two sticking points I've had with GTD since the get go:

    1. Time needed. Given that I have x number of minutes in a day, should I not be tracking how much time I estimate I need for each Task?
    Some people find such tracking helpful, some don't. If it helps you, go for it. In my experience, it's difficult to get the estimate accurate enough to be useful. Instead, I simply make a mental division between "big" (an hour or more) and "small" (30 minutes or less) tasks.

    2. A Today List. With 70+ projects, each with at least one Next Action, I need some way of organizing the next actions I want to tackle today. Yet there's no where in the GTD methodogy I can see for this, other than ceaselessly scanning my Next Actions and acting on one. That seems to be a great deal of overhead and leaves me at the mercy of what I may want to do vs. what I should be doing to further strategic goals.
    Again, if a Today list helps, go for it. However, if you find yourself "ceaselessly scanning" a long list of NAs, you might also want to rethink your list of contexts. It doesn't really matter which phone call I make first, for instance, so I just start at the top of my @Phone list and work my way down.

    If you've done your strategic thinking during the Weekly Review the order in which you do actions shouldn't actually matter that much anyway. If it doesn't need to be done "soon", it shouldn't be on the list in the first place.

    Katherine

    Comment


    • #3
      Four Criteria Model for Choosing Actions

      Remember the Four Criteria Model for choosing actions in the moment.

      1 - Context
      2 - Time Available
      3 - Energy Available
      4 - Priority

      In your situation, number 4 is especially important. David says choosing the action that will give you the "Highest Personal Payoff" is key after looking at the first three criteria.

      You want to be careful about time specific to-do lists as they are set up for failure because our environment changes so rapidly.

      Hope this helps.

      Clark

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Bob Walsh View Post
        1. Time needed. Given that I have x number of minutes in a day, should I not be tracking how much time I estimate I need for each Task?
        I'm not sure that the time estimate will be very meaningful given that the "Next Action" is only the very next thing that you need to do in order to move a project forward. It is a bookmark; a placeholder. The "next action" for a project may only be a 5 minute thing, but that may lead directly to another 3 hours worth of work on the project.

        I find it useful to think in terms of which 2 or 3 projects I want to focus on for the day. Then I set aside 2- or 3-hour blocks of time to focus on those projects. It's not unusual for me to write these on a post-it or a 3x5 index card (similar to your idea of a "Today" list, although probably much shorter), and stick it on my desk in front of my keyboard so I don't get too distracted.

        Of course, interruptions occur, but that's where the beauty of next actions comes to the rescue: I just jot down the very next thing I was about to do before the interruption occurred, then when I'm ready to return to the project it doesn't take me long to figure out where I was.

        When I need to take a little break from the major projects of the day, I can scan my next action lists and pick something small, yet productive, to do. In these cases, I tend to pick the things that I know are not likely to lead me down a rabbit hole: things like "photocopy my expense report" or "send Tim an invitation to lunch" are perfect time-fillers in these cases.

        Hope this helps.

        Comment


        • #5
          A common concern here....

          This is one of the most common concerns posted on this site apart from choosing contexts -- how do I choose what to work on today? I have all of my next actions on context lists and now it is time to work -- what do I do? Well, this has to come from each of us, based on the methods David has described in his book and listed above -- context, time, energy, and priority always should come into play. I too choose during my weekly review what projects I really need to focus on the next week and try to maintain that focus. This can be done by scheduling specific block time per project on your schedule, or just noting the projects that you will focus on for the morning, or afternoon, or all day, or whatever. In the times when you do not wish to focus on one project, then you can scan through your next actions lists and choose what to do. It really is, as it always is, a judgement call in the moment.

