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Bogged down in minutia (long)

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  • Bogged down in minutia (long)

    Hi All,

    I was just wondering if anyone else has found the process of writing down every single NA to be overly tedious. I've been a practitioner of this methodology for about two years, and I've come to the conclusion that I just can't be bothered with that level of detail tracking...

    I've found that I'm more productive if I just take something that I have to do and write down the general "outcome" i.e. "Change Direct Deposit info at work", and work it until it's done. This as opposed to writing down each of the consecutive NA's as each is completed, such as:

    1. look online for the Direct Deposit Authorization Form
    2. Download Direct Deposit Authorization Form
    3. Fill out Direct Deposit Authorization Form
    4. Attach voided check to Direct Deposit Authorization form
    5. Mail form to human resource department
    6. Waiting For... Direct Deposit change to take effect...

    The above is great if you hit a road block along the way to know where you're at with a "project", but over the years I've found that if I don't follow through all the way (or as far as I can) in the moment, what I've ended up with is just a bunch of incomplete projects. Using the above detailed list, I'd often be apt to stop working a "project" once the NA was completed and not move on to the next item (especially if the next NA was in a different context). Now, by working straight through and changing contexts if need be, I get much more accomplished!

    Another element that I battle with is prioritizing. I know that David advocates letting your intuition prioritize for you, but for some reason I can't get this to work for me. I've recently gone back to the old FC way of prioritizing (A, B, C, 1, 2, 3), and I've found I'm much more productive if I complete all of the A's first, then B's, etc. I've noticed that I've had less of the really "important" things fall through the cracks (happened to me all the time with straight-forward GTD). Now, I look at something that has an "A" next to it, and even if it's something that "repels" me, I see the "A" and know that I must do it TODAY. I force myself to do it because it's an "A". I've found that with GTD, it's too easy for me to put off things that "repel" me and just work on the stuff that attracts me.

    I love the theory of GTD, my problem has been in the implementation. I'm not disciplined enough to allow my conscience dictate what must get done first, and I'm not anal retentive enough to get down to that level of detail Has anyone else had similar experiences? If so, what have you done to make it work for you?

  • #2
    Hi jk

    Your outcome derived system sounds a lot like Anthony Robbins "Time of Your Life" or "Rapid Planning Method" system.

    He basically sets up outcomes, including the "Why" as well as the things that work with the outcome.

    His systems is derived on
    Result - Outcome
    Purpose - Purpose
    Massive Action Plan - Action
    Depending how long you've been following his system. Old (OPA) new (RPM).

    The basic format works like so:

    Result - Be prepared for my staff/board meeting
    Purpose - do a good job, professional pride, etc.


    Prepare agenda
    Prepare financial reports
    Prepare administration reports
    List correspondence.

    So, how I work something like this is to set up

    Prepare for staff/board meeting on my agenda/calendar

    Then, using a planner, I'd cover the bases for listing all the tasks as action items, mostly so that I don't miss one that's important. They'd be "A" or High priority tasks for the due date.

    I like David's system for the contect type planning, but I also use the outcome system.

    David does seem to describe it as projects, however, to me project infers something major - like planning a wedding, preparing a manual, or completing year end accounting duties (all 58 steps in 6 different areas). It isn't getting ready for a meeting - that's an RPM Block.

    I too have studied the Covey/Franklin systems. However, in the long run, I've found that the combination of the RPM, Franklin Covey and David Allen systems combined into a mish mosh seems to work best for me.

    Basically, I'm using David's @ categories for context - helps me with the basics, (i.e. I've got time to make a phone call, who should I call). I use the Franklin/Covey roles, and the general principles of the big rocks tends to permeate my planning processes. Then I use the Robbins Outcome planning - helps achieve the big rocks. I like David's outlook idea of all day appoiontments for the Outcomes of today/must tasks, it keeps it visible on my pocket pc. I manage this on my pocket pc using Pocket Informant - I just love their Hierarchical tasks for outcome planning, or, alternatively their customizable ABC-Z system also works for outcome planning.

    Sorry this got so long, just wanted to let you know, that after years of research, no one system worked for me, just a mishmash of several seems to make all the difference, but it's o.k. not to use just one person's ideas.

    Have a good day.



