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  • Contexts and planning

    Hi

    Two separate questions that have puzzled me about my GTD implementation and my NA is post them here:

    (1) I'm an academic and I do very theoretical research. The only requirements for that research besides time are pen and paper (and rubbish bin as the old joke goes). So I can do it anywhere and often do. So when I have an idea I want to think about at some later time I can put it in my lists as an NA but what is the context ?

    (2) How do you assess your workload with GTD. Say someone asks you to do something in the next month -- how do you see what else is on ? Or they ask you to do something and what you to set a deadline ? I am always caught about be papers to referee. I take them on with what seems like a reasonable doable deadline and I rarely meet it.

    In case it is relevant I am using OmniFocus on iPhone and Mac.

    Thanks - Michael

  • #2
    Originally posted by mmurray View Post
    Hi

    Two separate questions that have puzzled me about my GTD implementation and my NA is post them here:

    (1) I'm an academic and I do very theoretical research. The only requirements for that research besides time are pen and paper (and rubbish bin as the old joke goes). So I can do it anywhere and often do. So when I have an idea I want to think about at some later time I can put it in my lists as an NA but what is the context ?
    I have struggled with this one too (I'm a theoretical physicist). A lot of research does not fit the next action paradigm very well. I have tried various ploys, like having a separate context for ideas or issues I am thinking about. However, these sorts of things mutate but never get "done" so I end up with clutter in my lists. Thus I have concluded that ideas within research projects are project support. I have arranged my time so that I mostly work at home in the morning, do things and have meetings at work in the afternoon, and prepare lectures in the evening. I have time in the morning to "just think" but sometimes it "just evaporates." If you really only need pen and paper, you can try an "anywhere" context, but it hasn't worked for me. A lot of the detailed calculations I do could in principle be done on paper, but in fact are done on the computer. I am trying to be clearer about the line between "ideas to think about" and "things to try", the one being more nebulous and the other more concrete.


    (2) How do you assess your workload with GTD. Say someone asks you to do something in the next month -- how do you see what else is on ? Or they ask you to do something and what you to set a deadline ? I am always caught about be papers to referee. I take them on with what seems like a reasonable doable deadline and I rarely meet it.

    In case it is relevant I am using OmniFocus on iPhone and Mac.

    Thanks - Michael
    I am rarely "on time" but I am apparently a reliable referee. From comments of my colleagues, they are mostly worse than I am. I'm often about a week behind the due date, but lots of people are running 2-3 weeks later than that. I find that I need to spend some time dipping into a paper a few times, and then one 2-3 hour session to get the report written. If you know how much time it takes you over a minimum of how many days, then you know what you have to do. I have four manuscripts to review right now, but two of them are the second time around.

    I have found Evernote a good place to park research support materials. I have used Omnifocus, and the temptation is very strong to have an outline for research projects. It always seems like a mistake when I do it- everything mutates too rapidly.

    Comment


    • #3
      1. Don't think and worry about contexts. If your Next Action is context free - it's great. Just do it when you have a descrete time frame. The GTD system intended to remind you of what action options you have at any particular moment and you are free to choose.

      2. If someone asks when you can do it guess how much time you need and then tell her the date. It's always your guess, not GTD system guess The GTD system can't tell you how much is your workload because you feel if you cope with the workload or you're overwhelmed. That's where Project vs Someday-Maybe Project list plays. You keep as many Projects in your active list but when you start to feel overwhelmed you begin to move some projects to SM list until you're in control again.

      Comment


      • #4
        I am into the same field, although much behind you (glad to find people in the same field!). I will nevertheless write from my experience.

        Ideas of course land in one of my inboxes first. During processing many of them go to someday-maybe. If they relate to a currently active project, they go to project support material, or may even become subprojects. But if they go unprocessed there, then they might remain so. Therefore before taking them to project support, I usually ask myself for the precise purpose and outcome. (Then I have to take care of my perfectionism tendencies: I have to ask how much value this is really going to add to the project. Otherwise it may be trashed.) After the purpose and outcome is clear, usually the first action is clear, or I can add a brainstorming action. Yes, the actions may be like "try X approach for Y calculation", which could just be triggers to start. (When you stop doing, you may want to write notes to your inbox regarding further thoughts floating in your mind about it.)

