GTD stresses me

rash15

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MartinJ - some really good advice here, but this is my 2 cents. If some of the NAs triggered by the initial one are really short, then bearing in mind the "2 minute rule" just go ahead and do them, then you don't need to add them into your system. I can identify with how a next action can trigger lots more and sometimes its just better to follow those along and get them done, particularly if they can be done quickly and you have the materials to hand that you need. Once you hit a block, either in terms of time or materials you need, that may be the point to add things to your NA list. I found that sometimes I was adding things to the NA lists that literally took 2-5 mins and now I just do those as its not worth the effort (or overwhelm!) of adding them to your lists. It certainly made a difference to my flow and progress - and lists!

In terms of tracking why you went with pipe A rather than pipe B, have you tried keeping some sort of daily work journal to record that? I come from a background of laboratory science and for years I kept a lab book that recorded what I did each day in the lab and the outcome of those actions. It also recorded information about materials I used, rationale and why I decided to take the next step in a process. The aim was to be able to go back and write up the work for publication, but if you need to record what you did and why, maybe something like that would work for you and remove it from your GTD system? That way only your NAs would be added to your GTD system and your other notes would stay in a dedicated book.
 

CamJPete

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MartinJ, I've experienced similar stresses to what you stated. Here are a few ideas.

If you've already spent some amount of time emptying your head, consider it good enough for now. Going for 100% empty head can be distracting if it becomes an end rather than a means. You can always add to your lists as you go along.

Also, I've found that next actions can sometimes be "too specific". Experiment with more general actions like "complete assembly drawing X". Use separate lists in support material for these tiny little actions that you may want to write down. Next actions are designed to remind you to start something. They are not needed if you are in the middle of working a project and things are cruising along.

If GTD is causing too much stress, you may consider some simpler system. GTD is just one of many systems out there for productivity. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. I have recently been using a "long list" with "simple scanning", developed by Mark Forster
http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2017/12/2/simple-scanning-the-rules.html. If you try it, read through the past three or so years of blog posts and comments. It clarifies a lot of questions I had.

Getting a little more personal, the stress may be caused by other things. Through other experiences, I have come to realize that I have generalized anxiety. Nothing debilitating, but it is definitely present. I have noticed that an interesting manifestation of anxiety is an unhealthy focus on optimizing my productivity methodology. When I take a low dose of anti-anxiety medication, it mostly fades away. When I fail to take it for a long while, it is definitely present. It is weird, but I have verified it through several rounds of not taking medication. I'm not recommending medication. Rather, just a comment that GTD lists may not solve every stress or anxiety.
 

scamden

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Several things come to mind:

First off, if you feel stressed by using GTD the issue is probably that you are not capturing enough stuff or that you are not really processing it well. Once past the initial "oh my, I can't possibly do all this" angst of your first few complete collections of things to do you should feel a sense of freedom when you identify that niggling thing that has been bothering you but now has a name and a space and is finally in a place where you can deal with it when you are ready. That means not only do you capture it completely but that you have processed it completely. That takes time to learn how to do.

For capturing ask yourself
  1. Do I have a way to capture ANYTHING at ANYTIME?
  2. Do I like to use the tools I have to capture?
  3. Do I still feel that capturing something tiny is inappropriate?
  4. Do I worry about the volume of stuff I am capturing knowing I will never get it all done?
  5. Does that make me resist capturing ideas even when I can't or probably won't do anything about them now or possibly ever?
For 1 and 2 find things that you like that you can carry with you everywhere, even plan for taking notes in the shower or other unusual places you go.

For 3 know that until you are comfortable your brain is reveling in the idea that it no longer has to remember tiny things because you capture it down. So go ahead, put the minuscule stuff in your capture tool to quiet your brain and leave space for big, grand thoughts.

For 4 and 5 understand that no one will ever get to finish everything on the GTD or any other todo list. The choice is to decide what to work on and when in a way that meets your needs.

For processing ask yourself

  1. Do I have time to process inputs daily?
  2. Do I have a good filing system for things I won't do now?
  3. Do I understand how I think well enough to decide whether I like long extensive lists or short focused ones?
  4. Do my list manager tools support the way I think?
For 1 Plan on a couple of hours a day just to process your stuff. At least 1 hours and usually for the first few months or year it will take more like 2 hours a day just on processing.

For 2 make sure you use the Someday/Maybe list for everything you may want to do sometime in the future and anythign you cannot do now. The definition of now depends on the answer to number 3.

For number 3. If you get overwhelmed reading a list of things to do to choose what to do that is longer than say 3-7 items then only pick out and keep inactive a few projects that you will work on this week. If you like a longer timeframe (I use 3 months) then you must be comfortable with NOT DOING many of the things on your lists or not doing them right away and you must be comfortable reading and looking at lists with many items on them at a time.

For number 4 that's going to be personal preference. I can tell you why I chose my tool but no one can tell you what tools to use for you.

For the remembering what you have done I'd ask yourself why do you care? Don't the results speak for themselves? If you must show progress to a boss or customer then pick tools that store completed actions and allow you to bring them up again.If it's for longer term personal education then find ways to store the ones that matter. I keep a paper journal of books I've read with notes. Most of the other stuff I don't really care that I completed it so I quit bothering to read it.
Is 2 hours per day to process a genuine suggestion?? How is that relaxed and in control? I don’t have two hours a day just for organizing, I’ve been operating under the assumption of 2 hours per week for the weekly review and maybe a few minutes per day to review lists. If it’s really normal for the gtd experience to require hours per day I may not be able to really use this system (and have definitely been doing it wrong).
I very much relate to the OP. I’ve been trying to do gtd for years, around 6 now I believe. I’ve gone through phases with a weekly review consistently but inevitably I fall off the train and my system just stresses me out!

1. I feel like it constantly reminds me of all i really should be doing but don’t have the time or will power to get to.. I think part of my problem is that i go through periods where I just don’t want to do any of the things in my lists. I just want to spend a day writing a song or recording or exploring an idea about our code base (I’m a software engineer by trade) but very often these are spontaneous and not simple planned tasks. They are more like deep work than making widgets and come to me in the moment. It feels like the stuff on my lists is all the stuff I should be getting to but can’t and or don’t want to.. and weirdly even if I write something fun on there like “watch that movie you want to watch” it actually stresses me out to keep seeing it on the list! I never see it when I’m sitting down to watch something, i only see it during weekly review and think “dang it I still haven’t watched that and am probably doing gtd wrong”.

