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Must...resist...priorities...how to reduce list-scanning?

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  • Must...resist...priorities...how to reduce list-scanning?

    I'm your typical GTD novice. I have my (electronic) folder setup and it works fine. Things flow out of my Inbox to my Next Action list or a Project folder (or Waiting for, Someday/Maybe, etc.). That's the easy part.

    What I struggle with is prioritizing everything that is a Next Action. Between single-step Next Actions and next actions from Projects, I have probably 150-250 items. They range from "revise book proposal that editor is interested in" to "order a 2nd ipod charger on the Internet". Most do not have any specific start/due date.

    GTD preaches prioritization on the fly based on context, time, energy, and priority. I rarely find the first three constraining: I often have large blocks of time of time in overlapping contexts due to telecommuting and flexible work hours. I don't have many meetings or appointments, and while I have tons to do, I can sort out my time mostly as I prefer (within reason). Time and energy are generally not constraining factors.

    So what's the best method for ordering all of the possible things I could do? Some really are more important than others. The book proposal is really important compared to ordering a second iPod charger, but in GTD they're both just items on the list of dozens. Yeah, I know, it's all intuitive/gut/etc. as Allen says, but for me it means very frequent list-scanning.

    What is the best way to reduce the number of times I have to say "good, that's done, what's next...oh, let's go look through this huge list again" ?

    I resist the idea of adding a priority to items...I've thought of making a tag for "important!" but that is prioritization under another name.

    I use Toodledo for task management, but this is really not specific to that system.

  • #2
    Do some prioritization, but be ready to throw it away

    You can go through an actions-review, may be in the morning, and come up with a today/important list or something like that. There is nothing wrong with that. The only GTD catch on this is that you should be ready to reconsider what you have selected anytime given a change in circumstances.

    What one thinks is important today may not stay so tomorrow (or after five minutes). And one may not finish all of them in a day because of circumstances/spontaneity/avoidance. The point is not to fuss over it, and use the marking just for reducing the effort of going through the whole list. And review the marking (almost) everyday, because things change their importance from a shifting perspective. Further, you always have the rest of the list when nothing in the select list seems appropriate.

    It's not priorities that one should resist. The problem is sticking to the old outdated priority decisions without reviewing them.

    Regards,
    Abhay

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    • #3
      Originally posted by abhay View Post
      You can go through an actions-review, may be in the morning, and come up with a today/important list or something like that.
      Yeah I do that a lot of days. I print off my list these days, and I run through it in the morning and highilght the half dozen things or so that are either most urgent, or I'd feel better if they were done, or would let other people get on and do their work if I completed, or whatever.

      RE priorities, totally agree, the problem is summarising the hundred different priority factors into something as simple as A-B-C. Priorities exist, but they're subjective and change frequently, so you need a system that allows youre thinking to chance with them.

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      • #4
        I have the same problem

        I'm a teacher, and during the summer all of my projects tend to have equal priority and most have a due date of "the day before school starts". I tend to spend time at the 20-30k levels seeing which projects I want to move forward and focusing on the related next actions.

        I also try to focus equal time on "work" and "life" projects.

        I use Toodledo as well, and I use tags so I can separate my actions on criteria other than context, usually by project.

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        • #5
          Just pick

          If there are no obvious NA's sticking out in priority, then a random choice is good as any.
          So how about just picking a random item. I have the experience that when my lists become to long (and that is already >30 items in one context) and if time allows me that it can be very productive to just pick. Why spend the energy thinking about what is more important, leave that to the Weekly Review. I already decided for every NA that it must be done so why not just do them! . It is even more fun because you never know what the random choice will bring, it becomes a game.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by bhaveman View Post
            I already decided for every NA that it must be done so why not just do them! .
            The problem I have is that I have far more NAs and projects than I can do in a week. From time to time il clear pretty much all of them out, but most weeks there's at least a quarter left and some weeks I'll barely do 25% of them. So part of choosing for me is balancing the different types of urgency.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by bishblaize View Post
              The problem I have is that I have far more NAs and projects than I can do in a week.
              That's true for many people. You're not expected to get all of your next actions done in a week. In fact, I recall David Allen saying in a seminar that a complete inventory of one's next actions often would take 300-400 hours to do them all!

              Remember, the next actions are bookmarks that you use to kick start advancement of projects from their current state to done. You don't have to get them all done before your next review; you just need the reminders stored outside of your head.

              Generally I set my priorities during the weekly review by creating list of outcomes I'd like to finish by the next weekly review. I rotate this list daily through my tickler file as a reminder of my priorities. Of course, if circumstances change, I toss the list and follow my gut.

              When I look at my action lists and can't decide what to do and my actions all look unappetizing then I go for quantity and try to knock off as many as I can. Starting at the top, I go down the list one row at a time and ask myself "Can I get this done in 10 minutes or less?" If yes, I do it. Sometimes after I get some quick wins like this my intuition turns on again or I find myself getting a project or a someday/maybe done by accident as one action leads to another.

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              • #8
                quick-list

                I currently have 204 projects, as of my last review, and for all of which I am solely responsible, so I understand the "frequent review." These are immediate projects but there are items in my Next Actions that will likely be there in two months.

                What I do is scan my lists in the morning and made an ad hoc list on my UCT, which I carry in my pocket. The list contains the tasks that would get me the most payoff today. This serves to block off those parts of my planner that don't apply today (but which may apply tomorrow). It also lets me review a summary of my lists, as of this morning.

                If I have to move very fast, I stick to the list. If I needn't move as fast, I will review my planner for additional calls, etc., and I may make them. If something comes in that affects those top payoff items today, then I am poised to pounce.