        Since our ideas morph, the weekly review is really crucial. The outcomes and the actions need to now reflect the new status of those things if they have morphed. Further, if they no more seem relevant, they need not stay there just because at a time in past it really seemed to be a great idea. Can be trashed or moved to someday-maybe.

        About contexts: "anywhere" has not really worked for me. All my work happens at the office. If there are two places that you work from, and "anywhere" does not work for you, then the place which has the appropriate support materials for that action would be the context. If they are equally available, you can even put the action in both the contexts, and mark both done when the action is done at any one place.

        For assessing workload and keeping a track of deadlines (I am also struggling at this!) looking at a sorted list of deadlines, committed to others and yourself, along with highly active time-taking projects (which need not have a deadline in near future), may help you decide whether to take an additional workload. You may want to keep some margin for surprises.

        Hope this helps, although it is a bit long,
        Regards,
        Abhay

        Comment


        • #5
          Weekly Review is the answer.

          Originally posted by mmurray View Post
          (2) How do you assess your workload with GTD. Say someone asks you to do something in the next month -- how do you see what else is on ? Or they ask you to do something and what you to set a deadline ? I am always caught about be papers to referee. I take them on with what seems like a reasonable doable deadline and I rarely meet it.
          Weekly Review is the answer.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by mmurray View Post
            (1)So when I have an idea I want to think about at some later time I can put it in my lists as an NA but what is the context ?

            (2) How do you assess your workload with GTD.
            (1) I use two contexts "@Planning / Brainstorming" and "@Google". I find that I have so many things to Google either for work or personal interest or just research for a project that it sucks a lot of time. It also sends me off down blind alleys often. The Planning one is for projects or designs that need creative planning, time estimating, or mind mapping. Most of that stuff takes more than 2 minutes so it ends up on a list.

            So every so often I'll schedule time during that day to "Crank Google Widgets". I'll decide which thing from the list to Google first based upon gut feel at the time (as per GTD advice). Mentally thinking that I'm still "cranking widgets" is a key tool I'm using to prevent me losing focus and letting the time evaporate, that's why I block it out in my calendar. I am not "researching" I am "producing units of researched information"

            (2) Others have commented that GTD doesn't assess your workload - it merely presents it (all) to you. During my weekly review I try to ask for each project "Do I need a next action agenda item to renegotiate delivery of this project with myself or another?"

            Once you start doing that weekly, you'll have a mental image of how overloaded you are based upon your recent renegotiations. This image will be with you when someone asks "When can you do X for", so you can guess the answer more accurately.

            Comment


            • #7
              Academics and Autofocus with GTD

              Hi Fellow Academics,

              I am a professor too and wish to provide this information to you. Have you looked at Mark Forster's Autofocus system? It can be integrated with GTD and is a simple system. I do not know if you like paper or digital, but working with Autofocus and GTD in a simple spiral-bound notebook has been wonderful for me. Here is a link to his web page. Check it out. As I said, one can integrate this with GTD.

              http://www.markforster.net/

              Best wishes,
              -Longstreet

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Longstreet View Post
                Hi Fellow Academics,

                I am a professor too and wish to provide this information to you. Have you looked at Mark Forster's Autofocus system? It can be integrated with GTD and is a simple system. I do not know if you like paper or digital, but working with Autofocus and GTD in a simple spiral-bound notebook has been wonderful for me. Here is a link to his web page. Check it out. As I said, one can integrate this with GTD.

                http://www.markforster.net/

                Best wishes,
                -Longstreet
                I heard about the autofocus system from another of your posts, and it has some very good points to it. I sort-of implemented it by sorting my lists by start date/mod date, which was helpful. The official system tries to keep things moving with the one-page sweep and rewriting tasks which are partially done at the back of the list. I'll have to think about this and electronic implementation. Perhaps you could say a bit more about how autofocus works for you in doing research?