2. Lately I leave things like “self paint pottery” in my inbox because I don’t want to forget it, i don’t trust my someday maybe list cause for one it’s gigantic and I just can’t spend the time to review it enough and two reviewing it on Monday during weekly review isn’t the right time to be reminded. I need to be reminded Friday night when we’re trying to figure out what to do for a date. This is something I’ve really struggled with. It feels like i need the idea to stay top of mind or I won’t remember when I really can use it. I haven’t been able to get into a good habit of reviewing a “fun things to do” reference list when I’m actually thinking of fun things to do. If I make that list I’ll forget it exists or forget to review it at the right moment. Same goes for agendas. I may label an action “Anthony” (my boss) but I won’t actually read the list when I’m around Anthony. I feel like to make gtd contexts work I would just constantly be pulling out my phone to check a bunch of lists and I’m not sure I can (or want) to do that. Am I missing something? I really want the promise of relaxed in control living but I feel like that’s not what gtd has done for me yet.
Sorry if this reply feels angsty, I think I’m just fed up and frustrated. This has to be the 100th time I’ve tried to google how to get gtd right and the first time I’ve finally gotten frustrated enough to actually post something. I’d love it if someone has some ideas.
 

Oogiem

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Is 2 hours per day to process a genuine suggestion?? How is that relaxed and in control? I don’t have two hours a day just for organizing,
Why not? Organizing and processing your work IS part of your work. I get between 200-500 email messages a day. if I do the ones that take 2 minutes or less to handle and then process the others into actions or projects or someday/maybe items I can figure that on a low mail day I'll spend about an hour processing email and on a high day over 2 hours. Add to that the notes I make during the day and the paper email and it's easy to get to 2 hours processing per day.

1. I feel like it constantly reminds me of all i really should be doing but don’t have the time or will power to get to..
Those go into Someday/Maybe. You can't do them right now but you may do them later or you wnat to do them

I think part of my problem is that i go through periods where I just don’t want to do any of the things in my lists. I just want to spend a day writing a song or recording or exploring an idea about our code base (I’m a software engineer by trade) but very often these are spontaneous and not simple planned tasks.
That's the beauty of GTD. It allows you to know the full set of possible stuff you can, should or want to do and you can chose to do whatever makes sense in the moment.

i don’t trust my someday maybe list cause for one it’s gigantic and I just can’t spend the time to review it enough and two reviewing it on Monday during weekly review isn’t the right time to be reminded. I need to be reminded Friday night when we’re trying to figure out what to do for a date.
Do you have 1 huge single Someday/Maybe list?

Why not separate it out into smaller lists that make sense. There is no rule you ahve to keep everythign in one place. I have 63 someday/maybe lists right now. Some I only review once I've finished the item in that area I am working on (scrapbook, knitting, weaving, spinning, photography, books to read and similar things) . Some I review weekly, some quarterly and some only once a year. Right now I have several thousand things on my someday/maybe list. By splitting it up into appropriate buckets I can read and review when it makes sense.

Why are you reviewing it doing the weekly review anyway? That's a suggestion but if it doesn't work for you then move it to some other time. I do an in-depth quarterly review where I do actually read all my S/M lists on the equinoxes and the solstices. That's when I put current projects that I can no longer work on because the season is wrong back into S/M and pull out projects that can be worked on in the next quarter/season.

Sounds to me like you need a specific Friday Date Night list of someday/maybe places to go or things to do. That is one specific list that you can review on Friday when you are ready to go.

This is something I’ve really struggled with. It feels like i need the idea to stay top of mind or I won’t remember when I really can use it. I haven’t been able to get into a good habit of reviewing a “fun things to do” reference list when I’m actually thinking of fun things to do. If I make that list I’ll forget it exists or forget to review it at the right moment. Same goes for agendas. I may label an action “Anthony” (my boss) but I won’t actually read the list when I’m around Anthony. I feel like to make gtd contexts work I would just constantly be pulling out my phone to check a bunch of lists and I’m not sure I can (or want) to do that. Am I missing something?
Yes, you are missing something. You are missing that it takes time to retrain your brain to use context lists. If you haven't worked that way ever before it will take between 1-2 years to really get it down where it's natural. Ive been using GTD to manage my life since 2008 and I am still learning and improving. This is a process not a quick fix.

For starters try to develop the habit of looking at the list for the context you are in each time you finish a task. So I have a context of LambTracker (my major software development area of focus) and I had a project of Implement membership tracking for registry functions. One task in that was import all member data into new database structure. When I finished that task I took a look at the LambTracker context. I have another project that is LambTracker database update and an action item in that project was import historical drugs used into LambTracker drug table. Both of those are similar and in the same context. So while I was in the mindset of working on database imports I knocked off 2 actions for 2 different projects and moved the entire area forward. It took longer to write this than it did to set up the import and import the data. Now if I had to create the import files that's a separate context, I do that in LibreOffice. When I am in that context I may set up import files for a bunch of tables in the database at once. That's using contexts to more efficiently do my work.

When I am ready for a talk with someone I have trained myself to look at the agenda items for that person. It's a matter of practice. When I set up a meeting in my calendar for example in the meeting note I will say check agenda's in OF (Omnifocus, my GTD task manager SW) just to remind me I have items in ther I need to review with that person. This works for doctors visits or any meeting with any person at all and I use it all the time.

Yes, I do check my context lists frequently. I make a point to do a quick review when I get up to get coffee or water, when I head to the restroom, when I finish a major task and check it off and whenever I feel stymied on what to do. I have my task manager running all the time on my main computer. If I am heading out I make sure I'm synced up on my mobile devices. I use Omnifocus to manage my GTD projects and actions and I run my own sync solution on my own WebDAV server but I still sync up my main iMac, my MacBook, my iPad and my iPhone regularly and automatically when I am on my internal wifi system.

