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  • Half-open loops

    David talks about how, by setting out next actions and capturing everything, you'll close the loop and be able to get tasks out of your "psychic RAM".

    That works great for things that have a next action. But I often find myself distracted by things that don't, and can't - because there may not be one.

    A trivial example: We had a huge storm here in Boston on Saturday, and there's a law that requires you to shovel your sidewalk within three hours. A few of the local businesses still haven't shoveled, so I filled out the form on the city's web site to complain.

    Now, I may or may not get a response. Whether I do or not has no bearing on whether the city takes action. And whether the city takes action or not (a small fine) has no bearing on whether they shovel or not - which, in turn, has no bearing on me, because I may or may not walk down that street again any time soon.

    And there's no point in setting a tickler for myself, because, again, the results aren't really critical. In fact, by the time the tickler comes up, the snow might have melted, or they may have shoveled, or whatever.

    But because I *might* get a response, it takes up some psychic RAM. "Hey, whatever happened with that sidewalk e-mail? Yeah, I never did get a response. Oh well."

    Same sorta thing with commenting on a blog (or a thread here!). Sure, I can set up notifications to e-mail me when there *is* a response. But when there isn't one, it's still going to pop into my head once in a while - "Hey, whatever happened with that thread on purple notepads? I guess nobody had anything to add."

    It'd be futile and wasteful to set up lists of every blog post and forum thread I've ever found interesting just to check back and see if they get responses. It is not particularly critical to me to find out whether someone had something interesting to say about purple notepads. And, if they had, I should have received a notification e-mail anyway. But since there's no way to close the loop, it tickles my brain every once in a while. And each of those little tickles adds up...

    Anyone run into this?

  • #2
    I either record an @Waiting for in my lists with the date I made the request or I just forget about it, thinking, "Well, if I hear back from them, great. If not, no big deal. It's not worth wasting psychic RAM on anyway."

    Comment


    • #3
      Well, for the things that are worth checking back on, I do set myself a @Waiting reminder. The problem is all the other things!

      I didn't describe the problem very well, and I can't particularly come up with a better explanation now. So I'll just attack it obliquely a few different ways:

      Angle: It's sort of a "message in a bottle" syndrome. (Let's pretend for the moment that people actually DO throw messages in bottles all the time, as a means of communication, and that it's not some wistful poetic metaphor.) If you throw the bottle into the ocean, it may or may not come back to you someday. You're not really waiting for it, actively, and you can't even go check on it, because it's not there anymore. And you can (as you say) just say a serenity prayer and decide not to think about it anymore. But every once in a while, maybe when you're at the beach, or you buy the same brand of soda, you think "Hey! I wonder whatever happened to that bottle."

      That metaphor doesn't scale too well. You're not going to throw a dozen bottles into the ocean every day, and if you did, they're probably taking up the same pigeonhole in your memory. Once every few months, you might say "Hey! Whatever happened to all those bottles I sent? Also, why are all the fish dead?"

      What I'm dealing with is that I throw a lot of bottles into a lot of oceans, and they're all totally different bottles in different mental pigeonholes. So each one, individually, may come to mind just a few times a year, but if you've put out a thousand bottles over the past ten years, that's still a whole lot of bottles. (Maybe my problem is that my memory's too good!)

      New angle: If you've ever put your house on the market, you know the feeling of "hey, I wonder if anyone asked about the house today." You're not going to call your realtor, because you know she'd call if she had a showing. But still, once in a while, you wonder. Now this one's a little different, because you probably do end up talking to the realtor once a week to consider pricing changes and marketing plans and such, so that's a nice mental peg to hang things on. And on top of that, you might occasionally think about switching realtors. So you have to ignore that whole part of the metaphor. Also, you actually have a goal - sell your house - and that's still too specific for what I'm talking about.

      New angle: Imagine you're on an online dating site. (Or, if that's too geeky, imagine your *friend* is on an online dating site.) You - I mean, your friend - see an attractive profile, and write to her, with no particular expectation that she'll write back. You certainly can't follow up. "Hey, uh, did you get that e-mail?" Bad idea. And you've probably written to a few different women, so it's not as if you're waiting for this one woman in particular. Still, a couple of days later, you walk by a bike store and think "Hey, whatever happened to that cyclist I wrote to?" And then you forget about her, but now you've written to a few others, and so on.

      New angle: Ditto if you're posting your resume on monster.com, or if you're in a band that's sending demo tapes to record labels, or you're an actor auditioning, or you drop your business card into a jar for free lunches, or entering sweepstakes, or whatever.

