Time to give up on GTD? Or is there some way to fix my block?

Lamb918

Registered
This might be more of a long rant and self pity-party :), but I've been struggling with this for a while and would appreciate any thoughts.

I've been trying to implement the system for 10 years now and have never once gotten it to work. I reread the book every few months and think THIS MAKES TOTAL SENSE and think I figured out whatever piece I was missing (oh I just wasn't clear/organized/whatever enough), and I spend hours upon hours getting my system all set up, and then 2-3 weeks later it's all just a mess again. And then I read articles like this one by Cal Newport and I think oh yes of course that's why it doesn't work it's not built for the type of work I do and I need something different. And then I try things like Agile Results or One Thing or whatever systems are more results-focused where you're limiting what you're doing to the most important and focusing a lot of time on that. And that works for a bit but then something is missing and then I come back to GTD and start the whole cycle again.

I've posted about my trouble identifying Next Actions before, but I think that is the main problem I have: both identifying them and then actually using those lists to decide what to work on. I love the idea of coming up with key physical things to move your projects forward and then organizing those on a list and just picking through them. But I have a REALLY hard time figuring out the Next Actions on 80% of my work and personal projects. While the project has a clear outcome (Finish this report, Get up to a certain fluency in Spanish, Redecorate my bedroom), I can rarely come up with a Next Action that makes me feel good about it and feel like it's in the system and I don't have to think about it again. It's like I force it and put SOMETHING down that maybe kind of works, but then I end up ignoring that and doing something completely different because that's what feels good at the time when thinking at the project-level. So for redecorating my bedroom, I might have a next action that's like "research dressers on this list of sites". That's definitely part of the process and in theory a good next action. But when I'm in the mood to do the work I ignore that and instead just lose myself in the process of looking at pinterest and coming up with a mood board and looking at articles on color schemes and a bunch of other stuff that never made it to my list. Which works out fine, because then the project is moved forward, but then I feel like my next actions lists are useless since I end up doing anything other than what's on them. It's like I want the structure but also want freedom, and GTD doesn't allow me both.

The only time Next Actions work for me is when it's super clear and simple. "Look up how to change voter registration address" - done, easy, did it in a few minutes. "Email this person about this thing" - done, easy, clear. But so many of my projects don't have these clear and simple processes. Or maybe they do and my mind just doesn't work like that. I end up working more out of the project level (e.g. Create an Evaluation Plan, ok cool I'll just work on that for an hour and see where I end up), which is kind of anti-GTD I think since you're supposed to think about your projects once a week and have these clear lists of things to work from that will move your projects forward, so I should have had whatever next action identified for Creating that Evaluation Plan. I end up having "work on project x" or "brainstorm ideas for project y" on my next action lists, which isn't clear enough as a next action and I ignore it for the simpler "email this person about this thing" tasks.

Then because I have this block about creating Next Actions I don't process as much as I should. My inboxes build up and I get overwhelmed, and then end up having to spend hours upon hours again getting it all back up to speed. And those hours upon hours I could have spend actually DOING, but somewhere in my mind I feel like I should have the system in place first.

I think where this really hurts me is in my personal projects. I'm great at work and even though I don't have this super organized structured system like GTD in place I get done what I need to get done. But I just got depressed because I was looking through an old Bullet Journal (tried that mess too), and have a lot of the same goals/projects listed now as I did a year and a half ago and I'm in the same place I was with no end in sight. GTD makes so much logical sense to me, but maybe it just doesn't apply to the way I really work and think, and I need more results-focused systems (identifying three outcomes for the year/month/week/day, focusing on only 2-3 projects at a time until they're DONE, structuring/scheduling my days instead of just working off next actions lists when I feel like it).

Am I just driving myself nuts trying to force this system into my life? Am I thinking about it too much? Is there some key thing I'm missing that will fix it all and make it work for me?
 

ivanjay205

Registered
So if I am reading this right I personally believe the part you are struggling with is Projects within GTD. That is where you need to break down something into smaller steps. For example I wanted to build a farmhouse style desk/bookcase for my den. If I put that in as my next action how would I accomplish that? I clearly could not.... So I broke it down:

1. Research pictures of farmhouse tables for inspiration
2. Design the desk in Sketchup.
3. Create Material List.
4. Order Material
5. Pick Up Material
6. Cut and assemble material to form desk
7. Sand all surfaces
8. Stain
9. Seal Desk

Those were all of my steps.... Now did I sit here and go to my computer each time and check it off, eh not so much. I did my drawing and created my material list, went to home depot, started working outside, this morning went in and checked off #1-6 all in one shot. So did I follow it to the T now, but I did most of it and it kept me organized.

