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  • Trying to understand lists of actions

    Hi - I'm a newbie still trying to get the basics of GTD down, and I find the process of separating items confusing.

    I'm trying to figure out, after trashing, doing 2-minute items, and delegating actions, what I am left with. Here's my understanding:

    reference (non-action items)
    someday (actions waiting for weekly review decision to be made active)
    calendar (actions waiting for a specific date)
    deferred (actions waiting for some other event to occur)
    action (action within a project list but waiting for the next action)
    next action (actions to be done next)

    Is this correct? It's not clear to me from the flowchart if this is where things wind up, but it's the best I can figure out.

    I'll ask this much first, because if my understanding is wrong, it may solve my other problems. Thanks.

  • #2
    Yes, that's pretty much it. Deferred and future actions might go on your calendar, in your tickler file, or in your Waiting For list, depending on your system, but it looks like you've got the basics down.

    Good luck!

    Katherine

    Comment


    • #3
      Okay, thanks. Then I have some questions. Since projects consist of groups of actions, should an entire project goes on the "someday" list if it's not active? I have probably a few hundred projects - since I've dumped every wish, hope, and need into my system - and if they are all active, and every one is supposed to have a "next action" item, I would have hundreds of "next action" items. What I've been doing is putting some items within a project on the "someday" list, and others on the "active" list, in order to keep my active list down, but I'm thinking that all actions within a project need to be moved to the "someday" list if I decide to postpone the project itself. Is this how people do it?

      The basic problem I have had with my implementation of GTD so far is that I have so many projects, and so many individual action items, that my "someday" list is huge, and takes forever to go through, so I wind up not doing it - and then of course it becomes a black hole, and I never see my actions again. I have not seen any way of prioritizing the someday items within GTD, so going through hundreds of items is really very painful.

      Also, my next actions list has also become unmanageable. I almost never empty a single context list within a day, because there are too many items on it, and more get added every day so that each context list keeps growing, and (my understanding is that) since you do each list from the top down in order, there is no prioritizing.

      So some questions:

      Are you in theory supposed to empty each context list every day? If not, how do you add items? Bottom of the list? Random? How do you prevent items that fall to the bottom of a context list from sitting there forever?

      If you have hundreds of someday items and projects, how do you choose which ones to move to active during your weekly review? Again, without prioritizing, if I just pick the ones I "want" to get done this week, I wind up with so many next action items that they just never get done.

      I'm sure I'm doing something wrong, but working from the book without seeing an actual system in action, it is hard to know where I am going wrong.

      Comment


      • #4
        I think you're doing fine! Your questions are common ones.

        Yes, the Someday/Maybe list is a list of Projects that you've consciously deferred. Actions are immediate Actions that you can do now on active Projects. Anything in your Someday/Maybe list shouldn't have corresponding Next Actions.

        (That said, nobody will punish you if you decide to sneak forward on a Someday/Maybe project.)

        You will probably never empty your context lists, and you're not supposed to. The context lists exist to tell you what you can do in a given context to move your active Projects forward.

        Think about Next Actions as bookmarks in a Project. They exist to tell you where to start. You may get into a context, start on a Next Action, and continue in that vein until you leave the context. That's fine, as long as that's truly top priority and nothing else needs to be done.

        About prioritizing: People often get confused about this. You need to consciously and mentally re-prioritize your context list every time you look at it. Decide what's most important right now. Because priority changes from one day to the next, and sometimes one hour to the next.

        You wrote, "how do you choose which ones to move to active during your weekly review? Again, without prioritizing, if I just pick the ones I 'want' to get done this week, I wind up with so many next action items that they just never get done."

        My favorite answer for this is metrics. How many projects did you complete last week? How many next actions? How many the week before? If you don't know, keep track for a few weeks. Then limit your number of active Projects to a number in that ballpark.

        In other words, pick as many projects as you can comfortably make progress on. If you don't know how many that is, keep track of your actual progress for a while.

        Does that answer your questions?

        Comment


        • #5
          GTD will not make the choices for you.

          Originally posted by genelong View Post
          If you have hundreds of someday items and projects, how do you choose which ones to move to active during your weekly review?
          Use your intuition and the higher levels (20k...50k) which define your goals and life mission. GTD will not make the choices for you.

