New to GTD, What is the best way to keep track of processed items?

Discussion in 'PUBLIC: Discuss the GTD Methodology' started by knakkeow, Jan 26, 2019.

  1. knakkeow

    knakkeow Registered

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    Hello,

    I'm not sure if this is the right place for this. If someone may have already posted a similar question, please point me in the right direction.

    I'm new to GTD, I have read the book, and have implemented the Capture phase.

    I'm struggling with the processing and organizing phase. For processed items that have associated actions, what is the best way to keep those items tracked? Ex. Processing my physical mail, identify that this needs to be tracked, input it into excel with 1) Context = @phone, 2) Outcome = Remove unknown charges, 3) Next Actions = a. Call the bank to discuss charges, b. Review charges, c. determine what happened, d. find a resolution, 4) Log = 2019/01/01 Called bank, talked to John, he is said charges came from overseas and going to get me new cards. Waiting for the new card.

    Is there a better way to do this? I feel that time is spent "Logging", shuffling entries between @WaitingFor @Agenda or @Calls lists, Moving around calendar events, and not a whole lot of time getting stuff done.

    Thoughts and recommendations on a better way of handling this? I'm looking for something practical, and easily move between paper and digital.

    My thanks in advance,

    Khanin
     
  2. mcogilvie

    mcogilvie Registered

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    I think we could simplify your example a bit. You notice the unknown charges, so “Call bank re unknown charges” goes on @calls list. You call the bank, they see the charges are bogus, agree to remove the charges and send new cards. “Waiting for new credit cards” goes on your Waiting For list. If this is enough, you don’t need an outcome because it isn’t a project, and you don’t need b), c) or d). Overplanning is a common issue, and it does take practice to find what just enough is for you.

    A thought: although people do make Excel work for GTD, it would not be my first choice, or even in my top ten. I suspect you have to be quite good at both excel and gtd to make it work well.
     
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  3. Geeko

    Geeko GTD since 2017

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    I also think you overplan things. In your example I would start a project "get resolution on unknown charges" and add "call John re unknown charges" to my agendas or calls list. That's all I would plan so far since the rest depends on the result of this conversation.
    It is actually a good idea to start with a paper based system to learn the processes. That way you do not have to focus on mastering your tool instead of mastering GTD.

    Cheers,
    Tristan
     
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  4. knakkeow

    knakkeow Registered

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    mcogilvie & geeko,

    Thank you for the pointers, it seems that recording tasks based on the desired outcome would be a clearer approach, then place the identified next action project/task into the appropriate list for engagement.

    This one line item would sit in the master list, and all its appropriate sub items would be in a paper or digital record? I.E.

    Master Project List line item: get resolution on unknown charges
    Support sheet name: get resolution on unknown charges
    a) call John re unknown charges - agenda list
    b) other things later identifed needed to move this project towards closure - appropriate calls, waitingfor, agenda list

    Does this make sense or am I still overthinking this?

    Thank you again for the pointers.

    Thanks,


    Khanin
     
  5. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

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    @knakkeow , have you considered using a tool other than Excel? I think that much of the complexity here comes from the tool. GTD tools tend to already "understand" the concept of a Project, so it's a lot less work to manage one.
     
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  6. TesTeq

    TesTeq Registered

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    I would follow @mcogilvie advice:
    “Call bank re unknown charges” on @calls list. Period. Nothing more. I really don't have time to manage simple calls as Projects.[/I]
     
  7. RS356

    RS356 Registered

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    I agree with @TesTeq. In the event that the issue is not resolved by a phone call and requires additional steps, it could then be tracked as a project. And to Tristan's point, in my experience there's no better way to learn the GTD methodology than on paper. Tools that promote complex structures tend to get in the way during this introductory process.
     
  8. knakkeow

    knakkeow Registered

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    Thank you all for your feedback and guidance.

    @Gardener For electronic note-taking yes. For a master list, I'm not sure what is better than Excel.