It sounds hard and painful but it's fast and simple once you get used to it. I used to put a post-it note on my screen and on my water glass to check my lists. I also would put an action as the last thing in a project to check similar things I could do. I set up a morning checklist that I printed out and put on top of my keyboard every night that had look at my calendar, check the weather, and check ly next action lists on it as well as other things I was trying to make a habit to do regularly. Use whatever tools and tricks it takes and give yourself time to really work at it.

I like long lists. Most folks do better with smaller ones. If you are overwhelmed try to put only thos eprojects you plan to finish or work on this week into your task manager system and put everything else in someday/maybe.

Keep at it, it's a totally different way of working compared to any other method and takes a long time to get comfortable with but once you do I think you'll find you like it.
 

Gardener

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Assorted thoughts:

Re: "They are more like deep work than making widgets and come to me in the moment."

I think of deep work as something that you put continuing, sustained effort into, rather than a thing that spontaneously arrives in the moment. I put many hours a week into writing my novel, for example.

Now, spontaneous thoughts about the novel often come up, and I not infrequently act on them immediately, but the overall project of the novel is fed by a certain amount of planning. I just bought and read the book Writing the Other. I need to find some research sources. I need to reschedule a cancelled meeting with an alpha reader. I need to be prepared for a meeting tomorrow with another alpha reader. I need to discipline myself to keep pushing what I call the "coherence line" of the novel another chapter ahead, then another, then another. I want to download a bunch more episodes of the Writing Excuses podcast to listen to--and consider the fact that that violates my recent resolution to embrace boredom.

And so on. And this is, right now, purely a hobby activity.

Are you maybe feeling some resistance based on the idea that planning and creativity shouldn't go together?

i don’t trust my someday maybe list cause for one it’s gigantic and I just can’t spend the time to review it enough and two reviewing it on Monday during weekly review isn’t the right time to be reminded.
You don't need to review your entire Someday/Maybe list weekly. And if it's gigantic, it can be divided.

Example: Let's say it's five hundred items long, and eighty of those items are things to read. Make a "things to read" Someday/Maybe list. Maybe once a quarter you could review it, moving your highest priorities to the top, deleting some items, adding some items. Otherwise, you only check it when you've finished your latest piece of reading material.

I need to be reminded Friday night when we’re trying to figure out what to do for a date.
You can create a "things to try on a date" list. Or a "recreational things to try". Whatever you might call it. Review it, maybe, every six weeks. When it's Friday night, just glance at the top several items and pick one.

Re: "If I make that list I’ll forget it exists or forget to review it at the right moment"

You could put a repeating reminder in your phone, maybe Thursday evening and Friday afternoon: "Check the Fun Things List."

I never see it when I’m sitting down to watch something
Why not create a Movies to Watch list? You could also add a timed reminder to print it once a week and leave it on the coffee table.

Re: "I feel like to make gtd contexts work I would just constantly be pulling out my phone to check a bunch of lists and I’m not sure I can (or want) to do that."

Why not? It's not a rhetorical question; it's a serious one: Why not?

I check my grocery list when I'm at the grocery. That's not a habit I want to eliminate. I check my "thoughts about the novel" list regularly. I keep a "to pack" list with thoughts for any upcoming trips. I have a "declutter thoughts" list. I consider these lists to be useful things.

I realize you may forget to use the lists, but that's different from actually not wanting to use them. Why don't you want to use them? If it's that you don't want to use a phone, have you considered a paper system?
 

scamden

Registered
Lot of really good suggestions. Thanks for the replies. And sorry for my delay replying ("reply to GTD stresses me thread" has been on my next actions list for days stressing me out but not getting done lol)

Why not? Organizing and processing your work IS part of your work.
I would say organizing is, at best, a necessary evil in my work. Ultimately, what matters about my work is the value I create not the steps it took to get there. So organizing time has to be justified by an increase in efficiency (unless you just like organizing which I don't). I actually did some math to see how much GTD would have to improve my output to justify a given amount of organizing time (won't include the details here, but here's a public google sheet cause it's kinda interesting: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Azh5zko1SyeaMSuDztmq9Z7ykJ3Lg13x4xfFLyomWDg. Rough estimate / TLDR, GTD has to make me output 12.5% more value per hour to justify 2 hours organizing per day.) On the other hand,

I get between 200-500 email messages a day.
I think we have very different volume of inputs and also I may have misunderstood what you meant by processing time. You had said at least 2 hours and with your amount of work that's not surprising but I don't think all of us have input volume requiring at least 2. Also, I was imagining each morning sitting down and doing 2 hours like with the weekly review which horrified me, but if you're just talking about processing as things come in, it sounds much more reasonable.

Those go into Someday/Maybe. You can't do them right now but you may do them later or you wnat to do them
The problem is that many of these things are not Someday. They are often things I should have already done or are time sensitive, but I just can't get myself to actually do them (or rarely I simply don't have the time). I feel like they are too important to move to Someday especially if it's say Tuesday and I know I won't see them until the Weekly next Monday (assuming I can motivate to actually do the Weekly which frequently I just don't want to do).


That's the beauty of GTD. It allows you to know the full set of possible stuff you can, should or want to do and you can chose to do whatever makes sense in the moment.
I guess what I'm saying is that "write a song" or "stare at the complicated code and think about it" are not on my next actions list. They aren't things I've planned or thought of and captured previously. They just come to me in the moment. Then I feel guilty doing those things instead of the things I'm "supposed" to be doing in my GTD system if that makes sense? I often get my best work done in this mode though, letting my brain just run from thing to thing, which actually reminds me of another issue I have with GTD:

Often times while I'm having a thought, there is a lot of context and nuance in my mind about the thing, and I frequently lose that nuance when I capture the idea into my inbox. Part of why I don't trust my system is that I often have too much in mind about a given idea to really write it down properly so I feel much better just doing it while it's in my head. I so often have the experience of coming back to an idea in my inbox in review and remembering kinda what I was thinking but not really being able to get myself back into the emotional and mental context I was in when I wrote it down. It feels like the idea is dead at this point and if I even am able to work myself back into that state it takes so much effort. I think I relate to Cal Newport in Deep Work, that my most valuable stuff isn't "cranking widgets" but deeper more involved (sometimes not even represented verbally in my mind) work and GTD hasn't really been able to accommodate that for me yet.

