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What triggers you to act on your action items?

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  • What triggers you to act on your action items?

    How do you know when you need to take action on something?

    After several readings of GTD and RFA, it seems to me that in an ideal/pure GTD implementation, few if any tasks would actually have dates attached to them, and that the call to action is either reviewing a project and seeing next actions, or examining a context. Neither of these really work for me.

    a quick note: I use OmniFocus as my task management system and I'm pretty happy with it, for the most part.

    A good portion of my tasks are date driven. Call someone on a certain date, replace the air filter on a certain date, prepare payroll or a monthly royalty report on a certain date, etc...So I give those completion due dates and have a defined view (perspective) that shows me what is due now/overdue/coming soon (next few days).

    Then I use the flag indicator to mark urgencies. So if I only have time to get a few things done that day, the ones with flags are the ones that MUST be accomplished. I have a separate view to show me flagged items by due date.

    Another big chunk of tasks for me is responding to clients. When clients email or call me with a request for info or a question, I have a separate project called ‘Clients’, I add the task to that project and don’t bother with a due date and have a separate view to just see those tasks in a focused way.

    And then there’s everything else, and that’s the category of stuff I feel like I don’t have a good handle on. The more items I put due dates on, the less I feel like there’s stuff floating in my system that I'm not on top of. But that means I'm now putting dates on things that don’t organically need them, so they’re getting arbitrary ones. And that means when that respective date rolls around, I like at what’s due now and see a mix of things that truly are due now combined with things I could really do whenever I felt like it, that’s kind of confusing. Intuitively, I feel like there’s a better way to handle this.

    I’d love to hear if anyone else has had a similar issue in their workflow, and if they’ve successfully addressed it in a way that works for them, what that was.

    Thanks.

  • #2
    I tried tons of stuff to solve that problem, here's waht works for me:

    1. I schedule projects. I always have a Most Important Project, each working day begins with working for a solid block of time on that project.

    2. I dedicate blocks of time to contexts. For instance on many saturday mornings I am working solely on home improvement tasks.

    3. On my endlessly long @computer list I do "mark" a bunch of NAs. These have to get done first. It doesn't matter if I work longer on each involved project (google this forum for "bookmark method") or if I do "unmarked" NAs. The point is the rythm, mark a few NAs, focus on them, complete them. Define the next bunch. I usually need half a week to complete the marked NAs.

    Let me add two thing: a GTD-system will not magically induce self-discipline. That has to come from somewhere else. I found out that bigger clarity on the higher levels motivates me to do the work. You have to "own" your work. A bad job doesn't turn into a good one just because you are doing GTD.

    The other thing is this: even if everything is awesome, you have to overcome a certain inertia. That's just physics and I found out you can overcome this quite literally with physiological tricks. For instance I sometimes shout out loud my NA-list like a drill-sergeant. Or I do some push-ups while screaming at me to go the f#*% to work now. I also have a flag in my office which shows me visually if I am "at work" or at 'home.

    Sometimes just not doing your work is a message from the sub-consciouss that something is wrong. You are not commited fully because deep inside you know that your plan is crapp.

    Hope this helps

    Comment


    • #3
      Thanks to the OP for the question and to the poster above for some good ideas.

      I like the 'Most Important Project' and 'blocks of time' ideas. I will also google the forum for the bookmark method. I know that I need a smaller list because when I look at my big context lists, they seem insurmountable. I've been pulling out a few actions that I feel I can knock out at a time and putting those on a list on the front of my binder. I've thought about highlighting things on my context lists, but then if I didn't finish them and they became less important than other things, I'd be tempted to re-copy my list to 'unhighlight' something. Maybe the bookmark method will be something to help me with this.

      Comment


      • #4
        The only things coming up when I google "bookmark method" for this forum are our two posts.

        Comment


        • #5
          Are you doing regular weekly reviews? The purpose of the weekly review is to help you stay on top of things and do this kind of prioritization.

          Katherine

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Conejo23 View Post
            How do you know when you need to take action on something?

            After several readings of GTD and RFA, it seems to me that in an ideal/pure GTD implementation, few if any tasks would actually have dates attached to them, and that the call to action is either reviewing a project and seeing next actions, or examining a context. Neither of these really work for me.

            a quick note: I use OmniFocus as my task management system and I'm pretty happy with it, for the most part.

