Lifehack: Is GTD generally too difficult for people to use?

mcogilvie

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Cpu_Modern;111258 said:
Obviously your computer skills are tops, so chances are your people skillz are bad. I am kidding I am kidding.

Still I think a lot of it comes down to feelings. You just know that GUI scripting is brittle in comparison to a compiles app, so it feels worse than it actually is. For a geek, that is.
I'm a physics professor, so I'm not required to have feelings as long as I can emulate them in software. Same with people skills. I don't actually have them, but I can simulate them. ;)
 

tonyp

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Well said!

AJS;110665 said:
If I add a start date to a task it pops up automatically on my task manager to be seen when required, so weekly reviews can be a lot shorter if you don't need to scan a bunch of lists to make sure nothing has been missed.
Loved your response. What tool(s) do you use in the digital world to help you manage tasks? Specifically, what tool were you referencing in your post above. I currently use a simple Google Docs spreadsheets, which has it's pros and cons. I'm looking for something a little "smarter" that plays nice with the GTD-esque workflow I've been following for some time now.

Cheers,
Tony Pinto
 

Folke

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@tonyp

Yes, as you indirectly point out, scanning long lists can be time-consuming, and you may fear that you will still overlook something. But programming review dates or start dates is not necessarily the best solution for you:

1) It entails a lot of manual work. You first have to set the timer, of course, and then when the automatic reminder shows up it is very often not a good time to do the task, so you may want to reset the timer, and reset it, and reset it.
2) After having reset it, and until it shows up again, it is not easy to find the task - it is still buried in a long list
3) All in all, it "institutionalizes" a habit to delay things, rather than do things as early as you can.

In my opinion, a better way to deal with this - less work and easier to always find them when you need them - is to use some visible other mechanism in your app, such as perhaps a priority field. When you discover during your reviews (or by using a timer, if you like, but personally I do not need that) that a certain task is now "dangerously late" you change its priority to High. I use an app called Doit, and I then see a red bar on the left for these tasks, regardless of sorting order, and I can even show them all at the very top. This has the immense advantage (IMO) that I can always easily find these tasks even if have chosen not to do them right now.

My normal tasks have a blue bar. I systematically scan these only once per day. I also have a turquoise Low priority that I use for tasks that are "totally cool" - where I can rely entirely on filtering, context sorting etc to find them whenever I happen to be in a suitable situation for doing them. These tasks still get done, sometimes quite quickly, but only when it suits me perfectly. These tasks I review systematically as a whole only once per week (and change their priority only if I need to begin considering them systematically/manually every day).
 

Gardener

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> 1) It entails a lot of manual work. You first have to set the timer,
> of course, and then when the automatic reminder shows up it is very
> often not a good time to do the task, so you may want to reset the
> timer, and reset it, and reset it.

In OmniFocus (personal) and Outlook (work), the way I have them configured, a start date doesn't make a task pop up. It just means that when the start date is reached, the task will no longer be hidden from my lists. So it's not a matter of, say, the task announcing itself half an hour before lunch so that I have to reset it. It's just now in the list, when before it wasn't.

> 2) After having reset it, and until it shows up again, it is not easy
> to find the task - it is still buried in a long list

If a task's start date hasn't arrived, I don't want to find it, so this isn't an issue for me.

Sometimes I do give too many tasks the same start date, so that suddenly a task list balloons with a bunch of tasks and I do have to reset their start date. I don't find this to be too much of a chore.

> 3) All in all, it "institutionalizes" a habit to delay things, rather
> than do things as early as you can.

But isn't that what Someday/Maybe is? I don't want to do unimportant things as early as I can, if that means that they crowd out more important things.

Some tasks are put on indefinite Someday/Maybe, but some tasks I quite reasonably expect to be able to address next week or next month, so I give them a Start date so that they'll pop up at that interval.
 

Folke

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@Gardener

Is it possible that we are talking about two different things?

I most certainly make extensive use of ticklers. In other words, I program a "start date" for things that cannot be considered before a certain date. These I want hidden from my Next list, of course, since I would not be able to select them for action even if I wanted to. Example: Go pick up something from a friend who won't be home from his vacation until a certain date. I think we are probably in total agreement as far as those things are concerned.

What I was referring to are things that are perfectly possible for me to do anytime, even right now. Even if there is no hurry I do not want to hide these away from my Next list(s), because I want to be able to select them if or when they happen to be a good match for the context I happen to find myself in. Example: Pick up a less important item from my friend if I should happen to go and see him for some other reason.

