advice on my GTD method

larsonec

Registered
I'd love to get some advice on my method for Getting Things Done. For the past few years I have used Remember the Milk to catalog most of my one-step tasks and have gotten into a pretty good habit of using it as my "mind dump" whenever I think of something that needs to get finished. I was having a hard time figuring out how to organize my larger projects within Remember the Milk so recently I started keeping multistep projects and their next actions in OmniFocus.

I’ve used Remember the Milk to varying success during the day to get various tasks done at work. Under the category of “work” for example I have three priority designations (i.e., 1-3). If I have some open time at work I will try to go to my list and see what I should be working on next (I tend to dread going to the list, but that's probably a different post for a different day).

What I'm having the most trouble with now is integrating the projects and their next actions into my daily schedule. I have taken various times during the week and blocked them off for things like writing, memory training, meditate, learn FileMaker, etc. The only problem is when it comes to those times during the week, I don't do what I have scheduled for myself. It seems like there's always something else at work that I need to attend to at the time, and it feels somewhat aversive to change my train of thought away from what I'm doing and onto another topic.

Since my time-block method has not worked, I’m considering instead keeping a checklist of my various projects and when I have time available simply go to the next project on the list and see if the next action is something that I can get done feasibly at that time.

I would appreciate any critique of my current setup and to hear about how other people get their next actions for projects built into their schedules?
 

Folke

Registered
I think you are doing the right thing to give up time blocking. I do use not it much (or even at all), and it has never been a core part of GTD (even if, from what I hear, David has decided to be a bit more tolerant of it of late). The fact that you do not do things when you have soft scheduled them is the very reason why soft scheduling is generally not advisable. New things do tend to turn up.

Core parts of GTD are the next actions list and the projects list that you mention, and I know that in Omnificus you get these neatly combined (as in many other similar apps).

I think the vast majority here do not schedule their actions, but pick them from their next actions lists (by context etc), or go by project or area if you know what you want to work on.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
I am one of those who do indeed do lot of scheduling on my calendar. I find just the opposite -- it helps me maintain focus and do the most important things during the week. I certainly disagree that it is not advised to do this in conjunction with next action lists. One CAN do both and be quite productive.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
If time blocking does not work for you -- great -- follow standard GTD approaches. But there is a lot of scientific evidence that supports the notion that scheduling in combination with listing works quite well.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
One clarification that I forgot to say, although I have stated this in previous posts -- I only schedule high-energy, high-focus 1+ hour actions in the mornings, which is my prime work time. I relentlessly protect those as these represent my important work that moves me towards my work goals. The remainder of the day, I follow the standard GTD criteria of time, energy, context (yes, I have standard GTD contexts), and priority. This works well for me and I think of myself as a very experienced in GTD.
 

GTD-Sweden

Registered
If you block out time in you calendar you put pressure on yourself and thus hopefully make it happen. For extra leverage - put some alarm before so you don't forget it. AND put it on you red list - must be done this day. In that way you are really vaccinated against procrastinate the task any longer. The more the merrier I think.

And if som unplanned shows up and you have to reschedule? No worry, your brain has been conditioned to do the task, it will probably be done the second time you block out time. This a pragmatic approach I think. To modify, what gets scheduled has a greater chance getting done than not scheduling:)
 

Folke

Registered
Longstreet said:
I only schedule high-energy, high-focus 1+ hour actions ... I relentlessly protect those as these represent my important work ...
GTD-Sweden said:
If you block out time in you calendar you put pressure on yourself and thus hopefully make it happen. For extra leverage - put some alarm before so you don't forget it. AND put it on you red list - must be done this day. In that way you are really vaccinated against procrastinate the task any longer. The more the merrier I think.
I think this conversation illustrates quite clearly the fact that many people want to make sure they do not inadvertently overlook or forget about important things, and are not entirely confident about using only core GTD measures to stay on top of things, those core GTD measures being to simply have the tasks spread out across a number of context lists, ready for you to pick whenever you happen to find yourself in that context.

More often than not, we have the ability to choose among several contexts, and many of us would not feel comfortable having to scan all possible context lists in order to be able to choose something sensible. The context lists are primarily useful when you have already decided to be in a given context and want to see what else you could do while still there, but not so great for seeing at a glance what things, across the board, you ought to consider in particular.

I realize that calendars (dates) are one way to deal with this. It is a familiar tool and extensively used, in particular outside GTD circles. And as I have said in another thread I do not like mixing hard and soft dates like that, and I do not like to constantly reschedule the actions, so I instead use a simple color system to just code for the required "attention level" (three levels), but do not invent any artificial dates. We all have different preferences.

