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Recovering after a meltdown

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  • Recovering after a meltdown

    I have been using the GtD method for about four months now with great success. I read the James Fallows article in the Atlantic (aside: I know Mr. Fallows reads and posts here, I would like to thank him for introducing me to GtD as well as for the terrific writing he has presented over the years) I have been much better organized with my work and material and much more relaxed at work and school.

    My problems started about three weeks ago when a critical and very visible (my boss' boss' boss' boss was emailing me personally on it) project got plopped in my lap. It required coordinating with dozens of people and working over two weekends and nights. This is combined with the start of this semester (I am pursuing my bachelor's degree after an absence of a few years) and having to search for an apartment to move to by the end of the month. I also have a 2-1/2 year-old son who I am determined not to shortchange through all of this.

    The result of this having to concentrate on the new project non-stop for about three weeks is that I was unable to do some of the basic GtD steps as often as I have in the past. I squeezed a quick mind sweep here and there, nothing complete, and tried to keep my inbox manageable. The weekly review, however, fell by the wayside (although I was able to at least check some of the lists from my other projects.) I was incredibly tired by last week but although I took friday off I needed to spend much of it, as well as the rest of the weekend, on the apartment search. I'm still pretty exhausted. I found myself failing to capture all my stray thoughts or checking my action lists when in the right context.

    Anyway, the point is not to look for sympathy. Rather, I'm sure the GtD practitioners on this forum experience crises every so often that make it difficult to maintain their discipline with their systems. What do you do? Do you put the mind sweeps and weekly reviews aside for that time to focus on the problem at hand, or do you hang on to your discipline and insist on fitting them in? Is it a matter of degree? Do some things need to drop while you maintain others? How do you recover? Do you block off some time to get back on track?

    Any help would be useful. I'm slowly piecing stuff back together, but its difficult, any tip or trick would be gratefully accepted.


  • #2
    Wow, you've got a lot going on this month! While "been there, done that" doesn't sound like much sympathy, I do feel for what you're going through.

    Being new to GTD myself, and heading back to school, managing multiple projects at work, renovating a house, etc (you get the idea), I may not be able to give you a definitive answer, but I'll offer a thought: GTD gives you the flexibility to concentrate on the important stuff without worrying about everything else.

    IMO, if you can't do your GTD review because you've got something more important going on, simply add a "GTD Review" N/A to your list so that you do it when you have the time. It's not about a rigid schedule. It's about having a reminder of where you were before starting the current action, and having all that clutter out of your head so you can concentrate.

    If I may ask: would it have been possible to spend 30 minutes or so creating a GTD project around this important 3 week project? While it would have taken some time out of the front end, it might have saved you some apparent stress throughout those three weeks.


    • #3
      Moving forward, as well as you can

      What do you do? Do you put the mind sweeps and weekly reviews aside for that time to focus on the problem at hand, or do you hang on to your discipline and insist on fitting them in? Is it a matter of degree? Do some things need to drop while you maintain others? How do you recover? Do you block off some time to get back on track?
      I think the answers to these are all highly personal - that is, everyone will feel differently, and will choose a slightly different path.

      As an example, I have set my system up so that collecting any thought is a very quick process - I can capture the flavor of something in seconds. (Almost fast enough to avoid annoying my completely non-digital wife.) My processing is much slower, and my reviewing is still longer... so I accept this, and put the amount of time into each that feels comfortable, or that becomes required as priorities shift.

      In crisis times, when even 'system maintenance' has to take a back seat, I let it. I may not feel as good about the ways I'm accomplishing things - not a great thing, but whatever control I maintain is better than everything falling apart. As the time becomes available again, the various GTD tools will come back into play, and the peace of mind and efficiency come back as well.

      Big picture, I do whatever strikes me in the moment as being best able to give me more peace of mind, and confidence - whether that's collecting, processing, reviewing, the 'goal' is to find the most distracting thing in my head, and get it out into my system. Repeat as needed and possible.



      • #4
        Great replies so far, keep them coming

        Thanks for the replies, I hope to see more. I knew that most people in this forum have experienced something similar, I hope to profit from their wisdom.

        Zen_tiggr and sowens; you seem to be telling me that the regular stuff just needs to slide when you have major issues to handle. Fair enough. I guess it might come down to (and this may have been asked elsewhere in this forum) where does GTD as a thing go in Getting Things Done? I have had this question for a while, but sowens advice to put "GTD Review" down as an N/A crystallized it.

