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It's hard to focus with so many tasks!

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  • It's hard to focus with so many tasks!

    I've been using the GTD system for a about 4 months now and it's helped so much! But, now I realize how little I focus on important things.

    I have 580 next actions, with 223 in Someday/Maybe. That means 357 things that need to be done ASAP. I have a master project list and all the NA are tied to projects. I'm pretty regular about the Weekly Review, at least every 2 weeks.

    But I still find my self making a short list on paper that I plan to tackle just for today. That doesn't seem to be keeping with the system.

    How can I focus on the important things? How can I organize this so I'm not so overwhelmved.

    I'm Unfocused.

  • #2
    Focussing on Important Things

    Docta:

    Actually, I'm not sure that the system doesn't tell you not to do this, although DA warns against the potentially negative emotional results of failing to keep up with an overly-precise daily schedule. GtD tells you to create a complete categorized inventory and then suggests different ways to make selections. Personally, I prefer your way, as I have written here before, with those long lists out of sight while I am working.

    Andrew

    Comment


    • #3
      Docta,

      I've set up my system in a fashion that is very similar to what you and Andrew describe. I found that by not making a list of things that I would like to accomplish on a given day, there was nothing to make the NA's that were truly "important but not urgent" (borrowing the phrase from FC) stand out from the crowd.

      So, what I've basically do is compile a "plan" of what I would like to accomplish on a given day. For every day, I have my calendar of appointments (time and day specific) and a daily NA list that consists of 1. Items that are day specific, and 2. Items that are not day specific, but are none the less imporant.

      Before I implemented this strategy, I was finding that while I was being reminded of all of the open loops that existed in my life, I was only acting on the ones that demanded my attention. All of the other NA's were falling by the waside. If they weren't screaming out at me, they weren't necessarily getting done.

      Now, with the above strategy, while I'm reminded of all of the open loops that exist in my life, I am prompted to "act" on the ones that are truly important - ones that I might otherwise allow to fall by the wayside.

      HTH,

      James

      Comment


      • #4
        I would suggest making more use of your Someday/Maybe list. I know you already have 200+ items on it, but you need something to get the list of 500+ next actions under control.

        Take an honest look at the next action list. If you aren't going to get to it within the next week or so, move it to Someday/Maybe. Some of the things you may simply delete later.

        One thing I do to make those few things that have to be done today is remove the category. That puts them in a "No category" section on my Outlook task list at the very top of the list.

        Hope this helps.
        Frank

        Comment


        • #5
          Must-List

          Docta wrote:
          But I still find my self making a short list on paper that I plan to tackle just for today. That doesn't seem to be keeping with the system.

          How can I focus on the important things?
          Docta,

          to handle this problem I write a very short "Must-List" at each evening to be used on the next day. On this must-list I write the two or three most important task or appointments at work and the one or two most important things to do at home. I make it a point not to write more than five items per day on this list. And I "push" myself to get these five most important things done.

          When an interruption walks inside my office or calls me on the phone I clearly, but politely say "sorry, I have to finish this task before I can talk to you about your wish. May I call you back or can we meet at lunch?". People who have a lot to do will understand this.

          The must-list is on a sheet of paper that I fold and always carry with me. To use a must list you have to be very realistic about how much you are able to accomplish on one day. On the long run it will only work if you put very few items on the list, only the very important stuff (you got to know your job, your boss and yourself very well). And of course you need a "time buffer" of at least 30% to handle all that "urgent" things.

          Regards
          Rainer

          Comment


          • #6
            Must Do

            I agree with Rainer's ideas. It has always been my impression that GtD is built around the idea that you are so busy with Calendar items that it is not possible to schedule other NA's as anything other than ASAP - to Do when I have time, in the right place, have the right tools, meet the right people, feel in the right mood, etc. I'm sure that planning is easier when your Calendar is full and you are free not to assign anything else as "Must Do", so that any ASAP's that get Done are a bonus. For people in this position, the important aspects of GtD are the ones relating to being selective about what to include in the Calendar, and folks will be more concerned about top-down, Covey-type stuff.

