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  • Calendar vs. Tickler, Actionable vs. non-actionable, recurring events, etc.

    So I originally read (or listened to the abridged audio book) for GTD a year or so ago and tried to implement it using Remember the Milk. I didn't have the finest grasp on the theories involved, so it didn't really help me all that much. I finally started taking a second look and read most of the paper book, created my own diagrams to try to try to understand the ideas and process better etc.

    I think I've gotten most of it down at this point. The one area that is still kind of murky to me, though, is the distinction between the Tickler and the Calendar. I get that they are both date-centric, but that the calendar is on the actionable side and the tickler is on the non-actionable side. But the whole idea of something being "actionable" I guess is a bit unclear to me, and this is bad since it kind of is the first branch in the way you figure out how to classify your stuff. Is it something that you CAN act on, something you NEED to act on? I'm having difficulty simply understanding what the question is.

    Most of my confusion I think stems from these recurring tasks that I have to do every week (or whatever period). They are things that I really have to do on certain days (or within a couple days), but they can't really be done before a certain day of the week. A simple example of this would be taking the gabage out each week. Are these actionable? They are not actionable NOW (eg several days before garbage day), but they will at a specific point in the near future. So my question again is when you ask about whether something is actionable, are you really just asking if it CAN be done NOW? Or are you asking if it CAN be acted on PERIOD? Or are you asking something else - like if it NEEDS to be done (either now or ever)? Reference material can't be acted upon PERIOD and Someday/Maybe tasks CAN be acted upon now, but from what I understand don't NEED to be acted upon (now or ever). So is a tickler file just the same as Someday/maybe but with the date thrown in? IE, just a reminder so that you can keep it in your head on X day, but inferring that it is not something that NEEDS to be done? In this sense taking the garbage out every week would be on the calendar rather than the tickler because it NEEDS to be done?

    Sorry, for whatever reason, despite reading, reareading, mapping things out, etc., this is the one aspect of GTD that gives me a really hard time! Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  • #2
    I mostly treat the Tickler as a future-dated Inbox: it contains stuff that I would like to have appear in my Inbox on the given date. Calendar items are appointments: things that must be acted on once the date arrives.

    Some Tickler items represent things I'm committed to do: if concert tickets are in my Tickler file, I won't lose them before the show. Some items represent things I may want to do, but wasn't sure at the time: brochures for conferences, or next year's theatre schedule. Some are ideas that I knew I wouldn't be able to act on before the Tickler date, but didn't want to forget entirely.

    The key distinction between the Tickler and the Calendar, for me, is that I can completely ignore Tickler items until they surface. Calendar items might require advance planning, or are big enough to displace other tasks.

    There's some overlap, as in the case of event tickets. I would probably mark the event in my Calendar, but put the physical tickets in the Tickler.

    For recurring tasks, though, I don't use either. I use Sciral Consistency software, which gives me a nice color-coded checklist with the time intervals pre-defined.

    Hope this helps,

    Katherine

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    • #3
      I use a tickler file as a date-filtered inbox to keep my calendar free of clutter.
      • Unique items that I've decided to act on that fall on a specific time or date go on the calendar
      • The tickler file is for two classes of data: cyclical tasks, and items that I intend to process or review later
      I keep recurring actions off my calendar to prevent going cognitively blind to them. The fewer entries I have on the calendar, the more functional it is as a focus tool. I don't want to see "Take out trash" as a persistent line item on my action list, even on the day when it can be done. I want to encounter it once -- when I pull the reminder out of my inbox -- and complete the action immediately.

      The calendar is for things that I've already made a decision on. The tickler file holds the items that I've staged for decision at a later date.

      The Someday/Maybe category can hold items that are currently actionable, but are non-priorities relative the the inventory of active projects. But just as often, it holds projects that have some dependency that keep them from being actionable. The main difference it that the Someday/Maybe list gets reviewed weekly. If you don't need to review "Take Spanish lessons" every week, stage it for a more remote date in your tickler file.

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      • #4
        Using Lists

        Recurring tasks are great for lists!!

        You may want to think about making a standard list for each day (garbage thursday, recyclables on Friday, etc) or a list of tasks you need to do every week. Do what you need to do to get yourself to do it! I don't really need to remind myself to go shopping for food, because running out of stuff (then putting it on a list) reminds me.

        Keep lists and then during your weekly review, you can see how you did or if you need to schedule it the next week on your calendar as a daily item to make sure you do it....

        Good luck!

        Randy

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        • #5
          Yes, I have a weekly checklist that I put in my tickler every week, so it comes up every Monday.

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          • #6
            I try to keep my calendar only for the hard landscape: meetings, birthdays, tasks I have to to do that day such as "call client before our meeting with their client". They are very date and time-specific. I like to keep it as bare-bones as possible, since each calendar day ends up being used as a sort of short journal, that I use to refer back to in the weekly review and other times in the future.

            The tickler works best for me as a reminder. I include reminders to make certain I print out a credit card bill by a certain date or that I need to start to get Project Delta underway. I either take care of items in the tickler right away, file it in a future tickler, or I record a project and/or a next action. I also use the tickler to memorize things I want to have as second nature in my head. I'd pull it out, memorize for a short while, and then put it back in for a following day in the tickler. Then repeat. This works well for company elevator speeches or new terminology.

            The checklist is also part of the tickler. I use the tickler for checklists I need to complete regularly and a reference to a checklist in the calendar if I need to absolutely do it that day.

