OmniFocus: When the Next Action is a meeting

Gardener

Registered
TesTeq said:
I NEVER mix time-blocking with Next Actions.

I see "time blocking" as a scheduling thing, as in "8:00-8:15 Monday: Write notes for the WidgetBase meeting."

I see "spend fifteen minutes" as a task that happens to be defined in terms of a unit. In this case, the unit is time. Another task might be "Wash and press three lengths of fabric" in which case the unit is a count. Another task might be "weed twelve square feet of garden", in which case the unit is an area.

TesTeq said:
What's the successful outcome of "Spend fifteen minutes prepping notes for the WidgetBase meeting"?

I don't do "successful outcome" phrasing for actions; they're actions. I do them for projects. Does David Allen call for that phrasing just for actions?

To clarify what I mean:

Action: Make a quart of clarified butter.
Outcome: A quart of clarified butter is in the fridge.

Action: Sew buttons on blouse.
Outcome: Blouse has buttons.

Action: Take turkey out to thaw.
Outcome: Turkey is thawing.

I think that phrasing every action as a successful outcome would make my system unusable for me.

TesTeq said:
Fifteen minutes spent. In my world this NA would be "Prepare notes for WidgetBase meeting". I want high quality, good enough notes. Not 15-minute notes.

That's certainly a valid option. For me, defining tasks as units of time is useful. It may be useful in different ways.

- As an upper limit. If I suspect that preparing the notes will really take me five minutes, but I tend to spend too much time over-preparing for meetings, this stops me from perfectionizing.
- As a way to get me to enter a task that still feels nebulous. The first task, "Spend fifteen minutes thinking about..." lets me take a step on an effort that is still a complete fog for me. The fifteen minutes might help me find the next task, or if it doesn't, I'll just write another task for another fifteen minutes. (Or hour, or whatever.)
- As a way to get a too-large task get done bite by bite. One chapter of a book, one bed in the garden, a brief period spent brainstorming on something that is stressful enough that spending a longer time wouldn't be productive.

I prefer that my actions be of a "just do it" size, where the task is whittle and whittled to the point that I know how to do the task. "Figure out how to get WidgetBase converted" is not "just do it." THINKING about that problem for a specified time, is.
 

Gardener

Registered
bcmyers2112 said:
Adding a few "waiting for" items to represent pending meetings, for example, may seem easy. But every time you review that "waiting for" list you're using mental energy.

It also depends on the system you're using. I agree that in many systems, the "waiting for" would add to the effort spent. In OmniFocus, it would reduce it, because that "waiting for" with a future date will hide the project entirely from day-to-day scanning of my lists. It would still be there for my weekly review, but it would make it extra clear to me that, "Oh, yeah, nothing to do until the meeting," so I would probably skim past that project faster, not slower.
 

Oogiem

Registered
bcmyers2112 said:
But every time you review that "waiting for" list you're using mental energy.
For the specific type of item mentioned I just don't get this concern. If the waiting for is a meeting I put it in with a start date of the day of the meeting. So I never see it except at weekly review. That's one of the big benefits of Omnifocus, it can hide irrelevant data until you need it easily. So given the constraints of the OP, Omnifocus and next action is a meeting adding it to my OF system as a simple Waiting for with a start date makes reviewing go faster not slower.
 

jenkins

Registered
Gardener said:
I don't do "successful outcome" phrasing for actions; they're actions. I do them for projects. Does David Allen call for that phrasing just for actions?

To clarify what I mean:

Action: Make a quart of clarified butter.
Outcome: A quart of clarified butter is in the fridge.

Action: Sew buttons on blouse.
Outcome: Blouse has buttons.

Action: Take turkey out to thaw.
Outcome: Turkey is thawing.

This may be slightly off-topic, but I don't phrase my projects the way you do, and I'm really interested to hear your thoughts and how others do it. I usually write something like "Address issue with office printer cutting off margins" rather than the past tense "Issue with office printer cutting off margins has been addressed."
 

