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I am a mess! Help!

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  • I am a mess! Help!

    I am an educator who spent some time this summer planning out my system with hopes of implementing at the start of the year. It seems that every TM and GTD system talks about the need to focus and do one thing at a time. When you are working with adolescents in a school, this just does not seem to work. I start a next action and am interrupted constantly, students and colleagues dropping in, phone calls, e-mail, ... My system has turned into a bunch of post it notes all over the place and i am constantly multitasking, just what the book says not to do.

    Ideas on implementing system in a very fast paced environment. Although i enjoy electronic, it seems that paper is the best way to go, but i am open to suggestions.

    Thanks for your help.


  • #2
    Getting Off the Runway Again

    There may be a couple of different possibilities here, but two things I think will help get you back in the game again:

    People often get a head start on the GTD workflow by processing things and writing down next actions before setting up their workspace properly. So make sure you have places to file things and put things in their apporpriate places.

    This is the key habit. When everything seems to be falling apart again, you have to get back to a full, uninterrupted weekly review. You need to firewall your time and not allow any interruptions for 2 hours. Lock your door, put up "caution" tape -- like Target employees do -- and just get it done every week no matter what.

    You might find this checklist I made on Pruning Your GTD System helpful as well.

    Hope some of this helps.
    Last edited by Todd V; 08-08-2012, 01:34 PM.


    • #3
      No more mess


      I am in a retail setting, so we are constantly interrupted also. I have found the the "in basket" is my key to GTD. You can only do one thing at a time, although you may be interrupted while doing it.

      Interruptions can be put in the "in" box, in the form of a note to self, or a reminder to post to tasks, or incoming mail or whatever. If the interruption must be handled now, then put the project you are working on away-if time allows- and then come back to it. Or leave it on your desk top, but don't start another task until it is completed. or a new next action assigned, or it is refiled in the project file.

      I process my in tray almost every day, before I go home. That way the next day is clear at the start, with my calendar becoming "sacred", containing all the items that must be done that day. You can also do an emergency scan of your in tray, if you can't clear it out by the next day, to be sure you cover any essential issues that are time sensitive.

      With this system, interruptions don't become a drag, as you know what you must get done that day by your calendar, and those tasks are not all day projects.

      So, the key is trusting your calendar and clearing your "in" tray, in my opinion.

      I hope that helps. Call me if you would like to talk about it.

      928 772 2222

      Dan Hussey


      • #4
        Hi MTF. A few thoughts:

        > do one thing at a time ... interrupted constantly

        First, in an environment where constant, important, and *uncontrolled* interruptions occur, you clearly need to prioritize them over the current action you're working on. A good practice is to use your inbox to "bookmark" the current action - toss your folder or paper notes there, possibly using a sticky to note where you were. Then deal with the interruption, retrieve the notes, and get back to it.


        > students and colleagues dropping in, phone calls, e-mail

        The latter two make me wonder whether some of your interruptions are internal. There's a saying from the Time/Design folks that "most interruptions are in your head." Must you accept the phone calls or emails? For the phone, can you let the answering system take it? For the emails, can you move from continuous checking to scheduled times (i.e., time blocks)? Given your challenges, reducing non-essential interruptions is probably worth investigating.

        Regarding drop-in visitors, are they all crucial? Can you ask some of them to drop a note in your inbox or front office mail slot, send an email, or come back? Finally, can you create "office hours" so that you carve out some protected non-interruptible time to either work your system (doing actions) or empty your inboxes? Even a few 30 minute chunks during the day can help you stay on top. Just something to think about...

        > My system has turned into a bunch of post it notes all over the place

        OK, first: Using post-it notes is OK (they're a capture tool in this case), *provided* you toss them into your inbox immediately. Otherwise they become unprocessed and distracting stuff that easily falls through the cracks. Second, are you using post-its for your action management system? They're generally not good for that, IMHO. I wonder: Are your list-making and calendar tools in order? They must be convenient and portable. Sometimes starting with a paper-based system is a good choice.

        Hope that helps.


        • #5
          Learn to say NO.

          Learn to say NO.


          • #6
            Set your Mission Statement, Set Goals, Set Boundaries

            Michael -

            You need to take a step back and take a deep breath. You need to reduce your stress level before you implement a new system.

            Sit down and journal why you became an educator in the first place. What is your real life's mission? Then write a mission statement so you can define your path in life. For example:

            "I am an educator who inspires, uplifts and encourages students to be highly unique and creative individuals."

            Write a mission statement that feels comfortable to you and keep it on an index card in your wallet, in your planner, etc. After you write it - say it. If it does not ring true, re-write it. and say it out loud again. You should be able to define your mission, your life's purpose as an educator in one or two sentences.

            Set goals to achieve your mission statement. What will it take to be the best educator in your field and help your students grow? It may mean you have to take some new courses that will help them, brainstorm with your peers for ideas, or partner with other educators on ideas that will help your students open their imagination and grow.

            The Powers That Be got it all wrong when they started having us multi-task. It does not work for your brain or your career. Neither do constant interruptions. With each interruption it will take you and your brain at least 20 minutes to get back into the task you were trying to complete.

            Once you have defined your mission statement and set goals to accomplish your mission, you need to set boundaries and have your students, colleagues, family and friends honor them.

            1. Set hours and a sign up sheet on your desk as to when students can drop by for a chat. And the chat has to do with their assignments - no procrastinating.

