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"Stale" NAs or Cleaning out the Proverbial Fridge

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  • "Stale" NAs or Cleaning out the Proverbial Fridge

    The recent thread about contexts brought up a different question for me. I've noticed that sometimes I'll have a context in which NA's just sit and that is an indication that that context isn't really working or that the NA needs to be rethought: is it a mini-project and not a true NA? am I really the right person to do it? is there something else I really need to do first? For example, a big aha for me lately is that some things aren't getting done both at home and at work because they require building in chunks of uninterupted time which means I need to have a NA of negotiation with my spouse, boss, coworkers to make that time happen.

    My question is this: do any of you have a process or rule of thumb for watching out for NA's that are just getting stale. Do you ever just set aside time to click off NA's that have been sitting there awhile, that aren't urgent, really do need to be done, but you are sick of looking at them on your lists.

    I'm thinking I need to build in time like that. It is a bit like cleaning out your fridge once a either need to an omlet out of it or toss it.

  • #2
    Weekly review.

    I think the Next Action shouldn't be present on the context list longer than one week. If it was not done its status should be checked during the Weekly Review. You can decide to leave it for another week but not longer. During the next Weekly Review it should be moved to Someday/Maybe list or deleted. By allowing the Next Action to sit on the context list endlessly you are breaking the GTD agreement with yourself.


    • #3
      Keeping the context lists short.

      Maybe I'm misusing GTD a little but I like to set deadlines to everything so clearing all the NAs after a week seems to be natural for me. But of course it requires to limit the number of items on the context lists. I simply hate to put NA on the context list when I know that I wil have no time to do it in the next week. My projects are rather continuous flow of NAs. WaitingFor context is a way to synchronize project with the outside world.


      • #4
        Waiting for the date.

        When the project has the NA - after doing it I decide what will be the next NA (or NAs) for the project (the list of the project tasks may be created during project planning). If I do not believe that I will make progress in the given project I put it on hold in "waiting for the date" state (you know I like to attach deadlines to everything). In this case you can put a reminder in your tickler file or in your calendar.


        • #5
          During my weekly review a few weeks ago I became really frustrated by a number of projects that had been open for months, some of them for many months, with no progress at all. After thinking about this for a day or so, it occurred to me that I should endeavor to move every project forwards each week. If I really didn't realistically think that I could move the project forward over the next one to two weeks then it belonged on my Someday/Maybe list. I did move some items to that list and I'm quite comfortable with them there. I look at them weekly and say, "Nope, not this week! Maybe next week."

          I work primarily from my Palm and keep all my next actions in the To Do list which I access through DateBk5. All my projects are numbered (just as a reference) and corresponding next actions are given the same number. I brought this list into ShadowPlan and as much as possible I tried to work from that list and knock out as many of those next actions as possible. It was very empowering! Ever since I started that I have made incredible progress on a number of projects that were previously stuck and I've managed to complete a number of other well ahead of schedule.

          Although David doesn't explicitly say that our next actions list should be only those things that we plan to move on between weekly reviews, I do believe that it is inferred and this new mindset is certainly working well for me so far. I think that it would be a fantastic experiment for any GTDer.


          • #6
            Thanks for your replies. I really like the spirit of the idea of only having projects on your list that you can move forward on in the somehwat near future. In fact, I think Jason Womack posted something like that not too long ago. A week would be to strict for me. I think that time frame would be an indvidual thing depending on the nature of ones world. For me it would be more like a good three weeks - I have lots of long term projects, go many days at time where I'm in meetngs and events and don't have time to actually "do" my NA's and just focus on staying on top of my inbox. (That used to really stress me out....but as I've learned to trust my system more, I can ride that wave knowing that things are written down.)

            I think of projects as being on currents - like in a river. Some move quickly and some mover slowly, but it is important that they move and not turn into stagnant cesspools. Of course, we have to make sure that the ones that need to move fast are the ones that are moving right along.