      Now imagine you're doing all of that - at once. It doesn't really take up any time, because you've already listed the house, written the girl, updated the resume, and sent off the tapes. But each of them triggers your memory sometimes, and by the time you finish musing that Xerox didn't call for an interview and Yanni and Zappa never wrote back to the band, you're back to wondering about the house on Aardvark Lane. It's death by a thousand cuts.

      Is that any clearer? Like I say, maybe my memory's just too good, or too associative. Everything reminds me of something.

      Comment


      • #4
        You have to decide

        Whether or not it is important enough to track. If so, then enter a waiting for, if not then consciously decide that its not worth thinking about.

        My guess is that you've decided these things aren't important enough to track in your GTD system, but they are important enough to pop up and bug you from time to time. To me that's an indication that you really haven't answered the question "is it actionable?"

        As you work with GTD you'll get the hang of this more. During my first couple of years I had this sort of thing happen frequently. I work in field sales support and we provide a specific deliverable in support of the sales process. I constantly get requests for the field on how to engage our services. I used to respond with an appropriate email and track the request with a @waiting for; It didn't take long for me to realize this was a mistake. If they really want help, they'll call back. I no longer track this kind of thing, and frankly we have enough requests to keep us busy. It was a huge waste of psychic ram for me to worry about requests that upon which follow-up will never occur.

        So given the examples you've given here is how I would deal with them:

        Snow removal mail - file it for reference and forget it until the next snow.

        Sell House - this is a project. Your realtor should either be on your @calls list or @waiting for list until the project is completed (and by that I mean you have cashiers check in hand from the title company...

        Dating sites - I found it best to only date one woman at a time...

        Resume on Monster - I would never post a resume on Monster unless applying for a specific open position. In that case, I would put a @Waiting For in my task list.

        Free Lunch biz cards - I'd forget these...

        hope that helps.

        Comment


        • #5
          Cast it out/follow it up

          Jay,
          First, I must say that you personality really shines through in your writing. I can almost picture you pinging off the walls with this stuff :-} I can relate, for sure.

          Each of the scenarios you describe is very different, but I generally would make a note on my calendar for an appropriate date in the future to remind me to "wonder". For example, if I sent an email to a potential online date, I'd probably make a note in my calendar that says, "did I hear from so-and-so?" If I didn't, I'd make the decision then about whether or not to follow up.

          For the real estate agent: I would have made an agreement up front that I'd hear from her by noon every Monday telling me how many times the house had shown. Then, I'd put a reminder on my calendar for that day and time, "did I hear from real estate agent"?

          The point is, if you are going to wonder what's happening or even think about something again, get it out of psychic RAM and into a system where you'll be reminded at the appropriate time. I could be the rare case, but pretty much anything I'm starting/casting out/whatever is probably important enough for me to want to keep my finger on the pulse to some degree.

          Ping ping ping! Anxious to see if you think this might help you. And P.S. YOU HAVE TO RETHINK BUYING THAT KINDLE! Also, please tell me more about your little scanner and how you use it.

          Comment


          • #6
            If it's important enough to take up mental RAM, it's important enough to write down.

            You can create a tickler item and then ignore it if you truly don't care when it pops up again.

            You can keep a journal, review it at regular intervals, and create actions for anything that catches your eye.

            You can scribble in your ubiquitous capture tool whenever you walk past the bike shop or whatever, throw the slip in your Inbox, and decide when processing whether to bother following up.

            Katherine

            Comment


            • #7
              Interesting replies, all! I'm coming to one of two conclusions:

              1. I should capture a lot more things, *even* if I know there's no action to be taken, because at least they'll stop taking up psychic RAM until I "decide" to ignore them when I'm processing.

              OR

              2. Truly unimportant things, not worthy even of capturing, pop into my head about 10-20x more often than other people's heads.

              I'm going to try keeping track of what these actual things are, instead of coming up with inept metaphors, and I'll check back next week with some real examples.

              Barb, I'll start a new thread in gear & gadgets about the scanner!

              Comment


              • #8
                You're on the right track, Jay. It's been great walking through this with you and the other GTD Connect members.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Jay Levitt View Post
                  Interesting replies, all! I'm coming to one of two conclusions:

                  1. I should capture a lot more things, *even* if I know there's no action to be taken, because at least they'll stop taking up psychic RAM until I "decide" to ignore them when I'm processing.

                  OR

                  2. Truly unimportant things, not worthy even of capturing, pop into my head about 10-20x more often than other people's heads.

                  I'm going to try keeping track of what these actual things are, instead of coming up with inept metaphors, and I'll check back next week with some real examples.