Do you have 1 huge single Someday/Maybe list?
I have tried both. I used to have numerous S/M lists to try to break it apart my giant one. Now I am trying to have a very short someday list and a separate maybe list that I review less frequently, and a bunch of checklists that are more like reference that I almost never review. No matter what I've tried though, I have a lot of internal resistance to moving something to someday because I know it at least wont get looked at for a week, and I just have this nagging feeling that maybe I'm missing something that would really be relevant on a checklist somewhere.

Sounds to me like you need a specific Friday Date Night list of someday/maybe places to go or things to do. That is one specific list that you can review on Friday when you are ready to go.
I have definitely tried that but really have trouble remembering to look at it, which I'll go into more detail below.

Yes, you are missing something. You are missing that it takes time to retrain your brain to use context lists. If you haven't worked that way ever before it will take between 1-2 years to really get it down where it's natural.
Ok this sounds like probably the area that my lack of trust is coming from. That said, I did mention I've been doing this for 6 years, so do understand I've tried and tried and tried to use contexts, well beyond 1-2 years. Here are some struggles I've had with it and I'll be curious if you have ideas:

1. Some contexts lists are frequently empty but the context occurs a lot. For example, my wife: I see her very regularly and I'll have something that I put into her agenda context maybe once or twice a week. I don't understand how I can practically check the context every time I see her. And more importantly, my brain doesn't want to learn the habit because on some level I kinda know that list is gonna be empty. Except when it's not and then I don't see the item till my review in the morning and think "dang it! missed her again!"

2. My contexts are really fluid. I can do almost everything on my list anywhere on my phone. If it's not my phone it's my laptop and if it's not my laptop it's at home. It really doesn't make sense for me to check my context list when I enter or exit a context because I work at home and literally I have every context (except errands and agendas) available to me all day long. It seems like you are using some personal really specific contexts for certain software tools but I only use a handful of tools and switching between them is lightening fast for me. What I've found about myself is rather than tool based context, I seem to kinda have modes. Like I'll be in cleaning / organizing mode. Or I'll be in coding mode. Or I'll be in creative / song writing mode. Or researching / reading / googling mode. (Or more frequently lazy play video games mode honestly, so maybe some of my struggle isn't organizing but sheer motivation). Would it be heresy to design contexts around that?

3. About the check list thing above: it seems like in addition to checking context lists, you are also checking checklists that are relevant to a context? I currently have 22 checklists, some of which could be relevant like "Google / Read / Watch" and some which almost never are "In the Bay" for things to do when I go to the Bay Area. I honestly just don't understand how anyone could keep track of all these lists and even remember which exists and would be relevant without basically scanning their entire system minus maybe projects and someday any time there's a transition in your day? Maybe my mind just kinda works differently idk..

Specific questions:

When I am ready for a talk with someone I have trained myself to look at the agenda items for that person.
I see 10's of people on a given day. Are you actually pulling out your phone / list every time you see a new person? I really struggle to do this, especially knowing that the list is almost always empty (or I don't even have a list for that person!) What's really tricky for me, is when I do have the rare thing to talk about with someone I'll create a list for them and add the thing, but how can I possibly be in the habit of checking that brand new list? Unless I'm literally checking to see if I have a list every time I see anyone..?

I make a point to do a quick review when I get up to get coffee or water, when I head to the restroom
I also have Things 3 open all the time and it's always synced to my phone, but it takes concentration, time and energy to scan my list (and as I've said what's "available" to me is usually almost all my next actions). I find that it will break the flow of my thinking in whatever I'm doing and is honestly a little exhausting. Maybe part of what's broken is that I don't trust my S/M so some of the things on there are not things I'm gonna do this second and are wasting energy in review? I think I've been using Things' today view as a substitute for my true next actions list and "next actions" becomes more like next actions plus someday or like "soon". But i'm not sure how to solve my Someday concerns..

Thanks for all the replies and sorry for the giant one. I'm being so in depth because I genuinely want to make this work. I've been hooked by the promise of GTD since I first read it and have been very committed to it for years (and annoyed my colleagues and friends with evangelizing it), but I still don't feel like it's there and I often have to reboot after falling off.
 
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scamden

Registered
Thanks for the replies! A lot of what I replied with above applies to this as well but there's some nuance I wanted to catch here too.

I think of deep work as something that you put continuing, sustained effort into, rather than a thing that spontaneously arrives in the moment. I put many hours a week into writing my novel, for example.
No argument about the need for planning on large projects, the widget-y tasks like reschedule meeting, or download more podcasts are perfect fit for GTD and go into my system if I'm doing it well. What I'm referring to is the longer sessions of sustained concentration that often result from just having a random idea. As I mentioned above those are usually too complicated to write down in an inbox item so I want to roll with them when they come. This is honestly how I spend most of my time and where I get the most value out of my efforts. But because of that my GTD system feels like annoying things I have to do but don't want to, and putting down "Think hard about code" or "try to write song" just doesn't work for me. I've found over years that my motivation / mood / inspiration goes in waves and I just have to follow it when it comes if I want to get the most out of myself. Not to say I don't see the value in setting a habit of "write for 30 min every morning" that's a good discipline and a good fit for GTD, and maybe it's just my personality but I really get the best out of myself when I allow my mind to just go.

Are you maybe feeling some resistance based on the idea that planning and creativity shouldn't go together?
So no I don't have a specific judgement that creativity can't or shouldn't involve planning. I just find that for me, I can't just decide to be in song writing mode or deep coding mode or fast task mode. I kinda have to follow those modes. So maybe again I should be developing contexts around those states of mind rather than the tools I have? idk...