          I see two ways to help you focus -- it is true that if one has too many next actions, the lists become very difficult to use and one becomes quickly overwhelmed. First, limit your next actions to only what you are going to try to get done this week -- everything else goes on your Someday/Maybe list. You revisit this of course during your weekly review -- every week! Another way is to adopt Michael Linenberger's system if you are using Outlook and have your taskpad or to-do bar in Outlook 2007 setup so that only the next actions you have on deck show up -- everything else is on a Master task list. In essence, it functions the same way as Someday/Maybe. Either of these approaches will work if you need a shorter, really active list of next actions -- place everything else out of your sight for now. You can review this on a daily basis because we all know that things change...

          I hope this helps some...

          Best to all,
          -Longstreet

          Comment


          • #6
            Hey Bob - good questions. My take:

            > 1. Time needed.

            I think estimating actions is one of the biggest omissions in GTD. It's optional, but crucial for some kinds of planning. It also helps apply Parkinson's law, which says (paraphrasing) "Unless you limit it, you'll work way too much on a task." Also, without estimating, it's very difficult to learn to estimate better!

            > 2. A Today List.

            This is a great practice, but only as long as you:

            1) Create the daily todo list from your actions,
            2) be prepared to let it go if something more important comes up (see Lakein's Question), and
            3) throw it away at the end of each day, starting fresh next morning.

            Otherwise, the risk is that you'll focus on the daily, then it becomes your defacto actions list, and you start missing others that are more important...


            To focus on the strategic, rigorously apply Koch's "The 80-20 principle." Yes, you can't swing a dead cat without running into a blog that talks about it (often incorrectly - not to pick on them, but it cannot be represented as a pie chart), but you really must go to the source. Tim Ferriss's book is a modernization - read that if it works for you. But trust me, you'll definitely look at your work and life very differently after taking in deeply the principles. Your list will get shorter, and get more radical - more unconventional and eccentric in your use of time.

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            • #7
              great advice all...

              ...But JKNeckt's really rang a bell for me. Buy focusing on 2-3 projects for the day ahead, then whacking easy next actions off in-between, I feel I can get some real traction on my two major projects.

              thanks all for the advice!

              Comment


              • #8
                "Would like to get done today"

                I am in a similar situation. What I do is mark those NAs that I would *like* to do today, and then use this list instead of full NAs list. I have predecided to overfill this list a bit on purpose, and not feel bad about not completing them all. They just spill over to the next day. The purpose of overfilling is to take advantage of any kind of time windows or situations that I may be in.

                By marking I don't mean marking it as due today; it's just a selection, an extra flag. Or a very very dynamic priority.

                This is working great for me, but YMMV.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Bob, I strongly recommend you try OmniFocus now. I waited until beta for the same reasons as you and now it's quite stable. So stable that I've nuked my old kGTD setup.

                  One thing OmniFocus allows is something called "perspectives," which is basically a saved view of your next actions in context. Using this tool, I created a perspective called "Today's focus" which shows all my next actions in context with the red flag checked (the red flag is an OF-specific field - all it does is indicate that an item is special in some way).

                  Once I finish all the "Today's focus" items, I revert to a view that shows everything currently available to work on in context. OF is excellent at hiding stuff that isn't relevant e.g. waiting fors that don't come due until next week.

                  The available next actions list is typically quite a bit longer. What I do is during the course of the day, as I work from it, I sometimes check the red flag for things that I feel are important to get done in the next 24 hours. I might work on it today or defer it to tomorrow, but this generates the "Today's focus" list for use again tomorrow. It's easy to toggle back and forth between perspectives to make sure I'm not overloading myself.