The other part that I see you are missing in identifying is each action has to have a method to achieve it. For example if you look at my 9 steps above there is clearly a point in which each one is done. When I get back to my house with my material clearly #5 was complete. And that could only be complete if 1-4 were complete.

Now, the next thing is area of focus. This is the one I struggle with the most. My desk above is in my home maintenance area of focus. That is where I have things like change my A/C filter, build projects for my house, take care of the landscaping, etc. So when I want to focus in on that area filtering in sorts the available next actions for me. Increases productivity tenfold because I dont have 90 actions to choose from

Lastly, what tool are you using? If you struggle I would HIGHLY recommend a very literal tool like FacileThings. It will force you to live in the system the way David Allen wants you too.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
This might be more of a long rant and self pity-party :), but I've been struggling with this for a while and would appreciate any thoughts.

I've been trying to implement the system for 10 years now and have never once gotten it to work. I reread the book every few months and think THIS MAKES TOTAL SENSE and think I figured out whatever piece I was missing (oh I just wasn't clear/organized/whatever enough), and I spend hours upon hours getting my system all set up, and then 2-3 weeks later it's all just a mess again. And then I read articles like this one by Cal Newport and I think oh yes of course that's why it doesn't work it's not built for the type of work I do and I need something different. And then I try things like Agile Results or One Thing or whatever systems are more results-focused where you're limiting what you're doing to the most important and focusing a lot of time on that. And that works for a bit but then something is missing and then I come back to GTD and start the whole cycle again.

I've posted about my trouble identifying Next Actions before, but I think that is the main problem I have: both identifying them and then actually using those lists to decide what to work on. I love the idea of coming up with key physical things to move your projects forward and then organizing those on a list and just picking through them. But I have a REALLY hard time figuring out the Next Actions on 80% of my work and personal projects. While the project has a clear outcome (Finish this report, Get up to a certain fluency in Spanish, Redecorate my bedroom), I can rarely come up with a Next Action that makes me feel good about it and feel like it's in the system and I don't have to think about it again. It's like I force it and put SOMETHING down that maybe kind of works, but then I end up ignoring that and doing something completely different because that's what feels good at the time when thinking at the project-level. So for redecorating my bedroom, I might have a next action that's like "research dressers on this list of sites". That's definitely part of the process and in theory a good next action. But when I'm in the mood to do the work I ignore that and instead just lose myself in the process of looking at pinterest and coming up with a mood board and looking at articles on color schemes and a bunch of other stuff that never made it to my list. Which works out fine, because then the project is moved forward, but then I feel like my next actions lists are useless since I end up doing anything other than what's on them. It's like I want the structure but also want freedom, and GTD doesn't allow me both.

The only time Next Actions work for me is when it's super clear and simple. "Look up how to change voter registration address" - done, easy, did it in a few minutes. "Email this person about this thing" - done, easy, clear. But so many of my projects don't have these clear and simple processes. Or maybe they do and my mind just doesn't work like that. I end up working more out of the project level (e.g. Create an Evaluation Plan, ok cool I'll just work on that for an hour and see where I end up), which is kind of anti-GTD I think since you're supposed to think about your projects once a week and have these clear lists of things to work from that will move your projects forward, so I should have had whatever next action identified for Creating that Evaluation Plan. I end up having "work on project x" or "brainstorm ideas for project y" on my next action lists, which isn't clear enough as a next action and I ignore it for the simpler "email this person about this thing" tasks.

Then because I have this block about creating Next Actions I don't process as much as I should. My inboxes build up and I get overwhelmed, and then end up having to spend hours upon hours again getting it all back up to speed. And those hours upon hours I could have spend actually DOING, but somewhere in my mind I feel like I should have the system in place first.

I think where this really hurts me is in my personal projects. I'm great at work and even though I don't have this super organized structured system like GTD in place I get done what I need to get done. But I just got depressed because I was looking through an old Bullet Journal (tried that mess too), and have a lot of the same goals/projects listed now as I did a year and a half ago and I'm in the same place I was with no end in sight. GTD makes so much logical sense to me, but maybe it just doesn't apply to the way I really work and think, and I need more results-focused systems (identifying three outcomes for the year/month/week/day, focusing on only 2-3 projects at a time until they're DONE, structuring/scheduling my days instead of just working off next actions lists when I feel like it).