Folke

Registered
To be quite honest I cannot recall what David Allen says about this, but I assume he says that an outcome is a desired state, not just an action or set of actions expressed in the past tense.

The important thing here is what the point of it is. WHY is this important to deal with? What do you want to achieve beyond just completing the work/action as such?

In the examples above I could imagine someone wanting a usable blouse, hanging in the closet, ready for everyday use, That might be an outcome in itself, involving actions such as sewing buttons, ironing etc. But why would anyone want to have clarified butter in the fridge or a thawing turkey on the table? I don't know; we are all different; but to me those seem to be just "actions in the past tense" and "steps on the way somewhere"; they do not express anything that sounds desirable in and of themselves. Maybe "Please guests with a palatable dinner" would be a more understandable desired outcome.

If you look closely at things you do (be that actions or projects or whatever you choose to call them) there is always both something concrete that you will actually do and something that you hope will be the result of that (the result is quite often beyond your direct control). For example, "write a letter" or "post a letter" might be something you do in an attempt to make somebody happy, or make them more inclined to purchase something from you or just to prevent them from being able to accuse you of not providing some requested information.

I believe the main point of splitting things into actions and outcomes is to open the mind to finding alternatives. Example: Say you are thinking about painting the wall green. That is probably something you would call an action (something that you will DO). What about the desired outcome? If you state the outcome as "have the wall painted green" you have actually added nothing of value (other than expressed the action in the past tense, i.e. to have completed it). But if you express it as "Have a green wall" you have opened the door for other solutions, such as cover it in green drapes or plant ivy or make it into a big window facing the nature outside.
 

Gardener

Registered
jenkins said:
This may be slightly off-topic, but I don't phrase my projects the way you do, and I'm really interested to hear your thoughts and how others do it. I usually write something like "Address issue with office printer cutting off margins" rather than the past tense "Issue with office printer cutting off margins has been addressed."

Actually, when I said, "I do them for projects", I should have said, "I intend to do them for projects." :) I rarely actually do, unless the name is really easy and obvious. But I like the idea enough that I keep meaning to follow it consistently for at least a few weeks, to see if it seems to have value.

If I don't force myself to do the "outcome" phrasing, my projects tend to be either directives or just titles. Examples of project names might be:

- Fit 3-hour shirt pattern.
- Deliver WidgetBase 1.6b.
- Get started with Once A Month Cooking.
- Cooking coat.
- Europe trip packing

I suppose outcome-based names for those would look like:

- The 3-hour shirt pattern is ready to go.
- WidgetBase 1.6b is successfully in production.
- I have a beginner's knowledge of OAMC.
- The cooking coat is made and in use.
- I have everything needed for my Europe trip.

Maybe?
 

TesTeq

Registered
Folke said:
To be quite honest I cannot recall what David Allen says about this, but I assume he says that an outcome is a desired state, not just an action or set of actions expressed in the past tense.

For me each GTD Project is a state machine. So to move from the starting state to the final state (which we call a Successful Outcome) we have to travel through all the intermediate states. Each intermediate state is a Successful Outcome of an appropriate Next Action.

For example:
Project: A light bulb replaced.
Next Actions:
1. Buy a light bulb @Errands
2. Replace a light bulb @home

The hidden Successful Outcome of the first Next Action is "A light bulb bought".

Now let's change the first Next Action to:
1. Spend 15 minutes buying a light bulb @Errands

In this case the hidden Successful Outcome of the first Next Action is "15 minutes spent". But what about a light bulb? Nothing. No outcome. No progress. Just wasted time.

This is an extreme example why X-minute Next Actions are not useful for me. If I want to think about something my Next Action is about the required result of this thinking, not about an arbitrary period of time.
 

Folke

Registered
TesTeq said:
For me each GTD Project is a state machine. So to move from the starting state to the final state (which we call a Successful Outcome) we have to travel through all the intermediate states. Each intermediate state is a Successful Outcome of an appropriate Next Action.

I can buy that; no problem. Good description, actually. I do agree that there is both a "desired outcome" aspect and a "required activity" aspect that can be applied to every action and every project.

