Clarifying question to help decide what to do next

Discussion in 'PUBLIC: Discuss the GTD Methodology' started by CamJPete, Jan 1, 2018.

  1. CamJPete

    CamJPete Registered

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    Two of the most valuable questions GTD has provided me are
    1. what is the desired outcome? and
    2. what is the next action?

    I have recently wondered if there is a clarifying question that may help me to decide what to do in the moment while reviewing my calendar/lists. It may take the following form:
    What do I want to do now that will provide the greatest payoff?
    What next action is most valuable to do right now?
    What do I feel like doing now?
    Which action is most on my mind right now?

    I think the (presumptuously) official answer per GTD is:
    "Given my contexts, energy available, and time available, which action do I want to take from all of my options, while considering my projects, goals, areas, vision and purpose (or rather than taking an action, do I want to define my work or respond to work as it shows up)?"
    ...but that is a little unpractical, albeit somewhat accurate answer.

    I wonder if I practiced using a go-to question each time I decide what to do next, it may better help me to consciously and thoughtfully make a choice. I use my next actions lists often, but sometimes I know I don't do what is the highest priority (i.e. greatest payoff).

    Does anybody have a question they've devised that has helped them make the "follow your intuition" admonition when deciding what to do next?
     
  2. Cpu_Modern

    Cpu_Modern Registered

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    Short answer: "No!" - I think the answer lies in your post. The real question is "a little unpractical" and that is the crux of the matter. It is the reason why following your intuition is faster and better. There, in your intuition, you are faster and more accurate to make the decision. I believe that's the reason why DA favours that approach.

    Intuition is not anathema to thoughtfulness. If at all, it is even deeper though because it is the result of thoughts deeper within you.

    The key to nurturing your intuition is of course a thorough Weekly Review practice.
     
  3. treelike

    treelike Registered

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    What if your intuition is impaired due to illness/tiredness/depression/bad sleep/too many people shouting at you/etc. Maybe the best question to ask is "What's first on my list for this context?". It all needs done anyway. Also I've found it useful to make a throwaway list (as suggested on a recent podcast from Next Action Associates) at the start of the day so I can decide on what might be best to do that day, before the actual chaos starts.
     
  4. Oogiem

    Oogiem Registered

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    I use the where am I first, i.e. contexts, then what's bothering me which is another way of following my intuition.

    No matter whether I am tired, sick or otherwise stressed starting first by where I am and what tools I have is vital. From then I just look at that list and pick something that stands out. One reason I have so many contexts is so that I c an look at pretty much the entire list in a context in 1 screen and none are more than 2 screens of data. Limiting the scrolling is key for me to keep going especially when under stress.
     
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  5. treelike

    treelike Registered

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    Do you not have an issue though where many next actions can be done in multiple contexts? You might miss a next action that would have been really, really good to do right then but it was in the context you were not looking at.
     
  6. Oogiem

    Oogiem Registered

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    My contexts are discrete. So no, things cannot be in two contexts at the same time. I can choose to change contexts but there is a huge mental cost to do so. If the items are on my list they are all important so it doesn't really matter if I do one or the other. If it's a time critical thing then it's already in my calendar. If it has a do by deadline but otherwise not time critical I have a due date in Omnifocus and those things are in a different color in my lists so jump out at me.

    Now I do have a bunch of contexts that are all at my main computer, ones for each application I use regularly. I just did a quick experiment. I read through all 15 contexts that are related to being sitting down at my computer where I am now typing this. It took 1 minute 23 seconds to read all those lists. If I had to I could have decided to jump into a new context and do the tasks.

    I also usually do a quick glance at all my contexts in the course of starting my day which includes: checking the calendar, checking the weather for the next few days at 4 different web sites, checking all my contexts (Which I just timed and is less than 4 minutes to do), and processing any notes I took overnight. I do this while having my first cup of coffee in the morning. Then I usually check the news, check forums and respond (like now) and then decide which context I will be in initially given the weather and calendar constraints. I have 286 available actions in all my lists as of right this minute.