            2. Set up times during the day when you will answer email. If it is really important, someone will call you.

            3. Set up an I AM AWAY sign on your PC when necessary. Block out a few hours a day to concentrate and get some work done.

            4. Cluster like tasks together. I work in an IT testing environment and I have to types of testing to run. I only work on all tasks related to one type of testing at a time. If I jump back and forth between both, then I never get all my tasks accomplished and something is left hanging.

            5. Learn to say NO in a very nice way when people ask you to join committees or to do volunteer work when you know you do not have the time. Just say, "That was very considerate of you and your organization, committee, etc. to consider me but I really must decline at this time. My plate is already full. But thank you for thinking of me." When you decline so sweetly, they will probably leave you alone. And if they come back and say the project will die without you, tell them you are still not available, and not responsible for the survival of that project, play, etc.

            6. Set up ME time for you every day. Turn off the TV, your computer, the phone and just play some soothing music or read a book. Sit in silence for awhile if you can. Or go for a walk. Walking is a bilateral activity that connects both sides of the brain and gets the creative juices flowing. Walk for pleasure - not for exercise, and see what a difference it makes.

            You have to step back and let go and look at your life from a higher plane of existence before you can take control.

            Try the suggestions listed above and you will be in a better frame of mind to use GTD. GTD really helps you relax into your life, and I love it for that reason alone.

            But it sounds like you need to reduce your stress level first, and then ease into GTD.

            I hope this helps.

            all my best -

            jacki whitford
            Last edited by jackiwhitford; 09-01-2007, 01:58 AM.


            • #7
              I can understand...

              I'm a middle school teacher and can understqand exactly what you're going through. We get a "planning time" that seems to end up being used for anything else, but planning. Maybe my experiences can help too.

              First of all, having a system you can fully trust is SO important. Personally, I use EssentialPIM for my calendar and lists. I print them out each weekend during a weekly review and use the printed copy during the week. This way I can write things on them and update them easily. I update the electronic copy during the next weekly review (if not sooner) If something comes up, like a new scheduled meeting, etc. then write it down immediately. Then it's scheduled and you can stop worrying about it. Same with your action lists. Even if it's during class, when I get a thought that needs to be done, I'll walk over to my desk and write it on my action lists right then. I also have a stack of index cards at the front of the room so I can write it there if I can't get to my desk. At the end of the day, I gather any cards I've written and update my action lists before going home. It will only take a couple of minutes and has saved a lot mental stress.

              You're right, people will try to come to your room and take up your time. Depending on how your school operates or specific rules, you could lock your door and answer email or make phone calls. (This is easier if they can't see you through the door. ) Maybe you could take things to the school library and work on them there in a quiet corner. Updating lists, using a computer to answer email, and other tasks like that could be easier if you went to a more secluded location. Try to find "hiding spots" for when you really need to focus on a task (I'm not saying be unavailable all the time, but for when you really have to get out of the "public eye" for a while.)

              Definitely do the weekly updates. For me, I include it as part of my weekly lesson plans. Update my lists/calendar and plan for the next week's lessons. They go together really well.

              I even keep a digital recorder with me in the car for those thoughts that happen while driving.


              • #8
                very helpful!

                Thanks for all your comments. I feel that i can take a lot from each of them. The only bucket i know i have right is my "IN." The problem is i sometimes use it for everything. I have tried to discipline myself to use tickler but have not really set up other "buckets": Action, SM, Waiting For, etc. Not sure if i should use folders or not.

                I would feel more confidant "trusting" my system if i knew that it was set up the right way. I tend to "tinker" with it, instead of setting it up and sticking with it.

                I am definately working on set times for email and voice mail. I tend to think i have to respond right away. Saying "no" is something i need a lot of work with along with learning how to de-stress!

                I am interested in an Essential PIM like took for the mac if anyone knows of one.

                Thanks again for the support.



                • #9
                  GTD in a Box

                  Here's a post I made not too long ago on how to get a GTD system up and running really quickly and cheaply. It's called "GTD in a Box."

                  It's a good idea to get your paper-based GTD workflow going first -- with a physical Tickler system, file folders for Actionable, Agendas, Read-Review, Waiting For, Someday-Maybe, Projects, Checklists, etc.; and to make sure you have a place to start filing your Reference materials. Once you get it working for paper, then you can figure out what the best digital solution might be for you.
                  Last edited by Todd V; 08-08-2012, 01:34 PM.


                  • #10
                    getting control

                    Thanks to all the advice i finally think i am gaining a little control. My "In" box is no longer a post it with a bunch of to do's on it. I have an in that is dedicated for all "stuff" to process. I also set up my individual @ files that consists of @ action, @ calls, @ computer, @ Waiting For, @ SM, and a Project folder that is growing fast. I also set up @ folders for my boss and pschologist that i regularly consult with and a physical tickler system. My concern is that i am going to get too folder oriented and won't be able to find anything. Are my categories too narrow?

                    As a refresher i also started re-listening to getting things done fast tape series that i had purchased about 6 years ago.

                    Just let me know if i am getting on the right track and again, thanks for your assistance. I am not a mess anymore!



                    • #11
                      You're right on track

                      You're right on track, Michael. Just make sure to commit to a Weekly Review of your entire inventory once a week, no-matter-what, and you'll begin to trust your system (and yourself) more.

                      Hope that helps.