          Be realistic - do not activate new projects when you have no time to finish the projects that are already active!

          Comment


          • #6
            Excellent questions, genelong.

            I'd suggest that if a project is on the someday/maybe list, then it doesn't need a next action.

            One of the things I've been working on over the long holiday break is getting my projects and next action lists pruned down so they are less overwhelming. It's been a very energizing and rewarding process.

            One other tip that you might find useful: I've split my someday list into "someday/maybe", and "someday, just not this week" to distinguish things that I might do and things that I'm probably doing to do. In any event these are quick to review because it's just a matter of looking at an item for a second or two... even a list of 200 items can be scanned in a few minutes.

            One other comment - its not that "you do each list from the top down in order, there is no prioritizing", it's my understanding that to look at each context list and choose the item that intuitively feels right.

            I don't think you are "supposed to empty each context list every day", but ideally you should clear a significant percentage each week. Not that I'm the best example of this One of my [oh I hate to call them new years resolutions] "thingies" is to spend less time doing work as it shown up, but rather getting work on to my lists, and working from my lists.

            Also, I think that ideally items that sit for on your lists for too long need to be reviewed, and moved to someday/maybe or have the next action refined or clarified.

            Hopefully, these comments help. And others are sure to chime in too. This site is a great place to learn about how others are GTD.

            - Don

            Comment


            • #7
              Someday/Maybe lists.

              Originally posted by dschaffner View Post
              I've split my someday list into "someday/maybe", and "someday, just not this week" to distinguish things that I might do and things that I'm probably doing to do. In any event these are quick to review because it's just a matter of looking at an item for a second or two... even a list of 200 items can be scanned in a few minutes.
              Check this comment http://www.davidco.com/forum/showpos...15&postcount=3 about Someday/Maybe lists.

              Comment


              • #8
                Thanks, many of your comments are helpful.

                Some more questions:

                - I think of single stand-alone action items as the same as a "next action" in a project, and the other actions in a project as deferred until the "next action" is done. Is that how others see it?

                - On prioritizing, I thought (I'd have to look it up) that the GTD magic of doing the context lists as opposed to a standard task list was that you don't decide in the moment which one to do - you decide when you make the list, then always do the next one on the list. I've found that useful in that if I keep choosing in the moment, the more disagreeable tasks tend to always be avoided, but if I go through in order, I have to face each one. Did I misunderstand?

                - Here's a typical dilemma on prioritizing. I just completed my inbox, and I have a simple task, "buy a comforter", to process. Yes, I could break it down in to a project, but for now, assume that it's simple enough for one step. Now I try to decide should it be someday, or an action item for the "shopping" context. What I wind up doing is looking at my shopping context, see the huge number of undone tasks that feel more important, and so I stick it in someday. But I also know it will never come out of someday, because I will never empty my shopping context list, so it remains on my mind OUTSIDE of the GTD system as something I have to worry about, or it will never get done. Obviously counterproductive. But with too many things in my context list, I am doing my weekly review every time I try to pick the next task to do. Does this make sense what my dilemma is?

                Thanks for the help, especially those of you who are patient and encouraging. I really like GTD so far, but it is still a struggle to make it work, and I want to make it work. I really need a good task system in my life. Thanks again.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by genelong View Post
                  - I think of single stand-alone action items as the same as a "next action" in a project, and the other actions in a project as deferred until the "next action" is done. Is that how others see it?
                  Yes, but to clarify: There's no need to write down or otherwise record any actions beyond the Next one. You can, but it's something else to keep track of. You only need to write down the next thing.

                  - On prioritizing, I thought (I'd have to look it up) that the GTD magic of doing the context lists as opposed to a standard task list was that you don't decide in the moment which one to do - you decide when you make the list, then always do the next one on the list. I've found that useful in that if I keep choosing in the moment, the more disagreeable tasks tend to always be avoided, but if I go through in order, I have to face each one. Did I misunderstand?
                  That's not how I understand GTD. You do decide in the moment which one to do. If I make a list on Sunday, how can I know which item will be most important on Friday?