                  Barb, I'll start a new thread in gear & gadgets about the scanner!
                  Hi Jay,

                  As I read I recognised the problem and I've heard David talk of similar things in that, if you keep thinking about it, there is a next action as yet undiscovered.

                  The key word is decide as you flag in item 1 above. Item 2 is the same thing. Take the time to decide what to do. With the snow you had written a letter but it read as if you hadn't decided what to do next. Allowing yourself the option to "decide to forget" works well. It has for me. My internal conversation is "Is this important? No. Ok I'll forget it now" and I do.

                  david

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    While I'm collecting my examples on this, a related question:

                    Do you find that you often remember/think of/are reminded of things that are already on your list?

                    For instance, I've got an old Sanyo massage chair with a ripped seat. And I think the leather comes off as one piece with a zipper. So, at some point, I've got actions to examine the construction, figure out which model number I have, find a contact for Sanyo or the importer (at the time, they weren't selling them direct in the U.S.), and see if I can order a replacement.

                    Now, that's neither important nor urgent, and so it's not something I want to spend time on today, or tomorrow. I've categorized it, and prioritized it, and made a project for it, and all that. So, in theory, I can forget about it, and I will get to it when its priority grows or my more important tasks get done.

                    But every day, when I do my stretches on the carpet next to that chair, I'm staring at it for half an hour. (Yes, I can do stretches somewhere else. It's an example. Work with me!) So I can't help but notice the rips.

                    And yes, as soon as I catch myself thinking about the chair, I can tell myself that it's already been captured, I trust my system, etc. And then I forget about it. So it's not that I'm *keeping* it in psychic RAM; it's just that it keeps intruding into it briefly.

                    Out of the hundred or so next actions in my list, a good many of them have visual reminders that I'm going to see at least once a day. And even though I can decide to forget them as soon as I think of them, even that act is distracting, especially when it's repeated for each task. Again, death by a thousand cuts.

                    Some things I can solve by actually hiding them till they're ready to be worked on. In a way, that's what our A-Z filing system does; instead of being constantly reminded by piles of papers in every room, we put them in a drawer where we can find them - but where we won't see them till we need them.

                    But I do seem to have an awful lot of visual cues around here that won't fit in a drawer.

                    It's probably more of an ADD thing than a GTD thing, but I thought I'd give it a shot here anyway. Anyone run into this? Do you "recapture" it, even knowing it's on your list, just to give it a little more finality in the moment?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Maybe you should just go ahead and do some of these items?

                      It's like dirty dishes. At some point, it's better to just wash the stupid things than to figure out more and more sophisticated ways to ignore them.

                      If you are easily distracted by clutter, it's probably easier to get rid of the clutter than to try to change your response to it.

                      Katherine

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Well, I tried that for a few weeks.. the apartment's a lot cleaner now, but I didn't get anything else done! It's the typical problem with the "do it now" approach - in the process of doing one task, you'll notice three others.

                        I think it could be just "starting pains", though.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Limiting

                          Try setting a timer for 15 minutes and cleaning for only that long every day. If you focus on one room, every day for a week for just 15 mins. a day, your place will stay much cleaner and you won't have so much to distract you. Declutter first, though.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Jay Levitt View Post
                            Do you find that you often remember/think of/are reminded of things that are already on your list?

                            (snip)

                            Now, that's neither important nor urgent, and so it's not something I want to spend time on today, or tomorrow. I've categorized it, and prioritized it, and made a project for it, and all that. So, in theory, I can forget about it, and I will get to it when its priority grows or my more important tasks get done.

                            But every day, when I do my stretches on the carpet next to that chair, I'm staring at it for half an hour. (Yes, I can do stretches somewhere else. It's an example. Work with me!) So I can't help but notice the rips.
                            Yes, I was like this early in my implementation of GTD. It went away.

                            I wouldn't worry about it. It takes time, but once you deeply trust your system, your brain will skip over those things.

                            When you've spent decades relying on your brain to remind yourself of work to be done, your brain won't just STOP. It has a job to do, and it's going to do it. It has to be retrained, repeatedly, over time.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Jay Levitt View Post
                              Well, I tried that for a few weeks.. the apartment's a lot cleaner now, but I didn't get anything else done! It's the typical problem with the "do it now" approach - in the process of doing one task, you'll notice three others.

                              I think it could be just "starting pains", though.

                              I think it is just starting pains. It takes a lot more work to get something up to our standard than it does to maintain it. I believe that is exactly how it is with GTD. Set the timer, get some momentum going, and then stop and move onto the next thing. When you notice the 2 or 3 other things you need to do, write them in you uct. It'll still be there for your next clean-up session.

                              Comment

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