                  Don't know if that makes sense (lots of "today" and tomorrow" in there), but I've found OF to be a huge step forward from kGTD. It's the best software realization of GTD I've seen so far.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Bob Walsh View Post
                    2. A Today List. With 70+ projects, each with at least one Next Action, I need some way of organizing the next actions I want to tackle today. Yet there's no where in the GTD methodogy I can see for this, other than ceaselessly scanning my Next Actions and acting on one. That seems to be a great deal of overhead and leaves me at the mercy of what I may want to do vs. what I should be doing to further strategic goals.
                    This is a problem I've been trying to conquer as well - I waste time when I'm uncertain as to what to do next. What works for me is to create a manual list of what I need to focus on today. I have no real official set-up, but it usually includes 2 or 3 projects and a few actual next actions, which are not usually related to these 2 or 3 projects. It's not a long list, but it keeps me grounded. I use this manual list as a guideline. But, I really like how some here are very organized with this.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      OmniFocusing

                      Drumdance - installed the the latest after kGTD upchucked iCal - no Kernal Panic when launching Parallels! (this is a good thing)

                      Yes, OF is the best implementation of GTD I've seen yet - and I sell a Windows GTD app.

                      Getting Perspectives working is a little tricky - It seems to take a snapshot of your current view.

                      Thanks for the advice!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I use a "TODAY" list -- it's not a sin. (I even have a "TOMORROW" list for items that didn't get done today.) As cornell said, the key is to build it from your context lists, and clean out the TODAY list every day (more or less -- sometimes I leave it alone for a couple days). And don't hesitate to put something back on the context list if it didn't really need to get done today after all.

                        To me the TODAY list helps close one of the (very few) gaps I see in GTD -- GTD tells you what to do in each context, but it doesn't tell you when to switch contexts! The TODAY list acts as a reminder to switch to another context for something that absolutely must get done today (say, a phone call). Otherwise I might go all day without thinking to switch to my @Calls context.

                        You could argue that if something absolutely must get done today, it should go on the calendar -- and sometimes it does. But for me the TODAY list works better. And I still think I'm doing GTD.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          re: Today Lists

                          Bob,
                          +1 for Linenberger's Total Workday Control. It's very Outlook centric, but it's basic concept transcends the tool. He's basically having you create a Today list and applying a more finely grained prioritization system using Due Date instead of the normal Priority field. I don't agree with his suggestion to do away with contexts, and I also ignore his suggestions on handling projects (I prefer the default GTD recommendations for those scenarios).

                          Essentially, he divides your current Action Lists into two lists: Master Tasks List and Daily Tasks List. The Daily Tasks are the items you've decided you want to have on your short list of tasks you'd like to consider for completion over the next week (essentially a Today List with a couple of extra days thrown in). The Master List contains all the other Next Actions that aren't SDMB, but you are OK with not getting done this week.

                          In reality, these aren't separate lists at all. They are all contained in your normal Tasks lists. Daily Tasks have Due Dates, while Master Tasks don't. Items don't appear on your list until their (artificial) Due Date. So you can set the Due Date to control when you first want an item to start appearing on your Daily Tasks list. All your other items are still there, just not cluttering up your NA lists.

                          During your weekly review you look at every task and decide if you want it to appear on your Daily Tasks list and set your Due Date accordingly. I've been using it for only a few weeks now, but so far I really like it.

                          I was like yourself and feeling overwhelmed at times looking at my large task list (I'm running a software company taking advice in large part from your MISV book, btw). I didn't feel comfortable "demoting" important items to SDMB, even though I knew I wouldn't be able to get to them in the immediate future. I found this system to be a great compromise.

                          Take care,
                          Bob O'Malley
                          www.luckycloversolutions.com

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by mikeobrien58 View Post
                            To me the TODAY list helps close one of the (very few) gaps I see in GTD -- GTD tells you what to do in each context, but it doesn't tell you when to switch contexts!
                            Home run! Finally somebody gets this down to one single sentence that says it all without "interrupting" the plain vanilla GTD system.

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                            • #15
                              I may be wrong, but GTD isn't designed to tell you when to switch contexts. You are supposed to tell you when to switch contexts.

                              I've tried "TODAY" lists. They motivated me until reality blew up my TODAY list half an hour into my day, several days in a row.

                              I'd rather have a system designed for instantaneous reaction, instead of daily implementations of stale plans that reflected what I thought I'd be able to do.

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