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NA for big, repetitive project

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  • NA for big, repetitive project

    I have a project, and I really dont know how to describe the NA (in a way that wont make me procrastinate/avoid it).

    The project is to complete sorting of my paper backlog personally. Presently it is mostly in a single area, and it has been filtered through enough times that most of the rubbish is already gone. My main actions have to do with getting all the paper sorted by topic and into the filing cabinet.

    The issue I have is that the size of this pile is still quite large, and there are certain actions that will be triggered by some of the pieces of paper. So far I have tried a NA of "sort (a number) pieces of paper into filing" but the issue with that is it is never "done" - there is no win (the pile is still there, and still big). And on top of that, for sorting those pieces of extra paper my reward is extra projects and actions, which is not leading to a feeling of accomplishment or progress.

    Can anyone suggest a different NA (or a different way to describe the project) that lets me get more engaged with it?

  • #2
    This is a big question! I think I'll talk about your specific project, and you can generalize as required from there.

    As I think you may have noticed, your procrastination isn't really happening at the Next Action level. It sorta seems that way because that's where we run into it, but that's not where it's born.

    Its roots are at the Project level -- particularly, the (Wildly-Successful) Outcome. If you are, at best, half-heartedly interested in the best possible outcome of a project, no amount of NA fiddling is going to fix it.

    With projects like this, I'd also suggest it's worth considering something like the Spectacular-Failure Outcome. Just how bad could things possibly get if you decide not to do anything about this? The two extremes should help you reach a decision.

    So in terms of what to actually do about this, I would start with taking a closer look again at the Outcome you want (and, potentially, the Outcome you fear.) That's likely to be a fairly personal process so don't feel like you need to share that here if you don't want to. I'd be especially suspicious of anything of the form "I *should* do this because..." as that can indicate a harmful shift of focus away from what you want to what someone else wants.

    At the end of that process, you may decide you're perfectly happy with just throwing the entire backlog into a dusty box and never looking at it again.

    On a purely tactical level, if you do decide to proceed, I personally would be inclined to put any projects that arise out of the review into Someday/Maybe, rather than directly into your Project list. I would suggest that more clearly and accurately represents your current level of commitment to them. Of course, if it's something like "Oh yeah, the paperwork for my 2007 taxes that I still need to file" then I might make an exception, but even then I don't think it would be problematic for that to spend some time in Someday/Maybe.

    On another tactical note, I'd be careful to ensure that my system was ready for this influx. If I knew my filing cabinet was almost full and that it'd be a long and painful process for me to file anything, I would definitely be grasping at any reason to procrastinate using it.

    I feel, perhaps overly-optimistically, that resolving those issues will make your NA problems disappear -- but let us know how it goes for you.



    • #3
      I don't know if any of the following will help, but:

      - How sorted does this backlog of papers need to get? Is it possible that you're over-sorting it? For example, I can imagine a filing system that contains folders divided down to the level of "2009 American Express statements", and one that contains folders divided, instead, at the level of "Personal Financial Papers". (Or Personal Financial Papers 1 and 2 and 3, as each one gets too fat to take any more papers.)

      It's nice to be able to put your finger on a paper within seconds or minutes, but is it necessary? If certain categories of papers are only there just in case you get audited, or just in case the laptop breaks and you need proof of purchase date, then it might be just fine to know that the needed paper is somewhere in one of those three fat folders, and that it will take an hour to find it.

      - Continuing that thought, if you can find some really big, fat, largely non-actionable categories, that would allow you to make some of the filing easier. Instead of taking twenty sheets off a stack and laboriously filing them into twenty different folders, you could instead flip through the paper stacks at top speed, extracting, for example, Personal Financial Papers. This would include credit card statements, bank statements, utility bills, gas receipts, and so on and so on.

      You'd just plop papers in the fat category on a stack, leaving the rest of the papers untouched, and when you're ready to stop that filing session, you have a sheaf of papers that all goes in _one_ folder.

      So the majority of the filing becomes a mindless, dull, bread-and-butter task, one that can be done while listening to music, or while on the phone, or with the TV on if these papers are at home or if you want to take stacks home.

      - Except that this nice mindless task is mixed up with the higher-stress task of identifying new projects and actions. I'd un-mix them, by creating an "actionable" cardboard box, and physically tossing the actionable papers into it as you come across them while searching for those fat non-actionable categories in my previous suggestion. Don't worry about how you'll plan or do those projects and actions; that can come later. For now, you're just extracting big non-actionable bites from your paper backlog.



      • #4
        Define NA by time

        What I do in cases like this is to set my NA by chunks of time, for example: "30 minutes of sorting the big pile". That ensures me that I am in control of how much of my day I am going to dedicate to that project, instead of setting it by number of papers, which may take a variable amount of time depending on their nature.