    Here is my set up: 1) Master Project list is maintained in Excel, it is easy to printout and handwrite updates throughout the day and update as necessary. The document has the following columns: Project/Task, Support Material Location (Includes Email Sub-folders, Physical and electronic file locations, OneNote Tabs, etc), Next Actions, Context, and Notes/Comments. 2) Project Support documents are kept in OneNote where I'm inputting the project support information, it is easy to printout and handwrite updates throughout the day and update as necessary and physical documents are in file folders next to my desk. 3) Inputting next actions into Excel Master List and filtering on context.

    I'm still experimenting with Electronic Tools like Todoist, NirvanaHQ, and Omnifocus because at the office its a Microsoft workstation and at home its an apple. I need something that can easily move between Microsoft and Apple.

    Now that I'm writing this, I am seeing opportunities to simplify and improve. This week I'll review the items in the Master List and associated Next Actions to clean up the over planning.
     
  9. Oogiem

    Oogiem Registered

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    I think you are overthinking. :)

    Agree with other posters that Excel (or any spreadsheet program) wouldn't even make my top 20 list of tools to use. Much of what you are seeing is a result of the limitations of your tool. The advantages you cite, "it is easy to printout and handwrite updates throughout the day and update as necessary." shouldn't be neecessary. If it takes 2 steps to update your list manager you need a new one. If you are writing updates during the day then obviously you should give a total paper solution a try. Why are you making double work for yourself?

    I would try paper first, then maybe something simple, like native apps on your phone of choice.

    I also agree that the only thing that I'd show in my list of actions for your example would be "Call bank to remove unknown charges" Until you see what the issue is you can't decide on anything else.
     
  10. Ger80C

    Ger80C Registered

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    I agree with regard to possible overplanning with what has been advised by the other forum members. However I disagree with respect to Excel. I think if you are used to work with Excel and at the same time can't or do not want to learn another program, it is one of the better options to manage multiple lists. You can start as easy as with two tabs: projects and Actions, and use a field next to the action description for context. You can sort, and link to other fields, and re-arrange - all *without* having to learn a new programm with a possibly steep learning curve or sending your data to "the cloud".

    That said, I agree that Excel is not the *easiest* way to start digital GTD - that, to my mind, would be a simple text file (not even a Word file), or perhaps two, one for projects/current and someday/maybe, one for actions and waiting for...

    Best regards,

    Sebastian
     
  11. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

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    You referred to shuffling tasks between contexts. With something like OmniFocus (and I realize that you have a cross-platform issue that may make Omnifocus not an option) you don't have to do that. You create a project, and then you create tasks within the project, and OmniFocus deals with managing that link. You tag those tasks with contexts. (Though you can make a default context for the project, and that often saves you having to tag a task.) You can add notes to projects and to tasks.

    Then to see your project list, you go to one view. To see your tasks for a project, another view. To see your tasks for a context, another view. You can do various cuts on your data--for example, I have groups of contexts, so that when I'm traveling I can easily avoid even seeing tasks in unavailable contexts.

    You don't have to move anything--you just look at the same set of data differently. OmniFocus does much of the management work that you're doing by hand.

    I think that a great deal of the complexity you're experiencing is the use of an electronic tool that lacks the flexibility of paper, but doesn't give you much extra functionality in exchange.

    Now, there are probably ways to get Excel to do some of the things that a GTD tool can do. If I wanted to do GTD in Excel, I think I'd...let me think here...y'know, I'm going to return later.
     
  12. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

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    OK, so I went to Excel.

    I created columns:

    Project -- Task -- Context -- Notes -- Complete

    (where the -- is a boundary between columns)

    I create a line for every task, plus a "master" line for the project. So:

    Project -- Task -- Context -- Notes -- Complete
    Organize Jane's birthday party -- MASTER --
    Organize Jane's birthday party -- Call the bakery -- Phone -- Called baker, spoke to Jane, she's sending me a price sheet -- Yes
    Organize Jane's birthday party -- Call the community center about a room -- Phone --
    Organize Jane's birthday party -- Ask Jane for guest list -- Jane
    Get car ding fixed -- MASTER --
    Get car ding fixed-- Get Joe's advice about body shop -- Phone --
    Get car ding fixed-- Call that body shop and get their hours -- Phone --

    (This is more planning ahead than I would do--I would normally have only one incomplete task per project. But the mechanics of using Excel don't really care.)

