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Need Help Getting Control

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  • Need Help Getting Control

    I'm on the edge of falling into chaos and need help.

    I've got most (80%) of my project list in Toodledo (an online task manager), so fortunately, I'm not starting from scratch or a really big hole. (Though that big hole isn't far away....)

    Here are my trouble spots that need addressing:
    Email - I get in excess of 100 emails per day at work alone - and none of them are spam.
    Projects - I've got multiple projects going at any given time and often completing them is dependent on other people doing their part. In other words, a lot of hurry up and wait
    Fires/Interruptions - Even with an office, it's not unusual for me to be interrupted
    Lack of free time - I oversee content for a web site and spend 2-4 hours per day writing and managing content. Because of daily deadlines, I can't put these things off

    Other:
    I directly manage a staff of 9 and have another, much larger department that I'm pretty involved with.

    I use a desktop at work, though I also have a laptop and a smart phone.

    Though I have notebooks for specific things I need to keep record of (e.g. management meetings, general note taking, etc), my professional life all digital. Therefore, I'd rather keep my record system as digital as possible.

    Since there many of you have jobs that are even more chaotic and busy than mine, please give me some tips for getting back control.

    Thanks in advance.

  • #2
    Go back to the basics of GTD: Weekly Reviews, etc. It will take time, but you'll get control and perspective back again. Not impressive advice, I know, but I think it's sound advice.

    Comment


    • #3
      I was provided with a TabletPC at work and have a Blackberry--all the things that I thought would help me remain paperless and on top of things. I think I've finally come to the realization that (at least in my case and at least for now) paper is the better way to go. I still use my Tablet for the bulk of my actual work, but have been trying out my own GTD system using a Moleskine for about a month. I haven't felt this on top of things in quite a while. A bit of an office slow down helped a lot, too.

      I basically did a huge review of all my projects. I've never been really good at the Weekly Review but figured I had to make it meaningful if I was ever going to gain some control. Not only was I able to get organized, but I was able to delegate a lot of tasks to my assistant (who I fully trust to get stuff done in a timely manner.) After all that I had a sense of calm and it didn't all look so overwhelming. I've missed a couple of days of work because of a sick child this week and my stress level didn't increase a bit. In the past, it would have driven me nuts.

      Comment


      • #4
        Be glad to help! That feeling of overwhelm is horrible.

        As it stands, it looks like you're struggling with the volume of input. Sorry to say it, but the only way to process an email is to process an email, asking yourself the standard GTD workflow questions. Has that been difficult? (It can take a long time to fully implement.)

        If it's any consolation, your situation doesn't appear particularly difficult to manage via GTD.

        Can you give us information on the specific problems you're having? How much of GTD have you implemented? What's not working?

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        • #5
          It's definitely an input and processing problem.

          I spent most of my day cleaning out my inbox on Outlook. And was getting quite frustrated when I'd get rid of 2 and see 4 more come in. But, I worked late and won the battle for at least today.

          The other issue is my to do list. I was using Outlook's Task functionality, but I'm now switching to Toodledo. I need to reclassify a huge portion of the list into new projects and do a better job of assigning the contexts. That part I get.

          I think where I'm running into the problems is keeping my !Next list at a manageable level and properly taking care of incoming assignments (whether it be a request from one my employees or the CEO calling me up.)

          Any suggestions?

          Comment


          • #6
            !Next list? Does that mean all your next actions are on one list or is it a kid of urgent list?
            If it's the first it's time to review your contexts. Even if you always have everything on hand, grouping things in contexts can be useful for odd time and for grouping similar tasks.
            If it's the latter: Urgent tasks generally have deadlines. Those deadlines should go on your calendar, maybe with a specific colour to make them stand out from normal appointments.

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            • #7
              If I may get a little philosophical for a moment....

              You have a problem: Too many actions. This can have a couple of causes:

              1. Not enough classification. Action lists should be split up by Context (where you can do them), and optionally by Energy (requires High energy/requires Little energy). You can also split up some work into @Person individual context lists, so that instead of an Action "Talk to Linda about product launch support materials", you can add that to an @Linda context and bring up the contents of that list when next you see her.

              2. You have too many actions. If all that work really is on your plate, you may need to re-negotiate.

              Often, folks implement GTD and feel overwhelmed when they see the amount of stuff they've committed to. They feel like they've failed somehow, or that GTD isn't managing it. Not quite accurate; they really have been committed to all these things; they've just never seen it all in one place before, and never realized how deep in the hole they are.

              I remember watching a lecture about queueing theory, in which the lecturer advocated that you estimate the amount of time required for all your most important stuff, find out what is less important and has a shorter deadline than is possible, and go back and renegotiate those projects. When somebody protested about doing that, the lecturer replied, "Well, that work wasn't going to get done anyway. Now you're just being honest about it."

              Comment


              • #8
                re: From Chaos to Calm

                Use this Prune Your System checklist.

                In addition to that, consider:
                (1) Get an assistant
                (2) Stay up later
                (3) Say "no" to half of what you are saying "yes" to now
                (4) Accept that you are not omnipotent - you are a limited person with limited time, energy, and resources. You can only do what you can do every day.

                Black belt martial artists know their limits better than anybody else -- that's part of what makes them black belts. So if you want black-belt productivity, you have to accept your limits, too, and adjust your movements accordingly. Sometimes the best decision a black belt martial artist can make is to say "no".

