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How to get to do the more important things?

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  • How to get to do the more important things?


    Since Jan, I've been getting more organised/tracking things I've done.
    I also moved on to GTD( about a month ago). So I've actually got a list
    of the things done since 1st Feb. Theres 230 things done. But most of these are realtively trivial eg put up roller blind, top up mobile phone, shop, go to gym etc.

    What I'm not achieving are more important things, writing some software, more learning I want to do, some creative writing.

    Anybody else have a similar experience? Any suggestions on improving progress in the more important areas?

  • #2
    Well, since you've been doing GTD for about a month then the time is perhaps ripe for you to have a think about the "20,000 foot and above" levels. In fact it sounds like you have already started this process by considering what you have acheived and where you would like to go.

    What I do, and I don't really know yet if this is the best way, is I have a list of Areas of Responsibility (the name's not important) which is one level up from the Projects list. This contains the more distilled general goals (things I want to do e.g. subjects I want to learn and study) and responsibilities (things I have to do e.g. make money and look after my physical and psychological health). When a general subject keeps coming up but there's no definite one project to acheive it, I will add this one to the list.

    After reviewing this list once a while, I often "demote" projects and next actions to someday/ maybes and "promote" someday/maybes to projects and next actions. For example if I feel that I am neglecting one of my Areas of Responsibilities because I am spending too much time on a project which is just for fun then I can put the fun project on the back burner in the someday list until the more important things are done.

    I don't think one should force oneself to do this 20,000 foot+ thinking unless they are in the right mood for it. This kind of review should only be done in the few (in my case anyway) moments where your mind is working at it's best. By making adjustments to your system when you are in this tip-top form you can trust that your system will direct you to do what is necessary when your brain is at it's less optimum (most of the time in my case...)


    • #3
      One useful practice is a "Monthly Review" that coincides with one of your Weekly Reviews (say, make it part of the Weekly Review that falls on the first week of each month). During the Monthly Review, look over your projects and ask yourself if they are really worthwhile, which ones you can renegotiate or hand off to someone else, etc.

      I suspect that you need some way to remind yourself of what's truly important to you. The Monthly Review might do it.


      • #4
        Are the more important projects broken down into NAs? It's hard to tell from your list of examples. "Write software" is not an NA, for instance. Your inability to move these projects may be a sign that you haven't thought about them enough.

        If you have identified the next actions, why aren't you doing them? Lack of time calls for a different remedy than lack of motivation, for instance.



        • #5
          Block Time

          All of the above advice is outstanding. There is one other element that I believe is critical. Block Time on your calendar. Pick your most important project for the coming week. Schedule 1 hour on your calendar to work on theat project for Monday. Focus solely on that project during that hour. Turn off e-mail. Turn off your phone and cell phone. Shut your door. Tell your assistant not to disturb you unless the building is on fire. Work for 1 hour on that project. If you don't know what your most important project is then your next action is to determine Most Important Project (MIP).

          You can't solve a 50,000 foot problem at the runway. If you don't have your stuff organized at 50,000, 40,000, 30,000, and 20,000 feet. You won't be getting your most important stuff done.

          Your MIP may be outlining your stuff at 20,000 feet and above. Lets say you decide your MIP is writing some software. Is this a single project or are there multiple projects surrounding this one? What does done look like? What is the Next Action. When are you committed to working on this project.

          I don't block time for every project, but I do make certain for my top 1-3 projects that I reserve time on my calendar to complete them.


          • #6
            Same Problem

            I had exactly the same problem and I suppose it is because it is easy to get the quick and trivial things done, yet getting a major project under way is a lot harder even if you do have a clearly defined Next Action.

            It often doesn't make a difference with how important it is to the whole scheme of things, its just the fact of actually getting started sometimes seems too much effort in itself. Especially when there are easier things to do that can fill up your time and you can cross off your list.

            The ironic thing is, with any Project, once you do get started you normally get into the flow of things. One way to make sure you do this is just pick the Projects that you need to address and then say today you will spend just 5 minutes on each. Personally I use a Countdown Timer for this, and as soon as the timer reaches zero even if I am in the middle of things (except obviously a phone call) I move on to the next Project.

            Normally just spending 5 minutes on a Project will get me started. If I get into the swing of things I then rotate around the Projects increasing or decreasing the amount of time I spend on them in 5 minute intervals. If I don't feel like doing any more then at least I know I have done something on that Project today no matter how small.

            If you were to spend just 5 minutes on a Project each day at least it will be moving forward. Regular sustained focus is really the key to completing any project and I think on times you do have to literally force yourself to move.

            All the best



            • #7
              response from treetops

              > Are the more important projects broken down into NAs?

              >If you have identified the next actions, why aren't you doing them?
              Not 100% sure - but Steve's observation has a bearing:

              [Steve Wynn]
              >I had exactly the same problem and I suppose it is because it is easy
              to get the quick and trivial things done.

              Yes. I think this is true. I have a tendency to think 'get the
              small things out of the way first'.

