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A little epiphany: The "Waiting for me to decide on" list

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  • A little epiphany: The "Waiting for me to decide on" list

    As most people here I'm working my way through consistent and effective GTD implementation. I'm happy to say that the system is working better and better for me as each month progresses.

    I have been struggeling with a specific part of GTD for a long time: The tasks that I'm not sure whether should be on my NA-list or on a someday/maybe-list, AND which have the feature of being pretty urgent if I decide to do or not do them. (If that makes sense).

    An example might be that I get a birthday invitation, which is held 10 days from now on. According to GTD methodology, I have to decide what to do about this item when I'm processing my inbox: Will I go or will I not, or do I need to get more information before I make the decision? (E.g. asking a friend of mine if he's going to).

    But in this case the answer might simply not be that easy.

    Let's say that I'm actually free on that night, so it's possible for me to go, but on the other hand I really don't know if I feel like going or whether I rather would be home reading, or maybe I don't even want to commit because I know that some of my friends probably will create a spontanous get-to-gether as we always do on fridays. There might be a lot of other factors.

    The bottom-line is that this "item" (stuff) really is something that I can't define a NA for right now. On the other hand it's not something that I want to put on my someday/maybe list, as a weekly review is too long into the future for me to be reminded of it again.

    I have tried different solutions to this:

    - make a "logic" decision in the moment. Putting a "RSVP yes to the invitation" on my action list e.g. The result? My NA-lists would have a task, that I'm really not commited to. Or in the case I decided to decline, but actually wasn't sure if I wanted to not go, it would also just sit there and clog up my NA-list.

    - put it on my someday/maybe list. The result? My mind kept reminding me about this issue, as the time perspective for my next review simply wasn't working for me.

    - not include it in my system. Which basically gave the same problem as putting it on the someday/maybe list: Constant remindering from my brain = stress.

    As I went through my lists a couple of weeks ago, I tried identifying all of theese projects, where I had made a "logic" decision without really being sure whether I want to carry this out in real life or not.

    And suddenly it occured to me, that theese decisions really isn't something I can "force" myself to make. Forcing a decision is like putting a "false" due date on a project or task - your mind (often) doesn't take it seriously, and your trusted system become untrusted.

    So, I created a new list: A "Waiting for me to decide on" list, which I keep as a "context" with all my NA-lists. After going through my system, which has about 80 active projects currently, I ended up moving 12 project's NAs into this context. A couple of examples after having rewrited the NAs:

    - "Find out if I want to give the gift I have been thinking about to X"
    - "Find out if I want to start a weblog on X"
    - "Find out if I want to go to X event in february" (which will probably soon sell out)
    - "Find out if I'm ready to commit to quiting smoking"


    The result: All my open loops has suddenly been captured in a way, where they TRUELY reflect the internal state of my brain. And as my waiting for list and waiting for me to decide on are at the top of my NA-list, I now get reminded continously about this "Not-commited, but to urgent for the someday/maybe-list" many times during the day.

    I also found a couple of projects that I had earlier dismissed by logical decision, but were still running around in my head and now got them back into my system, where they belong.

    The result the last two weeks has been a much bigger sense of being in control, and I sense my mind has started trusting this system. I get reminded of these "maybe's" really often, but when I focus on a specific task, they don't interrupt me. The sense of being in control of my undecided items has been such a relief, and has caused (I believe) my subconscious mind to keep the "wide overview", and my decisions-processes, which is reaching deeper than the logical level, has speeded up tremendously.

    Sometimes out of the blue the decision is made. And that decision might just be to flesh out a research project on the item to help me come to closure. In this way it's like having an inbox "on hold".

    I guess the basic insight for me here is that my trusted system is not how I think my commitments SHOULD be from pure logic. It's supposed to be a true reflection of my relationship to my commitments - even if it means undecided. (And it doesn't mean that I can't go from undecided to decided in a heartbeat, it just means that I can't force decisions).

    I just wanted to share this little tip. Hopefully it's usefull to others

  • #2
    I put these items in my Tickler file. The reminder date would be for the next decision point. In your birthday example, that might be the RSVP date, the date on which I would need to get something to bring, or even the day of, depending.

    As I've posted elsewhere, I treat the Tickler file as a future-dated inbox. Things in it can remain literally unprocessed until they surface again.

    Katherine

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by kewms View Post
      I put these items in my Tickler file. The reminder date would be for the next decision point. In your birthday example, that might be the RSVP date, the date on which I would need to get something to bring, or even the day of, depending.

      As I've posted elsewhere, I treat the Tickler file as a future-dated inbox. Things in it can remain literally unprocessed until they surface again.

