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need help refining productivity system

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  • need help refining productivity system

    I hope somebody who's mastered, or close to mastered, GTD or some modified form of it or any productivity system, can help me. I have been trying to implement GTD for over a year, and it just hasn't been working out. I've kept context lists, I carry a notebook around with me for capture, I learned the 2-minute rule, and have tried different systems for processing data, but I always feel more overwhelmed, because I have never found a way to organize my tasks and ideas in a way that made them all easily accessible and showed the connections between them. I've tried all paper, all digital, and a combination thereof.

    This summer, I've been taking it easy, just using a daily task list (e.g. "do laundry," "go to store," etc. plus want-to-do items like "watch movie") and writing the few events or tasks with due dates in my calendar planner. I have a little notebook listing my current projects, which I've worked on occasionally this summer, but in the interest of motivating myself to move forward on some of those projects (which I won't have time for once classes start again), I decided to try to establish context lists, and pick up stragglers from my daily task lists and incorporate next actions from my project lists. But, I don't have project lists for every project, because I store a lot mentally, and I really hate writing things down in multiple places. Plus, I've been avoiding putting want-to-do or should-do items on my daily task lists, and now I'm wondering whether to even use context lists. l was feeling more relaxed before starting this, and I've found that since I keep having problems with any productivity system, starting from scratch is nearly impossible. But I was close to that this summer, but my life was not in the disarray that GTD assumes you're in when you start; it was simpler. Needless to say, I'm frustrated and wondering if GTD is really for me.

    I'm not currently working, and I have many distinct areas of my life, from the basic (e.g. financial) to the involved (e.g. creative, which encompasses a whole bunch of projects, as you might imagine). And once classes start, I'll have all those tasks and projects to worry about. I need to know how to reconcile daily tasks with context lists with project lists, and I do NOT want to have a daily procedure that will direct me to a number of lists. Part of GTD that I like is the energy and time considerations you make before acting, but the system itself doesn't seem friendly to that, so I've never been able to access that benefit.

    Please offer any advice you can...and sorry for this long-winded post. I hope you can pick it apart sufficiently; I'll clarify anything that needs to be clarified.

  • #2
    Observations

    I see a couple of things going on here. I'll be brief:
    1) by your own admission, you're keeping some things in your head. That will/does lead you to not trust your system.

    2) Nothing wrong with a daily "to do" list. When I have a lot to do, sometimes I create a category called "@@Today" and drag my Outlook tasks from the various contexts into that list. Important: I'm choosing things from my context lists to do that day. Another option is to put a dot at the beginning of each task you want to work on that day from each context list. In Outlook (btw, I use the add-in), those tasks will move to the top of the list. I learned this tip from Meg/David Allen coach extraordinaire.

    3) The most helpful change I have ever made to my system came from a tip I read from "KEWMS" on the forum (she's brilliant)...I only have one single next action per project on any context list AND I don't put any next actions on the lists at all for a project if I'm not going to be working on it that week. Weekly review is an absolute must, though.

    Don't give up...you just need to simplify and keep your lists lean and mean.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Barb View Post
      3) The most helpful change I have ever made to my system came from a tip I read from "KEWMS" on the forum (she's brilliant)...I only have one single next action per project on any context list AND I don't put any next actions on the lists at all for a project if I'm not going to be working on it that week. Weekly review is an absolute must, though.
      Bowing and blushing.... Thank you for the kind words, but I can't take credit for that particular tip, or maybe only half credit. I often have more than one action per project. I do recommend purging NAs for projects that you're ignoring, though.

      And yes, weekly review is an absolute must.

      Katherine

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by seaj11 View Post
        ... I don't have project lists for every project...
        GTD doesn't suggest project lists, just a projects list . Like Barb says, the overwhelm is from keeping things in your head. GTD can be completely "transparent" when you work it well. I'm wondering whether you keep someday/maybes separate from the projects and next actions you're actually engaging in. The whole idea of capturing all your ideas to get to "mind like water" only works if you clearly distinguish between what you are committed to or currently engaged in and what you're just contemplating doing. I scribble all kinds of stuff in my note book and once in a while (like during a weekly review) I look through it and pull out whatever I want to track and I use a paperclipp to mark the last page that I've processed in that way.

