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I need help. really. I have never got past the "big collection" stage...

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  • I need help. really. I have never got past the "big collection" stage...

    Hi all,

    I really need some help here.
    I've tried and tried to "get organised", over and over again. I've read the GTD system, the wikipedia page, countless variations of GTD-style management systems.

    I'm a tech-head, so naturally I've been through various versions of palm pilots and laptop-based ideas, and now I have a HTC TytnII [which won't talk to anything, see my other thread in the tech forum here]. But now I have a new job managing a shop and they're using a mix of old Red Hat and Fedora there and they've locked down all the PCs there [net access, USB sticks etc all outlawed...]

    My boss [Area Manager] and also the owner of the company don't believe in the tech approach to time management. I asked my AM about how he manages himself and he said all he does is keep lists in an A4DTP diary. He only writes down things that are not "today" things. He comes in in the morning, and just starts work. 3 times a day he'll refer to the current day to remind himself of things he has to follow up, other than that, he just does what is in front of him right now. That's it.

    That kind of approach would fill me with dread. I already forget bits and pieces even with my vox recorder and notebook and spreadsheets of lists and lists-of-lists... But who am I to argue - his system is working for him better than my system is working for me...

    I have an endless todo list. Always have had. Especially since hearing about the "next action" idea, I fear I have gone too far into the "micromanaging" realm. Instead of having
    • door
    • alarm
    • lights
    • aircon
    • safe
    • displays
    • till float
    • emails
    • faxes
    • sign
    • flag
    • bins
    • etc etc
    why not just have
    • "open the shop"

    Same at home too - I have a project car I am working on, involving rebuilding the engine, some panel beating and spray painting etc and then getting it roadworthy'd and registered etc - that's a project that probably involves several dozen steps even if you only broke it down into one or two hour steps. If you broke it down to anything more than two minute tasks it would run into the hundreds...

    Where to decide where to split?

    If I'm to go to a paper system [and I'm not entirely against the idea] I'm not at all sure how to deal with it on a purely mechanical level. Many things are "every day" items - do you write them down on every page, and tick them off as they're done? If they don't get done that day does that mean you end up re-doing the next days list?


    To get back to my main issue at the moment:
    I don't seem to be able to get to that stage of having the "trusted system" because I never have completed the "collection" phase. Last weekend was a classic example, I started making the "master list" on Sunday night, didn't finish it, went to work Monday and immediately got sidetracked off my sidetracks as usual. So you fall into the "deal with what's in your face right now" mode, only it worse now because you know you've got this list of a few hundred things waiting to get done...


    Ummmm, help???
    This post has gone on long enough already.
    Thanks for reading.

  • #2
    For recurring projects, you could also use an "open the shop" checklist. That way you won't forget any of the steps, but you won't clutter your working action list as much. Same for any other regular actions.

    For your project car, it's fine to have as much (or as little) detail in the project support materials as you like. But not all of those are immediately doable Next Actions: there's not much point worrying about the state inspection while the engine is in pieces.

    Deciding where to split Next Actions is a matter of experience and personal preference. A Next Action should be so clearly defined that you don't have to think about it, you just sit down and do it. "Tune engine" and "find spark plug wrench" are equally valid Next Actions. The one rule of thumb is that if you find yourself avoiding an action, you might try breaking it down further.

    Yes, failure to complete the collection phase is going to cause problems for you. You really need to get it done. However, you may be able to break it down into chunks. As long as you're sure that a particular pile of "stuff" doesn't contain anything that's going to blow up in your face, you can defer processing that pile. Just add "process third file drawer" to your list to be done as soon as you can.

    Paper vs. electronic is one of those endless debates. They both have advantages. A lot of people do recommend using paper for an initial implementation, so that you're not struggling with new software on top of new GTD habits. Once you've worked with GTD for a while, you'll have a better idea what your ideal system might look like.

    Hope this helps. Good luck!

    Katherine

    Comment


    • #3
      Getting Past the collection Stage

      I found my initial collection process overwhelming. It was like herding cats. Where do you start? He's what I did. I started with just collecting everything in a big box in the corner of my office. No it wasn't pretty. I wasn't organized, but everything was in there. For a few days I couldn't tell you where much was, but I knew it was somewhere in that box. After few days, I decided to take just one thing out of the box (I don't remember what is was now), but I promised myself I would "walk it" through my GTD system. After that then another, My goal was to process ten items per day. Since I ended up trashing a bunch of it, it only took me a few days. Once the momentum hit I was off and running

      Comment


      • #4
        I recommend you make a commitment to spend the next week just "collecting". David Allen recommends setting aside a couple of dedicated days for collecting, but I'm not sure how realistic that is for people who don't have 100% control over their own schedules.

