Suggestions on Sorting Next Actions

Kevint2888

Registered
Hi GTD Community,

I’m new to the GTD approach and trying to figure out how best to sort through the next actions by context, time or priority.

Given that the majority of my work takes place on my computer, in my office and at home, most of the next actions get stuck on one @computer list, which is almost like a big next actions list.

To make it more user friendly, I then decided to sort through by time and energy, such as @half hour projects or more, @higher focus projects, etc.

The issues there is that I’m still going through each list daily to figure out what is most important and not sure if that’s the right way to do this?

Also read some folks mentioning time blocks? Would that be best?

If anyone has any suggestions, that would be great!
 

Gardener

Registered
How big are the lists? I try hard to avoid going through big lists daily. What about keeping most of the items in Someday/Maybe lists and moving a very small subset of them into your current lists during your weekly review?
 

Kevint2888

Registered
How big are the lists? I try hard to avoid going through big lists daily. What about keeping most of the items in Someday/Maybe lists and moving a very small subset of them into your current lists during your weekly review?
The lists aren’t big (maybe 15 at any pine point in time) but the energy and time required differ widely.

After reading GTD, the lists were all scrubbed to separate into someday/maybe and truly actionable items. Each one now has immediate next steps assigned but want to utilize the idea of sorting next actions by context, time, energy, priority etc. but haven’t found a good breakdown when your major sorting categories (eg @home, @work,) are in the same place.
 

TesTeq

Registered
To make it more user friendly, I then decided to sort through by time and energy, such as @half hour projects or more, @higher focus projects, etc.
Try to divide your huge @computer list by the software tool you use (email, browser, word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software, software development tools, graphics design software etc.).
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
Separating your computer list into software needed is a great strategy and also one I embrace. You also mention time blocks. For your high priority, deep work where you need 1-3 hours of focused time, it is a good strategy to block that time on your calendar. It is NOT using your calendar as a to-do list; it is simply protecting your time so you can do focused work. I do this routinely because if I do not, meetings magically appear and take away my prime focusing time. You just have to be judicious with this and not get carried away. Many times, I will block time and add a ? to the time block title, which allows me to recognize that I always need to decide in the moment what is still the best use of my time. It may well be that due to new inputs, my world has changed since I added that time block and now there are new things that I must do. My default position, however, is to honor my time blocks as much as possible.

I hope this helps.
 

Jared Caron

Healthcare Quality & Safety pro; GTD enthusiast
Hi GTD Community,

I’m new to the GTD approach and trying to figure out how best to sort through the next actions by context, time or priority.

Given that the majority of my work takes place on my computer, in my office and at home, most of the next actions get stuck on one @computer list, which is almost like a big next actions list.

To make it more user friendly, I then decided to sort through by time and energy, such as @half hour projects or more, @higher focus projects, etc.

The issues there is that I’m still going through each list daily to figure out what is most important and not sure if that’s the right way to do this?

Also read some folks mentioning time blocks? Would that be best?

If anyone has any suggestions, that would be great!
I have found that this is part of the art of GTD. My context lists have, and continue to, evolve based on my situation.

One suggestion I received from coach Meg that really helped me a lot was to create an "Admin" list for administrative actions. Most of these tend to be computer-based and may involve things like data entry, file purging/organizing, HR paperwork, etc. As long as I keep a good operational definition of "admin" tasks in mind, it works really well.

As for software-based sorting, that can be a great option. I would caution about having too many categories though. Look at your list now and see if there's a single category many of the items would fit into. You probably dont want 9 software lists each with 1 item on them.

For example, I have a general @computer list, and another for anything in our electronic medical record. Those two categories plus the Admin list keep my computer work pretty well organized without over-categorizing.

Hope the suggestions help!
 

Gardener

Registered
The lists aren’t big (maybe 15 at any pine point in time) but the energy and time required differ widely.

After reading GTD, the lists were all scrubbed to separate into someday/maybe and truly actionable items. Each one now has immediate next steps assigned but want to utilize the idea of sorting next actions by context, time, energy, priority etc. but haven’t found a good breakdown when your major sorting categories (eg @home, @work,) are in the same place.
Is it possible that some of the high-energy or high-time actions aren't actually actions, but projects?
 

Jared Caron

Healthcare Quality & Safety pro; GTD enthusiast
^ great point @Gardener. On a second read, it sounds to me like the presenting issue here is perhaps a sub-optimal distinction between next-actions and projects. It's a tough concept for those new to GTD and can take some time to internalize it.

As a clarification, your context lists (@home, @computer, @errands, etc.) should only contain next-actions. e.g. the "immediate next steps" you mentioned.