    Imagine another few dozen lines, for several more projects.

    Then I highlight that whole thing and go to Data, Filter.

    To see just my project list, I filter for lines where Task is equal to Master.
    To see all tasks, eliminating the distracting Project lines, I filter for everything where Task is NOT Master.
    To see all incomplete tasks, I filter for everything where Task is not Master and Complete is not Yes.
    To see all incomplete taks in the context Phone, I filter for everything where Task is not Master and Complete is not Yes and Context is Phone.

    It's probably somehow possible to save those filters--macros? Something?

    So to me, the key would be for everything, projects and all tasks, to be in the same "database"--the same set of columns.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2019
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  13. Ger80C

    Ger80C Registered

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    That sounds beautiful. :)

    Yes, you can totally create different "views" into your lists. For example, you can just create one master List and then use something called "pivot tables" - flexible, re-programmable views into the main list - to display different perspectives into your system at once. You can set them up at a different tab of the worksheet, create dashboards/views for your weekly review etc. ... very flexible indeed.

    OK, I admit that I am, or slowly become, an Excel addict.

    I do not use Excel for GTD, but use Omnifocus for my private life and Outlook for business (I have keep both separate for corporate policy reasons).

    However, I have started to use Excel for my weekly look-ahed planning: Once a week, I will mark all my next actions in Outlook and copy them into Excel. I will then sort the essential ones to the top and note time estimates (min. time estimate, max. time estimate, best guess) next to them. This way, I try to get an idea about my time commitments and availability without having to drag/plan blocks of time into the calendar.

    Best regards,

    Sebastian
     
  14. TesTeq

    TesTeq Registered

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    Great template!
    There's one worrisome thing in @knakkeow 's workflow description: "it is easy to printout and handwrite updates throughout the day and update as necessary."
    Why not update in Excel?
     
  15. bcmyers2112

    bcmyers2112 Registered

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    I agree with everyone else: you're still very much overthinking this. Don't feel bad, though. This is how my GTD practice used to look. You're not alone in struggling with a learning curve, and it's very much worth the effort. You'll get the hang of GTD.

    Like @mcogilvie suggested, if you need to call a company to dispute a charge, I'd place that call on your calls list. There's no need for it to be an agenda item. You know exactly what you'll want to discuss when you call.

    As for "other things later identifed needed to move this project towards closure," you may well achieve closure with a single phone call. If not, you'll end that call with a next action (which you'll identify in the moment), or the ball will be in their court, in which case you record that as a waiting for item (which, again, you'll identify in the moment). You can't know what will happen ahead of time, and trying to build every anticipated possible outcome and contingency into your lists will create a lot of work for you with no payoff. Instead all that planning turns a simple call into a huge hassle.

    If you make your planning system this complex for even the simple things, you won't want to use your lists. Your GTD practice will fall by the wayside. I'm speaking from personal experience of multiple falls off the GTD wagon.

    Again, don't feel bad. I've made these exact same mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn. Between advice from others and myself, hopefully we can help shorten your learning curve a bit, though.

    As for the list manager, I'm a big proponent of using whatever works for you. GTD is a system of habits and behaviors. If you do them well, you'll make your tools work for you.

    But using a bad tool can definitely hamper your GTD practice. I'm not sure if Excel falls into that category; I use it, but not to manage GTD lists and support material. The way you describe your use of it doesn't make it sound easy, though.

    If you're interested in trying a different type of tool, there are setup guides available for purchase from the David Allen Company website that provide guidance on how to use some of the common list managers out there. It may be a good place to start, because the people at DAC vet the tools to be sure they're good for use with GTD.