        Get shoebox -- this will be your "In" box. Carry a small stack of 3x5 cards with you everywhere you go, and when you think of something you need or want to do, write it down and stick it in your pocket. Before you go to bed, dump the day's cards into the "In" box.

        Don't worry about figuring out the next action. Don't worry about writing down duplicates, just be sure to write it down when it occurs to you. Don't worry about pulling stuff out after you've done it, we'll weed that stuff out later. Don't worry about trying find stuff in the box to work on; this is just collection, not doing. In short, don't worry about anything; just collect, collect, collect. In the meantime, continue to also use whatever system you currently have, no matter how dysfunctional.

        At the end of the week, you should have a pretty good collection of "stuff". Some of it will be duplicate. Some of it will have already been done. Some of it will be meaningless to you ("why did I write 'Cat/Screens' ?!?!"). That's all fine. The point is, you will have collected probably 80-90% of your "stuff" -- it's going to take a couple of months before you nail down that last 10-20%.

        You will want to set aside a full day for the next step... Processing. Just follow the steps in the GTD book from this point forward.

        As far as your other questions (recurring items, checklists, project plans, etc)... what kewms said.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Corben View Post
          Hi all,
          I already forget bits and pieces even with my vox recorder and notebook and spreadsheets of lists and lists-of-lists... But who am I to argue - his system is working for him better than my system is working for me...

          I have an endless todo list. Always have had. Especially since hearing about the "next action" idea, I fear I have gone too far into the "micromanaging" realm. Instead of having
          • door
          • alarm
          • lights
          • aircon
          • safe
          • displays
          • till float
          • emails
          • faxes
          • sign
          • flag
          • bins
          • etc etc
          why not just have
          • "open the shop"

          Same at home too - I have a project car I am working on, involving rebuilding the engine, some panel beating and spray painting etc and then getting it roadworthy'd and registered etc - that's a project that probably involves several dozen steps even if you only broke it down into one or two hour steps. If you broke it down to anything more than two minute tasks it would run into the hundreds...
          I think you may have misunderstood some key GTD concepts, and are probably over-planning in the guise of "collection." Let's take the car project first. It would be a waste of time for most people to plan the "make it roadworthy" steps and "register" steps when the engine needs to be rebuilt. If it helps you to list major and minor project steps somewhere, fine. But David Allen and GTD are not telling you that you have to do so. The minimum you need for a project is a desired outcome and a next action, which is basically a bookmark for where you are on a project. Suppose you tear the engine apart, and decide the project is not financially viable. You've invested time and energy on a detailed future plan for nothing. Some projects need a lot of planning, but the vast majority do not. The notebooks, lists, and lists of lists indicate that you probably don't have a single, trusted system for projects and next actions. The "open the shop" checklist is a symptom too. You probably know how to open the shop, but if you don't it's just a checklist you use once a day- no big deal. Either way, "open the shop" is a calendar item, not a next action list item or part of a project plan. If you tell yourself that every little bit of your life has to go on a big master list, your life will be finished before that list is. My advice: collect only projects and next actions at first, and stay away from project plans.

          Comment


          • #6
            Hi Corben,

            You have got wonderful replies from other people here. I just want to elaborate on how much detailed should the next actions or checklist items be. The basic answer is as detailed as you are comfortable with, and no more. For instance, Even opening the door in your list can be further broken down into (please don't mind the stupid exaggeration) stand in front of the door, take the key out of the pocket, insert key into the lock, turn the key ... (you got the idea). The reason why we don't split hair here is that we exactly know what we mean by opening the door!

            I would extend this and say that if you are already in a habit to do all that you listed when opening the shop, don't bother making the checklist.

            Using some other example, if you want to write an article, "pickup pen" would certainly be too much of splitting. But "draft outline" or "write to XYZ enquiring about target readers" is definitely a next action with which most of us are comfortable, rather than "write an article on ABC".

            Hope this helps,
            Regards,
            Abhay

            Comment


            • #7
              GTD and Internet on Cell Phone

              Since you didn't mention that you were banned from cell phone use, you could get a phone with a browser and then use one of the many GTD systems with a cell phone or Internet interface. Earlier this year I found an electronic application that allows me to view my entire GTD at work on my Win machine, at home on my Macs and even on my cell phone. And another app lets me call in tasks to my GTD without any writing or typing, great for those thoughts that hit me while driving. I've written about my experiences with GTD in a blog post at http://johnkendrick.wordpress.com/20...g-things-done/ John

              Comment


              • #8
                Just adding to a bunch of fine replies (I feel overshadowed!). What they all said, plus an addendum on the Next Action - you don't need to describe the entire process of everything you plan to do, just the very next discrete action.

