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GTD Advanced Workflow Diagram

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  • GTD Advanced Workflow Diagram

    So far, so good. I am seeing benefits to the GTD approach.

    I have a question related to the "DO" section of the workflow diagram.

    Why is priority listed as the the last thing you do after context, time available, energy,etc.

    Let's say I start out in the morning returning some calls. If I look at my NA list by context and work through my calls, which may have me shifting between projects. Next I process my inbox and look at my context list for @PC working through those.

    It seems to me that I could go through a day with very little time left for priority work or project work because I'm working by context. What am I not seeing here? Would I be better served to block time on my calendar for predefined priority projects and then shift to context .

    I'm interested in how others approach the daily DO part of GTD.

  • #2
    There are plenty of reasons why David Allen recommends the order of Context, Time Available, Energy Available, and Priority in evaluating your options of what to do at any given moment. Here's a few.

    Context puts the first hard edges on what you can and cannot do in the moment. You can't do things at home when you're at the office, so you don't want those items in your face distracting you while you evaluate the other criteria.

    Time Available is the next hard edge. You can't complete a six-hour task if you don't have that block of time available. If you have a deadline to meet, you may need to renegotiate agreements with others and clear a spot on your calendar to work on that task, otherwise just watch and wait for that opportunity to show up in your life and make that choice when appropriate.

    Energy Available should be considered next. There are times where you should not be talking to key people in your life or working on certain things, namely when you are too drained mentally or physically. I'd never operate a power tool to finish a remodeling project or discuss a sensitive topic with my spouse if I was too exhausted or unable to think straight. It's at times like these that the most strategically appropriate things to do are those dummy little activities like refilling your stapler or watering your plants. You have to do these things at some point anyway, but they would never be considered a higher priority than anything else on your lists--that is, until you're trying to rush out to a mission-critical meeting with a mission-critical document for which you need a mission-critical staple and AHHH! THERE'S NO STAPLES!

    In terms of evaluating your choices, David Allen defines "priority" as "biggest personal payoff." After you evaluate the other three options first, out of the choices that remain, what would give you the most reward if you completed it? Sometimes you will choose things that are "high-priority" or "mission-critical". Other times you might choose some things that are not critical but their presence may be distracting so it might be a bigger payoff for you to do them in order to "clear the decks" so that you can give higher-priority work the attention that it deserves.

    When you're working off your action lists, think of those project-related "next actions" as "bookmarks" that indicate where you left off in pursuit of fulfilling a higher level outcome or project. You could pick one of those phone calls, see what shows up, decide the next action immediately, and start working on it. You're not restricted to clearing one context list before changing to another.

    Remember, you are in charge of the system. Don't let the system take charge of you. That was the toughest and most important lesson I had to learn when I first started doing GTD.
    Last edited by ellobogrande; 05-29-2008, 08:30 AM.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by debbieg View Post
      Why is priority listed as the the last thing you do after context, time available, energy,etc.
      Here's how I see this.

      Consider the next action "@Call Jim to map out strategic vision". Let's say that we expect this call to be an in-depth hour of discussion to really get it done.

      Well, if I'm not someplace where I have access to a phone, how do I move on this action? If I'm stacked up in meetings all day and I only have 15 minutes to make phone calls, do I want to shortchange Jim by giving him less time than it will take to really have the discussion we need? Your next actions will be bounded by context and available time in tangible, real-world ways that aren't affected by the priority of the task.

      How do I handle this? I do a daily "mini-review" of my lists to pick out high-priority items like this. If I had the call to Jim on my list and I recognized it was urgent, I'd try to renegotiate my other commitments to create a free hour in front of the phone to call Jim. But I have to do that thinking up-front; if I only have 8 minutes in the waiting room at the doctor's office with my cell phone, calling Jim isn't likely to be the most appropriate thing for me to do, no matter how urgent it is.

      -- Tammy

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      • #4
        Originally posted by debbieg View Post
        It seems to me that I could go through a day with very little time left for priority work or project work because I'm working by context. What am I not seeing here? Would I be better served to block time on my calendar for predefined priority projects and then shift to context .
        Why isn't your priority work *on* your context lists? If I spend an hour working on @Read/Review tasks, at least 45 minutes of that will be directly related to my high priority projects. If your context lists don't match your priorities, then you've got a problem with your lists.

        As others have pointed out, though, it's pretty useless to try to work on @Read/Review tasks if I'm sitting in the airport with nothing but a phone (yeah, I know, poor planning), or if I have fifteen minutes between meetings, or if I've been @Reading all day and have no brain cells left.

        The other point is that context is only limiting some of the time. If you're at the airport with nothing but a phone, you don't have many choices. If you're at your office with all your resources at your fingertips, you have lots of choices. You can choose the context which contains the highest priority tasks.

        Katherine

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        • #5
          Originally posted by debbieg View Post
          Let's say I start out in the morning returning some calls. If I look at my NA list by context and work through my calls, which may have me shifting between projects. Next I process my inbox and look at my context list for @PC working through those.

          It seems to me that I could go through a day with very little time left for priority work or project work because I'm working by context. What am I not seeing here? Would I be better served to block time on my calendar for predefined priority projects and then shift to context .
          You may be in more than one context at a time. For example, I am currently in the following contexts:
          @phone
          @computer
          @work
          @online

          You need to look at all of those lists together as if they were one. You don't have to finish everything from one context before moving on to another.

          Also, there are times when you have to force yourself to move to another context because you know there is something critical over there that needs to get done. This is where a quick daily review of all your projects and context lists comes into play.
          Last edited by jknecht; 05-29-2008, 10:32 AM.

