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Newbie GTD breakdown

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  • Newbie GTD breakdown

    Hi all, I'm a GTD newbie. I finished reading GTD for the first time about 2 weeks ago. I started reading with the idea that I would see if the system sounded interesting. I became a true believer about the middle of the book (physical implementation) and I actually started implementing a bit piecemeal when I got to the email section. I now have a lovely 3-tier inbox, my filing system is taking shape, I write absolutely everything that comes into my head on a scrap of paper that goes in my inbox, and a Projects List is underway. This was transformational for me when I started and I felt a huge wave of optimism.

    However I am stuck in a couple of areas. First and most importantly, I so far must have 1000 or 1500 sheets of paper, each listing one next action. My "@computer" stack, for the most serious example, is about an inch thick. It would take me about an hour just to look at each sheet of paper, before deciding which was the most important for me to do at my computer right now. So in practice, I am now ignoring the stack and doing what I remember needs doing (i.e., back in my head!).

    2nd sticking point: My first attempt at a weekly review/project review ended similarly. I spent a total of about 6 hours over 3 days and still had not even looked at half of the slips of paper where I had next actions listed. This returned me to my pre-GTD state of resignation -- "there's no way I can do all this". So in short, I'm overwhelmed -- I can't foresee a way of practically reviewing everything, and when I'm in certain contexts, I can't see a way of putting all the tasks for that context in front of me so that I can be aware of them all and be sure I am choosing the one that is the most relevant at the moment.

    In short, I can't see a way to trust my system yet.

    Also, all my time seems to go processing incoming items, and placing them in context folders that I then do not have time to look at. i.e., nothing is actually getting done.

    I would really appreciate advice of the "consider this tool", "watch this video" etc. variety, and if any of you have any questions to ask me to provide better advice, shoot away!

    Thanks in advance for any help you can offer.

    Dave

  • #2
    You say you have put your next action / items on sheets of paper and have > 1000. So what are you doing about those items. It sounds like you haven't processed them and put them in a list to work on them.

    What you will need to understand is that once you start using the framework and relying upon it, your brain will allow you to use it and not rely on it(the brain). You will always go back to what you have relied upon in the past, your brain, until you have a trusty system that proves to the brain that it works.

    You may need to just write some things down, prioritize them and do them for a couple of days just to get some confidence in the systems that you are implementing.

    As for tools, it is rather personal. Some use all of the sophisticated computer programs with bells and whistles. Others have airtight systems with cheap old notebook / legal pads and pencil/paper. It all boils down to what works for you or what you think will work for you. As for me, I done both and am back to paper because I need to see it laid out in front of me.

    Comment


    • #3
      a direction...

      The beginning it's an interesting moment.

      I'd say you need to know where you would like to go, and in your moment I'd recommend you to define which are the projects you think has to be completed in one year. One year less the weeks you already spend!

      After that you could have a direction to move to. And a natural filter to select which are the more important NA's

      Then you need to implement your system, to find your own way...but please stay on the basic, already traced guidelines. When you'd learn the logic of the system, we will see......

      Comment


      • #4
        1000+ Next Actions??? It sounds to me like you missed the processing portion of the initial implementation. Go back and read Chapter 6 again.

        In particular:
        * Are all of those actions immediately doable? Or are some of them contingent on each other (in which case they are project planning, not NAs)?
        * Do all of those actions relate to clearly defined outcomes that you are committed to achieving as soon as possible? Or are some of them further out, and more suitable for a Someday/Maybe or incubation list?

        With that many actions, it's also possible (likely!) that you are not being realistic about what you are actually able to do. It's time to take a look at your commitments with an eye to renegotiating some of them.

        Remember that GTD doesn't create work. It simply quantifies the work that's already there. If that amount is too much, don't shoot the messenger (GTD), fix the underlying problem.

        Good luck!

