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Collaborating on GTD while maintaining personal systems

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  • Collaborating on GTD while maintaining personal systems

    Quick background - I discovered GTD about 9 months ago and am still working on fully committing to the system. I tried implementing it with limited success when I first heard about it, but then fell off the wagon and stagnated for quite a while. I am a gadget freak and love my blackberry for taking notes, but found that I was going numb to to-do lists as they disappeared into the electronic abyss. I've switched to a paper system now, because I am also obsessed with office supplies, and so far I think it's going to work out well.

    Anyway, on to the question. I also introduced my wife to GTD, and she likes the idea of it as well, but like me has never really committed to it completely. We have tried to use GTD at home for all our "shared" projects, and there are a _lot_ of them. Ideally, when we really start to trust this system, we'll do our weekly reviews and list-checking together. My problem is that I use a separate system for my own projects, which includes work projects and personal development projects that don't need to go on our shared list. Throughout the day though, I may look at our shared list or have ideas about shared projects and actions that I need to capture. This can get confusing when we both are having similar but different thoughts about project, for example disagreements about what the next action is.

    Where do I put these ideas? I've thought of a couple ideas:
    1) Put them in a shared inbox and only process them when we are together.
    The problem with this is that the inbox will become quite cluttered, and we'll spend a large chunk of our together time doing processing that could have been done individually.

    2) Process them myself as usual and input the results into our shared system, to be picked up and modified during our shared weekly review.
    This becomes an issue if we are both thinking about the "Landscape front yard" project, and one of us adds the NA "Discuss colors and desired maintenance level together" while the other adds "Stop by flower nursery for inspiration and ideas".

    3) Add an action to my _personal_ @wife list, "discuss aspect X of project Y"
    This is going to fill up my @wife list very fast.

    4) Your ideas??

    Our personal GTD systems work out relatively well, although I at least still have major procrastination issues, but so far our shared system has failed utterly. We have different approaches to the projects which may lead to differing NAs and differing priorities, and we each have individual thoughts throughout the day which need to be processed in some way. Can anyone help??
    Last edited by cybrown; 07-25-2008, 12:19 PM.

  • #2
    IMO, shared systems don't work. It's hard enough to define a system that meets your own needs, much less one that matches the styles of two or more different people. Lost projects and/or arguments are inevitable.

    The answer, then, is to have a clear hand off: every task is assigned to a person. That person can manage it as they see fit, provided it gets done on the agreed schedule. Projects requiring input by more than one person still have an owner responsible for coordination.

    Exactly how to manage the hand off depends on the scope of the task. I might send an email to my husband reminding him to buy milk on the way home, but scheduling vacation plans for the next six months probably requires an in-person conversation. Major projects like renovations and landscaping probably require lots of conversations, and you'll both be happier with clear agreements on how much autonomy each person has: it's fine if I spend a few hundred dollars on my own authority, but major expenditures and major environment changes (like painting the bedroom purple, say, or adopting a new pet) require consultation. For your landscaping project, one person might go to the nursery for ideas, but spending a fortune on designer roses would be a big no-no until you've had the care level conversation.

    What does this mean for a GTD system? First and foremost, it means one inbox per person. Even shared responsibilities like bills still initially go on one person's desk. Every task has an owner.

    Second, it means that yes, your @wife list will fill up. So will her @husband list. So you need regular consultation to go through those lists and make sure shared priorities are being managed. Depending on your schedules and the nature of your relationship, you might just chat over breakfast every morning, or you might need to have a more formal weekly status meeting. Or both.

    Hope this helps. FWIW, I don't know or care whether my husband uses GTD or not. I just know that when he agrees to do stuff, it gets done.



    • #3
      When two people are responsible for something, usually nobody is!

      First, thanks for posting this question. I've got a feeling this thread is going to be a popular one and some great discussion will come from it. I also have an opportunity for improvement in this area, but I'd like to offer what advice I can.

      I once heard David Allen say "When two people are responsible for something, usually nobody is." I've found that to be true in my home, too. My @Spouse list tends to stagnate a lot. When I do my weekly reviews, I often come up with @Agenda items for her and try to get her to commit to specific dates to get the work done with me.

      I recommend that you do one of the following when you and your wife decide that you have a project:

      1. Decide which one of you should take ownership of project and track it on his/her project list. The other person will just have next actions when assigned.

      2. Both of you should put the outcome on your own project lists.

      Whichever option you choose, I recommend that you and your spouse do as much planning as you need together, then as you generate next actions decide who is going to handle what and by when. You may need to hold perodic status meetings with her to evaluate where things are, what the next action is, and who owns it.