What I was trying to point out, though, is that it seems redundant and a waste of effort to define both the desired outcome and the necessary activity if both have the same actual content, if the only difference is that they are expressed in two different grammatical tenses (infinitive vs perfect; e.g. "buy bulb" vs "bulb bought"). A checkmark serves the same purpose and is simpler. To become more meaningful the outcome needs to be defined "a notch higher". For example, the action "Post letter" might have a desired outcome such as "Friend happy" or "Customer aware of ..". It is this "elevation" that opens your mind for considering further or alternative actions (e.g. you might want to call them, too, and/or send an email).

As for your comments about 15 minutes etc, I agree in principle that spending time is not an end in itself, and I never use that kind of shorthand myself, but I think it is important to note that the people who use this type of expression actully do not mean "waste time". They probably mean "investigate/try/experiment ...", "sketch a possible approach to ..." etc. The implied desired outcome in such cases is often to have at least a rough plan or notion for how something could be tackled, in order to be able to decide whether to undertake it at all, and/or to determine what the more specific next actions might be, and/or as a purely motivational trick (to overcome procrastination). This could of course be more clearly expressed than writing "15 minutes", but as always in our private lists it is we ourselves who must understand what we meant - it can be sloppy as hell as long as we ourselves understand it the way we meant it.
 

TesTeq

Registered
Folke said:
What I was trying to point out, though, is that it seems redundant and a waste of effort to define both the desired outcome and the necessary activity if both have the same actual content, if the only difference is that they are expressed in two different grammatical tenses (infinitive vs perfect; e.g. "buy bulb" vs "bulb bought"). A checkmark serves the same purpose and is simpler. To become more meaningful the outcome needs to be defined "a notch higher". For example, the action "Post letter" might have a desired outcome such as "Friend happy" or "Customer aware of ..". It is this "elevation" that opens your mind for considering further or alternative actions (e.g. you might want to call them, too, and/or send an email).

I haven't explained my point clearly enough. You've done it perfectly.

I use "buy bulb" syntax for Next Actions. The outcome is hidden but it exists and I know it is "Bulb bought".

I never use "spend 15 minutes thinking about X" because there's no hidden outcome that motivates me. I can barely look at "spend 15 minutes doing something". Why? Because I can see no promise of a Project progress. And how can I know that I've done this Next Action? Set a kitchen timer and check this NA done after 15 minutes regardless of the result! :shock:
 

Gardener

Registered
TesTeq said:
I haven't explained my point clearly enough. You've done it perfectly.

I use "buy bulb" syntax for Next Actions. The outcome is hidden but it exists and I know it is "Bulb bought".

I never use "spend 15 minutes thinking about X" because there's no hidden outcome that motivates me. I can barely look at "spend 15 minutes doing something". Why? Because I can see no promise of a Project progress. And how can I know that I've done this Next Action? Set a kitchen timer and check this NA done after 15 minutes regardless of the result! :shock:

Do you never have an action that results in partial progress? For example, if you wanted to read a book, would the action always be "Read book X" and nothing smaller? Would "read book X for an hour" have no meaning to you?
 

Oogiem

Registered
TesTeq said:
I never use "spend 15 minutes thinking about X" because there's no hidden outcome that motivates me. I can barely look at "spend 15 minutes doing something". Why? Because I can see no promise of a Project progress. And how can I know that I've done this Next Action?
How do you implement tasks that will take more than one work session to complete? Things that even if you spent all day doing nothing else you would still not complete the next action.
 

Folke

Registered
TesTeq said:
I never use "spend 15 minutes thinking about X" because there's no hidden outcome that motivates me. I can barely look at "spend 15 minutes doing something". Why? Because I can see no promise of a Project progress. And how can I know that I've done this Next Action? Set a kitchen timer and check this NA done after 15 minutes regardless of the result! :shock:

I agree in principle. Instead of "15 minutes" I would prefer a wording such as "sketch a viable approach to ..." etc. But I can confess that I am sloppy in many other ways. For example, I might scribble down something totally unclear such as just the word "Attic" and be totally confident that I will remember that the first step is to go up there, take a good look, and see what it would take to get it cleared up. I often do not need a clearly worded action or a clearly worded outcome, just a little reminder. And I have a feeling it is the same for those who use the "15 minutes" shorthand - they actually know what they mean, even if it sounds strange to an outsider..