        Katherine

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by dforrest View Post
          I so far must have 1000 or 1500 sheets of paper, each listing one next action. My "@computer" stack, for the most serious example, is about an inch thick. It would take me about an hour just to look at each sheet of paper, before deciding which was the most important for me to do at my computer right now.
          I'm confused. Why are your next actions on separate pieces of paper? Are they all really next actions or are they the thoughts you wrote down as you collected stuff?

          Have you really truly processed them?

          I found that my initial collection ended up with hundreds of notes, but that I could group them into projects, I tended to write a lot of sort of projects, sort of next actions down in my initial capture.

          Taking the time to really honestly do the processing was what I needed. I felt I didn't have the time and it took several days to get through processing the backlog of stuff I generated at first. I'd take some fresh sheets of paper, decide on your initial contexts and make one sheet per context and one for projects. Take the first note you have and really process it. It might help to have the processing workflow cheat sheet in hand. Look at it and follow along with each step. I know the GTD way is to put on a NA list anything that takes more than 2 minutes but I was just delaying my decisions that way at first. I had to force myself to do a full process right then and there on items or they never got translated into doable discrete next actions. Remember that during processing once you get to the next action you do it if it's less than 2 minutes. But for me, sometimes even getting my thinking clear on what the next action really was took a lot longer than doing the action. I had to train my brain to think that way.

          Comment


          • #6
            I think that it's normal for the first collection and processing effort to take hours and hours and hours.

            However, it shouldn't take that many hours to keep the system going, so if you anticipate it taking that long, then, yep, presumably something needs tweaking. And in your case, it sounds like you've done the collection, and not the processing.

            In my case, I'm using OmniFocus software (which is unfortunately only available on the Mac), so I don't generally have to deal with any papers, or transcribing and re-transcribing lists, or filing things in physical folders. I hate paper.

            If you use a PC, you can't use OmniFocus, but there are no doubt other, similar tools, so I'm going to describe what I'd do anyway.

            So if I were in your situation, but I added Omnifocus, I would:

            - Sit down at my computer with that stack of papers.
            - Open Omnifocus to the Inbox.
            - Go through the stack _fast_ and just type each task, phrased just as I scribbled it initially, into a record in the OmniFocus Inbox.
            - Throw out each paper as I type it in.

            Then all my stuff would be out of the papers and in the system, and I'd have a gazillion unprocessed records in my Omnifocus Inbox. Many of these might not even end up being Actions, since at this point they're just raw thoughts.

            Then I would:

            - Sit down at the computer again.
            - Design a structure of projects and contexts that I figure kinda sorta reflects what I'm working on and what I'm planning for later. It doesn't need to be perfect; you can keep changing it.
            - Go to the OmniFocus Inbox and process all those raw thoughts, one by one. Each one should end up in a Project with a Context attached, or end up in Someday/Maybe, or possibly be transformed into a full-fledged Project, or just get thrown away. This will take several hours, the first time.

            When I'm done with this, then I have at least a first draft of Projects and Contexts and Actions. It's probably a bit of a mess, it probably needs some sorting and rearranging, but it's one big step closer to orderly. And it's in software, so if I want to see what's in a given Project - I just click the Project. If I want to see what's in a given Context - I just click the Context. If I want to see only Next Actions - I click the Next Action filter. No shuffling, no retyping, no filing.

            Then I'd do my first review. I'd walk through every single project and every single context, evaluating the Actions, eliminating duplicates, moving Actions so that they're in a logical order when there is a logical order, adding Start Dates, adding Due Dates, and so on.

            Then I'd walk through every context. This is the point where I'd realize that there are _way too many actions_! The context lists would stretch on to infinity, and I'd be unable to imagine selecting a task from them.

            At this point, entire projects get put On Hold and dumped into Someday/Maybe, because I can't do everything all at once, and I won't scroll through a multiple-screen list of actions in a single Context; I just won't. And if I want to dump an entire project into Someday/Maybe, but I realize that it has one little task that actually has to be done soon, I do some redesigning so that one little task is an Action somewhere else.

            I also go through putting still more Start Dates on things that I know i won't work on soon, so that they get out of my face for a while. I use all these techniques - all supported by the software - to get the visible workload cut down to a manageable size.