You could put a repeating reminder in your phone, maybe Thursday evening and Friday afternoon: "Check the Fun Things List."
I have tried things like this. And I will try again thanks. Problems I have had with it:

1. The list doesn't have enough on it to be valuable except once in a while so I lose motivation to keep checking it.

2. My whole life and schedule is so irregular that Thursday and Friday aren't really the only days I do "fun things". For example, wife and I went on a date last night (Monday) and these days have very little consistency. In fact my schedule in general is incredibly fluid maybe that's part of what makes this hard.. maybe I should arbitrarily try to force structure onto my schedule, but again it's hard with the modes thing from above.. I find it really tough to just work 9-5 for example and instead follow waves of motivation (thankfully my job allows this flexibility)

Why not create a Movies to Watch list? You could also add a timed reminder to print it once a week and leave it on the coffee table.
An interesting idea, that maybe i'll try.. again fluidity makes this tough for me though. I might be watching near the coffee table, or in bed, or in my office or downstairs.. I also think there might be an element of perfectionism making this hard, because immediately the thought of printing the list weekly made me think "but then I'll find a movie that I really want to watch and it wont be on the list for a whole week"

I realize you may forget to use the lists, but that's different from actually not wanting to use them. Why don't you want to use them? If it's that you don't want to use a phone, have you considered a paper system?
I have no opposition to using my phone (and I don't think paper would work for me cause I wouldn't bring it with me everywhere). In fact, I'm probably on it more than is healthy. The resistance is more that it takes effort and concentration to stop the flow of whatever I'm doing, pull something out, and review a bunch of lists. Agendas for example: I would feel weird if every person I say hi to I've got my phone out scanning, like "do I have something for you?" while we greet each other. Maybe some aspect of this is about slowing down and mindfulness though cause I could imagine reviewing the lists in the car before going in to some social thing to see if anything might be relevant, but I'm often too hurried or just don't take time to stop like that. But also with my mind, I could easily review an agenda list in the car and think "Ok I have that question for Dusty" and then completely forget about it in five minutes when I see him (even though if you asked me whether I have something to say to him I'd likely remember the exact text of the task and whether it was capitalized or not :p).

But that aside, the real issue is just forgetting to check the lists at all.

Once again appreciate the replies and attention. Just replying to you is helping me out :) Kinda like forced journaling but with feedback :)
 
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scamden

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One more follow up: how do you avoid going numb to your lists? Pretty quickly if I've reviewed a few items on a context list (or movies to watch) a couple times, my brain just starts going "yep seen that" as I look down the items and I basically don't even read them anymore. It takes quite a bit of concentration to really look at each of those familiar looking things and ask myself "what is that actually saying?" They stop being like real reminders. Any thoughts on that?
 

mcogilvie

Registered
Wow, that was a lot of stuff pouring out! As someone who has had to up my GTD game significantly in the last few months, I can tell you that GTD does work for me, both in handling the incessant flow of many things and in handling the large and important few. But you probably have to let go of some cherished beliefs about yourself and your work to make progress. In some sense, everything is just work, and the questions are “Do or not do?” and then “Now or not now?” If you neglect processing your paper and email inboxes, they are going to back up, with unpleasant consequences. If you are afraid of losing nuances of your project thinking, then you need to work on capturing and organizing. I have forgotten “brilliant” ideas in the time it takes me to get upstairs to my computer. If your lists repel you, they are not going to help you. As a Things 3 user myself, I can tell you that it has many excellent features, but it was not really designed for GTD, and you do have to work to make it work. Because I do a lot of work at home, I don’t spend a lot of time “switching contexts.” Mostly I intuitively glide from computer to tablet to paper, with the contexts telling me how I think I’m going to do a next action. One more thing: if you really get GTD, you can often use a random half-hour to make progress on a big project... and feel good about it. Or feel good about doing something not on any list.

I realize that this all may sound like some sort of new-age productivity psychobabble, but it does reflect my own experience. As David Allen said: “I have come to teach one thing and one thing only: time management and the end of time management.” (OK, it was the Buddha and he was talking about suffering. Still.)
 

TamaraM

Registered
I'm reading this discussion with interest. The only contributions I have at this point are these thoughts:

1) Contexts: Your "modes" idea is similar to what I've done. I work from anywhere and find that having only traditional context categories don't work well for me. My primary lists are just "1-Off Actions" and "Projects-Related Actions". When I have a few minutes between meetings, I knock out some one-off actions. If I have an hour or more, or I'm in one of my time-blocked periods for project work, I choose from the project actions list. They're tagged with a short-hand for the project they're related to so I can batch them up if I want, and are flagged high priority if the project is on my quarterly goals list. In addition to that, I do have contexts for Errands, Home, and Office for when I need to be in a physical location to do something; QuickBooks, which do in a time-block once a week; and of course, Waiting For.

2) Agendas: I have a single Agendas context, not multiple ones. Actions are tagged with the persons name. If it's for one of my kids, I'll set a reminder for dinner time that day. If it's for my spouse, I might set the timer for dinner time, or for our recurring Thursday weekly lunch out. If it's someone that I'll see irregularly (my parents or a friend), it's usually a less than 2-minute item, so I'll call or email them immediately and then, if needed, make a @Waiting For item about it. If it's a work person, I usually have meetings weekly with them so I'll either date the agenda action for the next meeting date, or I'll put it right into our shared OneNote agenda and not carry it on my own actions list. If it's urgent, they get a Slack message or email right away, and then a Waiting For.

I don't know if that's useful for you, but you're not alone in the thought that Contexts and Agendas may need some tweaking for people whose lives are an undifferentiated mass of life and work.
 

scamden

Registered
thanks for the practical suggestions! I’ll definitely double down on the reminder idea. Just takes a little extra concentration to consider when I’m gonna see the person next. And I’ll see if i can think of a good way to have a single agendas list in things. I may just move it to its own area out of next actions. That will really help with the the agenda list bloat i think.

I don't know if that's useful for you
very :)
 

Longstreet

Registered
I have watched this discourse and now wish to say a few things. First, GTD and deep work are perfectly compatible. In fact, I would say that it is exceedingly difficult to do deep work unless you have all of your commitments clarified and organized into projects and actions. All of this would be in your mind and significantly hindering being able to focus. Second, when you become more advanced in your GTD practice, as David points out in his latest version of GTD, you move more towards a projects focus and that is what you focus on mostly. This is in the chapter "The Path of GTD Mastery". Go read that again. So, I am convinced that one can focus on a major project and do highly focused work (deep work) and be an avid GTD person!
 

scamden

Registered
In fact, I would say that it is exceedingly difficult to do deep work unless you have all of your commitments clarified and organized into projects and actions.
I know that's the GTD theory but oddly enough I really haven't found that to be the case personally. It may not be a good idea but for whatever reason I seem to be able to forget about all the stuff I maybe should be doing and just focus hard on something when it's important to me. In fact, I got into GTD because I was allowing so many other things in my life to slip due to simply not keeping track of them and just being hyper focused, and they really weren't taking up a huge amount of my focus. In fact, that was the problem! I never remembered them at all!