In some cases, and I interpreted (perhaps incorrectly) @tonyp's comment as referring to this kind of case, is when you have a Next action, perfectly possible to do now, but still no hurry, but with a "latest safe starting point" (in order to be able to complete it in time). If you hide those away among your ticklers you are actually increasing the risk of being late with it and you are definitely setting yourself up for doing it "later rather than sooner", a potentially stressful situation. I personally prefer to see these tasks clearly in my list the whole time, in normal priority color, and will try to start on them early if possible. This means I can also make better use of whatever suitable contexts I may just "happen" to find myself in in the meantime.
 

Oogiem

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tonyp;111467 said:
What tool(s) do you use in the digital world to help you manage tasks? Specifically, what tool were you referencing in your post above.
Not Gardener but I also use Omnifocus in that way.

For example, I have a repeating project to get the lamb bag ready in the spring before lambing. I have the project set to the time when I know I can get it ready and not have the filled bag underfoot before I am likely to need it. The date is set base don when we breed the ewes so I have to change it yearly as the breeding dates change. I have it set to come up for review about a month before lambing is due to start so I can look at the schedule and calendar and general workload to decide when to make that project active and allow the tasks to populate my lists. Some of the individual tasks have delay times before they can be done. SO I set dates for them to start up as required.

Another current one, we are a research flock for a USDA experiment. I have specific tasks that have to be done on specific days and at very accurate times along with data collection as part of the experiment. I got the research protocol from the researcher about a month ago. I entered in all the tasks and times in my Omnifocus system. I also blocked out appropriate time on my calendar to accomplish the tasks so that nothing got scheduled in those critical times. The individual next actions are set to populate my lists at appropriate times like this

Here is my overall project with the tasks indented, context and start dates and some due dates as shown
2013 Sheep AI Research Project Completed
Decide on experiment and control groups of ewes - LibreOffice
sort ewes into experiment and control groups - Outside with help - due 11/18/13
Decide on which of 2 experimental treatments each ewe will receive - LibreOffice
Enter in decisions into LambTracker - Android programming - due 11/18/13
Insert Sponges and CIDRs in experiment ewes - Outside with help - Start 11/19/13 6:30am due 7:00 am
PMSG for experiment ewes - Outside with help - Start 11/29/13 6:30 am due 7:00 am
Remove Sponges & CIDRs - Outside with help - Start 12/1/13 6:30 am - due 7:00 am
Decide on frozen semen vs fresh cooled for treatment groups
Enter in decisions into LambTracker - Android Programming - due 12/3/13
Sort ewes into frozen or fresh semen groups - Outside with help - due 12/3/13 12:00pm​

and things continue on from there but you get the idea.

Tasks that I can't do don't even show up in their context until I can do them
 

AJS

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tonyp;111467 said:
Loved your response. What tool(s) do you use in the digital world to help you manage tasks? Specifically, what tool were you referencing in your post above. I currently use a simple Google Docs spreadsheets, which has it's pros and cons. I'm looking for something a little "smarter" that plays nice with the GTD-esque workflow I've been following for some time now.

Cheers,
Tony Pinto
I use Doit.im currently. I haven't used Omnifocus, but I've heard it being described as similar to that. I wouldn't call it an ideal GTD tool if you are an absolute purist as the empasis is more on time related task management, so you get a Today view and a Tomorrow view as well as you can schedule tasks further into the future if you like with the aforementioned start dates. I quite like this model and using dates works better for me as it adds some structure to my day/week, but it won't suit everybody.

I use start dates similar to how David Allen uses a tickler reminder, in fact he recommends using the calendar for doing exactly this, but many digital task managers allow you to do the same thing effectively. It doesn't mean I am definitely going to do the task on that specific day necessarily. I just need to be reminded of it, and if I don't want to do it, I can just drag it onto another day in the Scheduled which pops up a calendar automatically where I can drop it on the required day as needed.
 

Gardener

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> In some cases, and I interpreted (perhaps incorrectly) @tonyp's
> comment as referring to this kind of case, is when you have a Next
> action, perfectly possible to do now, but still no hurry, but with a
> "latest safe starting point" (in order to be able to complete it in
> time).

I generally don't use a "latest safe starting point" but instead an "earliest plausible starting point." I see it as a sort of combination of prioritization and someday/maybe.

