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How do you apply GTD on a day filled with "fires?"

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  • How do you apply GTD on a day filled with "fires?"

    My husband and I are about to start using GTD, but we had a day today that seemed like it would have disrupted the GTD Methodology.

    His day in particular: while coming to the end of several deadlines (he is a contract web developer and system administrator), so it was crunch-time to begin with, several incidents beyond his control cropped up and demanded immediate attention. A few of them were:

    - One of our main web servers went down, and after examination the diagnosis is that it is dying. This almost resulted in a full day's trip (4 hours one way) to the datacenter but luckily he was able to put a bandaid on the problem remotely;
    - Clients calling in the middle of the server problem demanding immediate attention regarding unrelated issues;
    - Emails about a grandmother being admitted to the hospital...

    How does one find the time wrangle a high impact, extremely high stress day like this into the GTD system, when there is barely time to breathe?

    I know that we are both probably overcommitted, and we are already reasessing commitments, but when you are self-employed and not independently wealthy, a little overcommitment comes with the territory, does it not? At least he was able to delegate this fact-finding/ data-gathering task to me, so that is progress.

    Any insight anyone has on handling this kind of day via GTD would be helpful.

    Thank you,

  • #2
    I don't know that there is an easy answer, but I think you stand a better chance with this model (where you have a listof choice organized by context) than a model which lists your tasks in the order you will perform them.

    In listening to David's work, he does talk about there being times when all you do is handle what's coming at you at the moment. During those times, at least you can rest assured that all of your other "stuff" is neatly defined, off your mind, and will keep another day. (Of course, that does mean you at least look at your lists that evening.)



    • #3
      I think that GTD implemented in the standard conditions will allow you to be prepared for unusual conditions or emergencies. Of course you are not able to predict everything.
      When you feel that every open loop is captured in your system you are not afraid of unexpected because it creates only one (OK - in your case three) open loop which is not covered by your system. Since it is high priority action you can focus on it without capturing it in your GTD system. In the meantime everything else waits quietly for its turn - when the standard conditions will be restored.
      Of course GTD is not meant for permanent crisis conditions.


      • #4
        I have a list of quotes & paraphrases from David's FAST CD (and also from the books) which I have printed out. I file & re-file them at random in my hard-copy tickler file as pop-up reminders. Here are two of my favorites:

        "Don't operate in a reactive mode; develop the habit of backing off, looking at the whole game, and making a GOOD Next Action choice."

        "Cultivate the ability to regroup & recalibrate when you are surprised; keep going without losing anything in the process"

        Like many others, my day is filled with interruptions. Before I began using GTD these were distractions that would at various times be anything ranging from an aggravation down to an excuse for not doing something I wanted to avoid anyhow.

        Since implementing GTD I first seek to identify the potential opportunities embedded in those interruptions. My N/A choice is based on the value & importance of the opportunities rather than the urgency the interruptor tries to impose upon me just because it's important to him/her at that moment. This point of view helps me to handle them more appropriately.

        For me, while GTD helps to automatically sequence & reassign tasks in a realistic manner, it is immensely helpful in handling the very problem you identified. GTD won't tell you how to handle the inevitable interruptions but it will greatly assist you in making good choices when they pop up.


        • #5
          How do you apply GTD on a day filled with "fires?"

          For me, this is one of the strengths of Getting Things Done. If I'm working the system correctly, it catches all my open loops. Then, when a crisis interrupts, I can address it with the confidence that, when it has passed, I can pick up my action list and know what needs to be done next. And, the corollary to that is , I can better focus on fighting the "fire" because I'm not worrying about the open loops.


          • #6
            There's nothing wrong with dropping everything to handle a crisis... sometimes you can't avoid it. Just try to avoid the "urgency trap". Don't automatically assume that just because something is urgent, that it is important as well.

            Like others have pointed out, when stuck in the middle of a crisis, GTD can be a great comfort. If you trust your system and trust that it's leakproof you can, indeed, drop everything for the duration of the crisis (just collecting new items to review and process) and pick things back up right where you left off.


            • #7
              Here is something that warms my heart. This will just make you feel better. Go to this post and click on the link to see the state of Erik Mack's (a heavy duty GTD-er) desk when things got crazy for him.

              And also read the forum discussion about it at;highlight=

              Things can get wild, but if you trust your inbox and your system - it allows you to "let go" and focus on emergencies when you have to with less worry that you are going to miss something.

              It also helps to know when the honest-to-goodness-this-is-going-to-blow up-if-I-don't-do-it-today deadline on things - and ONLY those deadlines (no fake deadlines)....that way you can quickly look at your system know what MUST get done that day and squeeze that in or renegotiate so you don't have a whole new set of troubles crop up.


