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How do I keep track of Must-Dos?

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  • How do I keep track of Must-Dos?

    I'm just getting my system up to speed and am not sure how to handle what is to me (and probably to most people) the most important category of Next Action items: Next Actions that absolutely must get done by the end of the day (or by some other short-run deadline).

    In my job (I'm a litigation attorney), there are many tasks that I absolutely have to get done by a certain deadline or very bad things will happen. A standard part of my daily routine is compiling and reviewing this list throughout the day and as a final check before leaving the office. Unfortunately, I'm not really sure how to work these tasks into the GTD system.

    Just to be clear, I'm not so much concerned with formal deadlines for large projects (like a deadline to file complaint, for example) as I can handle these fairly well on the calendar and can see the deadline approaching days or weeks in advance. Instead, I'm talking about the small things that come up during the day -- like sending a FedEx to a client by the end of the day or making a call by the end of the week -- that I cannot afford to forget.

    These are clearly Next Action items, but if I scatter them through my Next Action lists (calls, at office, at home, at computer, etc.) then I am forced to review all of my Next Action lists at frequent intervals to be sure that I haven't missed one of these critical Next Actions. For me, at least, the risk is too great that something will slip through the cracks if critical tasks are spread throughout several lists.

    I thought about keeping these critical tasks in a separate Next Action list called Critical, but then I either have to enter them into two lists (e.g., if it's a critical phone call, then I have to list it in both Critical and Calls) or else only list them in Critical and lose the value of context-sensitive Next Action lists (because some of my calls will be in Calls, but some will also be in Critical).

    This must be a common problem, so there must be a simple solution that people are using that I am missing. But what is it?

    Thanks for your thoughts.


  • #2
    Must do items

    Hi Chris,

    This has been a recurring topic here. Here is what I do. I use Outlook to track my next actions. If I have a next action that has to be done on a certain day, I make an entry in the Events bar at the top of the daily view. This indicates to me that this particular next action HAS to be done either on or by that day. Another option a person described was to setup the Taskpad view in Outlook to show tasks that only have a starting date. Then, on the daily view, you will see next actions appear in this view you have earmarked (by giving them the appropriate starting date) as having to be done that day.

    If you don't use Outlook, the same principles can apply to whatever system you use. Mark items on the calendar that absolutely have to be done either on a particular day or a hard due date.

    I am sure there are other strategies for this. Some folks have created a category in Outlook called @Today. One could move items from your other context lists into this category.

    I hope this helps some. It seems so simple, but in reality, it can be difficult to get your system tweaked just right for this.



    • #3

      I'm also a litigator, so I know the kind of tasks you're talking about. Here's how I'd handle the two examples you've identified. For the fedex that must be sent on a certain day, I'd put it on a calendar. This works for me because I am training myself to look at my calendar first to see what gets done next. If I have to call someone on a certain day, that's where it goes. If I have to file or send something on a certain day, (and if the filing or sending is truly the next action), it goes on my calendar.

      For a call that just needs to be made within the next week, I'd put it on my Calls next-action list. I might also put the drop-dead deadline my calendar. As an example, if opposing counsel has given me until Friday to respond to something, and if my true next action is to call them, the deadline goes on my calendar ("Last day to call Joe Blow re XXX") and the call goes on my Calls NA list. If I make the call on Wednesday, it comes off my NA list. Once Friday rolls around, I see the deadline on there, remember that I've done it, and check it off.

      It sounds like you're worried that you might miss a call on your Calls NA list there because there are many calls on the list. If that's the case, consider moving some of those reminders elsewhere, like a tickler file, a tickler on your calendar, or even a someday/maybe list. That way your calls list is truly a list of calls you must make that represent the next action on a project or a single action you must take.

      Hope that helps.


      • #4
        I have this issue. I don't call it "Critical" but I regard "Critical" as the predominant Context. If you set aside fixed times to deal with this stuff (e.g., immediately before lunch and immediately before the mail/FedEx cut-off time), you can just focus on the Critical list and get it all done when you switch on the urgent mindset. You might make this a fixed routine with your assistant, which might make you more relaxed about leaving it till later. Next Actions are really deferred items, but these items are not going to carry-forward past Today, so I don't worry about GtD-NA compliance on this one.

        The alternative is to use the 2-minute rule, but I know what it's like when you are absorbed with a file....



        • #5
          Thanks for the ideas. It makes sense to me that critical NA's should be listed on the calendar under the day they are due. I'm using a PDA rather than Outlook to manage my lists (because my PDA is fun, so I'm more motivated to check it and use it). After reviewing your suggestions, I realize now that the To Do list manager I'm using (Bonsai) has a feature that allows one to quickly "link" a list item directly to the calendar without having to retype it.

          I will try linking critical items to the calendar day they are due. Thanks for the help!



          • #6
            I put things that gotta be done today as untimed Events on Todays calendar.
            In Outlook, those are called "all day events", in my Palm, they seem to transfer as "No Time" appts, and appear at the very top of the day.
            Last edited by CosmoGTD; 03-25-2006, 08:40 AM.


            • #7
              I also put tasks that need to be done on a specific day on my calendar, but I've struggled with items with a due date, but that may be done any day up until that date.

              Currently, I'm identifying a due date in my PDA for those tasks that are really date sensitive (particularly those with a due date in the upcoming weeks). My To Do list on my PDA is automatiically grouped by category (context), then due date, so I can see which calls, errands, @computer tasks are most important. I can also view All Categories and sort by due date.

              So far, it seems to be working, but it remains to be seen how efficient it is.


              • #8
                I use Outlook and sync it to my Palm. When an task must be done today, simply remove the category name. That makes it go in "No Category" which appears at the very top.


                • #9
                  I use outlook and a pocket pc with Pocket Informant. If a task is critical today, I move the date to today (3 taps) so that the task appears in the calendar view I use most often. Because it's a task, I can tick it off, which gives me a tiny hit of pure pleasure. I'm just that sort of person.