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Problem with long/recurring tasks

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  • Problem with long/recurring tasks


    I've been using ToodleDo for several months and I'm trying to follow some GTD ideas. I am only using GTD in a very broad sense: I love the idea of just dumping everything into a todo list (it was really messing my mind to have all those tasks going around my head, not anymore!), but I couldn't care less with some distinctions in the "context", as about 90% of my work is done in front of a computer, and I surely will not put tasks like "putting garbage out" or "get groceries" in a todo list... if I did that, I think I could as well put "breath in, breath out" in there! I read a lot in this forum already and I can see that "contexts" is a very gray area that can be interpreted in several ways... So in a sense, I do use contexts, but I am mixing "places" with "state of mind", so I am using just basic @outside, @phone and then @PC, @PC-Email (even if that can be done in the iPhone if urgent) and @PC-Tests (because it s a completely different mood from work related stuff)

    But I digress! It surely improved my peace of mind and some nuisance/boring tasks are surely (slowly) getting done, and they were dragging along in my life for eons!

    But I am having a problem with long repeating tasks.

    You see, I always have to improve my skills by studying, learning new programs, doing experiments with new techniques, etc. So:

    - acquiring new skills takes a long time and I can't just stop working in order to dedicate myself to study (the money has to come from somewhere!)
    - Also, since I am always buried in work, I don't have much time to study new stuff (and most of the time not enough energy)

    In order to force myself to find the time to study in between all other jobs, I decided to put a task that reminded me of studying a different discipline everyday, dedicating about 1 or 2 hours per day to studying that technique or program. So I added a couple study-related tasks that repeat every couple days, another that repeats every 3rd day.

    With this method, I looked at my "hotlist" and I could see that I should find sometime to study one of those techniques/disciplines. And so I did, and this worked for some time.

    But it didn't last long, and stopped working completely! You see:
    - I studied something...
    - I checked the task as "done"
    - but, since it's set to "repeat", it would appear the next day in the hotlist!

    This gave no sense of achievement.. it was like "no matter what I do and no matter how much I study" the tasks would never go away! Always in the damn list! Worse! I got so used to see them there, that I just stopped seeing them at all! It's like if they're part of the "decoration", part of the interface!

    In short.. it worked a few weeks... back in October! And I didn't study anything at all related with those tasks since then... I always tried, but since it's harder and harder to find the time and the tasks are always there, I just stopped caring about them! Days passed, then weeks, and now months have passed and still have no idea of what to do with those tasks! Actually, it was so long ago the last time I studied something related to those, that now I forgot most about them and most likely will have to restart, or at least recap most of the stuff.

    Can anyone shed some insight into this? Anyone in the same boat (or maybe a bigger boat, as this one here... is sinking!)

    Thanks a lot!

  • #2
    I think it's a matter of setting up a routine, if you can. May be schedule some time to study, and it's no more a "task" to be checked off. Like brushing, or starting for the office, every day.

    I have experienced that having the "same" action all along for some work that is actually progressing makes us numb to the action in the list. We can start to lose the meaning of it. So if the study activity is clear in itself when you start it, just schedule it and no actions required on your list. If the activity is dynamic and confusing, then add a study context and add (and maintain!) very next physical actions to that context, to be finished when you are in the scheduled study time. These would be more particular than just "study X". (Side effect: they don't repeat indefinitely, and can actually be checked off as "done"!)

    If you just want to do it for some time every day but are not sure of the schedule, you can schedule it as a part of the day in the beginning of the day, which could be different for each day, even in length if you wish.

    (By the way, you are mostly right about "get groceries"; it depends upon personal choice. More important is to have and maintain a list of the actual grocery things that you must buy when you are out there to "get groceries".)



    • #3
      Sharpen the saw


      I struggle similarly with getting enough time to keep up with what's going on as well as progressing in certain areas where I wish to "sharpen the saw". Clearly, part of the problem is having the time and the energy and an unrealistic expectation of what I can comfortably squeeze into a day. I may well have let myself down so many times I've stopped trusting myself to get around to studying and reading that I don't even sit down and try to make an action plan, because I don't think there is any point to it.

      But I have given considerable thought to this. Firstly, I see keeping up-to-date on developments in my profession and other interests as an area of focus, not a project or an action. It's simply a matter of a number of inboxes to be processed on a regular basis, e.g. rss-feeds. I also maintain two "read & review" folders, one paper and one virtual (

      Secondly, there are some specific skills I wish to acquire, for example speak Bulgarian. To make it more interesting than just sit down for a specific time on a regular basis, I like to have a goal. It helps keep myself motivated. With Bulgarian it is to complete a specific self-study course. I also have this idea that I'd like to get back into programming. A friend suggested a tutorial and completing that tutorial is probably going to be my first project/goal. Once I know more, I will probably decide on a small program to write as my next project/goal.

      Setting aside the time is obviously the key, though, and where the discipline comes in



      • #4
        It sounds like the classic "you can't eat an elephant all in one sitting" sort of problem.

        In theory, "Learn French" is a fine project. In practice, it can be a long hard walk that can feel a lot like you're not getting any closer to the goal.

        So: change the resolution and the scale. Forget about Learning French. Learn one new French word a day. Read one page of a French comic book a day. Rejigger the projects until you have something that gives you a tangible sense of goal completion once a day, week, or month.

        (Now that I take a closer look at it, there's all sorts of things wrong with "Learn French" as a project, but I shall leave that as an exercise to the reader.)



        • #5
          Yeah, I've got a lot out of mileage out of setting tangible learning goals - "finish part X of book Y by June 1st". It's indirect, yes; it measures what you've done superficially, it doesn't directly measure progress but in the skill. But it's a lot better than nothing.



          • #6
            Okay, what worked best for me while studying, was to make overview of the study material, ideally to have an 'index' or 'table of contents' (or, I wrote one! ) and then to go over that, maybe putting 'check' marks next to the chapters/topics studied. These were always physical (paper). You may need to figure out if paper or electronic would work best for you.

            This will give you idea of progress. Always add some days to review.. What was also helpful to me: to write notes, use colors (for underlining), make mind maps, make funny associations/add mnemonics... Deadlines (exams) were helpful too, as incentive.

            Maybe you can give yourself rewards (or punishments? eg to buy your wife ice-cream if you DON'T study? )

            Also, maybe your environment is too loud/unpredictable at home, and you might study better elsewhere? (at library/cafe?) At the Uni, I could study best in a study room with other students, or if my roommate or flatmates were studying too! Or join a course? (That way you HAVE to study! And there's friendly competition etc!)

            Maybe some things like these could help? There are LOTS of books on effective studying, some are even specific, about languages or maths etc.