Am I just driving myself nuts trying to force this system into my life? Am I thinking about it too much? Is there some key thing I'm missing that will fix it all and make it work for me?
Feel free to send me a message and we can connect outside of the forum. I may be able to help.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
I think you shouldn‘t be so hard on yourself. Typically people need and want less structure in their personal lives than at work. I found it much easier to get work under control than personal, in part because of that. There is nothing wrong with project-based work either. A next action for a project can be thought of as a kind of bookmark. It’s your past self telling your current self where then-you thought was a good place to start. Now-you is free to say “What was I thinking?” and proceed on. When you stop working on the project, you leave a next action or two you hope will be helpful to your future self in re-starting.

Wanting a “perfect system” is understandable. But the work of GTD is not really in the system, but in ourselves. The key is to aim for better, not for a non-existent “best”.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
I think you shouldn‘t be so hard on yourself. Typically people need and want less structure in their personal lives than at work. I found it much easier to get work under control than personal, in part because of that. There is nothing wrong with project-based work either. A next action for a project can be thought of as a kind of bookmark. It’s your past self telling your current self where then-you thought was a good place to start. Now-you is free to say “What was I thinking?” and proceed on. When you stop working on the project, you leave a next action or two you hope will be helpful to your future self in re-starting.

Wanting a “perfect system” is understandable. But the work of GTD is not really in the system, but in ourselves. The key is to aim for better, not for a non-existent “best”.
My dear colleague...this is very good! Cheers! :)
 

cfoley

Registered
I noticed a couple of things that might help.

I end up working more out of the project level (e.g. Create an Evaluation Plan, ok cool I'll just work on that for an hour and see where I end up), which is kind of anti-GTD I think since you're supposed to think about your projects once a week and have these clear lists of things to work from that will move your projects forward
I understand this differently. The projects are the change we want to see in the world. The single next action per project is just a bookmark. If I do the next action for a project, I can keep doing actions until I want to stop, at which point I'll put the new bookmark/next action on my list. Of course, if I'm working on a project and the next action is in a different context then I can either change context or pick a different action in the context I am already in.

Then because I have this block about creating Next Actions I don't process as much as I should. My inboxes build up and I get overwhelmed, and then end up having to spend hours upon hours again getting it all back up to speed.
I feel your pain here. I have also suffered from ever growing action and project lists. I'm experimenting with changing my processing default. I used to default to adding projects and actions to my current lists but I am trying out defaulting to putting things in Someday/Maybe. Think "Hell yeah! or No." Maybe this will even make processing fun.

 

Hammer

Registered
I think you shouldn‘t be so hard on yourself. Typically people need and want less structure in their personal lives than at work. I found it much easier to get work under control than personal, in part because of that. There is nothing wrong with project-based work either. A next action for a project can be thought of as a kind of bookmark. It’s your past self telling your current self where then-you thought was a good place to start. Now-you is free to say “What was I thinking?” and proceed on. When you stop working on the project, you leave a next action or two you hope will be helpful to your future self in re-starting.

Wanting a “perfect system” is understandable. But the work of GTD is not really in the system, but in ourselves. The key is to aim for better, not for a non-existent “best”.

I love this: A next action for a project can be thought of as a kind of bookmark. It’s your past self telling your current self where then-you thought was a good place to start.
 

Gardener

Registered
Re: "It's like I want the structure but also want freedom, and GTD doesn't allow me both."

Well, it could. There's nothing in GTD that forbids you to have a next action like, "Spend an evening roaming around the web with the bedroom in mind."

Re: "which is kind of anti-GTD I think since you're supposed to think about your projects once a week and have these clear lists of things to work from that will move your projects forward"

That's not my understanding. It's AT LEAST once a week so that if you've forgotten to add an action to a project, that project doesn't vanish forever. But you're not required to pre-load a week's worth of actions for a project, and you're not forbidden to think about a project in the middle of the week.

Personally, I specifically avoid pre-loading actions; my ideal is one and only one action per project. That's just me.

Re: "and then end up having to spend hours upon hours again getting it all back up to speed"

This suggests to me, among other things, that you may have too many projects going on simultaneously. There's nothing about GTD that stops you from, as you say, 'focusing on only 2-3 projects at a time until they're DONE". You can put the rest into Someday/Maybe.
 

Cpu_Modern

Registered
There's nothing about GTD that stops you from, as you say, 'focusing on only 2-3 projects at a time until they're DONE".
David Allen himself worked at least for a while with a shortlist "main attention" and "this week." There's more you could add. Put those in your Tickler on "daily repeat" until you want to stop.
 