    While looking at them and writing this reply I also just added 3 things to my inbox that the reading triggered that I need to go process. Also last night I had a thought at 2:30 in the morning and wrote it down. When I went to process my note this morning I realized that that one thought is really 5 major projects. I added one project which is plan and define the projects related to X. Just reading the lists again now I had a few more thoughts about those projects so I took about 4 minutes while writing this to capture those ideas and toss them into my inbox. I've got an apt. this morning so I won't get to processing my inbox until late this afternoon. I had tossed in about 3 inches of stuff that I gathered yesterday and then we went out last night. When I did my quickie review this morning I decided that I needed to block out at least 2 hours this afternoon to process my inbox because I have a niggling feeling that there is some stuff in there that needs dealing with this week. So I added that to my calendar. Now I may miss a few things I could have done but I'm ok with that given the plan of attack I have for my day today. Which I need to go execute. I've got to finish a few more morning things and get out the door within 20 minutes to my apt.
     
  7. TruthWK

    TruthWK Registered

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    I can second this is a problem for me. It arises not when I'm in a limiting context but when I'm somewhere that I can do anything. When I have 30 next actions to pick from in my current context because I'm at home with access to a computer and phone or at work where 95% of things are at computer. I find myself needing some way to mark certain things as more important so I can narrow my list. Sometimes I'll have many things jump out at me from the list. It may be half the items on the list. I know strict GTD is to decide by intuition but I'm tempted to push back on the idea that priorities change so quickly that I couldn't at least sort everything by priority in the moment and then when I review again (maybe weekly review), I could resort anything out of place. I don't love that idea but the principle i'm trying to follow is to not have the same thought more than once (from capture stage). I am a perfectionist so that adds to this. I have tried to play around with different contexts but when I get more specific contexts, it feels artificial and doesn't help. Oogie, I would be interested to know what contexts you use. By the way, I am a long time GTD attempter (probably 10 years on and off) but this is my first post here. I probably have my best implementation to date but I'm still struggling on the engage step here.
     
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  8. AnneMKE

    AnneMKE Registered

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    Not a direct answer, but the two things that have been most helpful to me are:
    • Stay clear enough on my planning for the year, quarter, and month that I have some chosen priorities already in place for the week and day; and
    • When I'm looking at the lists with no pre-chosen ideas and an intuitive choice doesn't come quickly, either start at the top and work down or start at the bottom and work up.
    I'm the kind of person who could lose the whole afternoon working through a how-to-choose framework that was any more complicated than that.
     
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  9. Oogiem

    Oogiem Registered

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    But I never have 30 things in any context. And just because I'm at the computer and 15 or more contexts require that tool doesn't' mean it's efficient to jumble them into a single list. It takes a totally different mindset for me to work on the financial stuff in Banktivity for example than it does to do writing in Scrivener or programming on LambTracker. Just because I might potentially be able to work in a bunch of contexts it's really obvious which ones make sense based on my energy and time level available.

    One for every major software package I use, LibreOffice, Omnifocus, Scrivener, Lightroom & Photoshop (combined because I always use them together), DEVONThink, Grassroots, Banktivity, Reunion, Silhouette Cameo Cutter, one for my major sheep program I am developing called LambTracker, Computer Internet, Computer Firefox for the things that require that browser which is not my favorite but is also how I do SQL query development for LambTracker, one for each major computer device, misc Mac, MacAir, iPad, iPhone, a phone and a phone business hours, one for each person that I group in a folder called agendas for my husband, my stepdad, the veterinarian, and a few other people I'm working on current stuff with, inside by myself, inside with help, outside by myself, outside with help, inside hobbies, main barn, main house, shop building, guest house, red barn, local town, major city and waiting for.

    I create, use and delete contexts on the fly. For example, during spring, summer and fall I'll have a context for each major pasture in addition to the 2 barns.

    PS fixed quotes so my answer was obvious
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2018
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  10. AnneMKE

    AnneMKE Registered

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    This just gave me a great insight about some stuck tasks for me -- they all connect to a particular software, or more to the point, the fact that I don't have good software in place to support them. Next action: research options. After that: start a context for them! Thanks!
     