              Interesting about the count down timer - I have one of those.

              Yes your point about blocking time may be a way forward. I have thought about this
              - but not sufficiently clearly - before.

              Any further points most welcome. In the meantime thanks for all your comments.


              • #8
                Well, I think that you really need to ask yourself why it is that you are not achieving the more important things....

                I suspect that the answer will lie outside of the GTD system...

                Realize that no system can make things happen for you. Ultimately, you need to take some action... what GTD will do for you is clear the pathways to make stuff happen. The rest is up to you.

                Hope this helps,



                • #9

                  Thanks for your post.

                  >Well, I think that you really need to ask yourself why it is that you are not >achieving the more important things....
                  When I do that I tend to come back to 'because I was doing other things'
                  - which triggered my OP.

                  >I suspect that the answer will lie outside of the GTD system...
                  Do you mean things such as procastination, laziness etc.? Or am I missing an insight somewhere?


                  • #10
                    In order to accomplish any task, three things have to happen:

                    1) The time and other resources to accomplish it have to be available. In GTD terms, you have to be in the correct context, and the task has to be a true Next Action. Formal and informal scheduling tools also exist to help with this condition.

                    2) You have to know that the task needs to be done. In GTD terms, this is accomplished by placing the task on a Next Action list for the appropriate context.

                    3) You have to decide to do it. GTD cannot really help with this, except by showing you what outcome you expect to achieve (the Project list).

                    From your posts so far, conditions (1) and (2) appear to be met. Only you can say why (3) hasn't been.



                    • #11
                      Sometimes I think we just need to clear the decks so we can focus on something bigger. So maybe that is what you've been doing. I think the suggestion to block significant chunks of time out is a very good one. I have the kind of job where it is very easy to allow myself to be "nibbled to death by ducks"--to lose every minute to small stuff.


                      • #12
                        When I do that I tend to come back to 'because I was doing other things'
                        Is that really accurate? If so, then I think that you might benefit from learning to say "no" to some of your less-important commitments.

                        Do you mean things such as procastination, laziness etc.? Or am I missing an insight somewhere?
                        Well, that... or I could be totally wrong, and it's not outside of the GTD system... if that's the case, maybe you haven't gotten granular enough with your NA's. If they're too ambiguous, you're going to have a harder time moving on them. Have the NAs been broken down into the very next physical action required to move them forward?



                        • #13
                          Indeed, can you post a few of your NAs here so we can get an idea of their granularity?


                          • #14
                            What is really important to you?

                            Originally posted by Treetops
                            Do you mean things such as procastination, laziness etc.? Or am I missing an insight somewhere?
                            Are these important things really important to you?

                            Or maybe they are imposed on you by others?

                            Maybe you really do not want to do them?

                            Maybe you think that they are important because they are important for most of your friends, family, coworkers etc.?

                            Many people are not courageous enough to admit it so they mentally escape and do the unimportant stuff to justify why they do not do the "important" things that are imposed on them.

                            What is really important to you?


                            • #15
                              GTD doesn't always solve the problem of Resistance

                              GTD for me is a great system for organising information and getting things in order but it doesn't still always resolve the problem of resistance. Resistance to some, including me, builds up when tackling a major project. In a way its a type of outcome vision, but in a bad way, looking at the project and thinking how much work is involved. Rather than looking at the anticipated final outcome.

                              So in the end resistance to actually starting on the project builds, therefore we put off starting on it to concentrate on more trivial things. Which in itself is a form of procrastination. The more we put something off the greater the resistance to starting it becomes. Some times resistance can build so much that it seems virtually impossible to start on a Project, even though the Project is important.

                              GTD can help overcome the problem of resistance by breaking large projects down into small manageable steps, or Next Actions. By having a good system such as GTD in place it can start to resolve the problem of resistance. But if you have not started on a Project, that you should of started, somewhere along the line is resistance. You are resisting starting on the Project for whatever reason.

                              I reference back to my previous post on using a burst method with a Countdown Timer on projects. Because resistance can be decreased when something is actioned. Just doing one thing on a Project that is not moving can sometimes be enough to break the cycle of resistance, other times it may require more effort.

                              A useful tip is to try and take one Next Action (NA) on a Project, then decide come hell or high water that you will do that NA today. No excuses, whatever happens you will do that NA. Once you are happy that you can pick one NA a day and do it, increase it to two etc. The key here is to pick NA's on Projects that have not moved forward. You may find once you have done a few, that your resistance slowly subsides.

                              If you are like me just identifying that you are resisting something, for whatever reason, can be a help in itself. Resistance to something can actually be a good sign. It means whatever you are resisting you are going to find challenging. We don't have resistance to things that we already know, email a friend etc. But for things we are unsure of, things we haven't done before, this is when resistance starts to build.

                              So if you are resisting starting on a Project for whatever reason, try and turn that resistance into an asset. Identify that you have something challenging ahead.

                              All the best