                Comment


                • #9
                  (1) @pen&paper used to work for me at some time. I had a job as janitor and would do some "thinking on the job", in the sub, in the library, in the park or at home. The question was always easy: do I have pen and paper with me? Yes - so I could...

                  (2) I put project milestones into my calendar (and project support materials). If deadline is then and then and I need at least one night to write the shitty first draft... when do I have to be ready with reading and diggesting the main materials? So I get a lot of mini-deadlines that help me to get perspective.

                  {
                  - Yeah, but aren't those mini-deadlines too artificial? I could never make myself to believe artificial deadlines I set to myself.

                  - That's why I have them in another color in my calendar. The point is to understand what success this week, today means. Not constructing a rigid cage of whatever kind of stuff you have a hard time of taking seriously anyway.
                  }

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    One Next Action Context?

                    I'd suggest trying no contexts at all. Simply label them, "Next Actions". Your reaction to that single list could dictate whether dividing them into discrete contexts makes sense or not.

                    If, for example, you have a lot of next actions that involve computations versus written words you could segment things that way. Or if you have a lot of next actions in spreadsheets or specific computer programs that could be a context.

                    But don't forget the whole point of contexts is dealing with volume and focusing on what you can and can't do (DO!) at any given moment.

                    - Mark

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Thanks everybody for taking the time to respond. I will have to digest these ideas a bit.

                      I suspect part of the problem with the things like deciding to accept a refereeing job is I don't take enough time with the acceptance process. My initial reaction to the whole of GTD was to think why do all this reviewing and processing and listing when I could be doing some actual work! Of course once you try it you realise that the time spent on running the system pays of many fold. My tendency to think `I don't have time to decide this now I'll just say yes' when faced with an incoming task is a bad idea!

                      As for the research I think I will try an @research context and try to keep it fresh during the weekly review. My problem with this kind of context in the past, as some of you have noted, is it fills up with things and after awhile I can't even remember what the idea was. Again this is probably down to having not spelt it out carefully enough during processing or subsequent weekly reviews.

                      I already have an NA to look up some of Mark Forsters ideas so I will pursue that.

                      Thanks again - Michael

                      PS: Off-topic but for fellow mathematicians or anyone who knows what an Erdos number is I recommend this weeks xkcd http://xkcd.com/599/

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by mmurray View Post
                        My tendency to think `I don't have time to decide this now I'll just say yes' when faced with an incoming task is a bad idea!
                        ...
                        Off-topic but for fellow mathematicians or anyone who knows what an Erdos number is I recommend this weeks xkcd http://xkcd.com/599/
                        The not automatically saying yes was a big thing for me to learn before I could really start implementing GTD. GTD never really "stuck" until I had already learned to say no to many requests.

                        On the OT note, not a mathematician but I loved it. So what's your Erdos number? The closest things in engineering is n+1 days, where n is the number of engineers in the bar and n+1 is the number of pitchers of beer to be consumed. From back when I was engineer rather than farmer. Now we measure things by number of pints consumed at the local brewery, number of ewes lambed in the last 24 hours and number of bales of hay fed out. (Thursday's number 6 + 3 + 1)

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Oogiem View Post
                          So what's your Erdos number?
                          4. Not very good. I'm not really in the kind of area that Erdos was.
                          The American Mathematical Society have a website for working out the shortest distance between any two mathematicians by joint publications

                          http://www.ams.org/mathscinet/collab...nDistance.html

                          so you can check out any mathematicians you know!

                          Michael

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by mmurray View Post
                            PS: Off-topic but for fellow mathematicians or anyone who knows what an Erdos number is I recommend this weeks xkcd http://xkcd.com/599/
                            According to the revised guidelines just released by our research office, a resurrected Erdos would have to contribute more substantially to be a co-author.

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