                Hope some of this helps.
                Last edited by Todd V; 08-08-2012, 02:05 PM.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Thanks. This is helpful.

                  Part of the problem is probably classification and I need to rework the project/context. In hindsight, I may have never organize things properly, even thought what I did when first getting into GTD was better than before.

                  The other part is next actions and how to handle/classify them. There are somethings that need to be done on a certain day, and that's easy to deal with. The problem is what items that need to completed within a certain period - e.g. two weeks, but can't be done all at once or on at a specific time. Yet, they are urgent.

                  What's the best way to handle those type of things?

                  (BTW, as far as saying no, that's not going to happen. My boss is like a kid in the candy store - always wants more than he can have.)

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Glad we're helping! As to time-specific items:

                    If something needs to be done on a particular day, schedule time for it on your calendar.

                    If something has to be done within two weeks, include that in the Action. ("Type up design documents; project done by 1 June"). You can move time-sensitive Actions to the top of their lists, if that helps.

                    There's no such thing as an Action that can't be done all at once, by definition. Actions must be atomic. I personally strive to make them less than 2 minutes, as phrased in my lists.

                    I'm having trouble visualizing an Action that can't be done at a particular time; can you provide an example or two?

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                    • #11
                      Sure. Say I need a url from our marketing department.

                      Now, I could break into a tiny steps - ask for url, follow-up on url, insert url or I could have one action - get url from marketing.

                      It's not action that can be completed immediately, because I have ask and wait. But, it's also overkill to break what is for me a simple step into many pieces when I can simply put in under @agenda and shoot off the email.

                      If getting the url is not time sensitive, do I just put a tickler in calendar and leave the action open?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by sweat View Post
                        Sure. Say I need a url from our marketing department.

                        Now, I could break into a tiny steps - ask for url, follow-up on url, insert url or I could have one action - get url from marketing.

                        It's not action that can be completed immediately, because I have ask and wait. But, it's also overkill to break what is for me a simple step into many pieces when I can simply put in under @agenda and shoot off the email.

                        If getting the url is not time sensitive, do I just put a tickler in calendar and leave the action open?
                        Well, if one wanted to push any one action, it can always be broken down into smaller steps. "Ask for url" can be broken down into (1) Open email program, (2) click "Compose Email" button, (3) type "To" email address, etc. There is always a point of overkill. Based on my understanding of what DA has said is that a next action is (b) the next physical action to reach a particular outcome and (b) one that can serve as a placeholder for a reminder on where one is at any point. The breakdown I just gave gets ridiculous because one would do Steps 1-3 all at once, no logical stopping points. On the contrary "Ask for url" for me begs for a concrete action verb--ask whom? how? So, I would offer offer that your listing above is not "tiny steps", but legitimate next actions: (1) Email Joe in Marketing RE URL for Project XYZ; (2) Waiting For Joe RE URL for Project XYZ (date/email/sent); (3) Insert URL from Joe into webpage. These are concrete physical actions ("Email", "Insert") and they are logical stopping points (email then wait for a response then do something with the response). If you were to just put a tickler in your calendar with something like "Need url from Marketing for Project XYZ", then, when you got to that item in your calendar, you would have to stop and think, "Okay, where am I with this? Oh, yes, I emailed Joe about this last Tuesday. Why hasn't he gotten back with me on this yet? Hmm. I better email him asking where my URL is." The alternative is to review your @Waiting For, see "Waiting For Joe RE URL for Project XYZ (date/email/sent)", and say, "Oh, I sent Joe an email on this last Tuesday and haven't heard back. I better email him asking where my URL is." The chief difference between the former and latter thought processes is the need to remember in the first where one left off in the process and the lack of that need in the latter. That lack of need to remember is, for me, what GTD is all about. I write down where I've left off with everything so I don't have to remember later.

                        Hope this is helpful.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by sweat View Post
                          Email - I get in excess of 100 emails per day at work alone - and none of them are spam.
                          I also get a whole heck of a lot of email, and this is what works for me:
                          1. Delete everything that's Trash.
                          2. Print everything else and throw it all into my one physical inbox. Move the electronic emails into a non-inbox archive folder.
                          3. Process the inbox as usual.

                          Yeah, I've probably deforesting half the southern hemisphere. Still, I find it works for me.


                          Cheers,
                          Roger

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by sweat View Post
                            Sure. Say I need a url from our marketing department.

                            Now, I could break into a tiny steps - ask for url, follow-up on url, insert url or I could have one action - get url from marketing.

                            It's not action that can be completed immediately, because I have ask and wait. But, it's also overkill to break what is for me a simple step into many pieces when I can simply put in under @agenda and shoot off the email.
                            I agree with Jon that it's not overkill to make this a Project.

                            How long does it take you to add a Project? It should only take an additional few seconds to type/write down "Add marketing URL to website" as a Project, in addition to "Ask marketing for URL" as a Next Action. Is that difficult in some way?

                            If getting the url is not time sensitive, do I just put a tickler in calendar and leave the action open?
                            In this case I'd email marketing, add "Add marketing URL to website" as a Project, and add an item to my Waiting For list - "Marketing re URL".

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              First Step is not on the action List

                              Also, if you break down the task, in these steps,
                              writing the email will not show up on your actionlists, because is hould be done in under 2 minutes.

                              So the real next action would be in @waitingfor... wich is fine/important, because wainting is not under your direct control, and should be monitored some way.

                              just my 2 ct.

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