Projects (anything with more than 1 step) go on an entirely separate list and don't need to be categorized by context.

Example from my current lists:

@computer@Admin
  • @Projects
  • Email Steve about the sleep lab accreditation question
  • Type revisions to Order policy from QA committee feedback
  • Compile mileage report for January 2021
  • Archive old Outlook folders
  • Submit application for Sleep Lab accreditation
  • Finalize Order Policy
  • Submit mileage report
 

talundbl

Registered
This is the perennial gtd question since the rerelease of GTD. I’ve struggled with context based lists in the same way you are. I’ve never really been able to work from a single context. But I have found that contexts are good for indicating what I can’t do or don’t want to do. For example, I do email, comms, and quick filing only at scheduled times during the day so I can disregard those lists at 9am when I want to focus on real work. I can also filter out errands and home tasks at work. Now I have a limited list that i can scan quickly including a long list of non quick computer tasks and office tasks. So in short I find contexts more useful as an exclusionary tool and embrace that I’ll still be scanning a longer list of things and making choices. The myth of gtd is that it will do the work for you on that front which is just not true.
 

TruthWK

Registered
Something I’ve realized is that the fewer contexts I am actually in, the fewer items should be on next action lists and the more items I should have on my someday/maybe. I think that has served me better than trying to break down tasks into more lists. The way I see it is if I have fewer constraints then my own prioritization will be much more the driving factor in what gets done and I have to be honest about what should really be done now vs in a few weeks or months.
 

Xavier BOEMARE

Registered
Hi GTD Community,

I’m new to the GTD approach and trying to figure out how best to sort through the next actions by context, time or priority.

Given that the majority of my work takes place on my computer, in my office and at home, most of the next actions get stuck on one @computer list, which is almost like a big next actions list.

To make it more user friendly, I then decided to sort through by time and energy, such as @half hour projects or more, @higher focus projects, etc.

The issues there is that I’m still going through each list daily to figure out what is most important and not sure if that’s the right way to do this?

Also read some folks mentioning time blocks? Would that be best?

If anyone has any suggestions, that would be great!
Hi,
- Regarding Energy, I use it to know when I should do it : 80% of the people are more efficient in the morning, as I am, so I tackle high energy next actions in the morning. Find your time.
- As already shared, software is one good place to start, that I use
- For you computer, do you actually have the exact same access from it at work or at home ? or do you have some restrictions at work (some web sites for instance ?) or at home (some work doc you cannot access from home). If that's the case, one idea would be to create @home_computer and @work_computer.
- 15 items in a list is actually not that "big" (but I agree that you should not go beyond), in a few second you should be able to pick the one you think has the "highest" priority (your brain knows what are your priorities). If not, ask yourself if those are really next actions, and not projects ?
- For me, time block is a way to dedicate part(s) of you agenda to specific context. The one I like the most is @Mail -> it's much more productive to tackle your mails in "Batch" mode, instead of going there each time your receive one ;-)

Hope it helps

My best
 

Kevint2888

Registered
Separating your computer list into software needed is a great strategy and also one I embrace. You also mention time blocks. For your high priority, deep work where you need 1-3 hours of focused time, it is a good strategy to block that time on your calendar. It is NOT using your calendar as a to-do list; it is simply protecting your time so you can do focused work. I do this routinely because if I do not, meetings magically appear and take away my prime focusing time. You just have to be judicious with this and not get carried away. Many times, I will block time and add a ? to the time block title, which allows me to recognize that I always need to decide in the moment what is still the best use of my time. It may well be that due to new inputs, my world has changed since I added that time block and now there are new things that I must do. My default position, however, is to honor my time blocks as much as possible.

I hope this helps.
Thanks, these are great tips! Do your time blocks always take place at the same location (ie always at the computer)?
 

Kevint2888

Registered
I have found that this is part of the art of GTD. My context lists have, and continue to, evolve based on my situation.

One suggestion I received from coach Meg that really helped me a lot was to create an "Admin" list for administrative actions. Most of these tend to be computer-based and may involve things like data entry, file purging/organizing, HR paperwork, etc. As long as I keep a good operational definition of "admin" tasks in mind, it works really well.

As for software-based sorting, that can be a great option. I would caution about having too many categories though. Look at your list now and see if there's a single category many of the items would fit into. You probably dont want 9 software lists each with 1 item on them.

For example, I have a general @computer list, and another for anything in our electronic medical record. Those two categories plus the Admin list keep my computer work pretty well organized without over-categorizing.