            I keep at this until my Contexts are of manageable length and it's actually possible to scan them and find tasks.

            And as I go on in the future, I use the same process in a much smaller scale. I put my rough thoughts in the Inbox, I go through the Inbox every day or two and tuck things into Projects and Contexts, and once a week I go through everything and tweak things a little.

            So...er...does this make any sense? For me, the GTD method absolutely requires software. I admire the purity of those that can do it with paper, but I just can't.

            Gardener.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by dforrest View Post
              It would take me about an hour just to look at each sheet of paper, before deciding which was the most important for me to do at my computer right now.

              2nd sticking point: My first attempt at a weekly review/project review ended similarly. I spent a total of about 6 hours over 3 days and still had not even looked at half of the slips of paper where I had next actions listed.
              Dave,

              Lots of good advice above.

              (1) To echo and emphasize, you need to process those thousands of sheets of paper into contexts, including someday/maybe so that your lists are not so overwhelming.

              (2) With the weekly reviews, just keep doing them. They will get easier! Try to get through all the steps. Good tips here from zenhabits: http://zenhabits.net/2007/02/how-to-...in-under-hour/

              - Don

              Comment


              • #8
                Thanks - great advice!

                Sorry, it's 2am here and I need to crash, but I am bowled over by all the great advice here, this will get me back on track. Thanks, everyone!

                I DID overlook the Someday/Maybe category in my implementation, and I've also just seen one of DA's videos on just that subject. So I will now be creating several of those, starting with a "Not this week" folder. Yes, I need to get my context lists down to a size where I can look at the list and choose, everything else needs to get postponed.

                I will write a more coherent and complete response tomorrow.

                BTW, I AM a Mac user of about 20 years standing, so I am looking into OmniFocus -- thanks loads for that tip.

                Best to all, and please, anyone who wants to offer even more advice, don't stop just because I have responded once. This is enough to get me going already but I am really enjoying the responses and people's suggestions, they are really interesting and helpful.

                Dave

                Comment


                • #9
                  Another few thoughts...

                  Based on the number of Next Actions you have, I would highly suspect that you have included in that pile a large number of Someday/Maybe's as well as a number of items that are parts of Projects--many of which may not be immediately doable.

                  It would be possible for me to come up with 1000 Someday/Maybe's or more just by making a list of all of the things I would like to do. I don't bother with this, however. Why? Well, because some things would be nice additions to life but I don't feel a pressing need for them. Example: safari in Africa, visit Great Wall of China, learn Swahili.

                  I don't need to list out those things in order to have a mind like water... I get very calm just by writing down the things that matter to me more.

                  My ubiquitous capture tool has become one of my favorite tools. I carry it with me more often than I carry my wallet! I just use a small note jotter that I got at Staples, which holds 3x5 cards and is made of leather. It's black, looks sharp, and cost $9.95.

                  My system involves writing anything that matters onto a 3x5 card, folding it in half and sticking it in my right pocket. I carry a small binder clip to hold my right pockets' contents neatly together. I will also use the 3x5 cards to jot down addresses or phone numbers, etc., which may end up going in my left pocket (trash) when they are done. I am in the habit of emptying both pockets when I get home (which is also my office), and dropping everything from the right pocket into my inbox, everything from the left into the garbage.

                  In the last several weeks I have impressed even myself with how I am able to "remember" everything important that I think of.

                  For your reference, my system consists of a presentation-style 3-ring binder I got at the local Kinko's with 8 heavy plastic tab dividers (the kind with a Table of Contents). The sections are: 1) Calendar, 2) Next Actions: Home & Office, 3) Next Actions: Calls & Emails, 4) Next Actions: Errands, 5) Waiting For, 6) Projects, 7) Someday/Maybe, Lists (checklists, address directory, six levels of review, etc.). Of course, I have a filing cabinet (two drawers: Reference, and Active Projects), the aforementioned capture tool, and a computer, which contains my digital files.

                  Hope this helps some
                  JohnV474

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Great idea!