              • #8
                Doing an additional weekly review before beginning the next day's work, over and above your regular weekly review, can help you regain your focus immensely. Sometimes our days are so busy that inputs accumulate faster than you can get them into your inventory of projects and actions. The more input and system get out of synch, the more stress you'll experience. A recalibration is needed.

                No matter how busy the day is, at some point it ends, and a new day begins. So before going back into the arena, identify all your open loops and what to do about them. Once you have a full account of everything you need to do, you can look at it objectively in a snapshot, intuit what takes priority, and avoid the busy trap. If you don't have it all, you'll keep wondering if the choice of which action to take was the right choice.


                • #9
                  Just to put my $.02 in.

                  You may want to augment your GTD with Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits, or for a rapid start, get First Things First.

                  The way I would handle your listed issues, and I do similar work with the same kind of demands:

                  1. I would place an outgoing message on my voicemail to alert other clients that a critical issue demanded my time.

                  2. I would triage the existing issues by severity.

                  3. I would promise myself to better monitor things and to be more proactive. 90% of the critical issues only become critical after months of inattention.

                  4. As far as the drive to the data center, I would utilize that time to make telephone calls to the various clients I could help over the phone or to call a client or two to proactively warn them that I would be temporarily available.

                  5. I would actually insert somewhere between 1 & 2 a quick e-mail blast out to clients to:
                  a. Make them aware of the current situation and it's prognosis
                  b. Apologize for the delay that they will enevitably experience
                  c. Reassure them that everything that can be done is being done
                  d. Thank them for their patience and patronage
                  e. Let them know that I do respect and value their goals and needs.

                  I have been a computer network consultant, and for the past 3 years, I've been doing it solo. (Lost my techs after the economic hit after 9-11) managing 250 clients is a daily exercise in managing demands, effective triage and follow-up. My findings were that the proper personal touch is ever so much more effective than you would think.

                  Best of luck with your situation, and I hope your Grandmother ise speedily aided by the medical community and returned to you with a healthy prognosis.



                  • #10
                    Please let me start by thanking you ALL for such a solid and supportive response. I would have never expected so much sound advice to come from so may different directions, even though I had read through some other threads on this site and been impressed.

                    There are some REALLY great ideas and tips in this thread that simply make sense, and that we'll surely put in our strategy book.

                    Scott, thanks for the well-wishes for my husband's grandmother. We're not sure yet what the prognosis is, still waiting on some tests, but the thought is appreciated Thanks also for your suggestions. It is pretty clear to us that communication is key, and that a little, properly done, can go a long way, and we need to improve there. I personally liked the outgoing message idea, one I had seen implimented on a daily basis before and forgotten about. We'll be doing that in short order!

                    GameBoy, good point on the weekly review... or just review in general. If done with focus, a review could be done quickly, and help keep everything on track. What about doing it at the begining of a day as comapred to the end of a day? Any preference? Anyone can chime in on that one...

                    Bellaisa, thanks for the link to EricMackonline... I have a picture just like that attached to my current project of "organize desk." It made me feel like I was not trhe only one, thanks After I finish this post, I'm going to go check out the other thread you suggested.

                    jhegener, thanks for your comforting note, I think you are right about GTD helping in that way. I can hardly wait for the weekend to do my brain dump! Also thanks for the urgency trap warning, it is very easy to get caught up in the moment, any moment.

                    tubaism, well said, all. This is what I am most looking forward to out of GTD.

                    spectecGTD, thanks for the great quotes, and the quote-in-the-tickler-file idea. I have a feeling that "recalibrate" is going to become a much more common word in my vocabulary very soon. thanks also for the personal testimony about how GTD works with our current kinds of crises. It is a big change (life changing, actually) and it can be an intimidating leap to make.

                    TesTeq, you make an excellent point, that if all open loops are collected, then new situations are only one (or more) to capture and deal with. To someone familiar with GTD, that may not be a big deal, but for someone new to GTD and used to the constant stress of keeping it all in one's head, it is like a light bulb turing on an shedding light on a refreshingly decorated and organized room.

                    Frank, I remebered him saying something about that on the GTD audio book, but missed the point you made about the rest of your "stuff" being in order... thanks for the insight there. And thanks for being the first in a list of many appreciated replies!

                    Again, thank you all for removing some lingering resistance (excuses) to our taking the plunge into GTD. I am hoping this will be the weekend! My husband has read most of this thread over my shoulder with me, and it seems like he's ready, too.

                    In appreciation,


                    • #11
                      Re: your question about reviewing at the beginning or end of the day - during especially hectic times I find myself reviewing at both the beginning and end of the day. The beginning is very short, just a few minutes, and I like to spend a few minutes longer at the end planning the next day. I find it helps to keep me on track.