    The list on the DAC website is not exhaustive. There are plenty of other good tools out there and if you ask the forum for help, you'll get recommendations as well as suggestions for how to use them.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2019
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  16. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

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    I could see myself making the charge thing a project, but I wouldn't plan it ahead. If I did use Excel, then after all was done it might look like the following. (I adjusted my theoretical Excel scheme so that the project also shows Complete or not, and so that notes come after Complete.)

    Project -- Task -- Context -- Complete -- Notes
    Deal with weird charges -- MASTER -- -- Yes
    Deal with weird charges -- Call the bank -- Phone -- Yes -- Called, it's fraud, not my problem, sending new card, project done!
    Deal with new card -- MASTER -- -- Yes
    Deal with new card -- Waiting for the new card -- WAITING FOR -- Got it -- Yes
    Deal with new card -- Change number for Hulu, electric bill, garbage bill -- Online -- Yes -- project done!
     
  17. knakkeow

    knakkeow Registered

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    Thank you for all your comments, feedback, and suggestions to improve. Made some changes to simplify this stage of the processing.

    Process is:
    1) During processing, spend about 90 minutes processing at the start of the day, and 30 minutes during lunch. Finally got the backlog down to about 10k emails, and 4 banker boxes of paperwork and the normal day to day stuff.
    2) Next Actions: Just identify and document the next action, and if a choice must be made, depending on how perceived complexity and impact, ask to schedule a follow-up meeting to allow time for review of risk and impact of the options.

    Processed items are either handwritten to the printed out copy of the master list or entered directly into the list. If I'm working off-site, I'm updating the printout, and update the Master Sheet and OneNote after I get back to the office.

    Below are revisions to the for the Master List Excel headings that seems to work well for the last week and a half:
    1) Initial Receive Date
    2) Project/Desired Outcome (What’s the larger result desired? How will you know when it is done?)
    3) Next Actions (What do you need to do that? Do you have everything you need?)
    4) Context (@Desk, @Phone, @Office, @Bill, etc...)
    5) Notes (General Updates)
    6) Support Material Location (Where can I find the support material, agreements, etc... For the most part, this is OneNote unless there is a paper, e-mail, or electronic file folder.)
    7) Due By

    For items that get deferred, it is moved to the Someday Maybe Tab for future review.

    I still notice the over-thinking during the processing phase and going down bunny trails, versus processing the item.

    3) Weekly reviews are currently limited to 1 hour, and I do as much as I can, else I'll be there all weekend.

    The hardest part of this process is acknowledging there is not enough time to get everything done when the world is asking for everything, and learning how to say "no" without saying "no".

    Thank you all for your help to help simplify the system. Even now I think its too complicated.
     
  18. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

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    I may be confused, but this feels more complicated than the system that you previously described. Are you doing this much processing for everything, including a quick phone call to the bank? Or only for highly complex projects?
     
  19. knakkeow

    knakkeow Registered

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    Hi Gardener,

    Doing this for items in the inbox for a set period of time. For simple items like "Call the bank to clear unknown charges" is just a single line item now in the Master List.

    For complex items like upgrade control system applications on 40 devices, this would have more than 1 line items and would have support documents stored in OneNote or paper/electronic file folder.

    It took me some time to notice that I was skipping the step of "Is this going to take more than 1 step..." and basically treating everything as a complex project. That was a mistake on my part, going back to re-read the processing and organization sections of the book a couple more times.

    *Sighs*
     
  20. bcmyers2112

    bcmyers2112 Registered

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    As someone who is a card-carrying member of Overthinkers and Complicators Anonymous, it's taken me years to streamline my system to something manageable. You won't change a lifetime of habits in a single day, so go easy on yourself. If you've simplified things even a little, it's a start.

    Here's a tip: I've learned to ask myself, "What's the least amount of information I need to see in my list in order to actually accomplish this action or plan this project?" It's often less than I initially believe.
     
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