            However, many of us have a great deal of control over our Calendars and even those who don't may have some days with relatively empty Calendars. My experience is that if I don't fill up the Calendar myself, I won't Do much. Long NA lists simply put me off. I know what's important and the GtD idea that everything that is ASAP is equally important (no priorities, dates) doesn't give me the short-term structure that I need. Frank's suggestion (reducing ASAP to one week) is not appealling to me because I have previously Processed and made a commitment to active items. It would be better not to make the commitment in the first place if the lists are already too long - the item belongs initially in Someday/Maybe and is available to be switched with NA's in the Weekly Review.

            I find it useful to make a daily plan or schedule. I compromise with GtD by making my daily plan separate from my Calendar and ToDo lists. I am willing to take the negative reaction to not meeting the daily plan in preference to being stuck without a structure to my day.

            Andrew

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: It's hard to focus with so many tasks!

              I make a short list for the day if it's a complicated day. You have to ask whether your short list will become a dysfunctional to-do list that undermines the GTD system. To prevent this, I make sure that everything on the short list comes from the next action context lists and that the short list goes in the trash at the end of the day. I don't use the short list to collect stuff as it comes to me either. I have another way to do this (a memo pad and a pen that live in my back left pocket).

              I have many next actions too. I haven't counted them, but I have about 200 projects. So I have > 200 next actions, because my next actions include some one-step commitments. My focus right now is to stop adding projects to my life irresponsibly. If I can't manage what I commited to, then I'm being irresponsible. I figure as long as I'm sticking with this plan, then it's okay if some of the next actions take a while. If I fully intend to close the loop then I won't move a project to someday/maybe, though in reality it might take a few months to move off the list. I've been doing GTD at the beginner level for just over six months. It took years for my life to get this complicated, so I think it will take a bit more time to simplify it.

              My answer to your question is that if you want to focus on the important things, you have to deal with what I will guess is the mass of your commitments that are unimportant (I just read this in "Ready for Anything," essay 6 or 7 or 8, not sure which). Maybe you can just drop some of them.

              Cris

              Comment


              • #8
                I manage my Task List using Outlook and the Category View. What I have done is create a category in my Outlook/handheld computer titled "2 Day". I review my entire list each evening before I retire and choose that category for the work I need to do tomorrow. It automatically moves list to the top of my Action List for the morning. I then operate from that list all day and refuse to think about the other 200 items on my Master List. If I get it all done, I can go to back my categorized list and choose a new Task from there. It works well for me!

                Comment


                • #9
                  I think it’s a fact of life that a planned day is always more productive than an unplanned one. So don’t worry about setting up a specific list for the day.

                  It appears that you have good control over your time, if you can set out a list of what you intend to do that day.

                  Your GTD lists sound very thorough: you must have listed all the elements of your degree out already.

                  GTD lets us intuitively decide what is the best thing for us to be spending our time on. Your masters is very important. Therefore you are planning out productive chunks of activity on a daily basis.

                  GTD then enables you to know that everything else is safely listed, and has not slipped your mind.

                  Just make sure that if your daily list/activity lead to new tasks, that you catch them in your master lists.

                  In reality, you probably have a considerable time span in which to execute all of your NA/s.

                  You sound OK overall to me.

                  Don.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Focus List

                    I don't worry about the to do's, I worry about the projects. That way I stay in the next action mode, but stay focused on prioritizing by project as things occur.

                    On my White Board in my office, I make a list of four items I call "Focus". they are projects in the GTD, but are not 50,000 foot projects, but runway projects, like "Presentation for XX Group" or "Conclude XX Planning".

                    I don't know how it ended up at four, but that seems to be all I can deal with at a time. I dog them til they get done. They are the items that I know are my most important committments to a boss or coworker.

                    I live them enough that I can recall them or write them down during a spare moment to plot out what I'm going to do with some available time.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Hi,

                      For those with prioritized to-do lists such as "2 Day", "Today", "Must-List", etc., do you ever find yourself using your contextual lists? In other words, do you make use of "weird time" by hitting your contextual lists and hammering out a phone call, e-mail, or any one of the hundreds of tasks embedded there? You may still have some items on your “Today” list but they do not fit with the time, context, or energy level you find yourself with.

                      I tend to like the idea of a prioritized to-do list like “Today” until I realize that it may just short circuit the entire GTD system. If you are not using the contextual lists when in those contexts, why not just have two lists, "Today" and "Everything Else". Maybe sorting through the “Everything Else” list would be too slow so how about “Today”, “Home” and “Office” since you are unlikely to have office items on your “Today” list for a Saturday. That re-introduces contexts, so is it still in line with the philosophy of GTD and mind like water or is a prioritized to-do list like “Today” really not what GTD is all about?