    • #3
      A quick "flashback" to my earlier opinion, from a similar topic on July 3, 2003:

      "Calendars, ToDo's & Philosophical Tunnel Vision:

      I may be taking my life in my hands with this one, but here goes...

      The more that I study "G.T.D."; the more similarities I see between David's Philosophy and those espoused by Charles Hobbs & Hyrum Smith (the latter being the founder of Franklin Quest, not Franklin Covey).

      David says that the Calendar is the "hard landscape" of where we have to be, and what we have to be doing. This has "hard edges" that are both Physical (location) and Chronological. If there is something on The Calendar; we cannot be doing "Next Actions" simultaneously.

      Hyrum Smith calls this "Non-Discretionary Time." He says anything listed on a calendar is not ours to debate, or open to subjective interpretation.

      David says that the "Next Actions" are to be chosen from when we have windows of time that are not blocked out on our Calendar. He says they are not related to time; and even encourages people not to include Due Dates, or Priorities. He expounds further by saying if something HAS to be done (or due) on a particular date, to record it as an "Untimed Event" listed on that day.

      Hyrum's "Prioritized Daily Task List" is for things that HAVE to be done on that date. It is not a "wish list" of stuff that we'd like to do that day, or that week, or sometime. The "P.D.T.L." is an EXTENSION of the Calendar. He calls the "P.D.T.L." "Discretionary Time" - and says that it IS related to Time, and it is what is to be done in between the windows of time that are not blocked out on our Calendar. It is, in effect, a series of "untimed events" that have to happen on that date. Hyrum expounds further by strongly encouraging people NOT to put something on the "P.D.T.L." that they do not have enough hours in the day to do. That will lead to the same feelings of inadequacy, defeat & overwhelm that David seeks to avoid.

      David's "Next Actions" are very similar to Hyrum's "Master Task List." It is a list of "actions" to be done on non-specific days, with non-specific priorities. Most of these actions are usually tied to a larger whole. Hyrum called these "Intermediate" or "Long-Range Goals." David calls them "projects." They are both things that have to be done, as soon as possible to move toward a larger outcome. David's organization of these by Context is a very insightful way to tap into human momentum & adrenaline. This keeps them from becoming a muddy list of "stuff."

      * To add in one MORE perspective: Anthony Robbins espouses that you are productive when you "Commit" your time to actions related to an outcome. Robbins believes that you block out the periods of time for the "must outcomes" of the day, and asterisk the "must actions" (a.k.a. "A Priorities).

      As I'm typing this - I have a Palm M515 on my desk, synched to David's "G.T.D." Add-In for Outlook on my PC. I also have my Classic Daily Franklin Planner open to today's date in front of me. Their "Daily Record of Events" is my ""G.T.D."" time/date stamped "IN" - collecting input from people via phone & in-person. I have both my Next Actions on my Palm & Outlook; and a select few of those I've committed to completing on today's "Prioritized Daily Task List."

      I've studied both systems & philosophies over the past 6 years. I've also studied a great deal of Eastern Philosophy; which David resonates very strongly with. David's desired outcome is "Mind Like Water": clear with a relaxed focus, despite disturbances of things being thrown in the water. Hyrum's desired outcome is "Laser Thinking": pure white light with focus to cut through disturbances. Their IS Added Value in both; and they are NOT "mutually exclusive."

      People approach a variety of systems & guru's looking for a "Silver Bullet" that will solve everything in one neat package so they do not have to think independently. Some people do this with Time & Life Management some do it with Home Stereos, or Religion. Millions have been killed (some very recently) as a result of "all or nothing at all" thinking. It is up to the INDIVIDUAL to "take what you like and leave the rest" or adapt it into your own philosophy.

      "An old Master was crossing the sea to die with his wife. A student asked him what religion he practiced. He said it is none of the ones you listed - it is my own. The student said: A one man religion ? Come On! The Master replied: There is no other kind."

      "The problem lies not in the stars, but ourselves."

      Back to today...

      There are several of us on the board who've been exposed to many of these different belief systems. I believe Frank Buck is also familiar with "taking what you like, and leaving the rest" from the different methodologies. I apologize in advance if I'm misspeaking here Frank I believe that we truly do have to have "Minds Like Water" to keep moving and exploring the surface of these ideas - not "Mind Like Ice" which is frozen in one rigid perspective only.