But what I think is strange is that to my knowledge David Allen has never really addressed this difficulty. Being able to spot important actions is something many people feel that they need to. And if it is not in the book people will invent their own methods, as this thread shows (dates, colors ... whatever). I think GTD v 3 could do well with some new creative thinking.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
Good observation, Folke! In a sea of 75+ projects and over 150 next actions, it is hard to see the things that will give me the most payoff, so to speak, amidst everything, even broken down by context, project, and area of focus. I personally just like to schedule those important actions per my previous comments right on the calendar. This helps me to (1) see what I have to focus on the next morning, barring some new, urgent work that comes in, and (2) protects my calendar from someone else's agenda. I do leave these actions on my next actions list by context. This way, if new incoming work does take precedence, the action is still right there and it is easy for me to look at my calendar and decide when I am going to do this important action. I do not schedule tightly and leave plenty of buffer time in the day of working off of my context lists...and of course....embracing walk-in's, new work that appears in my inbox, etc.

GTD version 3....David Allen....are you reading any of this? Your comments would be most welcome and highly desired by us.
 

Karl Ivar

GTD Connect
Well, I´m definitely not David Allen...

To my knowledge, in GTD-terms, it´s recommended to put bigger actions on your calendar as appointments with your self. I also do this together with my action lists, and it works for me, BUT: I think it´s very important not to do too much of this- to keep it in a good balance. Kelly once quoted one of the comments on a webinar: “Put some slack into your system”. Guard your calendar as much as you can- both against agreements with your self and others, so you have enough free room to process incoming stuff, doing unplanned work and working off your action lists. Be kind to your future self- plan as if you would have been sick in bed with flue.

Then- to the thread-creator:
If I understand you right, larsonec, you only use your GTD-system for a smaller part of the things you wish to get done during your week- Is that right? Might that also be the reason why you are having trouble on getting to work on your GTD-system? Because not all your work is in there, and you therefore don´t trust it?? -Do you do a weekly review…??? :):)

I´d also encourage you to take away the 1-3 priority-codes, and instead put the things you won´t be able to get to this week on someday/maybe. Don´t worry- you´ll then review this list by the end of your week at your weekly review, so you can put some of these items back on your action-lists, for instance for the week after that.

The great thing about using GTD for all of your actions, both private and work, is that you then will have a complete overview on all of your work. It will then be easier for you to see if all your upcoming tasks at your work really will allow you to do your wished ion learning filemaker, meditate, etc.

Your experience has probably shown you that you planned in too much. As one next action for you, what about blocking out one slot in your calendar for the next week, and use that for, let´s say meditation, and then put the rest, (writing, memory training, learn FileMaker) on someday maybe? Then, next Friday, you do a mini weekly review, where you decide, if you wish to go on the week after that with more meditation for that one slot, or if you wish to grab one of the other exciting things on your someday maybe-list?

-Or even better: Block out the whole weekend and go all in with GTD!!
 

GTD-Sweden

Registered
Yes - I think David says somewhere that if an action takes longer than an hour you should block it in your calendar? Is not that the common GTD practice?
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
In his book "Making it all work...", he states this as follows:

"Realizing, as you look through your calendar while considering what’s changed in the last few days, that you had now better block out two hours for yourself in the coming week so that you can finish drafting a document on time, is the kind of “aha!” moment that can help prevent the loss of control".

Allen, David (2008-12-01). Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life (Kindle Locations 3619-3622). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

So...David Allen certainly sees the importance of blocking things on the calendar. But I agree with Karl....one has to be judicious about how much of this you do. I know I am careful as I have stated. I certainly do not map out every minute of the day as that would be a disaster.
 

GTD-Sweden

Registered
I agree. Not least because it would be boring and would take the magic off GTD to have every minute of your life scheduled. It would be like the Filofax man:)
 

Folke

Registered
Karl Ivar said:
To my knowledge, in GTD-terms, it´s recommended to put bigger actions on your calendar as appointments with your self.
GTD-Sweden said:
Yes - I think David says somewhere that if an action takes longer than an hour you should block it in your calendar? Is not that the common GTD practice?
I confess I never heard any of that - if I had, I probably would never have become sympathetic towards GTD. Put stuff on your calendar is what almost everyone else (outside the GTD world) seems to do (to little avail). I have always wanted a different and more fact-based kind of system, and I have used a "date minimalistic" system for maybe 40 tears now. I only became aware of GTD in about 2011.

Longstreet said:
In his book "Making it all work...", he states this as follows:

"Realizing, as you look through your calendar while considering what’s changed in the last few days, that you had now better block out two hours for yourself in the coming week so that you can finish drafting a document on time, is the kind of “aha!” moment that can help prevent the loss of control".

Allen, David (2008-12-01). Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life (Kindle Locations 3619-3622). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

So...David Allen certainly sees the importance of blocking things on the calendar. But I agree with Karl....one has to be judicious about how much of this you do. I know I am careful as I have stated. I certainly do not map out every minute of the day as that would be a disaster.
I think it is important to distinguish between blocking others from booking you, on the one hand, and "blocking yourself" to do some particular thing, on the other. I can totally agree with trying to avoid having appointments before lunch etc - that, in fact, is a habit I have. But I do not try to predict what particular action or project or area will be the most useful for me to work on when that morning comes. I try to keep mornings as free as possible. That's it. I'll decide that right there and then what I will do with that time (and my color bars help me find good candidates without having to read hundreds of lines, but I might end up with some other selection.)