That said, I still do GTD and I think having the small stuff somewhere does make a difference and helps me feel more at ease about doing that (and I let a lot less slip). What I was struggling with really was not how to get the small stuff out of the way, but how to include the big stuff in my system. So:

This is in the chapter "The Path of GTD Mastery". Go read that again.
Great idea. I will. Thank you! (Just remembered to capture an action for it :p)
 

Gardener

Registered
One thought on the Someday/Maybe thing: People have Someday/Maybe lists that they check weekly, or monthly, or quarterly, or annually.

Maybe you need a Someday/Maybe list that you check daily. Not all your Someday/Maybes, of course, but a subset.

In the morning, you check that list, maybe you activate one or two things or maybe you don't, and then you trust that decision for one day. And as you find things on your active lists that you know you're not going to do today, you put them on the Daily Someday/Maybe List, secure in the knowledge that you're going to see them the next day.

Then your actual active lists, the ones that you check more often, can be shorter.

What I'm referring to is the longer sessions of sustained concentration that often result from just having a random idea.
But do you ALWAYS have time to immediately act on an idea? Is there never a time when you have a great idea and can't immediately dedicate hours to it? I feel like surely that must happen?

If you have an idea and have time to immediately work on that idea, yeah, go work on it. I don't think anyone is arguing against that. If that gets stuff done, do it.

But unless you have a principle that you actually prefer to throw away ideas that you can't work on instantly, it seem worthwhile to have a system to write those ideas into.

so maybe again I should be developing contexts around those states of mind rather than the tools I have? idk...
Yes. Why not?

1. The list doesn't have enough on it to be valuable except once in a while so I lose motivation to keep checking it.
It feels like there are a fair number of chicken and egg problems going on--you don't put stuff into the list because the list isn't worth looking at because you don't put stuff into the list.

Maybe pick ONE list to de-chicken-and-egg. Just one. When you have a thought about, let's say, movies you want to see, FORCE yourself to put it in the list. When you're sitting down in front of the TV, or deciding what to do when you go out in an evening, FORCE yourself to read it. Just one list, to start.

In fact my schedule in general is incredibly fluid maybe that's part of what makes this hard.. maybe I should arbitrarily try to force structure onto my schedule
If I were you, I'd focus on: What isn't working? What do you hope to improve by using GTD? Does anything actually need improving? You seem to be describing a situation where everything is great, you have wonderful productive creative flow and all the time you could want for that flow, and GTD is interfering with that blissful situation.

But there must be some reason why you're looking at GTD. Something must be other than perfect.

I also think there might be an element of perfectionism making this hard, because immediately the thought of printing the list weekly made me think "but then I'll find a movie that I really want to watch and it wont be on the list for a whole week"
Yes, I am getting a strong vibe of the paralysis that comes with perfectionism. Is it really worse to have an imperfect but kinda-helpful system, than to have no system at all?

The resistance is more that it takes effort and concentration to stop the flow of whatever I'm doing, pull something out, and review a bunch of lists.
Why would you do that? Aside from your agenda example, below, what are the situations where you are picturing us tellig you to do that? I feel like there's something unspoken here--that you're "hearing" people tell you to do something that perhaps they're not telling you to do at all.

Agendas for example: I would feel weird if every person I say hi to I've got my phone out scanning, like "do I have something for you?" while we greet each other.
This isn't how I use agendas. With me, it's more that I pile up a bunch of agenda items for a person, and then I arrange to contact them for the specific purpose of going through those items.
 

Longstreet

Registered
I know that's the GTD theory but oddly enough I really haven't found that to be the case personally. It may not be a good idea but for whatever reason I seem to be able to forget about all the stuff I maybe should be doing and just focus hard on something when it's important to me. In fact, I got into GTD because I was allowing so many other things in my life to slip due to simply not keeping track of them and just being hyper focused, and they really weren't taking up a huge amount of my focus. In fact, that was the problem! I never remembered them at all!

That said, I still do GTD and I think having the small stuff somewhere does make a difference and helps me feel more at ease about doing that (and I let a lot less slip). What I was struggling with really was not how to get the small stuff out of the way, but how to include the big stuff in my system. So:



Great idea. I will. Thank you! (Just remembered to capture an action for it :p)
As you have probably seen on here, I am a strong advocate for time blocking. I strategically add project blocks for my major projects to ensure I have allocated time for them to be completed. Time blocking and GTD go together just fine. :)
 

Longstreet

Registered
I know that's the GTD theory but oddly enough I really haven't found that to be the case personally. It may not be a good idea but for whatever reason I seem to be able to forget about all the stuff I maybe should be doing and just focus hard on something when it's important to me. In fact, I got into GTD because I was allowing so many other things in my life to slip due to simply not keeping track of them and just being hyper focused, and they really weren't taking up a huge amount of my focus. In fact, that was the problem! I never remembered them at all!

That said, I still do GTD and I think having the small stuff somewhere does make a difference and helps me feel more at ease about doing that (and I let a lot less slip). What I was struggling with really was not how to get the small stuff out of the way, but how to include the big stuff in my system. So:



Great idea. I will. Thank you! (Just remembered to capture an action for it :p)
There is nothing wrong with forgetting things when you are focused on deep work. But you DO practice GTD, so you have captured all of your inputs I am assuming and processed them. I know personally if I would have 100+ unopened emails lurking in my inbox, I would have difficulty concentrating on my deep work. I would always be thinking I need to check my email as there are important and maybe time-sensitive items I need to address.

Everyone is different, of course. But as someone who does a LOT of deep work, I find my GTD practice helps me leave everything else and then focus.
 

scamden

Registered
Thanks again for the time and attention! I really find it amazing that people are willing to spend their busy time giving feedback and valuable energy to a stranger :) And this time I once again had an NA "reply to Gardener" but it didn't stress me out. I just left it until I had the time and energy, so: win!

