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Thoughts on Getting Unstuck

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  • Thoughts on Getting Unstuck

    After processing my brain dump, I looked down at my resultant action list with disappointment. I was disappointed because when I looked at the first item I thought “I can’t do that now”. When I looked at the second item I thought “I don’t want to do that”. Shoot. All that work and I still look at my list and feel like playing cards instead.

    So I forced myself to look further.

    What are the hindrances in my action list?

    - Wrong Context. Typical thoughts were: “I can’t do that now” or a nagging feeling that I wasn’t addressing the right projects at the right time. This also came up because I’m beginning to spend too much time in my home office working. Sure, I’m getting lots of work done, but if I don’t spend some time doing other things, I’ll burn out.
    - This isn’t an action, it is a project. This was my most common problem.
    - Action unclearly supports a project not on my project list. This is a kind of stupid example, but it really brings it home. On my list was, “Stop and get gas in the truck”. For some reason, I hate doing this. Because I’m in the middle of implementing this system, I even had a reminder two other places—“Get Gas in the Truck”. Did I do it? Nope. I finally HAD to stop at the really expensive place or run out of gas before I made it home. WHY am I avoiding this? Another question I could ask is “Why does this bug me?” I did get gas and I didn’t run out. But for some reason I feel compelled to have it on my list and do it before it is a crisis. Why? The very first thought that came to my head was: I have a chronically sick child. Many times in her life, I’ve had to drop everything and rush to a hospital. What if my truck was out of gas? AHA!!! As I have that thought, I have an urge to drop everything and go get gas in my truck—even though I don’t need to!!! I have an unwritten goal to be prepared for unexpected medical emergencies. As soon as I got clear on that goal, I quickly saw several projects that are on my someday maybe that support that goal that I’m not acting on because I wasn’t clear why those projects are important to m.

    The magic question seemed to be “WHY?” Why don’t you want to do it now? Why is it on my list at all? Once I answer these questions, I bet I’ll be able to achieve my goal: To look down at my action list for my current context and only have about a dozen actions—all of which I could do at that moment without guilt or stress.

  • #2
    Merlin Mann addresses the same items in his productivity blog,
    entitled "does this next action belong somewhere else?"

    Like you he discusses processing drag/friction/stuckness by criticially assessing what is the initial input/next action.



    • #3
      Feeling the same drag and nearly the same solution

      Although I've succeeded in the basics of using GTD, in the last few days, I've found myself in just the same emotional space: so many little tickler-type reminders, that accumulated over the last year or two. Most of them follow the "break your plans down into the pieces that you can do in one sitting" rule... but there are so many of them that I'm burning out on updating them constantly.

      I've been rethinking things, and realized there is one big reason for this little-task-itis: last April, I was finally diagnosed with sleep apnea - and my memory and energy levels were so blown away that I had to make phenomenally detailed to-do lists, since I never knew how well I would be.

      Now that I'm far more capable, I'm realizing that most of these little daily/weekly things really don't need to be recorded and tracked - they are either physically self-evident, like the dishes piling up, or they're longer term things that don't cost any time to delete and recreate when next appropriate.

      I'm going through my @Home context and purging everything that's too fine-grained - and I'm even going to delete the "Plan on some housecleaning time" daily appointment, confident in the knowledge that the sight of bits to clean will motivate me to spend the right amount of time, ALL BY ITSELF.

      As I have stepped back from the details of my system, and started asking "Why?" myself, I've seen that I really only need to write down the plans & info that I'll lose track of between now & do-it time. Everything else will slink back into my focus and demand its share of me, in its own good time.

      Now to get over the last reluctance to do a serious review and purge what I think I should... (he- he)


      • #4
        I think you make an interesting point about granularity. In some times of our lives, we need very detailed lists. Other times, we can feel completely in control with just broad brush strokes. GTD seems to work either way.


        • #5
          physically self-evident

          Originally posted by zen_tiggr

          they are ... physically self-evident,
          Now I know what my wife means when she asks if I really need such a big list where nothing gets done! Sometimes I think I use planning as a distraction from living & doing. Yes there are many Next Actions that need to be implemented, but like finding my tire needs air - it's going to plop itself right in front of me. My list is being whittled down considerably & my categories are too. I believe I am arriving at a more defined stage of GTD.


          • #6
            "Unstuck" book.

            There is a book about this topic: "Unstuck" by Keith Yamashita and Sandra Spataro. You may find it useful if you are seriously stuck.


            • #7
              Originally posted by jerendeb
              Now I know what my wife means when she asks if I really need such a big list where nothing gets done!
              Or in my case, so many lists where nothing gets done on any of them.

              I think I'm going to go back three lists, Projects, Someday-Maybe, and Todo. My NA's will go on Todo. Contexts just don't matter or help.


              • #8
                David Allen points out somewhere that if something is parked in RAM, and it continues to try to get our attention, this does not mean that the brain is being stupid. The task in question actually does need to be done, so RAM is serving a purpose in reminding us about it.

                I found that there can be a danger here, although it is easily avoided. Many of the things we had parked in RAM probably had to be done over the next few days anyway, so the sense of urgency about them was real. When they are removed from RAM, that little alarm bell goes also. I fell into the trap of feeling a little too relaxed, and without that little nagging urgency implanted in my brain; some things began to slide …

                I used to look at all my lovely complete lists with a sense of total control, but I was also luxuriating in the sense of comfort and calm... to such an extent that I didn’t want to get back into the trenches of work again. (This was largely due to the fact that I associated work with stress – and I had not accepted that work would now mean a hell of a lot less stress when GTD was implemented).

                David emphasises the fact that GTD will give you the capacity to react quickly to a change in schedule, because you know where you are in relation to everything that you have on your plate. BUT, I think this rapid reaction aspect is secondary to the bigger prize: the ability to knock stuff off your lists at high speed because you have achieved clarity and objectivity about them.

                So if you find yourself looking at your lists with glazed-over eyeballs … beware! Start getting some of them onto your hard landscape; get proactive and schedule some time to get your stuff moving again. Check them all carefully for deadlines. And even of there is no externally imposed deadlines, then just make some up to that you can get rid of those boring NAs once and for all. (The very least reward you will get is a different list to look at!).



                • #9
                  Originally posted by K2Karen

                  The magic question seemed to be “WHY?” Why don’t you want to do it now? Why is it on my list at all? Once I answer these questions, I bet I’ll be able to achieve my goal: To look down at my action list for my current context and only have about a dozen actions—all of which I could do at that moment without guilt or stress.
                  Tony Robbins’ RPM system captures the “Why” of a task and places it at the centre of his organizer system. I think it is very important to stay in touch with the “Why” of a task. An NA viewed in isolation from its project can lack the “oomph” of the original thinking that gave birth to that project, causing it to appear neutral or unattractive.

                  Maybe in Palm we could keep the “Why” on the “note” tab of a task, and just keep updating the NA description?

                  Or maybe simply reading through our current projects list on a daily basis (which I think is how David does it) will keep the spark alive.



                  • #10
                    Baby steps...

                    I'm borrowing from FlyLady here, but I'm finding it helpful to think in baby steps...

                    When I look down my action list and find something I don't want to do, I try to think of a baby step that doesn't make me uncomfortable. Just some small, seemingly insignificant thing I could do. For example, if the task is to write a letter, a small step would be to create an empty letter file in my word processor and save it.

                    If I use THAT as my next action, I feel silly not just continuing on to write the letter. And if I still feel uncomfortable, maybe the next action is to address the letter.

                    What I'm finding is that when I complete small things, the big things feel easier.

                    And then again, sometimes I just have to say "Go do that now!"