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Reverting to Paper when the going gets tough

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  • Reverting to Paper when the going gets tough

    I am a firm believer in GTD. I talk the talk but I don't always walk the walk.

    I have outlook configured as described in the GTD And Outlook whitepaper. My Projects and Next Actions are in there, with the appropriate context. My blackberry syncs with outlook so I have remote access to my calendar and Tasks/ToDos.

    My problem is that, when things get hectic-- which is a weekly ocurrance in my job-- I drop all this, grab a piece of paper, and make an old fashioned list of things to do.

    This week, I noticed that each day, I created a new paper to-do list, copying incomplete items from the day before. I accomplished a lot of what I needed to this week, probably because the to-do list was in my face, driving me to work towards completion. This habit is probably a leftover from my days with a Franklin Planner (re-write your to-dos each day).

    Ultimately, my GTD list falls behind, or I simply don't look at it for several days while I work off of this paper list.

    Does anyone else have this type of problem? Any suggestions for making my GTD list more transparent? I feel like the crux of this problem is that pencil and paper is easy for me to work with, while I have a mental block about going into my outlook task list to add items or mark them complete.

  • #2
    The value of paper

    I've experienced this too. I think there are several things going on. One is the value of daily (and weekly) lists in and of themselves. It's all very well to have all of your options spread out before, but sometimes you want/need to focus. There is also the satisfaction of crossing things off (I am going to make it through this. I am. I am!) as a very visible and tangible reminder of where you are relative to where you need to be. I don't think there is anything wrong with this, as long as you don't abandon your usual system entirely. You need to sync the paper back in at the right time, in other words.


    • #3
      Maybe you need a paper GTD system? If Outlook isn't working for you, use something else. GTD is a set of habits, not a set of tools.



      • #4
        I think there are two separable issues: paper vs digital, and daily lists vs weekly lists.

        One flavor of GTD states that, during my weekly review, I put everything that I am not committing myself to work on in the next week in the Someday/Maybe list.

        So, essentially, my trusted system is a weekly list. It can be paper, electronic, or palimpsest.

        James is saying, and I agree, that there are times when stuff is coming at me fast and furious that I need to make a daily list.

        James goes on to say that when this happens he allows his GTD trusted system to languish unattended. I don't think this is a problem, as long as we are doing GTD properly, which means that: (1) date-sensitive items are in the calendar or the tickler; (2) the in-box is being processed regularly; and (3) the weekly review is being done weekly.

        I think this is why GTD is good. GTD works well in hectic environments where priorities shift rapidly and you can't lock yourself in your office undisturbed for four hours.

        I, like James, keep a running daily list. It might not be orthodox GTD, but I find that it works well with my GTD system.

        The other issue--paper vs. electronic--is really a matter of taste. Like Katherine said, you've got to find what works for you. If you don't want to go into Outlook, you need to figure out whether that is because of the nature of Outlook or because of the nature of the items that are in Outlook.

        I, too, have felt repelled on occasion by the thought that I need to do my weekly review and slog through my lists. But I don't think it is the fact that my lists were electronic that repelled me, it was just the fact that I was overcommitted. Changing to paper does not in any way diminish my overcommitment.

        If it is the electronic nature of Outlook that repels you, then, by all means, find one of the many excellent paper systems. But if it is the content of your trusted system that repels you, then life is giving you a loud message. You can ignore it at your peril, or you can make plans to adjust your commitments so that they line up better with your capacities.


        • #5
          Your system is wherever your attention is. If you pay more attention to your paper to do list, you're probably better off building your calendar and list management system around paper.

          I went back to paper after using a PIM for years for a few reasons, but the main one was having a hard edge between my production tools -- my computer and cell phone -- my reminder system. Whenever I found myself getting too caught up in my work, I lacked a separate vantage point for taking a step back and reviewing what I was doing in relation to other potential priorities.

          If you're committed to maintaining an electronic system, you might want to experiment with using a second monitor, using one screen for Outlook, the other for your actual work. That way your system is always in your peripheral vision, not unlike using a paper planner.


          • #6
            Daily to-do for me too

            I do exactly the same thing. When a deadline is looming I keep a daily to-do list of the stuff I *have* to get done as soon as possible in order to meet the deadline.

            In my case, I think this happens because GTD next actions are not coded for priority. So when I'm faced with a deadline, I have to ensure that the sub-list of next actions of the highest urgency are front and center. The to-do list not only keeps the priority tasks in my face all day, but creating the list in the morning gets me physically moving and focused on the inventory of important things I have to get done.

            I don't believe this means that my GTD system is broken. I see it as a natural reaction to deadline pressure, where priority becomes the over-riding criteria for what gets done next. You don't want to have to stare at your entire 80-item @Work action list when your whole focus should be on 10 items.

            I know I could avoid some of these deadline panics by procrastinating less - GTD brought me to the water, but that doesn't mean I always drink!


            • #7
              Great topic!

              Note that your Next Action and Projects lists inherently have a sort of priority ordering: they are a linear list. You can put more important items at the top.

              Were I coaching you, I'd recommend that you fold those "urgent" items into your Next Actions list, but at the top of your list. If your digital system automatically alphabetizes, then prepend each urgent item with a period. If using paper, you can draw a short line between the urgent items at the top, and the not-so-urgent ones at the bottom (I used to do this in the middle of the empty page, then fill it up).

              The danger you face lies in focusing only on the urgent stuff on your weekly paper list, and ignoring the important stuff that's on your unused Next Actions list.