Oogiem said:
How do you implement tasks that will take more than one work session to complete? Things that even if you spent all day doing nothing else you would still not complete the next action.

I know you were asking TesTeq, but here is my answer:
This is very easy. I just leave it unchecked on my list.
 

TesTeq

Registered
Gardener said:
Do you never have an action that results in partial progress? For example, if you wanted to read a book, would the action always be "Read book X" and nothing smaller? Would "read book X for an hour" have no meaning to you?

Oogiem said:
How do you implement tasks that will take more than one work session to complete? Things that even if you spent all day doing nothing else you would still not complete the next action.

Time blocking. I cannot stand the "floating" X-minute/hour Next Actions. If I want to do something for one hour I schedule it. When I was writing my book I was blocking 4 hours each day.
 

TesTeq

Registered
Folke said:
I agree in principle. Instead of "15 minutes" I would prefer a wording such as "sketch a viable approach to ..." etc.

That's what I mean in this battle against X-minute Next Actions. ;-)
 

chirmer

Registered
I do what jdavidcarr suggested, for the most part. I will change the context of the next action dependent on the meeting; instead of changing it to Waiting, however, I change it to a temporary context just for that meeting. If it's a meeting I'm going to be at, there's no way I'm going to find all of the next actions dependent upon it in my waiting list without wading through every other task I'm waiting on. I just create a new context - such as "marketing meeting" - and schedule it there. Once I'm in the meeting, I go to that context and boom, there's everything I need to touch base on.
 

bcmyers2112

Registered
Oogiem said:
For the specific type of item mentioned I just don't get this concern. If the waiting for is a meeting I put it in with a start date of the day of the meeting. So I never see it except at weekly review. That's one of the big benefits of Omnifocus, it can hide irrelevant data until you need it easily. So given the constraints of the OP, Omnifocus and next action is a meeting adding it to my OF system as a simple Waiting for with a start date makes reviewing go faster not slower.

I've found that I need to review my Waiting For list every day. A week is just too long to wait given the nature of my work and projects. So anything I can do to streamline that review is good for me. You obviously have different needs and that's fine. I'm just contributing a different perspective based on my experience.
 

bcmyers2112

Registered
TesTeq said:
That's what I mean in this battle against X-minute Next Actions. ;-)

Why must it be a "battle"? Why isn't it OK to accept that something that doesn't work for you might work well for someone else?
 

TesTeq

Registered
bcmyers2112 said:
Why must it be a "battle"? Why isn't it OK to accept that something that doesn't work for you might work well for someone else?

Because I'm The Intellectual Provocateur.

I believe that my strong opinions give others some food for thought.

But I will not invade your house or workplace if you use something that does not work for me. ;-)
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
Listen to Testeq....really a lot of good GTD wisdom from him. Seriously.
 

Oogiem

Registered
bcmyers2112 said:
I've found that I need to review my Waiting For list every day. A week is just too long to wait given the nature of my work and projects.
I review some waiting for's every day but not via the context waiting for, but as a repeating task I check off that will repeat again tomorrow if it's something critical. For example I am currently waiting for a government agency to fix a log in system for me. I have a task that is check X and see if log in is fixed that repeats every day and comes up flagged, one of the few cases where I use flags in Omnifocus. I see it when I check my flagged perspective daily, can immediately go check the log-in (it's a 1.5 minute task to do so, I've measured) and click it off so it will show up again tomorrow. When the day finally comes that it works I'll delete that action rather than check it off as that will prevent it from endlessly repeating and the next thing I have to do will pop into the appropriate context. I know that will take more time than 2 minutes so it will come into my regular lists.
 
Top