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Managing @Calls List

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  • Managing @Calls List

    I'm looking for some advice on best practices about managing the @Calls list. I'd like to know how others manage each item on the list in certain situations. I should mention that I'm an Outlook/Palm user who uses only the basic features provided by Outlook and Palm software (I don't have the GTD extension to Outlook).

    To illustrate, imagine you are working on a project that requires you to speak to Fred. "Call Fred" is on your @Calls list. You call Fred, but you get his voicemail. You decide to leave a message, but before anything moves forward, he has to call you back.

    How do you update your lists to reflect the current reality? Do you:

    A. Mark the NA as done (and just trust that Fred will call)?

    B. Mark the NA as done & create a new item on @Waiting For?
    (This is probably the by-the-book approach, but it's a pain when you only have your PDA. Also, if you start playing phone tag with Fred, then you have to change status from Completed to Not Started back-and-forth. What a pain!)

    C. Something else?

    I hate using the phone for multiple reasons. First, the phone is an interruption to me, so I feel that when I call someone else that I'm intruding on their time. Second, I hate playing phone tag, most of all because I've not decided on my own best practice for tracking it in GTD.

    I appreciate anyone's advice. Thanks!
    Last edited by ellobogrande; 04-14-2006, 09:33 AM.

  • #2
    Phone interruption.

    Originally posted by ellobogrande
    I hate using the phone for multiple reasons. First, the phone is an interruption to me, so I feel that when I call someone else that I'm intruding on their time.
    Why? You are calling someone to tell her/him something important or to obtain the information that is important for you. So the interruption is justified.

    When you call somebody without any reason - just to procrastinate - you waste her/his and your time.

    I think it's easy to distinguish.


    • #3

      Thanks for the tip. For me, it's a mere preference in communication. It's much easier to transform "stuff" into actions and projects when it enters my life through e-mail. I just drag it to the appropriate place in Outlook. Most importantly, it doesn't interrupt what I'm doing right now, especially if it's not truly urgent and important. I guess I project my perception of phone calls onto others. I know how I feel when I'm interrupted so I don't like to do that to others. However, you've got a good point. If I have an important enough reason for interrupting someone else's workflow, I shouldn't hold back.

      Anyways, I'm getting off topic. Do you have an answer to my original question? How do you manage your @Calls list when playing phone tag?
      Last edited by ellobogrande; 04-14-2006, 10:27 AM.


      • #4
        Why are you calling Fred?

        You have to answer that question before you can answer the question of how to track it with GTD. There are basically three scenarios:

        1. You have to call Fred and give him information.
        2. You have to call Fred and to either delegate something to him or get something from him.
        3. You have to call Fred to reach an agreement on a decision to move something forward.

        How you respond with GTD is dependant upon the situation, but here is how I generally handle them.

        1. Call Fred, leave the information on his voice mail and mark the GTD Next Action as complete in Outlook or on the Palm.

        2. Call Fred, leave the detailed information on his voice mail about what I need from him and when I need it. I change the category of the existing Next Item (to do on palm or outlook taks) to @Waiting For and make a time and date stamped note in the body of the item that I called him and left voice mail.

        3. Call Fred, leave him detailed information about the issue and suggest times that I should be available for him to return my call. Depending on the nature of the conversation and my relationship with Fred I might move the @Calls item to any of the following:

        If I speak with Fred regularly (he's a direct report, my boss, etc.) I might move it to @Agendas so that it would pop up the next time we talked.

        If the information/decision is not due before I will do my next weekly review, I'll probably move it to my @Waiting For list.

        If the information is critical and I definitely need to talk to Fred, I would move the @Call task to an @Waiting For and copy it into one or more tentative appointments on my calendar based upon the times I told Fred to call.

        As for the pain of phone tag, that is a simple solution. Just keep the same task/to-do open and if you're "it", it goes on the @calls category, if Fred's "it" put it in the waiting for category. If it's critical and you can't connect by phone then set up an appointment by e-mail on you're calendar.

        Phones are only a tool. They boost productivity if you use them right and can be a pain if you use them improperly. A phone call is about communication. Decide what the best medium is for the communication your making, phone, e-mail, fax, snail mail, video-conferencing, IM, snail mail.

        The phone is only an interruption if you let it be. If you need block time to work on a project, put it on the calendar and turn your cell phone off. Put your work phone on Do Not Disturb or if you have to unplug it from the wall jack. Just because a phone rings doesn't mean you have to answer it. It will roll to voice mail. If you use voicemail properly it is a perfectly acceptable collector for communications. Empty it as often as you need to.

        If you call me and I answer, by very definition, you are not intruding on my time because I have the power to make the decision to ignore the phone and let it go to voicemail. If I let it go to voice mail then you are not intruding on me because I've chosen to deal with your "stuff" on my terms. Since those are my two choices, and on both instances you are not intruding on my time, by definition, your phone call cannot intrude on my time.