For example, I *could* start planning my bulb planting for fall of 2014 right now. I could measure spaces, look at pictures, fuss with color schemes, and so on. But I have more important and immediate gardening tasks, and hobby tasks, and the holidays are coming up, and therefore I know there's no real chance that I'll be touching this for several weeks. But I don't want to forget flower bulbs altogether.

So I create a project in OmniFocus. I call it "Get fall 2014 flower bulbs in the ground." and give it a start date of January 15, because that's roughly the earliest date that I might conceivably do anything about flower bulbs. I might give it a Next Action, or its Next Action might just be, "Write a Next Action for this project." On January 15, that action will pop up in my main lists.

> If you hide those away among your ticklers you are actually
> increasing the risk of being late with it and you are definitely
> setting yourself up for doing it "later rather than sooner", a
> potentially stressful situation.

But for many tasks, later is fine. If the latest safe date to start a project is, say, June, and I expect that I'll likely start it in May, then there's no real risk associated with putting it on hold until March.

> I personally prefer to see these
> tasks clearly in my list the whole time, in normal priority color, and
> will try to start on them early if possible. This means I can also
> make better use of whatever suitable contexts I may just "happen" to
> find myself in in the meantime.

I think that this comes down to one's tolerance for long lists. I like my lists nice and short, and a little time spent tweaking Start Dates to make that happen, is worth the trouble for me.
 

Folke

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@Gardener

Yes, i know this is totally possible and a very popular approach. I have used it, too, and still do, especially when I know I have good reasons not do something before a certain date, but have never quite fallen in love with using it as a "prioritization" tool. What I have fallen in love with is my priority color flagging/sorting, which "hides" the committed and possible low priority stuff "in the open" in a way that I can easily avoid looking at it, but can equally easily find it when looking for a particular context - just in case I can squeeze one of those tasks in early when I am in that context. We all have a bit different tastes, I guess. But it also comes down to what kinds of cases we look at.
 

Gardener

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Folke;111499 said:
What I have fallen in love with is my priority color flagging/sorting, which "hides" the committed and possible low priority stuff "in the open" in a way that I can easily avoid looking at it, but can equally easily find it when looking for a particular context - just in case I can squeeze one of those tasks in early when I am in that context. We all have a bit different tastes, I guess. But it also comes down to what kinds of cases we look at.
For what it's worth, OmniFocus will easily let me see that task--if I go to the appropriate context and switch from seeing "available" to seeing "remaining" tasks, the start-date-hidden tasks will pop up again.
 

Folke

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Gardener;111502 said:
For what it's worth, OmniFocus will easily let me see that task--if I go to the appropriate context and switch from seeing "available" to seeing "remaining" tasks, the start-date-hidden tasks will pop up again.
Yes, I can imagine Omnifocus is different. And it seems that every app I have used so far is different from any other other. You always seem to to have to tweak and work around it in some ways to make the app behave in a way that makes sense to you.

FWIW, personally I am not entirely sure I would completely like the behavior you describe for Omnfocus. For one thing, I am not sure I would always want to have to go to a separate context view to see them, but I could probably live with that. More importantly, I would not want to have my "true/hard" ticklers mixed up with any "soft-tickled/prioritized" items that I might actually want to consider doing even before the date. The "true" ticklers ("definitely premature or impossible" before a certain date) I really would not want to see, but these "soft-tickled" "low priority" items I would want to see clearly in order to be able to consider doing them. (But maybe you could use a tag etc to distinguish soft and hard?)

I definitely agree that tickling things can be useful even if the date is not carved in stone. The example you gave about bulbs sounds very plausible (even though I do not know anything about bulbs). Even if it is not strictly impossible to start now, there may be obvious advantages etc if you wait (for example, context-energy type synergies etc), and the unnecessary delay may not matter much. So I am not trying in any way to sway you out of using that method or claim that it is wrong. But it is not always the best.

Let me give you a silly-simple example of where the soft tickler approach will not work well. Say you have a tarnished door handle. You find it a bit ugly, and although it is no super big deal, you are definitely prepared to pay the few bucks it will cost you to buy a new one. But the only place to buy them is in some very inconvenient place that you do not often go to, and you are not willing to take the time to go all that way just for the handle, so you will do it whenever you have something more important to do there, which could be tomorrow, next month, next year... If you soft-tickle that task for some later date, the location will still be equally inconvenient, and the chances that you will have any other business near that location on your Next list on the date when the tickler shows up are quite slim, so you will usually re-tickle it. The task will tend to never get done unless you make it a habit to scan these low priority Next actions in some more systematic fashion. In the app I am currently using, colored/sortable priorities is the most obvious way (in fact, it was one of the main reasons I changed apps).
 