            A good portion of my tasks are date driven. Call someone on a certain date, replace the air filter on a certain date, prepare payroll or a monthly royalty report on a certain date, etc...So I give those completion due dates and have a defined view (perspective) that shows me what is due now/overdue/coming soon (next few days).

            Then I use the flag indicator to mark urgencies. So if I only have time to get a few things done that day, the ones with flags are the ones that MUST be accomplished. I have a separate view to show me flagged items by due date.

            Another big chunk of tasks for me is responding to clients. When clients email or call me with a request for info or a question, I have a separate project called ‘Clients’, I add the task to that project and don’t bother with a due date and have a separate view to just see those tasks in a focused way.

            And then there’s everything else, and that’s the category of stuff I feel like I don’t have a good handle on. The more items I put due dates on, the less I feel like there’s stuff floating in my system that I'm not on top of. But that means I'm now putting dates on things that don’t organically need them, so they’re getting arbitrary ones. And that means when that respective date rolls around, I like at what’s due now and see a mix of things that truly are due now combined with things I could really do whenever I felt like it, that’s kind of confusing. Intuitively, I feel like there’s a better way to handle this.

            I’d love to hear if anyone else has had a similar issue in their workflow, and if they’ve successfully addressed it in a way that works for them, what that was.

            Thanks.
            The calendar is used for all date specific actions

            Comment


            • #7
              Some posts explaining NAs as "bookmarks":
              http://www.davidco.com/forum/showpos...71&postcount=9
              http://www.davidco.com/forum/showpos...76&postcount=3
              http://www.davidco.com/forum/showpos...84&postcount=2

              Comment


              • #8
                Cameron....i disagree that the calendar is used for all date specific actions. For my workflow, a calendar is a place to record events, not tasks. Lunch will Bob on Tuesday, teeth cleaning on Thursday, taking family to the game Saturday night, meeting Monday morning.

                Tasks go into my task list. Some have a date dependency, some don’t, but my tasks do not and will not be going into my calendar. So the question, again, is how to manage a task that where some are date driven and some aren’t.

                Katherine.....the review is an area where I need to get better. I do periodic reviews, but even then the problem persists. I do the review, I see that I have a few projects with outstanding tasks that deserve and require some attention, and then I engage my day and what I remember from what I just reviewed basically goes out the window. I find I'm not getting much from my review sessions other than to see “yep, those tasks belong to those projects are still there, gotta get to those.”

                I’ve developed process so that my needed client responses or urgencies or due now tasks don’t fall through the cracks and they are on my radar in a way I can easily find them, but I have yet to find a process for the rest of it that feels comfortable and will work.

                I appreciate the first response to my post, and while those techniques may work for some, they haven’t for me. Although I do love the suggestion that perhaps I have tasks associated with projects that are not staying on my radar for a reason, that I'm not fully committed to the project itself or am resistant to it in some fashion so that I subconsciously instruct myself not to put attention there. That’s entirely possible.

                The most important thing I can do for our business is to take exceptional care of our clients and encourage the others in our very small office to do the same. It’s like THAT is my biggest project and it does indeed get proper attention. Then I have a bunch of others that need to get done and we’ll benefit from getting them done but I'm about as enthusiastic about the work of doing them as going to the dentist, things like “finish writing copy for customer referral kit”, or add webpage discussing how we differ from physical therapy. Conceptually, I love those things. Pragmatically, I'm already working 60 hours a week and for me to do them requires giving something else up, usually family/personal time or sleep.

                Gonna think on this one some more.

                Comment


                • #9
                  just read this at one of the ‘bookmark’ links provided above:

                  Now, if a next action is just hanging around for weeks... like 'clean the bedroom closet'... In this case, I know I can complete the whole thing in one sitting and in one context, but it's a cringe task. I just don't want to start. So, it gets promoted to a project, and the next action becomes something very, very small; something like 'throw out the dry cleaning bags that are still on clothes that I picked up from the cleaners last week'. It's a two minute task--one I won't mind doing--and it moves things forward. It may even get the juices flowing to the point that I'll actually complete the whole 'clean closet' project.