                    Originally posted by JohnV474 View Post
                    For your reference, my system consists of a presentation-style 3-ring binder I got at the local Kinko's with 8 heavy plastic tab dividers (the kind with a Table of Contents). The sections are: 1) Calendar, 2) Next Actions: Home & Office, 3) Next Actions: Calls & Emails, 4) Next Actions: Errands, 5) Waiting For, 6) Projects, 7) Someday/Maybe, Lists (checklists, address directory, six levels of review, etc.). Of course, I have a filing cabinet (two drawers: Reference, and Active Projects), the aforementioned capture tool, and a computer, which contains my digital files.

                    Hope this helps some
                    JohnV474
                    Yes,it could!
                    I can see in your system something really interesting.

                    Do you print your lists? I mean do you have the same copy on a PC? Do you use Outlook to keep GTD integrated?
                    Do you use an A4 size?
                    Is there somewhere a pictures of your system?
                    Could you bring with you always? What do you do when you are without it and you need to take a note?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Today's answers & thoughts

                      Hi, today I'll be more complete and respond to the individual postings.

                      First, let me clarify how I've started using GTD (and yes, I'm clear that my implementation is incomplete! I need to go through Chs 4-6 again in implementation mode).

                      Paper workflow (My e-mail is similar but all electronic, using Mac Mail):

                      1. Anything I think of I write on a piece of scratch paper. I use the backsides of misprinted or obsolete A4 printouts cut into quarters -- I have piles of these in strategic places; they're always kept handy.

                      2. The slip goes into my inbox.

                      3. When I process, I date the slip and figure out what it is.
                      3a. If it is a project, --3a1. I write the title on my project list & also at the top of the slip. --3a2. I decide on the next action for the project and write that on the slip. --3a3. I then put the slip into a context pile in my Action folder, grouped with a title card and a binder or paper clip. These piles are portable (they go in a coat pocket if need be).
                      3b. If it is an idea, or project support or reference material, I file it.
                      3c. If it is doable in under 2 minutes, I do it. (Area for improvement: I've been underestimating time and doing things that take too long, prolonging my processing sessions)
                      3d. If it is can be solved with a single action, I clarify what this is on the slip and put it into the appropriate context pile in my Action folder, or, if it needs to be done on a certain day, transcribe it into iCal (Mac datebook app).
                      3E. NEW PROCEDURE STARTING NOW: If it is a project or action I don't have time to sanely introduce into my schedule this week, the slip goes into an appropriate subcategory of my new Someday/Maybe empire.
                      3f. If it's to Read/Review, not for action, it goes to my "Read/Review" folder.

                      4. NEW ATTITUDE ON OLD PROCESS: -- Now I'm going to shut out the world and ABSOLUTELY "CRANK" -- My Weekly and Project Review will at this point just be to look at each scrap of paper (and e-mail) in "Action" "Read/Review" and "Someday/Maybe", and go over my Projects List. I will update, cross out, trash, calendarize and add new scraps as appropriate, and I WILL NOT TAKE ANY ACTION OF >2MINS!

                      5. (Later) Once I get my systems up and running, I will implement all the different levels/altitudes of review.

                      6. Action-in-context time. (Woefully lacking so far, too much time dealing with input. But hopefully with the improvements in my processes described I will now have more, or even enough!) When I finish an action, the paper slip goes to the recycle bin or the e-mail gets deleted or filed for reference. If the action is part of a project, I cross out the action I've finished, determine the next action, write it on the slip, and consign it to the proper context pile in my Action folder.

                      Mac/E-mail additional note:

                      I have just upgraded to Leopard and now, instead of just filing an e-mail in the electronic "@Action" etc. folder, which did not allow me to specify what the next action was attached to the e-mail, I am now starting to create a Note in Mail stating the next action, name of the Project if applicable, and linking to the e-mail, so it's very similar to my paper slips + a direct link to project support material (the original e-mail). Once this process is completed, during my reviews, I will only review the Notes in my e-mail folders and not the e-mails themselves. I will open the e-mails (project support materials) only when I am in Action mode.