GTD-Sweden said:
... it would be boring and would take the magic off GTD to have every minute of your life scheduled.
Boring, yes, but not only that, it would mean a heck of a lot of reshuffling and always having to fit everything with a schedule, and perhaps confusing it with "real" appointments. And, do not forget, the whole idea of GTD is this "carpe diem" approach (David himself does not use that phrase, though) to make the most of each moment (context, energy, whatever) - to do what you can do effectively right now under these very circumstances. Schedules generally do not fit well with such an approach.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
@Folke....I think we will just have to agree that we strongly disagree and leave it at that. Enough said. I am done.
 

Folke

Registered
Longstreet - yes, I agree that we disagree in part, but we do seem to agree on the following:
  • we both want a solid way to identify our most "important" actions (you use dates, I use colors, but the purpose is the same)
  • neither of us uses dates for the vast majority of actions
  • we both seem to agree that putting non-hard actions on the calendar is an exception used only for a minority of tasks, if any. The majority of tasks follow the core rules that only if it must be done on a particular day do you schedule it for that day.
  • we both agree that GTD is primarily, for the vast majority of actions, based on a "dynamic" (carpe-diem style) approach where you chose what to do based on context, energy etc.
But we do have different assessments of what David and his crew actually mean when they sometimes leave the door a bit open for putting "soft" things on your calendar. I interpret that as a slight concession here and there to those who feel they absolutely must put stuff on their calendar, whereas some interpret it as a core recommendation (to do that extensively). We both seem to lean towards the former (rather than the latter), but to a different degree. (It could well be that you are right. I have only read the first edition of the first book, and a few articles here and there. You seem to have read much more. But based on what I have read I would say that I am right ;-)

(We also disagree on whether using dates or colors is the better choice for important things, but we probably do agree that this is just a matter of taste, something that also depends on what tools we are using, etc.)
 

Karl Ivar

GTD Connect
Just another thought on why it´s good to keep the calendar as open as possible: It´s easier to get in the "flow"-state: When you work from your action lists rather than from your calendar you are more flexible of choosing an action that suits your current energy level.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
Well, I said I was done, but you know me. :D Actually, Folke, we are pretty close and not in that much disagreement conceptually. Each of us is searching for a way to ensure the important actions get done. Whether it be by color-coding or scheduling on the calendar, we are looking for the same favorable outcome. I must admit, as I said, that the majority of the time I follow the standard GTD criteria in selecting what to do next. I do cherish that freedom to be able to decide what is best in that particular moment. Things change so rapidly and having a rigid schedule is, in my opinion, a recipe for disaster.

SO...I am going to back off somewhat on scheduling and use the focus list method in Nirvanahq as a way to color-code if you will those actions that I really need to focus on and complete. We will see how this goes.
 

Gardener

Registered
GTD-Sweden said:
Yes - I think David says somewhere that if an action takes longer than an hour you should block it in your calendar? Is not that the common GTD practice?
That's not my impression. In fact, I have always thought that blocking off time for a specific action is at least mildly anti-GTD. The quote in the thread "Realizing...that you had now better block out two hours..." doesn't say to me that this is something that is recommended as a habit for most large actions.

He does clearly recommend blocking off time for GTD, both for the initial setup and the weekly review, but I'm not finding any specific recommendations for other tasks. Maybe I'm missing it; I'd be pleased to see quotes.
 

Gardener

Registered
And here I go posting something that sounds contrary to what I just posted, because while I don't generally time-block for specific tasks, I do time-block for specific contexts--say, Programming, Documentation, Design, Estimating, that sort of thing. Which adds up to time-blocking for specific tasks, because I do try to use that block of time for a large, immersive task in the context, a task that will likely consume the entire block.

Larsonec, you mention that "it feels somewhat aversive to change my train of thought away from what I'm doing and onto another topic". If you have to change your train of thought, this suggests to me that you're creating relatively small blocks and task switching. What if you devote an entire morning or an entire day to, say, writing, starting as soon as you get in? Even if you have to check your email for emergencies when you get in, you could maintain a mindset that you are only going to concern yourself with true emergencies, and that all of the rest of the email can wait until after lunch, or until the last hour of the day.

For me, part of the problem with time-blocking like this is the worry that I may not be working on the best task. But I try to force myself to accept that task switching is INCREDIBLY expensive, and that if I cut a lot of the task switching out of my work process, I will probably end up ahead, even if I sometimes work on a less than optimal task. Allowing myself to be dragged around by a moment-to-moment evaluation of what is more important than what I'm doing now is going to be less, not more, effective than just committing to one task for a while.

This depends on the kind of work that needs to be done, of course, but I'm increasingly going on the theory that I should try very, very hard to have as many four hour blocks, on a single task, as possible.
 

Oogiem

Registered
I seem to remember something about staying in a context for blocks of time until a natural break. A lot of people don't realize how disrupting it is to switch contexts. So even though you CAN be in any context at nearly any time, that doesn't mean you SHOULD do that or that you will be efficient when you do that.
 
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