        It could work like this: I'm having dinner with a colleague and she tells me about her hobby geocaching. That sounds interesting and I scribble some of what she tells me in my notebook. Later, I go through my notebook and decide I want to read a little more on the web, but it's not critical, so I maintain an "internet someday maybe" (which you could simply have as a folder in your browser bookmarks/favourites). Then a rainy sunday afternoon I'm finding myself surfing the web for leisure and I look at my list of interesting bits on the internet and go read more. I might then learn that there is a geocache close to where I'm going on my next business trip and I make a note on my calendar and print the important information and plop it in my tickler so it comes with me on the trip. I might find I had a great time doing that so I decide I want to find all geocaches within hiking distance from my home, and it becomes a project and a next action to research and list all caches.

        Best wishes,
        Christina

        Comment


        • #5
          I can relate...

          I also have tried various combinations of paper and digital. I have just this week discovered Omnifocus, and for the first time in a long time (and I've been a GTD-er for years) I felt a real sense of hope. I think it has to do with the fact that you can see your context lists as well as your NAs linked to Projects (so you can also view all your NAs within a particular project). You might want to give it a try - but in any case, keep going with GTD. Once you've seen the truth of the principles, you really can't go back to anything else!
          Claudia

          Comment


          • #6
            As others have said, perhaps you're a bit confused about the GTD system. Perhaps a quick refresher course?

            There's 1 Someday/Maybe list, recording all the goals, projects, and other work that you're not actively working on now, but want to someday.

            There's 1 Project list, recording all the Projects (work with a defined real-world goal) that you're actively working on right now, and which you expect to finish in the next few weeks or so.

            There are several Context lists, one per Context, containing at least one Next Action for each Project. Most Projects will have only one Next Action recorded.

            Every week, you sit down with all of these lists, and refresh them so that they're accurate. They should always reflect what you're really working on (or not working on).

            There are a number of notebooks, index cards, scrap paper, post-it notes, etc. recording thoughts as they come to you. These all go into your inbox, and are processed into the lists above. I prefer to put them into Someday/Maybe; rarely does a neat idea immediately become an active Project, since I'm already working to complete other active Projects.

            Does that match what you've been doing? Does that help at all?

            Comment


            • #7
              You wrote: and I do NOT want to have a daily procedure that will direct me to a number of lists.


              Based on this, I don't think GTD is the right tool for you. But that doesn't mean you can't take some of the elements from GTD that you do like and use them.

              It's not that you're IN or OUT of GTD, you should just focus on creating a system that you like and works for you/works with you... Not trying to fit into some dogma or strict productivity system.... That's not what GTD is about anyways. Ask any of the coaches.... that's why they don't prescribe a specific application or way of doing this. It's all about taking what works for you in your situation in your life....

              Comment


              • #8
                In or Out?

                I feel as though I need to follow up on what Darla noted. You said "I do NOT want to have a daily procedure that will direct me to a number of lists," but GTD is fundamentally a process of list management. It seems as if you are essentially saying "I don't want to follow the basic principles of GTD, and why isn't it working for me?"

                Nothing kept in your head, everything in the lists, and work off the lists.

                There are endless variations on possible methods and processes, and in how you capture and process the information on your lists, but GTD *is* the daily direction "to a number of lists." To act as if this is not the case, and then to wonder why things are not working, is to enter a tunnel unlikely to shed any significant amount of light.

                John

                Comment


                • #9
                  Wow, I didn't expect so many responses. I'll try to respond to everyone. Here goes...

                  Originally posted by Barb View Post
                  I see a couple of things going on here. I'll be brief:
                  1) by your own admission, you're keeping some things in your head. That will/does lead you to not trust your system.

                  2) Nothing wrong with a daily "to do" list. When I have a lot to do, sometimes I create a category called "@@Today" and drag my Outlook tasks from the various contexts into that list. Important: I'm choosing things from my context lists to do that day.
                  On your first point, I have to disagree. The problem isn't that I don't trust my system, it's that nothing I try feels efficient to me, or perhaps I just don't want to use it. That was one problem I realized I had with doing GTD with some software — if this meant mastering the software or always having to boot up the computer when I needed to review or add something to the system, I wasn't going to do it. I'd scribble something on a sticky note, and eventually I realized a paper-based system was better for me.