Hope the suggestions help!
Thanks for the feedback. Your note about over categorizing is definitely been a challenge as I’ve been implementing the concepts. The main call out with the context based lists is that most of my work is email based and does not often require additional programs. Which then leads to many tasks falling into @computer. The way I’ve tried to break that down is by time @half hour+ / @quick hits, but it’s imperfect. Any tips?
 

Kevint2888

Registered
Is it possible that some of the high-energy or high-time actions aren't actually actions, but projects?
You’re probably right and will need to review once more. Definitely went into the cleaning of the open loops with a clear distinction between project and next actions but perhaps need to think further.
 

Kevint2888

Registered
^ great point @Gardener. On a second read, it sounds to me like the presenting issue here is perhaps a sub-optimal distinction between next-actions and projects. It's a tough concept for those new to GTD and can take some time to internalize it.

As a clarification, your context lists (@home, @computer, @errands, etc.) should only contain next-actions. e.g. the "immediate next steps" you mentioned.

Projects (anything with more than 1 step) go on an entirely separate list and don't need to be categorized by context.

Example from my current lists:

@computer@Admin
  • @Projects
  • Email Steve about the sleep lab accreditation question
  • Type revisions to Order policy from QA committee feedback
  • Compile mileage report for January 2021
  • Archive old Outlook folders
  • Submit application for Sleep Lab accreditation
  • Finalize Order Policy
  • Submit mileage report
Thanks for the feedback and the example. Question - for the breakdown you’ve provided, how do differentiate between admin and computer? For archiving outlook folders, would that be done at the computer? Or is the idea simply to stay as consistent and maintain some level of flexibility. In other words it’s okay to have some computer items listed elsewhere than @computer?
 

Kevint2888

Registered
This is the perennial gtd question since the rerelease of GTD. I’ve struggled with context based lists in the same way you are. I’ve never really been able to work from a single context. But I have found that contexts are good for indicating what I can’t do or don’t want to do. For example, I do email, comms, and quick filing only at scheduled times during the day so I can disregard those lists at 9am when I want to focus on real work. I can also filter out errands and home tasks at work. Now I have a limited list that i can scan quickly including a long list of non quick computer tasks and office tasks. So in short I find contexts more useful as an exclusionary tool and embrace that I’ll still be scanning a longer list of things and making choices. The myth of gtd is that it will do the work for you on that front which is just not true.
Thanks for the feedback. After reading this last week, actually followed your advice and think it makes more sense now. Question - do you refrain from even looking at those lists in which you know you won’t be able to do given context? For example if you are not near a computer but on your phone, would you simply ignore @computer until you can?
 

Kevint2888

Registered
Something I’ve realized is that the fewer contexts I am actually in, the fewer items should be on next action lists and the more items I should have on my someday/maybe. I think that has served me better than trying to break down tasks into more lists. The way I see it is if I have fewer constraints then my own prioritization will be much more the driving factor in what gets done and I have to be honest about what should really be done now vs in a few weeks or months.
Thanks for the tip. This is hard to do but it makes sense!
 

Kevint2888

Registered
Hi,
- Regarding Energy, I use it to know when I should do it : 80% of the people are more efficient in the morning, as I am, so I tackle high energy next actions in the morning. Find your time.
- As already shared, software is one good place to start, that I use
- For you computer, do you actually have the exact same access from it at work or at home ? or do you have some restrictions at work (some web sites for instance ?) or at home (some work doc you cannot access from home). If that's the case, one idea would be to create @home_computer and @work_computer.
- 15 items in a list is actually not that "big" (but I agree that you should not go beyond), in a few second you should be able to pick the one you think has the "highest" priority (your brain knows what are your priorities). If not, ask yourself if those are really next actions, and not projects ?
- For me, time block is a way to dedicate part(s) of you agenda to specific context. The one I like the most is @Mail -> it's much more productive to tackle your mails in "Batch" mode, instead of going there each time your receive one ;-)

Hope it helps

My best
Thanks for the tip!

Given the work is mostly online, all files can be accessed in either location.
 

Cpu_Modern

Registered
This is the perennial gtd question since the rerelease of GTD.
Yep. At least in the "geekier" circles, remember, GTD is older than the iPhone.

What helped me for a time was division by hardware.

So I had @keyboard, @mousing, @touchscreen. I also experimented with @offline for things that didn't need an internet connection and @mulitmedia-noise for things that I could do very well while listening to music, podcast or watching videos. And also @silence for things that I wanted to do in the silence of the morning (or late evening.)

Another thing that worked well for me was sorting by recency. So, every new NA would be added on top of the list, thus the first tasks tended to be from projects that were "hot", either brand new or I had worked on them recently.

The slower projects would wander to the bottom of the pile in a somewhat organic manner, to be picked up later at slower times.
 
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