OF user

Registered
I am assuming you used something before GTD. Todo list or Covey or ?? Were you successful or at lease content with any of those systems? Secondly, why do you persist with GTD? I find that you may want to at least use the GTD phases of workflow that work and just modify the rest or don't use them. It seems from your post that you understand the system, it just is that certain aspects not working for you. So capture a project and don't list the next action. Just work on it. If you feel you can do it that way fine, as long as you track it and review your progress on the project periodically. At some point, you may just have an aha moment and what evaded your understanding before just suddenly makes sense, or you never get it but your new system works.
 

JenniferOrigami

Content Creator, Origami Twist YouTube Channel
My favourite GTD tool for finding clarity for naming Next Actions is the Natural Planning Model. I use it in a formal format for large, complicated projects, but I also use it every day in an informal format for small projects & sometimes even on one of items (I've even gone through it on a post-it note before).

As you said, Next Actions are not always readily apparent. When they aren't obvious to me I immediately know I need to further clarify the project.

If I don't know what to do next, and I know it's going to take more than the two minute rule to go through the NPM, then I list it as a Next Action.

As in, I literally write "put redecorate bedroom idea through the NPM" on my list.

Inevitably, whether I do it in the moment or later, once I've moved through the first four steps of the NPM, I not only end up with a tonne of Next Actions, I also find a deeper clarity in regard to where I'm going with a project.

I know you already know this because you've read the book so many times, but here's the short version of the NPM, for reference:

Purpose (What's the purpose for doing this?)
Vision (What will done look like?)
Brainstorming (Loose, informal ideas for getting to done)
Organise (Aggregate the data from Brainstorming with the Purpose and Vision in mind)
Next Action (Given the above info, what is the very next thing that we have to action on this to move it forward?)

I hope this is helpful! Best wishes with the process!
 

Oogiem

Registered
Love the username BTW. Just for grins I looked up our lamb number 918, She was Desert Weyr Eva born in 2006.


I love the idea of coming up with key physical things to move your projects forward and then organizing those on a list and just picking through them. But I have a REALLY hard time figuring out the Next Actions on 80% of my work and personal projects.
Practice, Practice, Practice I think it took me a good year or more of consistent weekly reviews and working with GTD daily before I got the hang of making properly worded next actions. Even now I STILL have ones that are lurking projects and sit on my lists with no progress until I find and fix the block.

If you could give us an example of a project that you are having particular problems with that might help.

o for redecorating my bedroom, I might have a next action that's like "research dressers on this list of sites". That's definitely part of the process and in theory a good next action. But when I'm in the mood to do the work I ignore that and instead just lose myself in the process of looking at pinterest and coming up with a mood board and looking at articles on color schemes and a bunch of other stuff that never made it to my list. Which works out fine, because then the project is moved forward, but then I feel like my next actions lists are useless
Next actions are bookmarks not gospel. If you end up doing something totally different but it moves the project forward that's fine. When you stop working on it then set a bookmark next action to continue with. Some oeopel work much better that way. I tend to be more granular in my next actions and have to confess that often when I go off in a different area while working on a project I will go ahead and add those actions to the project just so I can check them off. Just because I didn't think of them first doesn't mean I need to deprive myself of the pleasure I get from checking an item off my lists. For me I think that is one reason I have so many projects because EVERYTHING I do that takes more than one step is a project. I don't like using subprojects. I like a flat project structure even if means I have way more projects than many people.

want the structure but also want freedom, and GTD doesn't allow me both.
Why do you think that? GTD to me provides the most freedom. The structure is there to guide you and allow you the freedom to ignore parts when it makes sense.

Here's an example: I have a bunch of recurring monthly projects for things like doing the financial reports for the 2 organizations where I am the treasurer and keeping up with balancing the checkbooks etc. With the entire COVID-19 thing I made the decision that none of those are really that important. I know that at year end it will take a much longer time to get the books ready but I'm willing to trade that off in favor of having more time now to do things that are if more immediate concern.

As David Allen says and I'm paraphrasing here, "GTD allows you to know what you aren't doing so that you are free to enjoy and be present for what you are doing."

A structured list of possibilities frees you up to make decisions that make sense on the fly. it give you the freedom to work on what's important not just what's urgent or easy.