I'll start with:

Is it really worse to have an imperfect but kinda-helpful system, than to have no system at all?
Definitely not. Which is why I'm on here still trying. What i'm trying to solve is a few things but mostly: my feeling of angst toward my kinda-helpful system, and the fact that 2-3 times per year I let it turn into a weedy mess where the today view is the only relevant list and another 20% is just in my head. I'll def attempt to address some of the specific questions you had below but the overall is just exactly what you said. The system is kinda helpful, but 1. it takes me a very high level of effort to keep it helpful and 2. I always feel a lot of nagging feelings that I'm doing it wrong or that I'm missing something in the system (which sometimes is confirmed, for example, I just looked at my tickler list for fun and saw that I wanted to get my wife an "educated AF" t-shirt before graduation in May.. except she graduated early and now it's kinda too late.. like should I have been reviewing my tickler file and not trusting all those dates I set in case something has changed? it's little leaks like this that really bother me even though maybe it's 1 in 20 things).

Maybe you need a Someday/Maybe list that you check daily. Not all your Someday/Maybes, of course, but a subset.
I really like this idea. I think it's what I've been vaguely gesturing at with separating out Maybe. I've experimented with a "Soon" list but never really fully committed. I'll def gives this another try. Thanks.

Is there never a time when you have a great idea and can't immediately dedicate hours to it? I feel like surely that must happen?
Of course. And frequently I choose to act on the idea when really I don't have time and I'm letting something else slip. It's not ideal but it matters more to me to capture that flow sometimes than to take care of other responsibilities. I think that's one of the basic problems I'm trying to solve: if I trusted myself or my system to really capture the idea I could jot it down and finish what I really need to finish and then come back to it later.

Yes. Why not?
Idk just seemed like not cannon GTD but I suppose you're right contexts are whatever helps you eh? Already have a task to really journal about what modes I have and make em tags. Thanks. (I also posted a reply to the long dead thread titled "Forget about Contexts" that is super relevant to this)

It feels like there are a fair number of chicken and egg problems going on--you don't put stuff into the list because the list isn't worth looking at because you don't put stuff into the list.
I think you're right about some of these issues and I will definitely consider where I can apply this advice. But some things really are just sparse. The watch list is like that, I might have 1-2 things I think to watch a month so the list is just really small even if I put them on there always. Agendas are similar or errands. The lists just usually don't have anything on them. Not because I don't add things (when I'm really using my system), but just cause I really don't have things. I'm not quite sure how to force my brain to see the value in checking an empty list 10 times to get a list with an item on it once you know? But then maybe that's perfectionism trying not to waste that 30 seconds and I should just "FORCE" myself to do it. Hmm....

When you're sitting down in front of the TV, or deciding what to do when you go out in an evening, FORCE yourself to read it. Just one list, to start.
Already made a recurring task to print my "Read / Watch" list and separated out that list from the "Maybe Google / Read / Watch." It's sitting on my coffee table as we speak (type / read?).

Why would you do that? Aside from your agenda example, below, what are the situations where you are picturing us tellig you to do that? I feel like there's something unspoken here--that you're "hearing" people tell you to do something that perhaps they're not telling you to do at all.
Well Oogiem had mentioned doing a scan anytime they get up to go to the bathroom or get coffee or water and anytime they finished a task. Idk if it's just me, but when I get up to get coffee or hit the bathroom, my mind is still thinking about what I was working on. Even if I just finished something, I'm thinking about the next steps, ways to improve it etc. And when I'm not specifically working on something my mind is usually going on something or other and pulling out my phone to check a task list 10s of times per day just interrupts the flow of my thoughts I guess.. And more than what I'm hearing is what I notice myself. If I don't pull it out to check it, it just becomes meaningless and I stop trusting it. So it feels like this catch 22 to me. I think I actually feel a little jealous reading about other people's use of GTD because it seems like people just have these brains that can change gears and drop into the mode of whatever task they choose on their lists. Or that like their mind is just zen and blank between each task and they just have these peaceful moments of repose where they think "hmm now that my mind is not busy where should I direct it next."

This isn't how I use agendas. With me, it's more that I pile up a bunch of agenda items for a person, and then I arrange to contact them for the specific purpose of going through those items.
Gotcha. A lot of my use of agendas is: I know I'm going to see that person in the next week and I want to mention this when I do, rather than the overhead of setting an entire meeting. I guess maybe once again this is because of perfectionism trying to not to add extra time or overhead to my life (like scheduling an entire meeting for a 5 minute conversation).

Does anything actually need improving? You seem to be describing a situation where everything is great, you have wonderful productive creative flow and all the time you could want for that flow, and GTD is interfering with that blissful situation.
If I gave that impression it was a misrepresentation. I do spend a very large amount of time in a creative productive flow, which really is great and I do feel lucky to have more flexibility than most. But it is frequently at the expense of things I really should be doing. It is often accompanied by a feeling of guilt. I seem to be in one of two states that I really want to marry: 1. On top of my GTD system and all the little things in my life but not inspired, not really focusing on the big things that matter 2. Creative flow doing the big things, but letting all kinds of other stuff slip and feeling bad. I think when it comes down to what is "not working" it's that I long for the "mind like water" relaxed flow and control promise that David Allen describes. This still isn't my experience of GTD. Even though it has been very helpful in some ways, my system takes a lot of energy to maintain, and in either of the two modes above I feel this nagging guilty angst thing. Hard to describe, but that's the basic problem. I long for the peace promised by the system so I'm always looking for what I'm doing wrong that's robbing me of that.

I had sorta major breakthrough realization about this since I wrote the majority of this reply that might be a pretty big source of the angst. It's here if you have any thoughts: https://forum.gettingthingsdone.com/threads/forget-about-contexts.11199/post-123264

Thanks again!
 

scamden

Registered
But you probably have to let go of some cherished beliefs about yourself and your work to make progress.
I'm more than happy to. On the other hand, some of the things I've mentioned are perspectives on myself and how I work that have been informed by years of experience, lots of trial and error, finding lots of ways of working where I really couldn't get anything done. Some things I just kinda know about myself that aren't going to change (and believe me I've tried). But if you have specifics from my replies that you think I should let go of, I'm more than happy to hear any feedback.