                Think of the NA as a bookmark - it tells you what you need to do to move the project from where it is to a little further along the track. If you get carried away, you can continue working on that project for hours, but as soon as you stop, you record the very next NA, so that you'll be able to move it on again when you've got a chance.

                The NA gives you a chance to move projects along without having to think "What do I do next?". It lets you take advantage of the small windows of time - if you're on your way home and know you need a gasket, you can pick one up on the way. That saves you a trip. If you've got 10 minutes between meetings, you can make a call and get the answer you need, if it's on your NA list.

                Don't try to plan your projects in complete and utter detail - it might turn out to be wasted effort, and it doesn't gain you anything. All you need is that one next step.

                And as at least one other commenter has pointed out, deciding the NA is not collection - it's part of the processing stage.

                As for implementation, I've tried a bunch of different software tools, but have gone back to paper. For me it's easier - I think, therefore I write.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Agreed with everything posted here.

                  One extra note: Don't be too jealous of your boss's system. What works well for him may very much not work for you. You're almost certainly wired differently. Nothing against you or your boss; you just each need different systems.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Hi everyone.

                    Firstly please let me say thank you so much to all those who replied, and I really appreciate the time you have taken to give your input.

                    Sorry I haven't been back online to follow it up...
                    The last couple of weeks have been quite terrible for me, my grand plans for a perfectly organized and efficient life have crumbled before my eyes with totally unexpected things popping up both at home and at work, and some illness issues [migraines, ulcers] to deal with too...

                    But I'm on holidays now.
                    I type this in the budget terminal at Singapore Airport where I have a 9 hour stopover, and free internet.
                    I have four weeks ahead of me now, to re-connect with my wife, and hopefully get my head cleared out so I can come back and finally get on track and make some damn money.


                    I am quite constrained by the limitations of the work environment. Specifically, I can forget about introducing any new software solutions - IT just won't entertain the idea. I guess they have a point, if they make an exception for me, no matter how much potential the idea has, then suddenly they've got 50 other managers asking them for the next latest greatest thing. If I was them I could see it turning into a nightmare. Even spreadsheet macros are pushing it a bit. I've got a couple running now, but I've been told not to do any more of that sort of stuff without getting specific permission first.

                    For jbkendrick: the trouble with a cell based solution for me is two problems - firstly, where I live we don't have NextG or 3G access, we only have GPRS so it's worse than dialup speed and hideously expensive per meg.

                    Overriding that, however, is that I have to have two completely separate systems, one for work and one for home. No matter what ppl here say, that's the way the company wants it. My AM points out that it's important to have work/life balance and I should leave shop problems in the shop when I lock the door and walk away. Not only that, he doesn't want shop stuff in some outside system, and he doesn't want ppl dealing with personal stuff in work hours.

                    I work 43 hours a week, and the theory is that I should be *easily* able to get everything done in that time. My trouble is I find myself constantly getting sidetracked off my sidetracks. For example on Monday mornings I have a bunch of admin stuff to do - timesheets, run stats, send weekly report etc etc but this all has to be done on the PC which is on the front counter, so I get interrupted constantly by customers. Of course, the customer who is right in front of me has to be dealt with there and then - that's the immediate item. There's no choice. Particularly if it's a return or some kind of problem with an item, that NEEDS to be dealt with there and then. So what should normally take less than an hour ends up being not finished at the end of the day... To say nothing of suddenly realizing it's almost closing time and you haven't had lunch, and the pot of coffee you made in the morning is still sitting in the machine stone cold...

                    So, to sum up:
                    I need a paper based system, probably based on an A4 DTP diary [it's what the company has given us]
                    I'm thinking of making up checklists like pilots use [preflight, etc] for opening, closing, banking, timesheets/stats etc etc] and either printing them out and laminating them or just run them through the photocopier every day, then just having the checklist name as a single item on the diary page to be ticked off and initialled by whoever did it [esp. on days I'm not on].

                    My concern is I'm having trouble visualizing in my mind the actual mechanics of actually doing it. Say you've got something to order for a customer, and you make a note of it. Then you make another note in the diary in "x" days time to follow up to check that it's come in. Then you call the customer, and make a note of it. Then when the customer picks it up you make a note of it. What if it gets delayed? do you go looking through the pages for the note and cross it out and write it again on another day? What if they call up asking about their order - I could see myself flipping pages back and forth while they're waiting and I'm looking for that note - and any update note. . .

                    That's the thing that's nagging me in the back of my mind now - paper is not easily searchable or sortable. If you go the diary way then you're pretty much stuck with sorting by timeline. If you go the cardfile or clipboard way you can sort on customer name or item number, but the thought of having lots of little bits of paper with important info on them just screams "lose me"...

                    It's got to be simple and easy.
                    Simple enough for me to do it, and easy enough for me to explain it to everyone else so they'll do it the same way too.

                    Comment

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