                I completed 40+ projects within a week of starting that practice.

                Hope this helps,
                JohnV474

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                • #9
                  I've struggled with this endlessly. I'm most productive when I have one Area of Focus or Project that I use as a filter. I set THAT as the priority and ask myself "does doing X move me closer to Y?" sometimes NA's in one project still help move another closer to completion, so even at the project level, it's good for me to ask that.

                  Originally posted by abhay View Post
                  What one thinks is important today may not stay so tomorrow (or after five minutes). And one may not finish all of them in a day because of circumstances/spontaneity/avoidance. The point is not to fuss over it, and use the marking just for reducing the effort of going through the whole list.
                  I had the pleasure of hearing DA speak last month and he described the 'today' function in the Lotus Notes product. IIRC, you drag items to Today to get that kind of list. But when he was having them put the system together, he made sure that there's a one click 'undo' or something so that everything pops back to where it really belongs in the overall system. I thought that was a GREAT insight.

                  In OF, I've usually used flags similarly, but I've never felt free enough to de-flag everything and start over. I'm doing that more often now. Just because it was important yesterday, doesn't mean it's important today. Brilliant!

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                  • #10
                    Action not words

                    Just make sure you spend more time actioning your priorities than you do time managing them.

                    As they say time is money.

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                    • #11
                      Too many next actions that are really SDMBs

                      I used to have that problem. I identified everything I needed to do, then had an unmanageable list to use to try and do it. I missed important ones because they were buried in not important ones.

                      The answer, for me, was realizing not everything was "next." Some of it was stuff I wanted to do "eventually." That's why I always skimmed over it on the list. I moved the majority of my identified tasks to a "SDMB" list (someday/maybe) which I reviewed weekly to see if any needed to be moved to my action list for that week. Some things I skipped all week got moved to the SDMB list.

                      I kept my action list down to what I truly intended to do at the first opportunity. When I looked at the list, I saw what I needed to do, not what I could be doing.

                      I used Toodledo before, and used the "status" field to set as "Someday" or "Next action." I used the filter to "hide deferred tasks" during the week, and the "Someday" tasks weren't visible, though they were still in my correct contexts. During my review, I'd turn off the filter, or show only the "Someday" items, depending on how I wanted to look at them.

                      I hope this helps. It was a revelation for me, having a someday/maybe list that wasn't separate, but already in the right place, visible only when requested.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by raindog View Post
                        GTD preaches prioritization on the fly based on context, time, energy, and priority. I rarely find the first three constraining: I often have large blocks of time of time in overlapping contexts due to telecommuting and flexible work hours. I don't have many meetings or appointments, and while I have tons to do, I can sort out my time mostly as I prefer (within reason). Time and energy are generally not constraining factors.
                        My environment is similar to yours. Are you sure that energy isn't a constraining factor for you?



                        Based on the 'Haiku productivity' article from zen to done I solved this problem by setting a limit. An arbitrary limit. My GTD-adhering cat left the room when I did this. But it works. The software I use numbers the list. I choose 'letters', that means my list is 'numbered' A-Z. Every NA that comes after 'Z' gets regulated onto a second tier list which I do not work from. When I have space left on my main list, I automatically am much more conscious about which NAs to add because of the limited space. So, maybe the limit that makes this work - only 26 NAs 'active' at the same time - is completely artificial, but it adds much less 'artificialness' to my system, than 'pseudo due dates' or 'priorities' would. (The artificialness lies besides the point so on the spot is pure.)

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by njefferson View Post

                          The answer, for me, was realizing not everything was "next." Some of it was stuff I wanted to do "eventually."
                          I split my SDMB list into two. I have a Not Yet - things I definitely want to do, just don't have time, money, staff or opportunity to do immediately - and a SDMB - goals and dreams, cool stuff like that.

                          The Not Yet I review every week and frequently move things in and out of it depending on the demands of work and life. The SDMB I check as often as I can, but if I go a couple of weeks without, it doesn't matter since none of these things are day by day critical.

                          I found mixing them up meant I either was reviewing things I didnt need to - the middle of a chaotic week isn't the time to decide whether you really want to go scuba diving - or I was avoiding looking at it because there was so much null material there.

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                          • #14
                            This is a great discussion. I think Nike has the answer. Just do it!

                            I am just getting started trying to do "official" GTD, and I noticed the problem I always have. My lists grow and I "get numb to them" as David says in the book, because in a busy week I see the same item over and over and know I don't have time to do it and then I get sick of seeing it so I mentally ignore it, which of course causes stress and distrust in the whole system. My gut feel is that one cure is to set aside some fairly large unbroken blocks of time to just knock them out, like a poster said above in slightly different works - don't shuffle your lists around, just do something!!!

                            It's also a good point not to confuse next actions with someday maybe. But in truth most things do have a time constraint, but someday maybe shouldn't, right? Of course my someday maybe or back burner list at work goes back years! If it truly was a back burner my stovetop would be on fire! It's more like cold storage.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Cpu_Modern View Post
                              Based on the 'Haiku productivity' article from zen to done I solved this problem by setting a limit. An arbitrary limit.
                              This also is my current approach. I ask myself "Can I really see myself fitting this into the next seven days?". If yes, it stays on the list -- if no, it is moved elsewhere. If I run out of next actions, I can always look at my project lists and come up wiith more -- but I have never run out yet

                              I use Outlook Tasks to manage both projects and next actions -- so, some of the places you can move next actions that will not get done this week are SomeDayMaybe, NotQuiteYet, and to the notes section of the project they belong to.

                              Rob

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