      Katherine
      Interesting approach, I like that. I don't use a Tickler file myself as my whole system is electronic.

      But let's say you have a bigger life issue you are currently wrestling with. Let's say it's something as big as "Should I get a divorce or not?" How would you handle a mayor life issue like this in a GTD-system?

      I think that this issue is to big to file away in a tickler (you brain will keep focusing on it anyways, so just mailing it to the future doesn't really mean anything).

      It seems that there is a category of "stuff" that is more based on, how often your brain is likely to refocus on the issue, and therefore "interrupt" you when you are focusing on other things.

      It's as if some decisions require more than 1 minute of processing-time in a GTD-flowchart.

      Examples might be:

      "Do I want go the new year party I'm invited to, or should i arrange something with my friends?"

      "Do I want to move across the country, which will be good for my career, but probably will be rough for my children?"

      "Should I turn up at my ex-girlfriend's mother's funeral - a woman that really meant a lot to me - even though on the same day my new girlfriend's father is having a big reception at his company after having worked there for 50 years"

      How do we capture stuff like this in a GTD-system?

      I can really see the value of the tickler file for some of theese things, but some issues are so emotionally charged or has quite big consequences and therefore need a lot of thinking through and reflection. How do we handle this?

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by kabell View Post
        "Should I get a divorce or not?" How would you handle a mayor life issue like this in a GTD-system?
        This is not a stuff at a 10.000 feet. You have to move to an upper level!

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by clango View Post
          This is not a stuff at a 10.000 feet. You have to move to an upper level!
          Sure, but even 50.000-feet stuf is a next action: "Flesh out draft for redefining the meaning of my life" @mac

          If it hits your mind constantly, and it isn't in your system - your system is not complete. I believe that's how David Allen says it. But how do we capture this stuff in a way that we can experience "mind like water"?

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by kabell View Post
            Sure, but even 50.000-feet stuf is a next action: "Flesh out draft for redefining the meaning of my life" @mac

            If it hits your mind constantly, and it isn't in your system - your system is not complete. I believe that's how David Allen says it. But how do we capture this stuff in a way that we can experience "mind like water"?
            50,000-foot things can be treated like Next Actions, but I don't think they have to be. They should be captured in things like Mind Maps, using the higher-level tools David Allen (and others) describe.

            That said, you can certainly schedule/create NAs to think about major life decisions. I find that's not effective for me, though; they need to percolate in the back of my mind, and I'll think consciously about them at those times when I'm not working.

            Comment


            • #7
              [QUOTE=kabell;62327)So, I created a new list: A "Waiting for me to decide on" list, which I keep as a "context" with all my NA-lists.[/QUOTE]

              Kabell,

              Thanks for sharing.

              Your post gave me a flashback to my college days, where I had a roommate that was a big fan of the rock group Rush. I never became a huge fan, but your post made me think of one of their songs called "freewill"

              http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/rush/freewill.html

              "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice"

              Your system makes that choice explicit! Thanks.

              - Don

              Comment


              • #8
                If you're agonizing over a possible divorce, you're unlikely to achieve mind like water anyway. The nature of major life decisions is that they consume a large fraction of your attention until they are made.

                OTOH, there are alternatives to staring at the ceiling at 3 AM. If something is on your mind constantly, there's a good chance it's a project, not a next action. So if the desired outcome is "decide whether to get divorce," what would the next steps be? What do you need to know in order to decide? Maybe talk to a lawyer? Talk to a friend/priest/therapist? Spend a long weekend away in order to clear your head? Spend a long weekend with the spouse to see if you can sort things out? These are not next actions either, but they at least have definable action steps: @call B&B for reservations; @call Father Art for appointment; @call Joe for lawyer referral, etc.

                Katherine

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by kabell View Post
                  As most people here I'm working my way through consistent and effective GTD implementation. I'm happy to say that the system is working better and better for me as each month progresses.

                  I have been struggeling with a specific part of GTD for a long time: The tasks that I'm not sure whether should be on my NA-list or on a someday/maybe-list, AND which have the feature of being pretty urgent if I decide to do or not do them. (If that makes sense).

                  An example might be that I get a birthday invitation, which is held 10 days from now on. According to GTD methodology, I have to decide what to do about this item when I'm processing my inbox: Will I go or will I not, or do I need to get more information before I make the decision? (E.g. asking a friend of mine if he's going to).

                  But in this case the answer might simply not be that easy.