                      Thoughts?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Teflon
                        Hi,

                        For those with prioritized to-do lists such as "2 Day", "Today", "Must-List", etc., do you ever find yourself using your contextual lists? In other words, do you make use of "weird time" by hitting your contextual lists and hammering out a phone call, e-mail, or any one of the hundreds of tasks embedded there? You may still have some items on your “Today” list but they do not fit with the time, context, or energy level you find yourself with.

                        I tend to like the idea of a prioritized to-do list like “Today” until I realize that it may just short circuit the entire GTD system. If you are not using the contextual lists when in those contexts, why not just have two lists, "Today" and "Everything Else". Maybe sorting through the “Everything Else” list would be too slow so how about “Today”, “Home” and “Office” since you are unlikely to have office items on your “Today” list for a Saturday. That re-introduces contexts, so is it still in line with the philosophy of GTD and mind like water or is a prioritized to-do list like “Today” really not what GTD is all about?

                        Thoughts?
                        I use both a "Today" list and an "Everything Else" list. I think that this works for me because I don't really have that many NA's - I do maintain seperate Projects and Someday/Maybe lists, however (my Someday/Maybe list is quite large). I really don't use context-based lists anymore, though. I used to use context-based lists, however, I would always find myself asking questions like, "I've got a few minutes and I'm by a phone, but are those calls really that important? Could I make better use of this free moment?".

                        This is probably the one departure that I make from what David teaches. I've discovered over the years that I'm much more productive when I have some sort of plan. It takes some discipline, but I've discovered that if I set realistic expectations on a daily basis I usually end up getting through my list. I used to over-plan and fall short all of the time. This used to drive me nuts because my expectations weren't based on reality. I know that on any given day I'm going to get inturupted. I know that I'm going to have to shift my priorities on a moment-by-moment basis. If I keep this "reality" in mind and set my expectations accordingly, I save myself from getting frustrated. I've discovered over the years that a major source of my frustration and stress is setting expectations that are not "realistic". I think that too many people set themselves up to fail by setting expectations that aren't based in reality.

                        HTH,

                        Jim

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Teflon wrote:
                          For those with prioritized to-do lists such as "2 Day", "Today", "Must-List", etc., do you ever find yourself using your contextual lists?
                          Teflon,

                          I use my calendar, project plans, next action lists and contexts lists when I write my must-lists.

                          This sometimes leads to
                          @phone-mornings when there are several important calls I have to do and I have time to make several not important phone calls,
                          @computer-afternoons when it makes sense to write for several hours,
                          @location-days when I inspect a hospital building and
                          @balcony-saturdays when I have a lot to do with my bonsai trees.

                          Rainer

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I do a combo of many different things mentioned here. Each night before leaving the office, I zip through my NA's and figure out which ones have to be done (or I'd just like them off my lists) the next day, and assign the next day as a due date to move them up on the list (I use a Palm). In another instance, I had 3 projects that were unrelated to each other, but had to be wrapped up on the same day. After consulting my project list for about 5 seconds and confirming that everything else could wait a day, I wrote the projects down on a post it and stuck it to my monitor to remind myself not to get off track (e.g. reading Internet forums). Either way, I simply cannot go into a day without knowing of at least a handful of things that will be accomplished by the end of it. Of course, you do have to just let go of the tendency to beat yourself up if it doesn't happen. It's not "pure" GTD, but my stuff gets done.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I use both a must-list and the context list;
                              The must list typically contains some bigger chunks of work. I have learned to be rather specific in the description: "work on reporting" is now replaced by "Set up report XYZ in system ABC". It easier to get started on report XYZ than on reporting in general.
                              On days without meetings, the list would contain 3 to 4 topics to work on. The context list serves two purposes: to use the 15 minutes between finishing report XYZ and going to lunch, ... .
                              It also helps me in getting started on the bigger chunks: It will tell me where I stopped last time and what I need to do next. The NA on the list might just take a couple of minutes, but it is enough to get me started.

                              Both lists serve a purpose.

                              My 2 (euro)cents
                              Tim

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