                      Responses to posts:

                      cctraderx - Effectively I wasn't taking action based on my "next action" slips of paper, I was spending all my time on collecting, processing and organizing. Now I think I will do better. I don't want to create a list of my Action items as this "double-entry" (paper slip and list) would add a lot of time and bureaucracy to my system. Re the tools, I am trying to get the basics of my system going on paper before going for the electronic tools. I am very interested in OmniFocus, someday I will sync that with an iPhone, but for the short term I will see what I can do with my iPod classic (to upload iCal data) and old Palm (ditto). This plus the context piles I can fit in a coat pocket will keep me mobile, I think.

                      clango - Thanks for the perspective. Perhaps I need to integrate a 10-20,000 foot review sooner rather than later to determine my priorities, i.e. what stays in "Action" and what goes into "Someday/Maybe".

                      kewms (Katherine) - Thanks for the ref back to Ch. 6, I am going to go thru Chs. 4-6 again with a fine tooth comb, implementing as I go. As far as my actions, yes they are (sadly, oy!) all immediately doable. While I would love to get them all done in the short term, I can see they won't so I am going to institute triage using my new Someday/Maybe area. Thanks for the great advice, "don't shoot the messenger, fix the underlying problem"!

                      Oogiem - Thanks for making me realize I'm not the only one who ever had "teething problems" with the system. As above, for the moment I'm going to try to stick to the slips of paper and avoid too many redundant lists. I'm sure that some of my initial ones consigned to an Action-Context pile are less than crystal clear on the NA, but most are. I will really look out for that and move to be clear and hard as a diamond about NAs during my weekly review.

                      Gardener - Thank you SO MUCH for this fantastic post! So specific and helpful. I am intrigued by OmniFocus and an almost paperless system, since I am very happy with digital tools. I just want a mobile solution that is not based on printing out lists all the time, truly instantly mobile, and I'm not willing to invest in a monthly iPhone contract right now. I hope I will be able to work towards a system like yours and rely on iCal sync with either my old Palm or my iPod (no possibility of input there ) to meet my "on the hoof" needs. I will use your post as a future road map as I go more electronic. Thanks for clarifying that I REALLY need to shovel a bunch of stuff into Someday/Maybe categories like "On Hold", "Not this week" etc. Your "no more than one screen of Actions" rule is great, I will try to implement something similar both on paper and electronically. That should keep me sane! I will focus on keeping my visible workload manageable, as you say.

                      dschaffner (Don) - Thanks for the link to zenhabits.net, that looks like some very interesting stuff to review and integrate into my system.

                      JohnV474 - Thanks, and to answer your question, well, perhaps my mind is hyperactive, but my stuff is all immediately doable as I've said, and yes, most of it needs to head for "Someday/Maybe." I haven't actually got to much of my "pie in the sky" type of things yet, just because up to now I lacked the structure to deal with them (now no longer the case). This is all stuff I really want to do soon, even if practically I can't. This is just my nature, I think, and I hope this system will allow me to keep my highest priority things moving forward powerfully, and keep the other million things bubbling in the background. I have actually enjoyed writing down all the littlest things as well as the big ones, now that I'm clearer on how to deal with the volume of stuff I've produced, I think the enjoyment will pick up again! I like your 3x5 card system, and I do something similar with my A6 papers (great minds think alike?!). Like Claudio, I'm curious about your 3-ring binder and how you make it portable.

                      OK, everyone. Thanks for some great advice, and please, anyone who has additional advice on dealing with overwhelming numbers of NAs, different to what we've discussed here, or who just wants to give an overview of their own particular way of doing the GTD workflow, please go ahead. This is a great discussion and I think it's valuable for all newbies. Cheers.

                      Dave

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I am slightly worried by your description of piles.
                        It sounds to me as if you are taking the 1 item per paper rule from the collecting and processing phase, and applying it to organizing your system. I.E. you have a stack of papers, each with an action on it, that you leaf through each time you have to pick an action to do.
                        If that's the case, i am not surprised you are overwhelmed.
                        A context list is more like a shopping list. You write down all the things you need to do in that context on one piece of paper, and then tick them off when you have done them. In fact a shopping list is a next action list.