Gardener

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Folke;111503 said:
Let me give you a silly-simple example of where the soft tickler approach will not work well. Say you have a tarnished door handle. You find it a bit ugly, and although it is no super big deal, you are definitely prepared to pay the few bucks it will cost you to buy a new one. But the only place to buy them is in some very inconvenient place that you do not often go to, and you are not willing to take the time to go all that way just for the handle, so you will do it whenever you have something more important to do there, which could be tomorrow, next month, next year... If you soft-tickle that task for some later date, the location will still be equally inconvenient, and the chances that you will have any other business near that location on your Next list on the date when the tickler shows up are quite slim, so you will usually re-tickle it. The task will tend to never get done unless you make it a habit to scan these low priority Next actions in some more systematic fashion. In the app I am currently using, colored/sortable priorities is the most obvious way (in fact, it was one of the main reasons I changed apps).
I think that we're back to comfort with list length--I absolutely don't want that action showing up unless it's actionable or I'm in review mode. The colored priorities won't make me any happier about seeing it.

There are at least three ways that I could handle this situation in OmniFocus. In any of them, the "buy new door handle" task would have a Context of "InconvenientPlace". I would want that task to disappear under normal circumstances, to appear when I'm at InconvenientPlace, and to be seen once in a long while in case I decide that I want to accelerate it. The three ways are:

1) I could give the task a start date in the distant future (say, six months) so that it disappears from my usual views. If I go to InconvenientPlace, I will check all tasks in its context, whether they're start-delayed or not. I'll see the task at some review interval as well, so if I get impatient I can change it and plan on going to InconvenientPlace.

2) Another way to handle this would be with OmniFocus Perspectives. A Perspective can include tasks from one or many contexts and one or many projects, as well as various start/due date/availability characteristics. My everyday perspectives could exclude the InconvenientPlace context, and another perspective could include it.

3) Another way to handle it could be by setting certain perspectives to be On Hold or not On Hold. For example, I used to frequently travel between two cities. I had a few contexts that were duplicated for each city--City A Errands, City B Errands, City A At Home, City B At Home. When I traveled from one city to another, I would set the other city's contexts to On Hold. I could, of course, accomplish the same thing with two sets of Perspectives, but this felt simpler.

Methods 2) and 3) have the advantage of not corrupting the use of Start dates, but the disadvantage of being, to me, less simple.
 

Folke

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@Gardener

I agree that methods 2 and 3 sound a bit cumbersome. They sound very much like what is usually called "saved searches" or "smart lists" etc in other apps.

You mention contexts, and that's an area that could be further developed in most apps - quick ad hoc exclusion of unavailable contextual factors would be really great, but I won't get into that here - it has been discussed in other threads.

Mind you, the colored priorities in Doit are not only, and not primarily, just colored. They are also sorting/grouping/filtering parameters, and I usually have the low priority stuff appear at the bottom of the Next list, so I do not really have to look at them (unless I scroll way down), but they will always show up if I filter for that particular context, contact etc, still at the bottom of that filtered result, but now more visible since the list is now shorter. I find this extremely convenient, but we are all different.

And these low priority actions of mine are, in fact, actionable now - otherwise i would keep them in Someday/Maybe or as Ticklers.

Anyway, it is always good to compare methods and setups.
 

fwade

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The minutae

AJS;111163 said:
Addressing the central topic, one of the reasons GTD can seem so complicated is that David Allen has been very specific on the minutiae of the productivity process. This is where other "simpler" systems tend to obfuscate, but that doesn't mean the problems go away. You still need to know how to file reference material. It's still nice to have some advice how to define projects and action items even if you don't need it.

While there are other methods out there that have their own strengths, I really appreciate that GTD pretty much covers every level from small actions to life plans and there is advice available on how you might implement it. Which other productivity guru has provided so much specific information at such a low price entry level?
This is so well said. I think this makes the book a great starting point for someone who is serious about becoming more productive.

At the same time, the reality is that most people depart from the book's detailed prescriptions for any number of reasons: cultural differences, work loads, individual style, inability to follow so many new habits, change fatigue, etc. They "hack" GTD in their own way and end up with solutions that are better or worse.

If this is in fact a reality, then the next level of advice that would be helpful is: "How do I depart from the book effectively?" Or at the very least, "On the way to perfect implementation of GTD, what do I need to focus on learning first, second, third, etc..."

Great comment - lots more food for thought than I have addressed here.

Francis
 
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