As a Things 3 user myself,
On this note I haven't been able to find anything on these forums about this question and you seem to be the resident Things expert here:

Do you use actual Things projects for projects? I really like the little completion wheel that fills up and I like that they can be used interchangeably like tasks but I feel like they also can take up some valuable screen real estate and mental context when looking at my lists. One of the things that annoys me about my GTD system is if I decide to move a NA to someday and I need to also go scan my Projects list to see if there is a project to move to someday as well (and then I guess I would just delete the NA which seems a shame). I have been playing with the idea of just having actual Things projects and nesting the NA inside them so when I want to move it to someday I could just move the whole project at once. I'm curious what your experience with that has been as a fellow GTD'r shoehorning into Things :)

I realize that this all may sound like some sort of new-age productivity psychobabble, but it does reflect my own experience.
Not really :) (Plus you never know how spiritual / non-conventional I might be :p) Appreciate the replies.
 

Jared Caron

GTD enthusiast and amateur coach
Fascinating thread.

@scamden I see a few recurring themes which I will try to address succinctly here:
  • 1-2 hours of clarifying time - when I first started GTD, I also stressed about the amount of time I was investing in maintaining the system. This 1-2 hours of clarifying time daily is not a block of 1-2 hours, but small chunks throughout the day. I dont even keep track of this. I just try to make sure I play sufficient defense on my calendar to allow 1-2 hours of either white space or blocked "recovery time" between meetings & appointments.
  • Agendas - I wrestled with the idea of agendas for a long time. The concept resonated, but it didn't seem to work universally since I interact with literally dozens of people on a regular basis. The breakthrough moment was in a virtual coaching call, Meg told me "listen, you really only need agenda's for the people who you have standing/regular meetings with." For those other more sporadic engagements, I try to drop it on my calendar as a "talk to" next action (all day) or make a NA to set up a meeting (or call) with the person for more in-depth discussions. Grasping that distinction made a massive difference.
  • Growing Pains - I have heard David say in a few recordings that it takes a good 2 years to fully implement GTD, and even then, there are numerous layers. I agree that in the initial stages, GTD can really seem rather rigid and hinder flexibility/productivity. I liken it to my work as a musician, where in the early learning stages, playing is clumsy and deliberate, but the expert has more experience and comfort with the instrument and can thus improvise. GTD is the same way, its learning new thinking and behaviors and it just takes time.
A few thoughts on enhancing your GTD practice to make it smoother:
  • Weekly review - The weekly review is the master key. Not just doing it, but doing the right balance. The majority of WR time should be spent in the "Get Current" Phase on the checklist. It's this reviewing habit that gives you an up-to-date awareness of your commitments across work and life and keeps you in that Mind-like-water state. Every time I fall off the wagon, it has some connection to either the frequency or quality of my weekly reviews.
  • Stay Current at Inbox Zero - big and common rookie mistake is to wait until the weekly review to empty out the inboxes. Make this a daily or every-other-day habit, otherwise, you will always be playing catch-up, rather than staying in control and perspective. Life is literally too fast to batch-process once a week. Again the best practice that David promotes is every 24-48 hours.
  • Optimize use of Calendar - the calendar can get overlooked as self-explanatory, but there are some nuances to this tool. Remember that your Calendar is one of your next-action lists. Use it like one. Day-specific actions go here (consider all-day events in most electronic cals), a subtler spin on this are actions you know won't otherwise get done except on a specific day. It can also be a great place to park checklists/routines as recurring events. For example, I report mileage monthly for work so I have a mileage checklist in my calendar that shows up every month. I will sometimes literally print the event from outlook and work through the checklist.
If you want some more fodder for optimizing, there are a number of great webinars on connect on each of these topics with numerous gems in them.

Hope it helps,
Jared
 
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Jared Caron

GTD enthusiast and amateur coach
@scamden RE: " I guess what I'm saying is that "write a song" or "stare at the complicated code and think about it" are not on my next actions list. They aren't things I've planned or thought of and captured previously. They just come to me in the moment. Then I feel guilty doing those things instead of the things I'm "supposed" to be doing in my GTD system if that makes sense? I often get my best work done in this mode though, letting my brain just run from thing to thing, which actually reminds me of another issue I have with GTD:

Often times while I'm having a thought, there is a lot of context and nuance in my mind about the thing, and I frequently lose that nuance when I capture the idea into my inbox. Part of why I don't trust my system is that I often have too much in mind about a given idea to really write it down properly so I feel much better just doing it while it's in my head. I so often have the experience of coming back to an idea in my inbox in review and remembering kinda what I was thinking but not really being able to get myself back into the emotional and mental context I was in when I wrote it down. It feels like the idea is dead at this point and if I even am able to work myself back into that state it takes so much effort. I think I relate to Cal Newport in Deep Work, that my most valuable stuff isn't "cranking widgets" but deeper more involved (sometimes not even represented verbally in my mind) work and GTD hasn't really been able to accommodate that for me yet.


I have also read Deep Work and there's some great stuff in there. My work as an educator is similar, it's not widget cranking, but curriculum development, preparation, and, well, thinking, that create value. What you are dealing with here is something David calls "the threefold nature of work", I didn't catch it on my first cut with GTD either.

The threefold nature is the assumption that work comes in 3 forms:
  1. Planned work (stuff on your lists, scheduled meetings, time blocks or self-appointments)
  2. Unplanned work (interruptions, emergencies, cool ideas/inspiration, opportunities)
  3. Planning your work (processing, clarifying, project planning and brainstorming)
A good GTD system accounts for all of these. Early on its easy to feel like you should be focused entirely on #1, since a good chunk of GTD is establishing the inventory of planned work. The inspiration for a song, or a complex problem to wrestle with (like code, or for me, curriculum development) or other deep-work straddles #2 and 3. A couple strategies:

If you recognize that your next action on a project is some form of deep work, you may simply need to ensure enough time to do such thinking. @Longstreet s point about time blocking is key here.

If something is unplanned (like you just noticed that block of code now and your brain is down a productive rabbit-hole) - great! As long as that's not interfering with another commitment, or you're able to renegotiate if it is, then that's unplanned work and that is also productive.

The trick is identifying when a planned next action is deep work, and leaving room/space in your calendar for the deep stuff that "just shows up". All of that is covered in GTD, not just the planned stuff of lists and appointments.
 
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