      • #4
        My view

        Hello Folks,

        I just wanted to add my two cents worth here. IT IS REALLY EASY TO BE BURIED IN TOO MANY NEXT ACTIONS! What I do is similar to the Anthony Robbins approach in that I create a weekly action plan based on my comprehensive weekly review. My focus is also on outcomes, but on a goal-oriented approach. I set goals for the week based on my highest priority projects across my spectrum of roles (my Covey part of my system) and make sure I have the necessary next actions on my context lists. An important part of this planning process is to estimate the time for completion of all of my next actions. This way, I can see fairly quickly if I will be able to realistically achieve my goals based on this time crunch assessment -- my meetings, appointments, etc. already on my calendar. There is nothing more delflating than to set goals and not be able to achieve them because I had an unrealistic idea of how much time I really had available for the week. This now gives me a blueprint of what I want to accomplish this week. There is still flexibility -- I DO NOT HARD CODE EVERYTHING INTO THE CALENDAR! However, I do schedule time blocks during the week -- in essence, scheduling a meeting with myself -- to have high focus work on the highest priority next actions and projects. This works most of the time, but yes -- there are times when I have to re-evaluate things and modify my weekly plan. David talks about this in his books and it does happen. So, my weekly action plan is that -- a plan. But without it, I feel lost amongst a sea of hundreds of next actions. Now, about prioritizing! THIS IS THE MOST DIFFICULT AREA! I have read and studied almost every time management book imaginable over the last 20 years. The gentleman said that he feels better assigning A,B,C codes to things. Wonderful -- there is really nothing wrong with that! However, do realize that YOU ARE MAKING A CONSCIOUS DECISION ON WHAT HIGH PRIORITY IS WHEN YOU DO THIS! So, in reality, it is not different than what David Allen says in relying on your own intuition. If it makes you more efficient to use a coding system, then by all means, do it!

        At any rate, just my thoughts...

        Best to all,


        • #5
          Hi Rich,

          I agree that the Master Task List is very similar to what David suggests. My take on the PDTL is a little different, though.

          I'm exactly like you in the fact that I currently have both systems at work for me. I, too, have my Palm M505 synced to GTD Outlook Add-in, and my classic FC planner sitting next to me. My problem is that I see advantages to both systems, and when I try to use one of them exclusively, I can't help but think that there's something about the other system that I liked better. I keep switching back and forth.

          To further complicate the matter, I'm stuck in limbo between paper and Palm. I think that from a visual standpoint, using a paper planner is just easier. There is also something to be said about actually putting pen to paper. For some reason, I just like it.

          On the other hand, I just saw the new Palm Tungsten T3 at Best Buy and thought it was really cool (I'm really a techno-geek at heart). I like the portability of the Palm (and according to Smith, you should carry your planner with you wherever you go).

          Now, back to my original post - for some reason, I need some kind of urgency associated with my NA list, and it can't be from an internal source. I need the urgency to come from the outside somewhere. I need something in my face telling me "YOU HAVE TO DO THIS NOW". I find that the PDTL accomplishes this for me. I equate the "A"'s on the PDTL to the hard coded items on the GTD calendar. The rest is up for grabs. It is, however, very cumbersome to have to keep forwarding incomplete tasks in a paper system...

          Ah... what to do, what to do...

          Forever in limbo,



          • #6

            Adding 2 more cents to the mix.

            David says keep your planner with you at all times.
            Anthony Robbins says "strap your planner to your butt"
            Covey says keep your planner with you at all times.

            Then, the most important one I've read & can't remember who said it.

            Only use one calendar.

            I've also discovered (the hard way) that you should also have only one planner. Having multiple sources of infomation causes systemwide leaks. I always lose control when I've got stuff on my pocket pc, stuff on paper, stuff in a notebook and post it notes everywhere. When all those things happen, I know I've been really busy, only hitting the most urgent or pressing and have truly lost control, definately not a mind like water scenario.

            So, like you I had to give up my Franklin Planner actually, it was getting too heavy and was giving me shoulder pain. It was hard giving up on the paper - I'm a visual & tactile person, however, I've helped with the visual by using my pocket pc with colors - palm has Datebook I think that helps with that.