      You seem to be doing at least some of this this already; it seems that you just have some confusions about managing it in a system. In my opinion, I think that a separate "shared" GTD system will hurt you more than help you. Not only does it spread your commitments across multiple boundaries, you have to define responsibilities about maintaining it. You might be able to get away with a shared calendar (as long as you can easily copy the data you want from hers to your own) but I wouldn't go much further than that in terms of a shared system.

      Good luck!


      • #4
        Originally posted by cybrown View Post
        1) Put them in a shared inbox
        2) Process them myself as usual and input the results into our shared system, 3) Add an action to my _personal_ @wife list,
        I'd like to echo Katherine and ellobogrande on the problems with shared systems.

        It's all I can do to keep my GTD system cleaned up, I wouldn't want anyone else to have that responsibility.

        I usually have a number of things on my @wife list at any one time. I also have a "waiting for - home" which is aspects of projects that have been delegated to my wife.

        Then I use judgment as to which to discuss when, and by what means

        - Don


        • #5
          Great Question!

          I posed a similar question a while back...

          ... so you might get something from the responses I received.

          I wish I had good advice to share with you, but we're still trying to figure out the best way to handle shared tasks and projects. I think the suggestion to assign an owner to each task is good, but sometimes I feel like I need to duplicate my husband's tasks on my "waiting for" list to make sure it gets done. (That's probably an issue for another board... control much? )

          I will watch this thread for more good ideas from our fellow GTD-ers.


          • #6
            My revised ideas re: collaboration

            I am glad to hear from others that I am not alone in seeing the problems of a shared system. Based on the replies here, I have some new ideas on how to collaborate on these matters.

            Obviously, in a work setting, I can just delegate tasks to others or have them delegated to me as usual, and only have to worry about tracking them in my own system however I see fit. In a marriage though, there are unique issues to this, since there is certainly no clearly defined boss and it is a bit awkward to "delegate" tasks with authority. I am often reminded, as another poster pointed out, of David's claim that "When two people are in charge of something, no one is."

            With this in mind, I had thought that even the idea of having one person "own" a project would be a bit odd. It makes it very hard for the other person to "get it out of their head", since they may frequently have thoughts about the project or just wonder whether the other person is indeed Getting Things Done on that matter. However, I think some of this can be helped with a stricter GTD-type interpretation of "project". In my original example, "Front Yard Landscaping" or "Get furniture for house" may be more of an area of focus or some kind of top-level project. It would be a little too business-like to try to have one spouse "own" either of these projects, IMO.

            So here's how I see things. In an intimate shared system such as for a marriage, a Project List of these top-level projects should be kept and reviewed weekly, as usual. In the review, instead of picking the Next Action, the two can choose the Next Subproject, which is owned by one person. While "Front Yard Landscaping" is probably too grand to be owned by a single person, "Conduct preliminary research/Compile list of possibly appropriate plants" is a fine subproject for one person. At times, the subproject itself might be a next action, as in cases where that NA would take a long time to perform (perhaps "spread mulch in planting beds", for example). In other cases, the Next Subproject would be a small, "doable" project consisting of just a few actions that could reasonably be done by the next review or the one thereafter.

            In this way, the members of the collaboration can still have an equal voice and input into the Big Projects, but not have to worry about micromanaging each other on what specific steps to take for each part.

            What do you think?


            • #7
              I have found that there are many projects that my partner and I may share, but there are very few Next Actions within those projects that we both need to be responsible for. ("Need" is very different from "could be.")

              We recently moved into a new house, and with that came all sorts of projects. For "shared" projects, I made one master list, divided in three parts: tasks for me, tasks for him, and tasks for either of us. I gave him his list (he doesn't GTD) and went ahead tackling mine. We split the "either of us" tasks between us after discussing them.

              I would not suggest that you share processing inboxes, weekly reviews, etc. You are two independent people and you each may prefer your organizational system with particular nuances. A weekly check-in on truly joint projects is all that's necessary.

              David Allen mentions that if he's working and his wife has a non-critical request, she drops it in his inbox and leaves him undisturbed. I love this. You should each have an inbox that the other trusts is processed regularly.

              A big part of living with someone is deciding what's really important and what's not. It wasn't worth an afternoon of debating where each of our eight dry-erase boards would go on the office wall, when he could take responsibility for that project and I could spend that time arranging the racks in the storage room. In theory, "Arrange Storage Room" is a joint project, but it made more sense to divide and conquer.