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          • #6
            I just spent the last 2 hours in a reading context. I deliberately set this uninterrupted time for me. It was a high energy time - I think my brain cells were near their best - and I was in the right location. I went through my context list, but I made certain I did the reading I needed to do first, since I knew that I would lose concentration (lunch time would be following) over the time period. In one case, an NA briefly lead me further into a project.

            The context list is invaluable to me because I can see a list of NAs or bookmarks that fit at that location. From there I can decide the other factors.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by debbieg View Post
              Why is priority listed as the the last thing you do after context, time available, energy,etc.
              Priority is not the last thing you DO it is the last consideration you make in determining what to do:

              1. What context(s) am I in at the moment? Say @office and @computer.
              2. How much time do I have available? Say 20 minutes.
              3. How much energy do you have? Say Low.

              Given all the above you may have filtered the available Next Actions you could take down to say, six. Now:

              4. Assessing the six possible NAs, which has the highest priority for you? Say "Speak to Fred about conference room booking". DO that one first.

              I always think of a big funnel with the NAs pouring in the top. These discriminators help me narrow down the possibilities.

              Cheers

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              • #8
                Originally posted by debbieg View Post
                It seems to me that I could go through a day with very little time left for priority work or project work because I'm working by context. What am I not seeing here? Would I be better served to block time on my calendar for predefined priority projects and then shift to context.
                This can get handled in your weekly review. I'd you notice you aren't moving on this high priority jobs, you can always block time on your calendar to insure you get them done.

                The trick here is to treat these as *real* appointments, and not something you can just ignore

                - Don

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                • #9
                  Similar concerns

                  I can sympathize with the OP here. I find Contexts to be a great idea but not as functional in my own case.

                  debbieg,

                  I do not use separate lists for each Context. Instead, I use a master Next Actions list with a Context column (my system's paper-based). I rarely glance at the Context, however, and instead rely on intuition to pick a Next Action based on my Context, energy, etc.

                  I believe it makes my system more efficient and effective for me. It is efficient because I have less places to look for possible Next Actions. I find it more effective because I overlook actions less often when I only have to look in one place.

                  I should point out that I rarely have more than 100 Next Actions at a given time. I typically have 50 or projects, with 70-80 total moving parts, and then a few dozen non-Project associated tasks. It doesn't take too long to scan through a Next Actions list of two or three pages. Indeed, I enjoy knowing that I've seen everything on my plate several times in a day, as a way of being able to trust my system. When I've used Context-based lists, I did not review them often enough because I was in a different Context.

                  JohnV474

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by debbieg View Post
                    It seems to me that I could go through a day with very little time left for priority work or project work because I'm working by context.
                    I'm not understanding what you mean by "working by context," or at least how that conflicts with priority work. You basically have two options at any given time.
                    1. Chose the highest priority item with the current context
                    2. Change the context
                    So if you're running errands, and your highest priority is something that involves a computer, you need to get to a computer. But if you were working by priority when you were at the computer, the urgency shouldn't have escalated while you're out for errands.

                    Spending a few minutes each morning reviewing all of your context list after you've process In will make sure that you're not missing any priority that's not in your current context (e.g. the office). If something does require a change of context, put it on your calendar so that you'll catch it at the appropriate time.

                    Also, if any @Calls or @Computer actions need to be done at the office, put them on your @Office list. The same goes for phone and computer tasks that need to be done at home. In these cases, the context is driven by where the dependency is: for instance, you need access to your file cabinet at work to support the action you're doing at the computer.

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                    • #11
                      When I have a @Context list that is getting scary, that's my sign that I need to spend more time in that context.

                      For instance, if my @Work list is getting behind and causing me stress, then I need to spend more time at work.

                      This is a common one for me because I am an independent attorney. That means I don't have to be in the office all day. However, when my @Work list is getting overwhelming, I need to buckle down and work more hours.

                      The same could be said for any @Context list. If my @Errand list is getting too long, then I need to set aside some time to run errands.

                      That being said, some of my @Context lists are filled with interesting but unimportant stuff. My @Computer list includes a lot of this stuff, and so I tend to not look at it when I want to be doing work in my office.

                      David

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by debbieg View Post
                        Why is priority listed as the the last thing you do after context, time available, energy,etc.
                        It's not: priority is the last constraint you consider when deciding what to do. Because it doesn't matter how urgent something is, if you're not in a context that allows you to do it, you can't choose to do it. You can't choose the NA that requires you to be at your desk if you're currently in your car, for example.

                        Applying those constraints in that order whittles your NAs down to a manageable list that you can choose from, rather than having to look at 70-100 (say) NAs and pick one. You eliminate the ones you can't do, based on context and time available, and you also eliminate ones that you couldn't do justice to (if you're low in energy). Then you pick the most important of the remainder.

                        Let's say I start out in the morning returning some calls. If I look at my NA list by context and work through my calls, which may have me shifting between projects. Next I process my inbox and look at my context list for @PC working through those.
                        You don't have to work through an entire context list once you start it: you're still deciding what to do next each time you finish an NA, and you can choose:
                        1) To do an NA from the same context;
                        2) To do an NA from a different context;
                        3) To continue working on the project whose NA you just finished.

                        Lots of the time, we do number 3, because we've got the time available and by continuing with the one project we keep the mental 'context': we're focused, and all the information is already in the forefront of our minds, so it's efficient to continue.

                        If you're stuck somewhere with only your phone, you'll probably continue in the phone context, because that's about all you can do. But if you've got several important projects that require action from different contexts, you'll probably want to knock them off as soon as you get to work, hence you'll switch contexts. Then, when you've done them, you can choose to either continue one project, or work from one context list. Or whatever.

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