  11. TruthWK

    TruthWK Registered

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    To follow up, after thinking through things, what I decided to try was not to split up my contexts because I find that when I'm motivated, I can get a very different energy from what I had and that fewer longer contexts are less stressful to me than lots of contexts with smaller lists. Not totally sure why. However, David says to pick next actions that are physical and visible and doable in one sitting. That led me to clarify the actual visible things for my @ computer list by picking the right actions and objects so for example Join UD Errors to UD Server became Create SQL View for UD errors to UD server join. The create sql view is the visible thing I'm doing at computer. I'm not visibly or physically joining anything so that makes it less clear as a next action for me. What I am thinking is that for digital actions, it needs both a clear action and object not just a clear action because the types of actions in the digital world are meaningless without a good object. Create...what does creating look like? could be a million different things so what I'm creating is just as important for me to be able to visualize the action so I can decide better in the moment if I want to do it. Gonna see if this continues to give me clarity but this is what i'm seeing so far. Anyone try this? agree? disagree?
     
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  12. Oogiem

    Oogiem Registered

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    Pretty similar to how I define my LambTracker development things. I start by collecting all the bugs and enhancements on 3 inch square post-it notes, that I paste onto pages labeled with the module where the error occurs or where the enhancement will go. This is in effect a big paper based someday/maybe list for me. the reason for it being different from all other lists is that I usually discover errors or potential enhancements when I am working with the LambTracker program trying to do something with the sheep. I can't easily stop and use most digital capture tools so my capture is on paper. Sheep patience is always an issue when we are doing stuff with them.

    When I pick one to work on I clarify it into actions in my GTD system.

    So for example I have one right now that I am clarifying. The note from the last sheep work was "Bug in ID management, can't add new EID tag when look up by old tag."

    When I came in I pulled out my ID management module list and I discovered that I have several similar bugs reported like "can't add new farm tag", "can't delete broken EID tag" and so on. Clearly the ID management code is hosed. I look at it and realize that it's a mish-mash from the original convert to EID module and is missing all the newer tag lookup code and the entire user interface is no longer the same as the rest of the LambTracker system. I also know my database structure changed from the original convert to EID schema to what it is now and I suspect that is one source of the numerous bugs. So my project now is "Clean up and fix ID management module" and the first action is "Update XML file for screen layout to match add a Lamb and individual sheep management tag look-up UI in ID Management". From there I have tasks like "Create test data set to verify failure to add new EID tag" and so on.
     
  13. Cpu_Modern

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    If you have a digital list that sorts alphabetically, you can organise it a bit further by using action verbs, e.g. all the "write" tasks end up at the end of the list etc.

    You could use app names as action verbs, like "photoshop David Allen meme" or "note(pad) list of stupid prizes" and so on.

    That way you end up with sort of nested contexts. (I heard the idea of nested context for the first time on this board in an old post that is now permanently archived and thus not linkable.)
     
  14. CamJPete

    CamJPete Registered

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    Thanks everybody who responded to my question. I've been experimenting lately with a Kanban type flow where my somebody/maybe list is my "backlog", and then I have a "soon" list and an "active" list (and a "done" list). I like the idea of looking at work like a "flow" where the pipeline opening is only so big and allows only so much onto my plate at once. Essentially, I'm experimenting more with a pull method rather than a push method. I don't think Kanban is perfect, but it has at least helped me to stay focused on action the past month but at the expense of being "squeaky clean". I split up my lists into a work flow, and a personal flow. Every once in a while, I'll look at my backlog and pull a few things into my soon list. Then I limit myself to only 5 items as work in progress in my active list. The huge departure from GTD is that I don't distinguish between a next action and a project. Also, if it is a project, I don't write down a next action (heresy, I know). I found that my next actions often got stale really quickly. By keeping the work in progress low, I can quickly scan my active list of items and see if I can move any of them forward in whatever context I am in. I essentially have to connect my context with potential next actions on the fly. Kind of like "I'm driving home, can I move any of these items forward?" My mind can quickly come up with a next action if needed if there are only 5 tasks in my "active" list. I realize I miss out on some opportunities while in certain contexts by not pre-defining my next action, but usually I didn't have the time to do many of them anyway if there are 10 in each context. I maybe have time for one to two action in a given context for my personal life (like making one call on my way home from work). It's just an experiment, and I think I may increase my work-in-progress limit to upwards or 8-10, and maybe add next actions back in eventually if things don't move out of "active" quickly.