              • #8
                Originally posted by moises View Post
                James goes on to say that when this happens he allows his GTD trusted system to languish unattended. I don't think this is a problem, as long as we are doing GTD properly, which means that: (1) date-sensitive items are in the calendar or the tickler; (2) the in-box is being processed regularly; and (3) the weekly review is being done weekly.
                When I very first started using GTD, I incorporated it into my Franklin planner, with a section for each list. I was very pleased with myself. But then I didn't look at the lists, and the system fell apart very fast. It wasn't until I ditched the planner and put the system into Word that it started working. The difference for me was that I was resisting the rewriting I had to do, which I fixed by working in Word where I can change and move things easily. The other difference, of course, was that I hadn't established my weekly review habit, so that the lists became scary and guilt-producing very fast.

                I agree that as long as you're reviewing regularly, using a daily list does not compromise a GTD system. I've lately been choosing a "big rock" for each day (chosen from my Current Projects list), and that's been helping me to ground myself among the many commitments that pull me this way and that. I use it in combination with my NA list.

                Do Mi


                • #9
                  paper-based project work

                  My system is predominantly electronic (other than the stuff that naturally arrives on paper, such as bills), although lately I've discovered that paper is working exceptionally well for the ongoing development-in-progress of a current large project.

                  This has been a revelation to me lately, as I would normally have rigidly forced myself to capture everything electronically, but I saw that the overhead was too much in this case, and the side-benefit has been a rebirth of my relationship with paper as an adjunct to my electronic system. Fluidity rules the day.

                  By the way, I still track the overall project and current next action(s) in my usual electronic place for this.


                  • #10
                    Oh yeah. I usually start by planning things on paper. But with my most recent major creative project, I started by opening up my word processor and typing away.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Brent View Post
                      Note that your Next Action and Projects lists inherently have a sort of priority ordering: they are a linear list. You can put more important items at the top.
                      This is a good suggestion. I've being trying something like it over the last week or so, and have come to the conclusion that I was also probably reverting to paper in part because I didn't totally trust that my electronic system contained everything that needed to get done during crunch time.

                      I have sworn off paper in order to force myself to keep my electronic system up to date, since overall I still prefer electronic. I now start the day with a mini-review of things that have my attention, current projects, and next actions. I ensure that all next actions are in my electronic system and that the ones that urgent ones appear on their own list (a simple procedure with my electronic system). I then proceed to knock them off, one by one. So far so good.


                      • #12
                        Daily Lists and Paper vs. Electronic

                        Hi all,

                        I've been a GTDer since I took a seminar with David in '89, and over the years, I have migrated from Time/Design to the first Palm Pilots, then back to T/D, then back to Palm...

                        My personal take on it is this: None of it works unless you faithfully capture, process, and regularly review the stuff. I nearly always will make a "daily punchlist" which is a subset of items I've got in my system. And then I go "execute the day". Then I throw my daily punchlists in my traveling "In" folder. On my next review, I get the satisfaction of barreling down my lists, and crossing TONS of things off.

                        As for the T/D to Palm to T/D to Palm "multiple migration"...Overall, I prefer a paper planner. However that being said, I am on the road between half the two-thirds of the year. As you might imagine, I am hauling the "usual" assortment of road-warrior gear: laptop, chargers, iPod, Cell Phone, folders, office supplies. Unfortunately, a binder (not to mention the replacement pages needed to keep it going) is just too bulky for my taste. Size and weight have pretty much trumped everything else in my use of a system.

                        Here are the relative advantages/disadvantages of each type in my mind:

                        Advantages - not limited by battery life, you can capture new actions and projects directly to the system, better kinesthetic experience, weekly reviews can be done anywhere/anytime (it's easier to do a weekly review on an airplane for example), it's more personalized and simpler than electronic, it's native simplicity encourages me to use the system

                        Disadvantages - Typically bulkier and heavier than electronic, no secure data capability, little ability to backup data

                        Advantages - can store data securely (password, PINs, etc.), you can store and manage MUCH MORE data than a paper system, the system is compact and easily transportable, in a smartphone/PDA combo you can dial numbers directly from the contacts list, when you complete a task and check it complete, it typically disappears from the list, usually you have the ability to attach a "note" to an action or entry, you can back the data up in a separate place to protect your data in the event of a "calamity"

                        Disadvantages - inputting new actions and weekly reviews are best done at a laptop (which can limit when reviews or processing can be done), making inputs directly into the PDA is usually much more trouble than it is worth (requiring a paper "capture list" that must later be processed), it seems less personal...

                        That's just my take. The bottom line is to pick whichever kind of system you think will work best for you.



                        • #13
                          Thanks for the post, Kent! Did want to ask you a few questions about one aspect of your post:

                          Originally posted by Kent Valentine View Post
                          Disadvantages (of paper) - Typically bulkier and heavier than electronic, no secure data capability, little ability to backup data
                          How is paper insecure? Digital files can be hacked, accidentally deleted with a keystroke, etc. The pieces of paper in my filing cabinet cannot possibly be hacked by anyone in the world. Or am I missing something?

                          And as for backups...what's wrong with photocopiers?


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Brent View Post
                            How is paper insecure?
                            Unless you are a cryptographer and encrypt your documents all the time paper is easily read by anyone using your same language. Therefore it is not secure.


                            • #15
                              In a trusted system, the operative word seems to be trust. If my wonderful system turns out not to be effective in every imaginable situation, then maybe it makes perfect sense to grab a piece of paper and start making a list that I can trust to get me through the moment. It doesn't necessarily mean that the system is wrong, but that I know when to trust and what to trust--and that I know myself well enough to make such a choice without feeling that I am doing something wrong.