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GTD and Deadline-Driven situations

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  • GTD and Deadline-Driven situations

    On the press-links section of this site, the last item describes GTD as “an innovative way of organizing and structuring a "to-do" list that groups activities by contexts rather than time frames”.

    If you’ve got a project with a deadline in three week’s time, how can you make sure that, when you are in the various relevant contexts, @computer, @phone, @Ted’s office, etc, you get all the stages finished in time to meet your deadline?

    My job, accountant, is always deadline-driven, but at any one time I can have up to 15 assignments on the go. Organizing the component tasks contextually relives a helluva lot of stress, but how do I incorporate the realities of the various deadlines into my lists? Do I (shudder!) prioritize by urgency within each list? Or is it a case of choosing intuitively? Maybe it’s a case for some reasonably detailed flow-charting?

    I’d love to hear any approaches from those of you in a similar environment.



  • #2
    Here are my tips:

    1. Do the Weekly Review!!!! Especially if your projects span the course of a week, this is the best way to feel more secure about all of those "moving parts" on the context list. Keep at it -- the more you do the weekly review, the better your days in-between will be.

    2. Keep your projects list current. Sometimes you'll just get the feeling that you need to be working on something important, but you're not sure what. A good projects list will help you remember. If you need to scan it daily, then do it.

    3. Try to get in the habit of writing down the next action for a project once you cross one off. Sometimes, when I write an action on my list, I worry that when it's done, I'll just cross it off and "drop" the project. So I write the action, use a semicolon, and write the next one. Then, when I'm done with the first, I'll just delete that part of the title if I can't do the second part yet. I don't do this all the time, and I've been disciplined enough to put the name of the project on my projects list, I'm less likely to feel worried about losing it.

    4. Use your calendar effectively. If you have real deadlines for steps in your project (or for the project itself), make sure that it's on your calendar. Your brain probably won't relax if you just have due dates on your next actions lists. If there is something that will die if you don't do it today, it should also be on your calendar.

    5. Once you know that everything you have to do is on your actions lists and your calendars, it is actually easier to work down that list and do them. If you're thinking about all the other things you might need to be doing, because they aren't on the list, then you won't be as productive. Plus, there may be something that requires minimal energy on your list that can jump-start your working habits for the day.



    • #3
      Accountant's Issues


      Deadline-driven items take on a life of their own. They need to be planned (backwards) from the Due Date and the milestones usually are sufficiently Urgent/Important to merit space in the Calendar. When working through process-driven file projects, there is usually a need or efficiency to continue working through them, rather than switching among files to do unrelated, immediate Next Actions. An "appointment-with-the-file" approach (Calendar) seems to work best for me. The GtD method helps with everything else you (think you) have committed to because the Context Lists promote productivity in using non-Calendar time.

      The Processing decision of Calendar vs ASAP/Undated vs Someday/Maybe is essentially a Priority/Urgency/Importance decision.

      Andrew (an Accountant)


      • #4
        From a simple point of view, you want the NA to appear on your context driven lists until the time that it must be done by (otherwise it will die!). At that time, it needs to be on your hard landscape.

        I follow David's suggestion that the hard landscape NA's should appear on your calendar then.

        What I do is to put the due date as the date it must be done by (if theres no such due date I leave it as no date), and make sure that the start date is set to no date.

        I setup Outlook to show incomplete items due today (or past due), but not before. My PDA's (1 x Palm and 1 x PPC) are set the same.

        Of course, I review my context lists regularly and if I complete a NA before its due date, it never shows up on the hard landscape.

        It may not be exactly the way David does it, but it follows the philosophy exactly, and saves on double entry

        Good luck,



        • #5
          GTD and Deadline-Driven situations

          Des, Andrew and Sara,

          Thank you very much for your replies.

          What’s really coming through to me is that deadline driven tasks have effectively cut straight to my hard landscape: the dates are pre-determined and I have to live with them. No system on Earth will remove their annoying presence from the diary.

          The main thing is to keep track of them and their intermediate stages, and also, ironically, to allow them to take up more of my hard landscape by ensuring that I commit to intermediate, self-imposed deadlines that ensure I execute the logical sub-steps at the most beneficial times.

          The important thing is not to lose track of either the projects or the intermediate steps, through either consistent application to the projects, or through the weekly review.

          I think that I was hoping GTD would somehow shelter me from the horrible reality of the steely gaze of deadlines.

          I read somewhere that someone recommended we re-name deadlines finish-lines – there’s something more positive sounding about it.

          Thanks again,



          • #6
            I like the finish-line idea. Conceptually it is nicer, like the idea of stating a project as a completed goal, basement is picked-up as opposed to pick up basement, which feels like I'm following the orders of someone and I am naturally resistant to. That idea should go as credit to someone else that I don't know, who posted it earlier (post #360).

            The thing that is exasperating about projects with finish-lines is that you do not know how long each project is going to take.

            That fact is really annoying, and can be an emotional drain. The thing that I have started doing is keeping the Huge projects with Huge next action lists (I am writing a grant application) in its own folder and I do not put it on my palm. (I could spend 3 months entering data full time). That way, I try not to hesitate. I also attempt to remember what I learned in grad school, that a good dissertation is a deposited (finished) dissertation. I.e., it is never going to be perfect. It is only credited to you if it is completed.


            • #7
              Finish lines is a good way to think of those items with hard edged completion dates.

              I guess there is no "sheltering" available from these edges. But there is liberation is knowing that they're there, and that they need to be tracked.

              I guess having an inventory of projects, next actions and so on is the power of GTD - the work doesn't go away but it does get put in its place.


              • #8
                One thing at a time


                I guess having an inventory of projects, next actions and so on is the power of GTD - the work doesn't go away but it does get put in its place.[/quote]

                I try (not always successfully, but I try) to think of it the opposite way - if I have everything Prioritized and Organized where it belongs in Calendar, Next Actions and Someday/Maybe, then I have a better chance of selecting an appropriate thing to Do next. While I am Doing that thing, I can try to concentrate on it fully because everything else is Organized (for later). If I can't concentrate on it fully, I have to stop and find the one thing that is tugging for my attention and dispose of that. I may have 80 Next Actions, but since I can only Do one thing at a time, I only have 1 Next Activity (and 79 comparatively less important items waiting for the next Review of my lists).



                • #9
                  Hi Andrew

                  Not sure that I see that this is opposite. Maybe I was being imprecise in my description, but what I was getting at is that having an inventory allows you to put everything in its place. Once everything is in the inventory, you can focus on those items and not let the others distract you.

                  I hope this is on the same line as what you're saying, because thats what I am trying to get at