            We probably all have individual time frames in which we know within us an NA/project has been not moving forward like it should, we aren't keeping our commitments to ourselves. Looking at it and thinking "yuck - I'm sick of looking at you" is probably a pretty good indication. Here is where I can make better use of my weekly review. Look at those stale NA's and rethink them
            * am I thinking "bleck - why are you still here" and just grit your teeth and do it - perhaps carve out time to take care of a bunch of the little buggers in one fell swoop.
            * is this really a someday/maybe
            * should this really better done by someone else (mundane example, but I had "get new spare key made for house" on my errand list forever until I realized this would really best best done by my husband who goes to the hardware store about once a week. Duh! He had it done that weekend)
            * can I actually do this when I'm in that context - is there a more immediate NA I'm not thinking of
            * maybe it just seemed like a good idea at the time, but upon further reflection, doesn't really fit

            A lot of times, I just didn't do the job I needed to do in the first place of thinking how to handle the NA....or things change

            Thanks for your ideas...the thing I love about GTD is how people adapt it to their circumstances.


            • #7
              While I agree that NA's should not sit idle indefinitely, I personally would not accept the arbitrary rule that they should not exceed one week.

              If I orignally planned to do something this week but was prevented from completing it for some more attractive/lucrative reason, and if the renegotiation did not harm the proability of a successful outcome, then I owe it to myself to push the NA forward to next week, the week after, or whatever.

              To me, this seems to be the essence of being able to deal with surprise - the problem lies in not knowing what you've renegotiated rather than the act itself. A renegotiated agreement is not a broken agreement. But that's just me atfer 5 weeks - maybe I'll sing a different tune later.


              • #8
                I restrict ASAP NA's to those things I intend to Do before the next Weekly Review. At the end of the week, there is a clean slate because everything in the system must be evaluated afresh. Any thing still on the ASAP NA list is questioned for: "Why did I not Do this?"; anything in Someday/Maybe is questioned for: "Do I intend to Do this in the next week?".



                • #9
                  This posting prompted me to reread a chapter out of RFA last night on long term goals - and this also ties in nicely the the "big vs. little" discussion that is going on now. In chpt. 48, DA has a good description of the difference between "somedaymaybe" and "long-term". Here are a couple quotes.

                  "There's a subtle but critical diference between something that is long term and something in the category of "someday/maybe". Either a project is an open loop to close, as soon as possible, or it is not. "As soon as possible" may be seven years, but it is still "as soon as possible." An if it's an open loop to close, there is a next action on it that must be determined before any progress will take place. "As soon as possible" turns into "never" unless next physical-action steps are determined. And no matter away a goal may be, there is somethign that can be done toward it immediately, if you're sincere about it." "Short term deliverables about the long-term goals are a critical motivating factor, and ral next actions that we can actually do wtihin the next few hours or days galvanize the inspiration."
                  I'm not sure if this is what is being suggested by anyone, but based on this line of thinking, it is probably not wise to contiually move real projects back and forth from from your projects list to someday/maybe based on your ability to be able to deal with it in the near term or tuck an NA away somewhere to look at later because you can't get to it this week. For me, a better question ask in the weekly review than, "can I deal with this this week", would be "is this moving along quickly enough, do I need to figure out a way to make NAs related to this project happen sooner."

                  My fear, at least for myself, that if my all NA's for all my projects aren't out on the table for me to see, I'm then hiding from what I'm really responsible for and it makes it easy for me to overcommit (which is I have a major tendancy to do).

                  I do think though, that context lists need to be kept fresh (I keep thinking about an issue of Seinfeld in which he said the "crisper" in the fridge should be called the "rotter" because that is where you put the veggies to rot I realized last week that I had a context that was a "rotter" and not a "crisper" so I quickly got rid of it - almost everything that was moved out of that context is now done.) What I'm seing is that the nature of my job (many meetings, many very long term projects with completion dates 2 years away), requires that I take more responsibility for leaving space in my schedule to periodically take care of these less urgent, but still important NAs.