            So, that's my 2 cents.



            • #7
     additional 2 cents (or nickel)

              I have to remind myself occassionally that (as I understand it) David's OUTCOME in his methodology is to RAISE our level of awareness TO the "Outcome" level (which is another synonym he uses for "Projects"). In my personal lists, I have one for "Projects: Work" and "Outcomes: Life" which push two very different emotional buttons for me.

              I believe the "Next Action" lists are supposed to serves as more "oh yeah - that" bookmarks, than a rigid anal retentive index. They are supposed to be there to keep us FROM worrying about what's happening on that lowest level of awareness.

              Ironically enough - How much time & energy are we spending nervously worrying about this level in a system that was designed for us not to worry about it ?

              (whew, lol)


              • #8
                Rich, et. al.,

                Very well spoken, thank you,



                • #9
                  An intriguing dialogue. Thanks!

                  I had the same thought at first - that capturing and organising every NA would bog you down in minutia.

                  However, it quickly dawned on me that the power of writing the NEXT action is that it gives you a reference point from which to start.

                  When we complete a next action, another next action reveals itself. Often these will be "less than 2 minute" type actions, so there is no point in capturing, processing and organising. Just do it - assuming you have 2 minutes, otherwise it will need to be CPO'd.

                  One thing leads to another, and you often end up with multiple Next Actions done without ever being CPO'd!

                  When you get to a point where a longer than 2 minute NA reveals itself, then you might just keep on with the flow. Alternatively, you might determine to capture it.

                  This also fits with the DO phase of three types of work - predefined work, defining your work, or doing work as it pops up.

                  A mind like water allows you to make the determination.

                  Having the project on a list means that you can "drop the ball" right after finishing off a NA without thinking about the next NA - knowing that it will bounce back during the next weekly review.

                  The power of GTD is in the system, not the individual parts.

                  This thread has helped me to frame a few more links in my mind.



                  • #10
                    Making it a whole dime, now...

                    The first posting in this thread describes a frequent problem for GTD-ers. I believe that the intent of the GTD system is to "free up your mind" and not to make you dive into ridiculous levels of detail. I recal from the book that David mentions several times that the level of detail has to be sufficiently deep to *take that issue out of your mind and place it into a trusted system*.

                    The first poster gives a great example of how diving too deep into the level of detail could overload the system. A simple NA like "Call Jim B. re: Lakers Tickets" could be a project in itself: Open PDA, Scroll down to B..., Pick up receiver, Press buttons in sequence, Breathe in..... You get the idea. However, by this time everyone knows how to make a phone call, so we can skip the details, without sacrificing peace of mind.

                    However, when one is not familiar with a task, breaking it down into small NA's would be necessary to make sure that one has a clear understanding of what comes next, to make the task less amorphous and, utimately, to decrease the level of apprehension and to enable focused execution.

                    For those of you who had kids, you will remember the first time you fed the infant. It was a great deal, you needed a lot of pointers, you had to think about every single detail, down to the position of your arms, to offer proper support, etc. 4 months later you could do it while talking on the phone. You didn't even have to put on the NA list anymore: it took less than 2 minutes.

                    Aside from unnecessary level of detail on the NA list, I used to accumulate Tasks because I did not diferentiate between "Have to..." and "Nice to..." Learn Spanish was in my Projects list for 12 months and I still haven't started it! I solved this problems by using the tickler and the Sometime/Maybe. By purging the "Nice to do/have/etc....." out of the projects list, I brought the list down to under 75, and the NA list to under 157. (They are at 51/107 now and I thing that it is a reasonable load...)

                    These are my $0.02.

                    I will stop here now. (In reality, I will click with the mouse, Make sure posting show up, Turn IE off, Turn computer of... etc., but you do not need that level of detail, do you?)


                    • #11
                      What a rich thread! - tempting to wade in, even at the risk of repeating (not quite as well) what has been said before....