                  I love the description of a “cringe task” or project. It’s something I need to do, and it’s a result I want to obtain, but I just am not excited about the DOING of it. Even more, I like the idea of finding some really small thing I can to on that to break inertia and generate at least a little momentum.

                  Good stuff.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Conejo23 View Post
                    Cameron....i disagree that the calendar is used for all date specific actions. For my workflow, a calendar is a place to record events, not tasks. Lunch will Bob on Tuesday, teeth cleaning on Thursday, taking family to the game Saturday night, meeting Monday morning.

                    Tasks go into my task list. Some have a date dependency, some don’t, but my tasks do not and will not be going into my calendar. So the question, again, is how to manage a task that where some are date driven and some aren’t.

                    Katherine.....the review is an area where I need to get better. I do periodic reviews, but even then the problem persists. I do the review, I see that I have a few projects with outstanding tasks that deserve and require some attention, and then I engage my day and what I remember from what I just reviewed basically goes out the window. I find I'm not getting much from my review sessions other than to see “yep, those tasks belong to those projects are still there, gotta get to those.”

                    I’ve developed process so that my needed client responses or urgencies or due now tasks don’t fall through the cracks and they are on my radar in a way I can easily find them, but I have yet to find a process for the rest of it that feels comfortable and will work.

                    I appreciate the first response to my post, and while those techniques may work for some, they haven’t for me. Although I do love the suggestion that perhaps I have tasks associated with projects that are not staying on my radar for a reason, that I'm not fully committed to the project itself or am resistant to it in some fashion so that I subconsciously instruct myself not to put attention there. That’s entirely possible.

                    The most important thing I can do for our business is to take exceptional care of our clients and encourage the others in our very small office to do the same. It’s like THAT is my biggest project and it does indeed get proper attention. Then I have a bunch of others that need to get done and we’ll benefit from getting them done but I'm about as enthusiastic about the work of doing them as going to the dentist, things like “finish writing copy for customer referral kit”, or add webpage discussing how we differ from physical therapy. Conceptually, I love those things. Pragmatically, I'm already working 60 hours a week and for me to do them requires giving something else up, usually family/personal time or sleep.

                    Gonna think on this one some more.
                    i do kept my calendar for time driven events as well. but the main baby is still the task list.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Ok, some more thoughts on this. I went back and re-read the section from David’s first book regarding the handling of date-driven stuff, and also heard him talk a bit on one of his podcasts about this.

                      David did NOT say that all date driven stuff should go into a calendar. What he wrote was that it should go into a calendar or the tickler file (presumably one of the 43 folders). Well, if I'm working a paper based system, unless I have a datebook kind of device like a Franklin Planner, then yes, a calendar is probably the most logical place for some of these items.

                      But technology changes things. An application like OmniFocus can act as both the action list repository AND as a digital tickler file, and can do so more efficiently and elegantly than can a physical tickler file. I need to call someone on a certain date and I need to reference 2 files on my computer stashed in my reference library. Well, I could write down “Call Bill” on a piece of paper, then print out the files, staple it all together and put it in the appropriate tickler folder, or I can add that as a task in my software, create direct links to the reference files and have that task show up on precisely the date upon which I need to act on it, and I can do the electronic version of this process much faster than the paper version, particularly if there are multiple pages to be printed. Moreover, I just saved money on ink and paper costs to boot.

                      So I would argue that this process is not a contradiction of what David advises, it’s just a different implementation of a tickler file, a different way to do EXACTLY what he advises.

                      But there was something he said on the podcast I'm listening to that tied it together for me and I felt like it gave me permission to structure my system in this way. He was taking a question from someone in the audience and to summarize what I heard him say, he basically said “I don’t have a problem with you using dates for your tasks as long as you are not enslaved by those dates. If you run out of day because you got a long phone call and the copier broke down and you had to pick your kid up early from school because he was sick, give yourself permission to understand that for those things that can be done tomorrow or later that it’s OK to do them then and not feel compelled to grind yourself down to the bone because you have some relatively arbitrary date on a task.”

                      that makes perfect sense to me. And I realized that in my system, I use dates in two ways. One set of tasks have dates that are hard, that task NEEDS to get done on THAT day (but again not at a specific time otherwise I'd put it on my calendar). Those are the tasks I flag. On a given day, those are the things I gotta get done, the rest would be great to get done that day and if I can’t, then I move it out. Then obviously the other set of tasks with dates is that last category. I use the date as a guideline of when I want to get it done but if it needs to get pushed out because of interruptions or changing priorities, that’s fine. And my software tool makes that VERY easy to do. I can reschedule 10 tasks in about 15-20 seconds.