            The decision between what goes in a tickler and what in a calendar is one that is pretty personal. For myself I believe I can mostly put it in the right place that works best with my system. I tweak all the time though.

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            • #7
              Recurring Actions and Projects

              If you use (or are interested in using) MS Outlook to manage your system, see my post on Recurring Tasks. I devised a pretty slick way of dealing with them.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by kewms View Post
                For recurring tasks, though, I don't use either. I use Sciral Consistency software, which gives me a nice color-coded checklist with the time intervals pre-defined.
                Thanks, Katherine. As far as recurring tasks, it has occurred to me that they are distinct from normal tasks in some way, but I'm not sure they are distinct ENOUGH to warrant a completely different place to put them. The whole appeal to me of Remember The Milk (or Toodledo, GTD Agenda, Nozbe, Tracks, Vitalist, or other such web apps) is that everything is contained within that one system and you don't have to go looking in multiple places for different pieces of the puzzle. I did try downloading the software you mentioned, but it was not all intuitive to use. I saw no way to, for example, set the date frequency (ie daily, monthly, yearly, etc.). This would seem to be one of the most basic things. I'm sure there's some way to accomplish this, but the fact that it wasn't immediately (or even after several minutes of playing) obvious, bugged me...

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by rsailer View Post
                  Recurring tasks are great for lists!!

                  You may want to think about making a standard list for each day (garbage thursday, recyclables on Friday, etc) or a list of tasks you need to do every week. Do what you need to do to get yourself to do it! I don't really need to remind myself to go shopping for food, because running out of stuff (then putting it on a list) reminds me.

                  Keep lists and then during your weekly review, you can see how you did or if you need to schedule it the next week on your calendar as a daily item to make sure you do it....

                  Good luck!

                  Randy
                  Randy, I guess I don't understand how just grouping recurring tasks together into a list that you just go through once a week will help much, since some of these recurring tasks are day-specific. So how do you see that on the appropriate day if you're only looking at these lists once a week? And if you are looking at them every day, why would you want to look at lists of things most of which won't apply to that day? And if you make a list for every day, isn't that basically the same thing as a calendar/tickler?

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by ellobogrande View Post
                    If you use (or are interested in using) MS Outlook to manage your system, see my post on Recurring Tasks. I devised a pretty slick way of dealing with them.
                    Thanks. As I mentioned, I currently use RTM. Although I am looking at Toodledo. I started using RTM a while back because it is so flexible. Unfortunately though, while it has great flexibility, there are a lot of things that it can't do very easily on the display side. This has caused a lot of greasemonkey scripts to come out for it, which has helped in some degrees, but after around a year and a half with only pretty minor improvements to the basic features, I'm looking around again for other solutions. I've looked at various services made specifically with GTD in mind (GTD Agenda, Nozbe, Vitalist, and Tracks) but for some reason (kind of surprising to me), none of these offer a complete set of what I know to be the various pieces of GTD. None of them have even all the "buckets" that David Allen talks about, and only one I think had time estimates or start time (as opposed to just due date). So now I'm taking another look at Toodledo since it seems to have some of the flexibility of RTM (not quite as much), but more functionality. Outlook, while I use it for email right now, is not my first choice for managing this sort of thing. I use it to manage email and I sync my Google calendars with it, but that's about it. I'd rather use a web application that I can get to from anywhere rather than an application that I only have access to on my home computer (I have outlook at the office as well, but obviously they are running completely seperate data files).

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                    • #11
                      Thanks everyone for your helpful replies. I think the pattern that I'm taking out of them is that there is no one exact right answer, and that people tend to use what works best for them, which makes sense, since all of our brains work a little differently! For the moment I think I'm going to do some things based on some of your recommendations just so that I can get things moving again, and we'll see how well it ends up working. So basically, it seems like at least for some of you:

                      - the tickler file is mostly for hiding tasks for a set period of time until you think they you might be ready to act on them. They could be things you MIGHT want to do, or things you know you WILL have to do, but the point is you just don't want to think about them until X date in the future, you're putting off deciding much of anything about them until that date.

                      - the calendar is for hard landscaped items (events, appointments, etc.), and tasks that have to be done ON the specific day. Having them on the calendar means you will be seeing them at least once a week, if not every day, so you will theoretically be reminded of them in advance and possibly multiple times.

                      - recurring events probably should be kept off the calendar because you don't want to see them, especially if there are a lot of, on a regular basis, but rather just at the time they need to get done. You could essentially keep them in a completely seperate bucket/app/etc., or you can put them in the tickler. I think I'll be doing the latter.

                      Anyway, thanks again. I'm going to try this out and see how it works. I have some other questions floating in my head, but I'll leave those to other threads when they become more salient as I add new tasks and projects to my setup...

                      Levi

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by dvdmon View Post
                        Thanks everyone for your helpful replies. I think the pattern that I'm taking out of them is that there is no one exact right answer, and that people tend to use what works best for them, which makes sense, since all of our brains work a little differently! For the moment I think I'm going to do some things based on some of your recommendations just so that I can get things moving again, and we'll see how well it ends up working.
                        Levi,

                        I think you've got the right idea here. The main thing is to keep plugging away, and find the strategies that work for you. These forums are a great way to get diverse opinion's on what works (or doesn't work) for a wide array of practitioners.

                        - Don

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