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How a "To-Do List" Deceives..

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  • How a "To-Do List" Deceives..

    I had a "gotcha!/aha/you knew this already" experience today that might be useful as a reminder and/or way to illustrate why "To Do" lists don't help.

    I've had a (non-GTD) "To Do" item on my list (moment of weakness!) which said, simply, "Send Inactives Letter". This is a letter that I have to send to folks who are no longer active in our rolls. It's mandated that we do this if we are moving them from Active to Inactive status. It's the part of the process everyone dreads and wants to avoid because it's so emotionally charged.

    We took the action months ago, but the letters haven't been sent.

    Why? After all, it sounds simple, right? "Send Inactives Letter"

    Well as I finally near completion of this PROJECT I realized all the steps which were involved:

    1) Draft letter for committee to review & bring to meeting

    2) Get list of names of inactive members

    3) Revise letter in light of comments/corrections/etc [it's a sensitive subject, so it's something which needs special care]

    4) Mail merge list of names

    5) Find letterhead template (it doesn't get used all that often but for something like this I wanted to make sure)

    6) Print mail merged letters

    7) Address envelopes

    Send letters

    No less than EIGHT steps, not to mention the bumps along the way:

    1) I couldn't FIND the draft of the letter, even with the best hard drive searching technology on my computer;

    2) item #2 should have read "Ask secretary for list of names of those who will receive letter" because it wasn't something I had access to and she did;

    3) item #2 should also have made it clear that I needed ADDRESSES as well as names, since these were going to be mailed out;

    4) item #2 should also have specified that I needed an electronic copy of that information, because when I came in to find a printed sheet with all the names and addresses I realized that I hadn't explained what I was going to do with the information once I had it which was:

    5) Another Next Action after "Get List of Names" and before "Mail Merge List of Names" which was "Format list of names into Excel spreadsheet so it can be mail merged.

    I now count 14 "Next Actions" for one "To Do" item.

    It's not that I couldn't figure out what all those steps WERE... I just hadn't taken the time, which ended up costing me more time.

    Hopefully I'll learn one of these days...

  • #2
    Great post!

    I frequently have to do a breakdown like that of an apparently straightforward task in order to get myself moving on it. It really does prove David’s mantra “What’s the next action on this?”



    • #3
      Template or punch list for next time

      Now that you've worked through that, you may want to keep the GTD punch list you've created of all the actionable steps. And if you keep a copy of the letter you sent and the letterhead template together with the punchlist, you'll be ready to roll. If the review of who becomes inactive is time based, you can put a reminder in your tickler for next time that includes a note on where you filed everything. Next time it should be a lot easier to do.

      It's amazing though, when you break down what you thought was a simple task into the next actions, how much more straighforward it is to do. Thanks for providing a concrete example.


      • #4
        To-Do Deception

        Yes, a great post, and a great suggestion to keep the list. I have found both with agency newsletters and with grant proposals that I can complete a great deal of writing/designing in a few hours or days - maybe even 90%. But the few things which remain may take an hour apiece. Ten little things turn into a very long day with a deadline looming. Pendant to the GTD advice to schedule work for the best times of focus/energy is to frontload the potentially problematic stuff. The Board Chairman's signature only takes a second, but scheduling a time to get it could take a week. Thanks again for some excellent points.