                  Let's say that I'm actually free on that night, so it's possible for me to go, but on the other hand I really don't know if I feel like going or whether I rather would be home reading, or maybe I don't even want to commit because I know that some of my friends probably will create a spontanous get-to-gether as we always do on fridays. There might be a lot of other factors.

                  The bottom-line is that this "item" (stuff) really is something that I can't define a NA for right now. On the other hand it's not something that I want to put on my someday/maybe list, as a weekly review is too long into the future for me to be reminded of it again.

                  I have tried different solutions to this:

                  - make a "logic" decision in the moment. Putting a "RSVP yes to the invitation" on my action list e.g. The result? My NA-lists would have a task, that I'm really not commited to. Or in the case I decided to decline, but actually wasn't sure if I wanted to not go, it would also just sit there and clog up my NA-list.

                  - put it on my someday/maybe list. The result? My mind kept reminding me about this issue, as the time perspective for my next review simply wasn't working for me.

                  - not include it in my system. Which basically gave the same problem as putting it on the someday/maybe list: Constant remindering from my brain = stress.

                  As I went through my lists a couple of weeks ago, I tried identifying all of theese projects, where I had made a "logic" decision without really being sure whether I want to carry this out in real life or not.

                  And suddenly it occured to me, that theese decisions really isn't something I can "force" myself to make. Forcing a decision is like putting a "false" due date on a project or task - your mind (often) doesn't take it seriously, and your trusted system become untrusted.
                  The solutions are simple.

                  Decide it's actionable...

                  1. Put it on your calender. NA/Project: RSVD'd for whomever party; bought gift; attended party

                  or

                  2. NA/Project list: RSVP'd party; bought gift for whomever; attended whomever party

                  or

                  3. Tickle to last day possible to make decision of when to go...then,
                  NA/Project list: bought gift for whomever; attended whomever party

                  or

                  4. NA: send "No" response


                  If not actionable (meaning no response is needed): Circular file.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    - "Find out if I want to give the gift I have been thinking about to X"
                    - "Find out if I want to start a weblog on X"
                    - "Find out if I want to go to X event in february" (which will probably soon sell out)
                    - "Find out if I'm ready to commit to quiting smoking"


                    The fourth "find out" is why I'm answering. You will never be ready to fully commit to quit smoking. As an ex-smoker, I say you just have to quit. Pick a date - New Year's Day works well for most, get the patch or other quitting aid, stay away from any smoking areas, and take up a busy-work hobby. It's one of the hardest things I ever did (twice) and one I'm never going to have to do again. I feel absolutely great about it though.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I just stumpled upon this article which seems to describe exactly what I failed to get through very well in my first post (or at least part of it)

                      The Pink Elephant Effect: Magnifying Distractions by Ignoring Them

                      There’s a subtle but critical difference between not deciding to do something and deciding not to do something. Looking at a piece of junk mail on your desk repeatedly and ignoring it constantly requires a small amount of background processing — your brain knows that sooner or later, you’re going to have to throw it out. You have not decided to read it, so the next action isn’t implicit. On the other hand, if you’ve explicitly decided not to read it, you’ll immediately throw it out.

                      The distraction of one open loop as trivial as junk mail is small, but as open loops multiply, the background noise increases. From a cognitive standpoint, ignoring 10 small things can be more distracting that ignoring one big thing. To keep mental static to a minimum, collect all distractions, however big or small, and process them into an external system you trust.

                      Another strategy for making decisions is to defer them. You proactively decide now to decide later. Maybe you need a key piece of information that won’t be available until next week, or maybe you’re just to busy putting out a fire to think about everything that needs to be taken into consideration. Instead of simply ignoring the issue, proactively narrow down the time or information necessary to make the decision.
                      The author goes on suggesting that we should turn these issues into either next actions or defer them for later (as suggested by David Allen and posters in this thread).

                      Which after some thinking made me conclude that the whole idea of this is not so much on which list we put stuff. The issue is how often we want to be reminded about things we defer.

                      I now see that my "epiphany" is actually about finding a critical "list type", that reminds me of things several times a day. Aren't our lists basically a matter of focus?

                      E.g.:

                      NA-lists: review several times a day
                      Someday/Maybe lists: Review once a week
                      30.000 feet and up stuff: Review 4 times a year

                      This is the canonical way of defering our stuff into the future, and basically the distinction is how often we want to be reminded of stuff.

                      I now see that in my system with my current way of thinking, having a "Someday/Maybe"-list that I review at least daily is really helpfull to me. I now have a "Someday/Maybe-list" that I review daily and one i review weekly. And I keep the list for daily review with my NA-lists, whereas the ones for weekly review is in a seperate system.

                      Comment

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