                  On your second point, I note that I'm glad I developed the habit of a daily todo list. And I used to regularly add items from the context lists, but again, I began to feel that wasn't working.

                  Originally posted by ChristinaSkaskiw View Post
                  GTD doesn't suggest project lists, just a projects list .
                  Well, I do keep a projects list, and for some projects I have what I call "note-pages," with all relevant actions, waiting fors, and reference information.
                  Originally posted by ChristinaSkaskiw View Post
                  I'm wondering whether you keep someday/maybes separate from the projects and next actions you're actually engaging in. The whole idea of capturing all your ideas to get to "mind like water" only works if you clearly distinguish between what you are committed to or currently engaged in and what you're just contemplating doing. I scribble all kinds of stuff in my note book and once in a while (like during a weekly review) I look through it and pull out whatever I want to track and I use a paperclipp to mark the last page that I've processed in that way.
                  That might be my problem. Your system sounds like a good one to me, if I develop a good habit of weekly review.

                  Originally posted by photodiva View Post
                  Once you've seen the truth of the principles, you really can't go back to anything else!
                  I know, and I much prefer these principles to bare lists, or to the Covey system.

                  Brent: Yes, that's largely what I've been doing, although I do think the Someday list might be where my problem lies. That, and not doing a weekly review: perhaps because the review often makes me feel overwhelmed.

                  darlakbrown and johnmcoulter: I'm fine with having a system of lists — I love lists; by "daily procedure" I guess I meant the process of looking at these lists, moving things onto those lists, then having to maintain (e.g. cross items off of/remove items from) both sets of lists, outside considerations of my schedule for that day and my varying energy levels. I know GTD is supposed to work WITH those considerations, but I just haven't found anything flexible enough.

                  Thanks a lot for all your help: I have some insight now into problem areas, and even if I end up just using GTD principles, I'll eventually find a system that works for me.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    It Takes a While

                    Originally posted by seaj11 View Post

                    That might be my problem. Your system sounds like a good one to me, if I develop a good habit of weekly review.

                    darlakbrown and johnmcoulter: I'm fine with having a system of lists — I love lists; by "daily procedure" I guess I meant the process of looking at these lists, moving things onto those lists, then having to maintain (e.g. cross items off of/remove items from) both sets of lists, outside considerations of my schedule for that day and my varying energy levels. I know GTD is supposed to work WITH those considerations, but I just haven't found anything flexible enough.
                    You pretty much nailed it with the first part of what I left quoted above: weekly review is essential. And so too is the need to spend probably about an hour a day (give or take, depending on the volume of your incoming information) defining outcomes and next actions for new inputs into your world ("moving things onto those lists"). Maintaining the lists in terms of removing items is more part of the weekly review--generally the world can move too quickly for you to feel the need to have to check off any given list item as done the instant you have completed it. Obviously you don't want to have lists full of already completed items on them, but to go to your lists to check them off one at a time upon completion of each and every one is overkill in the other direction.

                    Don't become discouraged, this stuff takes a while. I'm coming up on three years now and still feel like a beginner more than occasionally.

                    John

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by seaj11 View Post
                      That, and not doing a weekly review: perhaps because the review often makes me feel overwhelmed.
                      Ah-ha! Yes, the weekly review is incredibly important.

                      If you're not maintaining your system with a weekly review, then yes the system will break down.

                      If you feel overwhelmed during the weekly review, it's because you really do have tons of stuff to deal with. That's good. It needs to feel overwhelming, so that you'll do something about it. Let yourself feel overwhelmed, then look at your work and ask how you can make it less overwhelming. What can you drop (for now)? Who can you talk to?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Brent View Post
                        If you feel overwhelmed during the weekly review, it's because you really do have tons of stuff to deal with. That's good. It needs to feel overwhelming, so that you'll do something about it. Let yourself feel overwhelmed, then look at your work and ask how you can make it less overwhelming. What can you drop (for now)? Who can you talk to?
                        As Brent said in another thread, the overwhelming workload was always there. Skipping the weekly review doesn't make it go away, it just erodes your ability to deal with it.

                        Katherine

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