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Mental dilemma- please help!

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  • Mental dilemma- please help!

    Iím new to David Allenís concepts (Iíve read the book) and Iím struggling with the concept of not scheduling your next actions. Maybe I donít understand the principal behind the practice (please correct me if Iím wrong).

    From what I understand, the intention when you put something on a Next Action list is to avoid, at least for the moment, doing that thing (or committing the time in your schedule). Recording something on the list is the action of setting it aside for "as soon as possible", or later. Given that nothing ever happens ďlaterĒ, when will it get done? Doesnít everything you do happen in a finite period of time.

    When I consider doing something, if the answer is "yes, I'm going to do it," why shouldnít I schedule the time to do it? I might schedule it a week from now or even a month from now. But the time it would take to have it happen would be set aside and committed.

    If you don't have the time to do something, no matter how much you want or need to get it done, it doesn't happen. How do Next Action lists require you to deal with the reality of how you use your time?

    Maybe Iíve completely missed the boat on this one. Any ideas or suggestions?

  • #2
    That is probably one of the most difficult parts of adjusting to the GTD system. I think the general idea is that with most time management programs people are constantly reprioritizing and moving the things they had listed for a particular day to another day. In this system, you should be able to quickly scan your context lists and choose the next thing to do. You will never have to move it to another day because it's not listed for a particular day. It also eliminates that sense of failure or stress you might get from thinking that you had a particular task listed for a certain day and didn't get to it.

    Having said that, though, there are still some next actions I may schedule. If something is time sensitive, such as a deadline to file a brief, I will put that on my calendar. If I have something that requires a large block of time, such as writing the brief to be filed, then I may try to stick it in a slot on my calendar so that I don't inadvertently schedule other appointments when I need to be working on the brief.

    Also, you need to use the system in a way that works for you. Some people using the system still categorize things into what they want to do today or in the next week or so (which is basically just another way of putting more things on the Someday/Maybe list). This might be workable if your next actions lists are too long and you don't want to scan a list that's 150 items long to see what you have to do next.


    • #3
      The distinction is one between preparing the Next Action lists (each for their appropriate context) versus actually *doing* the actions. In other words, as you process your Inbox -- filing, doing (2 minute rule), and adding to your Next Actions -- you are taking the steps to make the best use of your time when you are at one of those "I wonder what I should do now?" points.

      If it helps, you could schedule chunks of time. Something like:
      10am-noon : Work on @Office Next Actions
      1-2pm : go through @Phone Next Actions
      Saturday 9am-noon : @Home Next Actions

      But part of the power and flexibility of GTD is that you don't have to rigidly schedule these blocks of time; you just need to recognize when you have one and be able to confidently grab the list of Next Actions which are appropriate for that setting.

      Hope that helps!


      • #4
        For me, part of the power of using GTD is that I have a complete and comprehensive list of everything I have to do available for when I have time to do it. This allows me to take advantage of unplanned, and sometimes unexpected blocks of time.

        For example, suppose I have back-to-back meetings scheduled on my calendar. However, the first meeting finishes a little early, leaving with 10 minutes of unexpected time. I can review my lists for a quick 10-minute action, depending on my context. I may be able to complete a phone call, for example, or send a short email.

        Also, many of the actions that are required of us are really very short actions. If I remember while in a meeting that I need to send someone a short email, I don't want to actually schedule a time on my calendar to do it. Instead, I jot down a note, which then gets processed the next time I empty my inbox, or add it to my lists.

        Finally, I think few of us actually have the luxury of planning out our day, and having our day actually happen according to plan. With my context-based Next Action lists, those natural interruptions don't throw my whole day off kilter, and I can deal with the interruption knowing that everything I need to do is in a trusted system.

        That said, you need to do what works for you.


        • #5
          DA doesn't much like daily plans because in the moment reality messes them so often, causing time-wasting re-writes and/or frustration over not meeting the artificial time-goals you set for yourselves. Therefore, he suggests that anything that is not Date-sensitive should be ASAP or Someday/Maybe.

          Other time management coaches, most pointedly Mark MacCormack, insist that a Task has insufficient visibility until it has a Date and Time.

          I believe that these conflicting views have substantial, but not complete, validity, especially when they presented so convincingly by good authors. The answer for each person must be somewhere between the two views, according to their personality, habits and working styles. My own view is that everything that is Done has a Date/Time - if you did it, there was a Date/Time when you did it. Everything that is not yet Done is awaiting a Date/Time. The question for each person is how far in advance can you comfortably schedule things so that you obtain (MacCormack's) visibility by schedulling ahead of time and avoid (DA's) frustration by selecting in-the-moment. The answer may be different for each type of item. My own compromise is based on my conclusion that GtD works best for the small, time-filler items, for which purpose you have an opportunistic ASAP List. Therefore, anything that will take me longer than 1 hour needs to be Calendarized, because finding a spare hour or more in a busy Calendar is hard to do, and if I don't schedule it I will probably end up filling the time that opportunistically becomes available with the small-duration stuff (for quantity over quality) and never get to the longer-duration stuff. In other words, the small stuff can be Done any time (when there is time), but the you have to make the time for the larger items. Of course, I can easily have problems when I have schedulled a large item and I still have more Important small items lurking in my ASAP List, system is perfect.



          • #6
            Compromise and adjustment has worked for me too

            I agree with Andrew's points. No one system is likely to be perfect for anyone. GTD is an incredibly flexible methodology but, to be most successful with it, I've adapted and modified some of DA's proscriptions to better suit my workflow and habits.

            I do suggest starting out with "plain vanilla" and a hard landscape approach to your calendar until you are able to quantify the ways in which this isn't meeting your needs. Then you can start experimenting becuase you know with a high degree of certainty what is working for you.


            • #7
              I'm surprised there hasn't been mention of the weekly review here. Even DA suggests scheduling the weekly review to make sure you're getting it done. Friday at 8am is my time for a weekly review. As part of the "process" step, I schedule anything that I believe needs to be time bound. Everything else remains on the next actions or projects list.

              If you've ever taken the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, you'll know that different people have different work style preferences. Some are more effective if everything is scheduled, some are more effective without having time slots for every action. Decide your preference and adjust your method to allow you to be effective.