                      Just wanted to address the implication from some posts above that it’s somehow a violation of GTD dogma to put a date driven action on a task list. With advances in the technology of our toolkits, the line between action lists and tickler files has been blurred.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Conejo23 View Post
                        David did NOT say that all date driven stuff should go into a calendar. What he wrote was that it should go into a calendar or the tickler file (presumably one of the 43 folders). Well, if I'm working a paper based system, unless I have a datebook kind of device like a Franklin Planner, then yes, a calendar is probably the most logical place for some of these items.

                        Just wanted to address the implication from some posts above that it’s somehow a violation of GTD dogma to put a date driven action on a task list. With advances in the technology of our toolkits, the line between action lists and tickler files has been blurred.
                        Yes, if it's a due date it doesn't need to go in the calendar, that wasn't entirely clear in your original post.

                        In the truest spirit of GTD i think the idea is that if you're regularly doing a weekly review then you don't need a visible link between Next Actions and projects - because you -know- what's what.

                        Similarly unless it's going to be a huge issue, adding deadlines to your next action is probably unnecessary baggage. If it's urgent, you do that as your current activity. If doing it between now and your next weekly review is sufficient, then it's sufficient. (note that it would make sense to add your due to date to the project level)

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by cameron View Post
                          In the truest spirit of GTD i think the idea is that if you're regularly doing a weekly review then you don't need a visible link between Next Actions and projects - because you -know- what's what.

                          Similarly unless it's going to be a huge issue, adding deadlines to your next action is probably unnecessary baggage. If it's urgent, you do that as your current activity. If doing it between now and your next weekly review is sufficient, then it's sufficient. (note that it would make sense to add your due to date to the project level)
                          Yes!

                          You should be looking at your lists multiple times per day, and each time you do you'll be deciding what's most important at that moment.

                          Now, I have put due dates on a few Next Actions. Sometimes, it makes sense. But as a general rule, I honestly find I don't need them.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            this has been a good discussion for me because it’s helping crystallize why I do some of what I do. I totally understand the intended/designed mechanics of working with few if any dates on the actions. But when I started out and tried that, what I found was it almost required a daily review process that I found very inefficient. I was constantly going through all these different tasks and making the same decisions over and over. “nope, I've got higher priorities than this task, it can wait, but this one over here, I need to get that done tomorrow”, that kind of thing, and I found myself spending a LOT of time reviewing those lists. It was like I was doing a mini weekly review multiple times a day just to pick out what to act on. What worked a lot better for me was to go through my weekly review, look at my next actions and then map out a plan of what I want to get done when, do that once, and now I let the dates bring those actions to my attention at the appropriate time and I don’t spend time each day reviewing the available actions list, I use that time acting.

                            And I have my views setup where I see what’s past due, what’s due today, what’s due tomorrow, and then everything else. So those days where I've gotten everything done I look at the ‘everything else’ list and pull in what can be done now and get it done. But most often, I'm just happy to get done what I decided I wanted to try to get done that day.

                            So far it seems to be working for me and it just feels way better than to be constantly reviewing my available actions list, but the weakness in this approach is making sure those items without associated dates don’t become out of sight/out of mind. But I'm finding ways to use my software app to address that.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I’m starting to take a lot of my task/actions with dates attached to them and putting them in my tickler system.

                              Lately, my “waiting for” list is beginning to bug me, its filling up with quite a few waiting for’s that I don’t want or need to see (reviewing it just makes me “think” about stuff that needn’t be thought about). Most of my waiting for’s have time limits until I need or should follow them up so why not just tickler that date (digitally) to pop up when its time to follow it up instead of having a waiting for list that needs reviewing?

                              One of my goals is to have system that reminds me of everything I need to do that is someday in future, could be in a year, 6months, one month, or even a few days. I want it out my sight/out my head. Then get a nicely timed reminder telling me what to do. Mind like water baby haha

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