                  Here's a typical dilemma on prioritizing. I just completed my inbox, and I have a simple task, "buy a comforter", to process. Yes, I could break it down in to a project, but for now, assume that it's simple enough for one step. Now I try to decide should it be someday, or an action item for the "shopping" context. What I wind up doing is looking at my shopping context, see the huge number of undone tasks that feel more important, and so I stick it in someday. But I also know it will never come out of someday, because I will never empty my shopping context list, so it remains on my mind OUTSIDE of the GTD system as something I have to worry about, or it will never get done. Obviously counterproductive. But with too many things in my context list, I am doing my weekly review every time I try to pick the next task to do. Does this make sense what my dilemma is?
                  Woah, woah, woah. You may never empty a list, but you will remove things from it. You will be always finishing things and replenishing lists from Someday/Maybe.

                  Here's my workflow:

                  Things come out of your head, and into an inbox.
                  Things come out of your inbox, and into Someday/Maybe.
                  Things come out of Someday/Maybe, and into your Projects and Next Actions.
                  Things are completed.

                  (Obviously, the above isn't ironclad; sometimes a to-do will go straight to an active Project.)

                  Looks like you're suffering from a common problem: You're over-committed. You literally can't do everything.

                  Here's the thing: Let's say about half of your projects are going undone. Those half of your projects are going to go undone. You can either try to get them all done--in which case some 50% will not get done--or renegotiate your commitments. To quote one queuing theorist, "Drop off all the stuff that you won't be able to get to. You won't be able to get to it anyway, now you're just being honest about it."

                  This may seem crazy, but what if you renegotiated half of your projects for a month? Give them to someone else, or extend the deadline, or just temporarily drop them.

                  Failing that, at least put everything in your system. If you're really working on it, put it on your Projects list. At the very least, it'll show you just how much stuff is really on your plate, and you can decide on what to do from there.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    You may also find it useful to have lists. An example would be "books I'd like to read", which I personally don't put in my someday/maybe list. If you are not already doing this, then that will reduce your someday/maybe list. I do a lot of reading and will go to that list only when I want an idea of something else I have always wanted to read. (Please note, that I do have "Must reads" in my someday/maybe list though and they do turn into next actions.)

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by genelong View Post
                      Here's a typical dilemma on prioritizing. I just completed my inbox, and I have a simple task, "buy a comforter", to process. Yes, I could break it down in to a project, but for now, assume that it's simple enough for one step. Now I try to decide should it be someday, or an action item for the "shopping" context. What I wind up doing is looking at my shopping context, see the huge number of undone tasks that feel more important, and so I stick it in someday. But I also know it will never come out of someday, because I will never empty my shopping context list, so it remains on my mind OUTSIDE of the GTD system as something I have to worry about, or it will never get done.
                      genelong,

                      If I had "buy a comforter" on my list... hey wait, I do *need* that on my list. Ok, now it's added to my list ...

                      Seriously, I keep separate lists depending on where I'm shopping. While my overall "errands" list has about 40 things on it, the list for the store where I will shop for the comforter has only 8 things on it.

                      now, If I find myself in that store, and I look at the list, I may choose to but the comforter or not. If I look at it too many times and *don't* buy, it chances are that there is some reason (I don't really need it, can't afford it, need to consult my spouse on the style, etc) and that may generate a new next action: save for comforter, research comforter, talk to wife about comforter) on the "buy a comforter" project.

                      - Don
                      Last edited by dschaffner; 12-30-2007, 01:26 PM. Reason: typo

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Thanks again, good tips.

                        On "doing it in order and not skipping steps", apparently I was remembering the rule for processing the inbox, not for processing next action context lists.

                        So, what I'm getting from this is that when I'm in a certain context, I pull out the list for that context, scan it for the most important actions, and do those first.

                        Two questions:

                        - What prevents unsavory items from never getting done, if the next actions are not done in order?

                        - How many items do people typically have on a context list? Does anyone have the problem I have of having way too many (like 30-50), and find the list just keeps growing? And how many projects do people typically have total? I know I am over average, but I'm curious if I'm way over or not.

                        On projects, I understand I have too many, but that is the result of putting everything on my mind down, which I understand is the process (I have a busy mind I guess). That's why I started putting entire projects in the someday category, and trying to pair it down that way. That way, in my weekly review, I only have to look at the project, and not at all the action items within it. Is this what others do?

                        Thanks for the workflow inbox -> someday -> action list. That helps. I didn't get that before.