                      If the Master List paradigm is to write everything down with no sorting / coding until you are ready to make up the daily/weekly plan, then I think that the GtD equivalent is "Collecting". The Processing phase of GtD does the sorting before the writing (i.e. entering into the lists), which makes the Organized lists more manageable/sensible. The Processing phase is an exercise in stratification and Prioritization, between Calendar, Active Items (multi step Projects with Next Actions, and single-step outcomes) and Inactive Commitments / Wish List. This early-stage thinking activity is, I am guessing, the reason that DA places Priority last in the 4-Criteria selection of things to Do in the moment - the lists already reflect the general Prioritization (actionable vs non-actionable commitments). The philosophies may be similar, but the construction of the lists is quite different.

                      The GtD idea seems to be that if everything in the lists is properly thought out and in the right place, then the selection of things to Do should be fairly mechanical, or at least the list of currently-Doable items is limited. I like this idea because it creates a distinction between planning mode and doing mode, which staves off the temptation to wallow in planning (continuous tinkering with the lists) as a form of procrastination. It's nice in theory, but I still find that I need additional triggers to action and currently I am using a combination of Now/Soon/zzz and Must/Want/Wish - is that eclectic or what? Actually, I find this coding useful in balancing importance/proactivity against context/convenience.

                      On the subject of writing down Next Actions (excluding total no brainers, such as "Seal the Envelope, Affix Stamp, Place in Outbox, etc.), the late Mark MacCormack wrote that you should write down what you are about to Do and keep it in sight to heighten focus. It works for me and it helps to build the all-important momentum, and it has the added benefit that if I choose to be interrupted the Next Action is already written down. An additional benefit is that if the Next Action involves a change of Context, then as I write it down I am forced to make a conscious decision about whether I want to stay in the current context or change, and if I choose to change, to look through the list for other items in the new context in planning the next hour or two (bearing in mind the 2-minute rule as a secondary consideration - since I don't see the 2-minute rule as being applicable where a change of context is involved because of the time wasted in context-changing).

                      I hope this thread continues.



                      • #12
                        bogged down?

                        Great topic and very interesting reading. I think I sometimes fall into the trap of too much organizing and not enough "doing". David mentions this problem in one of his articles. I love my PPC and spend a lot of time playing with it. I also use it in combination with Outlook at work. I find if I spend too much time fretting about my system, I am not near as productive if I just trust GTD to keep my incomplete actions "in" so it's not in my head bogging me down.

                        Some excellent suggestions and methods in these posts but the bottom line is whatever works for an individual to accomplish what we're all after, to get things done.

                        Great reading on these posts. Let's keep it going and learn from each other.


                        • #13
                          Having worked to implement GTD for about a year now, I have to say that the less clear I am about what I'm trying to do and why, the more I tend to tinker with my GTD methods. Ironically, I make some interesting discoveries for better methods when I am focusing on outcomes.

                          There is a book titled, "The Answer to How is Yes". The author contends that self help is a lucrative industry because so many people think they need to know *how* to be successful. The answers are endless. Those who have decided *what* they will be successful at and *why* tend to figure out their own how. Some of them even mange to be successful without GTD


                          • #14
                            I suspect that Andmor put his finger on an important point when he mentioned change of context. I see no obvious reason for splitting any NA that you can do in one context.


                            • #15
                              back to original post: next actions as placeholders

                              We all want to feel there is a plan- from mailing our bills [get envelope (check); stamp envelope (check); put envelope in mailbox (check)] to our plan for our lives [marry at 30 (check); have 2.2 children (check); die rich, fat, and happy (check?) ]. As I learned from Hyrum Smith, checking off stuff feels wonderful.

                              DA is pretty clear about next actions being placeholders, or bookmarks which tell us where to start working on a project again. A few personal observations:

                              On simple projects, overplanning is a waste of time, because once I start, I know how to keep going. When I stop, a good next action will let me pick up again easily.

                              On complicated projects, detailed planning is a waste of time because things change. Planning as much as I need to, but no more, is a good way to go. Only intermediate-scale projects benefit much from having lists of possible next actions. Big projects generally need big plans, not little lists.

                              Choosing good next actions is hard! If I am procrastinating a project, the three most likely reasons:
                              1) Desired outcome isn't clear.
                              2) Next action isn't next or isn't an action.
                              3) I don't want to do it (but I have to).
                              If I am being sufficiently adult at that moment, I can overcome 3).

                              I need to tolerate uncertainty about the future, while striving for clarity in the present.