                        [start off-topic about contexts and limiting factors]
                        The context is supermarket. We do them by context, simply because it's the first limiting factor. The second factor might be distance. If your store has bread in the first aisle, you pick that up first. If your store has fruit first, you pick the fruit on your list first. The third limiting factor might be stock. The store is all out of honey melons, so you buy a water melon instead.
                        In GTD the limiting factors are context, time available, energy available and priority.
                        [end off-topic]

                        If you have piles of single papers, rather than a list, you can't effectively scan for the most appropriate next action, so instead your brain tries to remember what's in your stack, makes a decision based on that, and you are basically back where you started with a full inbox.

                        Please tell me i misunderstsood your piles

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Nope, they're piles

                          Hello Linada--

                          You didn't misunderstand, I do indeed keep the same scrap of paper I capture on, mark it up a bit, and put it in a stack, by context.

                          I have a severe allergy to re-writing and double-entering things in general.

                          I do get that a list would be easier to scan, but are you actually saying that re-writing everything into a list for each context actually SAVES time?

                          It might be true, just because the end result, a list, is so much easier to scan than a pile. But then again, that's just the beginning of the re-writing, because as you cross things off, lists have to be re-written and re-written, and the last few things you may not have gotten to yet need to be transferred to a fresh copy of the list. Or am I wrong? This idea doesn't appeal to me much on the surface, but I always want to hear the voice of experience.

                          I would love to hear from experienced GTDers who use a paper-based workflow about this. Is it (wonderful/a waste of time) to rewrite all your NAs into lists? I'd really like to know people's experience with this!

                          Thanks,

                          Dave

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by dforrest View Post
                            3. When I process, I date the slip and figure out what it is.
                            3a. If it is a project, --3a1. I write the title on my project list & also at the top of the slip. --3a2. I decide on the next action for the project and write that on the slip. --3a3. I then put the slip into a context pile in my Action folder, grouped with a title card and a binder or paper clip. These piles are portable (they go in a coat pocket if need be).
                            I think this is your problem. Once you process your notes (slips of paper) into a next action list they should be rewritten into a context specific single piece of paper (if you are using paper) or a single context. You don't want to keep hanging on to the notes unless they are reference, they were placeholders for your actions. Trying to sort a stack of individual papers is difficult at best and that's why you re-do them so your context lists contain a set of next actions for all sorts of projects that all can be done in one context.

                            I'm using lifebalance now and my contexts are
                            @computer internet
                            @computer mac
                            @inside by myself
                            @outside with help

                            and so on.

                            If I look at my @computer internet list right now there are about 18 next actions relating to as many different projects. I see one short list of stuff I can do right now when my computer is on and the network is working.

                            Examples of my current @computer internet stuff are:

                            Look for new skin for farm blog
                            Add paypal membership and registration buttons on ABWMSA web site
                            Add flock books for sale to ABWMSA web site
                            Add copy of papers as example to ABWMSA web site
                            Add fee schedule to ABWMSA web site
                            Research how to get into template editing mode on my blog - see file @computer
                            Look for lab chairs for Ken
                            Finish blog entry on Wales trip

                            The projects those are related to are
                            Update farm blog
                            Update ABWMSA web site
                            Buy new chair for Ken's workbench
                            Finish Wales trip report

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I can't really comment on a paper based workflow. I can't hold a pen properly, so it's not really an option for me. I have ended up using OmniFocus myself.

                              Your first post sounded very much like you are going numb to your stacks. In my opinion, the ease with which you are able to scan your NAs is essential, whether using a paper or computer system.
                              If you are keen on having single slips for actions, there might be a way to make them easier to scan through, a rolodex or something similar maybe.
                              I agree, you need someone with paper system experience. I would still recommend that you give the list a try. If you find it doesn't save you time, you still have your stacks

                              Comment

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