    In short, creating a flow with work in progress limits forces me to get really clear on what is the most important set of "tasks" (i.e. project or action) for me to be focusing on and to finish now. I also find that I am more motivated to finish the active tasks quickly because of the other "soon" items that I know I need to get too...well...really soon. In the end, what I really need to get things done is chunks of time. I have such little precious open blocks of time (caring for a 3 month old) that I need to make some hard decisions about what is going to have to wait, and I don't have a ton of time to review and maintain an attractive next actions list and keep a projects list current. When I clarify, I just quickly slip an inbox item into whatever feels like the best fit for the moment (backlog, soon, or active) and then move forward, knowing that I will review it very soon as I scan for my next "active" task out of the pool of "soon". Not a perfect solution, but it has enough pros (simplicity, and the less emphasis on a grandious weekly review), that I'll stick with it for another couple weeks then reassess.
     
  15. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

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    I've been doing this with my personal projects, where I have the authority to decide what gets put aside, and I'm getting a LOT more accomplished. I'm increasingly reminding myself of the cost of task swapping and project swapping, and the misleading sense of (false) progress that can come from following more than one line of action at once. Since I trimmed my projects to the bone, I've gone from "Someday I'd like to write fiction" to being about three-quarters of the way through the first draft of a novel, and the 5K-square-foot garden is in much better order, already, than it usually is by late spring.

    And essentially nothing else has suffered. I was splitting my time and energy to the point that nothing much was getting done on any front. For programming, Gerald Weinberg offers the idea that every project, above one, will result in wasting twenty percent of the programmer's time in task splitting. That predicts that if you're working on five projects, you're not giving each project 20 percent of your time; you're giving each project four percent of your time.

    So if we imagine that my personal-pursuits time was split between:

    Fiction Writing, multiple projects.
    Gardening--house and vegetable garden and breeding projects.
    Decluttering and assorted household projects.
    Sewing, beading, and various craft projects.
    Street photography.
    Programming and various work-related but not work-paid reading and skill building.

    that's dozens of projets. The Weinberg model suggests that I was doing essentially nothing on any of these. If we change that to:

    Writing the novel.
    Revamping the vegetable garden to be permanently lower maintenance.
    Keeping basic home functionality above water.

    it's really not surprising that the novel and the garden are charging forward at an unprecedented speed, and the household is not only not suffering but slightly improving. And the cost is primarily the elimination of the illusion that I was making progress in many other areas. The only thing that I really want to reach out and claw back in is work-related reading, to support a work-side effort to make large changes in my job.

    Edited to add: And having those projects makes decisions a lot easier.

    We just had a debate about whether to make some changes around the shed and mini-greenhouse at the house, and my immediate and easy answer was, "No. I'm working the vegetable garden revamp." Stepping away from the vegetable garden revamp would have a non-trivial task-switching cost, so I'm not doing it.

    Similarly, I frequently think of starting a new theme on my blog, or playing with a short story, but the answer is, "No. I'm working on the first draft of the novel."

    My clothes all started to fall apart at once, which raised the question of a sewing blitz, but the answer was, "No. I'm doing the vegetable garden and the novel. I'm going to buy enough replacements to keep my clothed for at least a year."

    Big cooking ambitions? "No." That beading idea? "No." Diving back into street photography? "No."

    No, no, no.

    And the reward is looking at the growing expanses of the garden poised for spring with the "ready to plant" pink tape, and the scene after scene being added to the novel.