        This is not limited to phones. You own the responsibility for your own interruptions, not the people who are interrupting you.


        • #5
          Remember, a Next Action is just a bookmark for your current place in a Project. As long as you have at least one Next Action/Waiting For for the relevant Project in your system, you're fine.

          When Fred returns your phone call, that will become a new input into your system, and you'll need to re-calibrate it anyway. The important question is: If you can move forward on this project without Fred's input, is that movement forward documented in a Next Action somewhere?

          If you can't move forward without Fred's input, then the Project's blocked and you can safely put an entry in your Waiting For list. Fred's callback will generate a Next Action.

          At least, that's how I see it.


          • #6
            I'm in this situation a lot. I leave the action in my system as an @Call, but change the date to reflect the next time I'm going to try to reach Fred. I'll include the date of this call and any other pertinent details in the Notes field: 4/14. Left message. Fred's in China until May 1. (In this case an @Call might become an @Email instead.)

            I do the same thing when the outcome of the call is inconclusive: 4/14. Talked to Fred. He likes proposal, will run it by Bob. Followup in two weeks.

            The exception is when the caller wants something from me. Then, I declare the action done as soon as I leave the first voicemail. Any further followup is up to them.



            • #7
              What I do in situations like this is to check off 'call ___' and to add a note in my @ other people file; something like '____ about ------'. I check that list often. If too much time goes by without a return call (this works for emails as well) then I add 'call____' again to @ phone.


              • #8
                Best way to manage @Calls

                Good question.

                I approach it differently and my system has worked great for 2 years with about 50 phone calls at any time.

                I do 3 things extra that are not discussed in Getting Things Done.

                (1) When I leave someone a voicemail, I change the title of that action item in @Calls from
                "Call Joe" to
                "(Waiting) Call Joe"

                Then I can see all calls, active and waiting, at one time.

                I do not recategorize it under @Waiting because @Waiting then becomes a garbage bin full of unrelated phone calls, things I have to do at my PC, discuss when I run into people, do when in town...unsorted. @Waiting is a mess and I have eliminated it except for really random things like packages I am waiting for from FedEx or books that Amazon will deliver.

                I prefer to keep all my phone calls in one place, even ones I am waiting for.

                This achieves it.

                As a result, when I look at all my @Calls items, I see this:

                Call Alice
                Call Bob
                Call Cindy
                (Waiting) Call Andrew
                (Waiting) Call Brian

                (2) When I call someone and leave a voicemail or they call me and leave a voicemail, I note it in the main body of the action item in Outlook or in the PDA. This way I know how long we have been playng phone tag and what happened.

                A typical entry is

                (Waiting) Call Andrew
                Left voicemail Friday 04-10 with my wireless number
                He returned voicemail on Thursday 04-09 saying to call 1-222-333-4444
                I left voicemail on 04-08 to discuss Penske project

                This way I know exactly where things stand with Andrew and I can say "Thanks for returning my call last Thursday...I am glad we can talk after 3 days of phone tag..."

                (3) If I have lots of phone calls to return, I title them with the project name in parenthesis. This vastly improves my efficiency and precision.

                So @Calls looks typically like

                (Penske Project) Call Alice
                (Hayward Project) Call Bob
                (Jones Inc. Project) Call Cindy)
                (Waiting) (Acme Project) Call Andrew
                (Waiting) (XY Inc. Project) Call Brian

                That gives a great full view of calls: who is active vs. waiting, and what project each relates to.

                Good luck - hope this helps!
                Last edited by Scott716; 04-15-2006, 06:02 AM.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Scott716
                  I do not recategorize it under @Waiting because @Waiting then becomes a garbage bin full of unrelated phone calls, things I have to do at my PC, discuss when I run into people, do when in town...unsorted.
                  Interesting. I'm afraid I'm a little confused, though. How can something like "things to do when in town" become an @Waiting For? Why isn't that in the @Town context of Next Actions?


                  • #10
                    I too have struggled with how to manage my @calls list. Scott, your system & labeling of NA's make a lot of sense to me, and I'm going to try specifying the Waiting For status and possibly Projects within my @calls list.

                    I have the same frustrations with Waiting For, since my list is often packed with disparate items: @WF Julie (an associate) to submit a draft report, @WF the doctor to call with test results, @WF a commission payment, @WF a rent check from a tenant, @WF a client to send email to set a meeting date, etc. etc.

                    Having all the WF-Calls in one place might help, but does anyone have advice on how to better manage @Waiting For? Perhaps it's meant to be a catch-all with lots of different topics? Or, as Brent suggests, maybe I can do a better job of creating contexts for the items -- e.g. @Tenant, @Julie, etc.?

                    Thanks for the help!


                    • #11
                      Thanks everyone!

                      I just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone for putting in the time and effort to answer my question. There are some really fantastic posts here and I plan to make good use of them. Please keep them coming if anyone has more!