                        And thanks for the tip on dividing someday into "review in a month", "review in a year", etc. That's also very useful. I have a lot of dreams down which I'll probably never get to. Maybe I should have a category "someday when hell freezes over"

                        Gene

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by genelong View Post
                          - What prevents unsavory items from never getting done, if the next actions are not done in order?
                          Nothing. GTD will not cure procrastination, it will just make sure you're aware of the things you're procrastinating about.

                          But then, that's all any other system can do, either.

                          - How many items do people typically have on a context list? Does anyone have the problem I have of having way too many (like 30-50), and find the list just keeps growing? And how many projects do people typically have total? I know I am over average, but I'm curious if I'm way over or not.
                          I limit each context to about 15 items. (In a paper system, one side of a junior sheet.) If the list gets longer than that, it's time to defer some stuff.

                          On projects, I understand I have too many, but that is the result of putting everything on my mind down, which I understand is the process (I have a busy mind I guess). That's why I started putting entire projects in the someday category, and trying to pair it down that way. That way, in my weekly review, I only have to look at the project, and not at all the action items within it. Is this what others do?
                          Yep.

                          Katherine

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Congrats! I think you've got this figured out. Now for the little clarifications, and the little matter of actually doing it all.

                            Originally posted by genelong View Post
                            So, what I'm getting from this is that when I'm in a certain context, I pull out the list for that context, scan it for the most important actions, and do those first.
                            Yes. You can also continue with one particular Project after you've finished its Next Action, if you think that's the best use of your time.

                            For example, last week at work, the hallways were quiet, and I received an email informing me that I had to develop about a dozen training slides. That became an active Project with a Next Action. But when I next looked at my list, I evaluated several factors, and decided the best use of my time was to complete all the slides right then. So I did.

                            Because I knew that nothing else was more important right then.

                            - What prevents unsavory items from never getting done, if the next actions are not done in order?
                            The weekly review. You'll notice that certain Projects and Next Actions just aren't getting done.

                            Also, over time you'll see how many projects you can successfully juggle at once. With a well-oiled system, you'll always be able to add projects, because you'll have a nice, long Someday/Maybe list to inspire you. True masters keep their workload light enough that they can add work when something unexpected arises.

                            After too many months of struggling with GTD, I eventually found a happy equilibrium between number of projects and a healthy challenge to myself. I found that the challenge lay not in the number of projects, but in the difficulty of each projects. I could accomplish greatness by concentrating on one breathtaking project, if I wanted.

                            - How many items do people typically have on a context list? Does anyone have the problem I have of having way too many (like 30-50), and find the list just keeps growing? And how many projects do people typically have total? I know I am over average, but I'm curious if I'm way over or not.
                            30 to 50 seems about average, off the top of my head, from what folks have said here on the forum. I've read of people juggling up to 80 or so.

                            The list does grow during the first few weeks or months, then reaches a plateau.

                            On projects, I understand I have too many, but that is the result of putting everything on my mind down, which I understand is the process (I have a busy mind I guess). That's why I started putting entire projects in the someday category, and trying to pair it down that way. That way, in my weekly review, I only have to look at the project, and not at all the action items within it. Is this what others do?
                            Yes. I think you're completely on-track here. Load down the boat, and see where the leaks spring from.

                            Some folks like to keep notes about certain Someday/Maybe projects. Some projects demand this, too. That's okay. The problem comes when you're spending significant time defining projects that you've categorized as Someday/Maybe (because then, they're not really Someday/Maybe).

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Brent View Post
                              Yes. I think you're completely on-track here. Load down the boat, and see where the leaks spring from.

                              Some folks like to keep notes about certain Someday/Maybe projects. Some projects demand this, too. That's okay. The problem comes when you're spending significant time defining projects that you've categorized as Someday/Maybe (because then, they're not really Someday/Maybe).
                              I experienced this too. There where (and to a lesser degree still are) many pure research-and-think projects. Questions one put off all the years. But they bug you: hey, what's up? What's the frequency, Keneth?

                              These projects are okay, one want to clarify, to give things meaning. I think this is a natural, ongoing thought process on 45,000 ft. I cope with it by means of a wthit-list*: the old-fashioned journal. Goal: mind like water.

                              *wthit== what the heck is this?

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