    I want this to happen at work, too, but there I'm not in charge, so I have to fight my out of the four-percent swamp.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2018
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  16. treelike

    treelike Registered

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    I think that the better planned the higher horizons of focus, the more efficient the task splitting becomes because all the stuff you need to think about when splitting has already been thought through. In general. However for some tasks (and I'm remembering another long interesting post you made in the forum a little while back about your writing) it's not possible to have a clear plan to go forward and it's kind of fuzzy and you're finding your way to the destination rather than having a map to get there. So it's maybe those kind of goals/interests that need to be limited, which is unfortunate because those tend to be the most creative and rewarding ones.
     
  17. bcmyers2112

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    GTD is designed to help you easily navigate your choices in exactly those sorts of situations: where you're not at your best, and/or life is chaotic. The intent is to help you make the choices intuitively, because those are just the sorts of situations where you're unlikely to be able to effectively apply some sort of complex analysis.

    I think the issue is this: if you're for whatever reason afraid to trust your intuition, I'm not sure that GTD will work well. It didn't for me back when I was afraid to trust my own intuition. That's because GTD is by design a system in which you externalize the lower-level stuff and internalize the higher-level stuff. It's the opposite of the way most other productivity systems were devised.

    Moreover, if you're afraid to trust your gut I daresay you're going to have difficulty making any system work for you, whether it's GTD or something else. I'm speaking as someone who was once so unwilling to trust his gut that at one point in my life I was unable to get almost anything done personally or professionally.

    My own journey to learning to trust myself was personal, and I think sharing it would be beyond the scope of this forum (and outside of what I'm comfortable doing). I'll simply say that if you're unable to trust your own instincts, you don't have a "GTD problem" and the answers will likely lie outside of GTD (or any other productivity system). I think that's particularly the case if you're experiencing severe depression or anxiety.

    My personal experience is that a "standard" GTD practice (putting "standard" in quotes because following GTD "by the book" still allows for an infinite number of variations) makes it easy to choose from a wide array of choices for what to do at any given moment. But you have to know at a number of levels what's important to you (the horizons of focus model) and have internalized that intuitively, and have clarified your commitments at the ground level (i.e. truly identifying next actions that are physical and visible, projects that truly represent the outcomes you need/want to achieve, etc.). And you have to be willing to trust yourself. Again, if some level of self-trust is not present, I don't care what productivity system you employ: you're going to undermine yourself.

    I say this not to upset anyone but to offer my own personal experience and insights in hopes to help others as I've been helped in the past.

    EDITED TO QUOTE THE CORRECT POST I INTENDED TO RESPOND TO
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2018
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  18. bcmyers2112

    bcmyers2112 Registered

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    BTW, Kelly Forrister has a great suggestion for a "clarifying question" if one is needed: ask yourself, "What's the payoff if I do this, and what's the risk if I don't?" I think that's a great question for deciding whether something belongs on my lists, and also whether something on my lists is the best choice to do in the moment.
     
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  19. Castanea_d.

    Castanea_d. Registered

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    I have been experiencing this aspect of GTD over the last month; a health crisis with a family member has cut my working-at-my-job time by about a third, and added new responsibilities away from the job. All in all, "life is chaotic," and I have not been at my best. But the important things at home and work have gotten done. I would estimate my recent work as "okay" instead of "at my best," and that will have to do for now. More to the point, it is a choice that is congruent with my higher-level values (i.e., taking care of those I love). The new things at home have started to settle into routines, so it is not as chaotic as it was at first.

    I've written many times here about the Weekly Review; again, I am finding it essential. It is here that I am able to refocus in such a manner that I can work intuitively in the subsequent days with reasonable confidence that I am doing the right things.
     
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  20. Ravine61

    Ravine61 GTD'R 4 Life

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    I too have been experiencing similar "GTD Experience" As Castanea has - not a family health crisis, but living situation crisis. BCMyers quote is spot on, & to paraphrase it GTD was the life preserver that kept me afloat, when I was in the middle of a personal tsunami!

    Not sure if this is an answer to the original question of this strand, but I do know GTD enabled me to regain my focus, and dig into the appropriate work tasks to ensure I maintained a certain level of productivity...I am not so sure I was operating off of trusting my intuition during this time frame either....
     
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