        As far as picking up the pieces, probably the biggest challenge is keeping enthusiasm for the process. I was stoked enough at the beginning to do a fairly good (though far from complete) mind sweep and inbox clearing, it really impressed my more naturally organized wife. However, having fallen behind a bit now, I'm trying to figure out how to recapture that enthusiasm. One of the major principles I have gleened from my short time using GTD is that you should make things as easy and fun (all things being relative) as possible so you do them. One of the things I am noticing is that I am just a little more numb to my action lists after the past three weeks. I'm trying to sensitize myself again.

        Sowens, your point about the 30 minutes of planning is an excellent one. The front end processing is not something that I have ingrained as a habit. However, this time I actually DID do that planning, much of it at the insistence of my boss and his boss. I think this was just one of those crazy emergencies that resist a relaxed frame of mind. I DO wish I could share more details, however, so that I could get an objective opinion on that.


        • #5
          I can sympathize with you because I've been in that same situation recently. I'm local union representative at my school and we have a potential issue, almost no time for prep work due to unscheudled meetings, etc. I'm team leader for my grade, several workshops to attend, etc. etc.

          I agree that what works for one person may or may not work for another, but if I can't do a full weekly review I try to do a small one several times a week. At least cover my main task list, NAs, and calendar to be sure I'm not surprised with any appointments I should have known about.

          It comes down to priorities and sometimes you have to pick a high priority item and get it accomplished. Sounds like you're doing the right thing for you. If this is happening all the time, then you've got a more serious problem. Good luck to you!


          • #6
            Nobody has ever said that GTD protects from all crises. But it lowers the likelihood of crisis under normal circumstances. And it can help in getting out of the crisis situation. As CosmoGTD wrote:
            The problem is if "super-crisis mode" becomes permanent.


            • #7
              When I am in "crisis mode," my minimum goal is to maintain an airtight collection process and to minimally process what I've collected to flag items that require my immediate attention even in the midst of the crisis. Collecting can mean recording random thoughts on a voice recorder, jotting them on a scrap of paper or putting them into an "inbox" memo on my Palm. This can be the easiest part of GTD if you make it a habit and should only take a few seconds here and there. In most cases, I jot a note on a piece of paper and toss the note in my inbox. I think I can make a good argument that when you are in crisis mode it is even more important to be a good collector so that you can dispel the random thought and refocus on the crisis at hand with confidence that you will process what you've collected at a later time. On the processing side, I scan the item quickly to decide if this is something I need to address (a mortgage payment?) or at least record immediately. If not, it goes back into the inbox or into a separate pile for later processing. You can also decide to skip or streamline your weekly review. For example, if I am in crisis mode, I might just look at the calendar for the week before and the week after and quickly scan my next action lists. That can be done in ten to fifteen minutes. The crisis situation is when GTD can help you the most, because you can trust that everything's in your system or will get there when the crisis has passed. Also, as someone else noted, even in the midst of a crisis it's helpful to stop and plan for a few minutes. When the crisis is over you may have a lot to process in your various inboxes, but you can attack it in the same way as the initial processing when you started GTD.


              • #8
                Maturin, I have been in crisis mode, similar to what you've described. And I've "fallen off the wagon" several times too, usually because of illness. As soon as I have time to catch my breath again, I start collecting and processing again. It's NEVER as bad as the first time I ever collected and processed, after initially reading GTD.


                • #9
                  I want to thank everyone for the support and ideas. I'm fairly back on track now, capturing and processing and doing my weekly review. It WAS easier to get back on track, although I feel a certain numbness to my lists, something DA warns about. There is also much on those lists that have grown stale. I think I may need to process more ruthlessly to trim and renogotiate old items that I know I'm not going to do. But at least I'm maintaining the system again.

                  One thing that GTD has definitely helped me with is giving me the ability to quantify the amount of work that I have to do. He and his boss now agree that there is way too much work and have agreed to try to get me some help. Thanks, David.

                  I have other issues, but I'll put them in other topics. Cheers.

                  Cheers to all.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by jmarkey
                    When I am in "crisis mode," my minimum goal is to maintain an airtight collection process and to minimally process what I've collected to flag items that require my immediate attention even in the midst of the crisis.
                    I agree. (Isn't this what we basically do between reviews and processing sessions anyway?)

                    Collecting never stops and while it's the most basic of the GTD steps... for me, it's the most liberating one. Every thought collected is one less thing on my mind now that I know it's in the 'system' and will eventually be reviewed and/or processed.

                    Flagging is also key because as much as I like the GTD methodology I cannot get past the need to 'triage' my tasks and projects to avoid that feeling that I might be letting some time sensitive actions fall through the cracks.

                    Lots of good advice in this thread.