I end up working more out of the project level (e.g. Create an Evaluation Plan, ok cool I'll just work on that for an hour and see where I end up), which is kind of anti-GTD I think since you're supposed to think about your projects once a week and have these clear lists of things to work from that will move your projects forward
umm, not really. You need to think about and look at projects AT LEAST once a week but perhaps more often. And clear lists will vary from person to person. I do a quick review every morning of my current context lists to see my current next actions. I did a weekly review last Friday where I looked at every current project and made some changes, moved some back into someday/maybe and so on. By Saturday morning I thought I was ready for the coming week. But stuff happened yesterday and so guess what, I've already scheduled about an hour today to do another review as I know that a lot of the projects and things I planned to work on are no longer relevant. I've got some major new ones to add and deal with. That's ok, The GTD system and structure means I won't lose track of the projects I am now putting on hold and when the time is right, I can pick them up again. I

I think where this really hurts me is in my personal projects. I'm great at work and even though I don't have this super organized structured system like GTD in place I get done what I need to get done. But I just got depressed because I was looking through an old Bullet Journal (tried that mess too), and have a lot of the same goals/projects listed now as I did a year and a half ago and I'm in the same place I was with no end in sight. GTD makes so much logical sense to me, but maybe it just doesn't apply to the way I really work and think, and I need more results-focused systems (identifying three outcomes for the year/month/week/day, focusing on only 2-3 projects at a time until they're DONE, structuring/scheduling my days instead of just working off next actions lists when I feel like it).
What you describe seems EXACTLY like what GTD is great at. So pick the 2-3 projects you want to focus on for your personal life and really use the natural planning model on them. I mean take enough time to really sit down and figure it all out in a detailed way. Pick something simple and easy, that you don't think is really a project or doesn't need that tool just to practice with something you already know how to do. Then look at the old bullet journal or other places you've stashed things you want to do or become and pick the 1 or 2 that resonate with you at this time. Run them through the Natural Planning Model process and see where you are at. And stash the rest of them is some sort of trusted someday/maybe list for later.

As @mcogilvie said
Wanting a “perfect system” is understandable. But the work of GTD is not really in the system, but in ourselves. The key is to aim for better, not for a non-existent “best”.
Strive for functional not perfect.

It might also help to know what you are using as the tools for your system. What task manager, what inboxes, what someday/maybe lists and how your referecne is structured. Sometimes changes int eh tools or structure are what leads to a breakthrough in the process. If the tools can't support what you are doing you will struggle with implementation. It's like trying to cook an omelette in a saucepan. Yes it's a pan and will work but it's a whole lot harder than the process needs to be compared to using a skillet.
 

Gardener

Registered
It's like I want the structure but also want freedom, and GTD doesn't allow me both.
It sounds like you may be assuming:

- That you're required to plan all your work for the week, down to all the actions, during the weekly review.
- That actions have to be very specific.
- That you're not supposed to deviate from those actions.
- That you're not supposed to add new actions until the next weekly review.
- That you're supposed to have all of your efforts active at once.

I don't think any of those things are required. As I understand it, even strict adherance to GTD just requires:

- That you make sure that you have at least one action for each active project, during your weekly review.
- The actions shouldn't be project-size, but as long as you understand what you've told yourself to do and you can proceed to do it, I think flexibility is fine. If you look at the action and say, "Uh...fine, but where do I start that?" then the action is likely too big.
- You can totally say, "Nah," to an action, delete it, and create a different one.
- You almost certainly will add new actions during the week, as you check off old ones.
- You can put a whole lot of your projects into Someday/Maybe so they're not in your face, EVEN IF you firmly intend to do that thing when you can clear your plate enough to support it. This last one is, I think, the closest to controversial.
 

Lamb918

Registered
Thank you all for your replies!! This has been a crazy week and a bit mentally draining so I'm only now going through your helpful responses so I can answer and provide more info.

Overall I think I have 3 main problems:
1. I might be thinking of higher-level stuff as "projects", whereas GTD defines a project as something with a clear outcome that will be done in 12 months. The things on my project list might be more Areas of Focus or other upper horizon-y things, and don't have clear immediate outcomes that would make creating Next Actions easier. I definitely need to use the Natural Planning Model more often to clarify those things.
2. The way I was organizing my Next Actions by context wasn't working for me and I need to play around with that more. This past weekend I restructured my NA lists to change it from typical contexts (computer, home, phone, etc) to project/focus area contexts. It's not perfect yet but seems to be working for me since I like working out of projects more than looking at a huge set of next actions on a context list, especially since 99% of my stuff is @computer. (I've also tried mood-type contexts which weren't clear enough for me)
3. I need to build the habit of updating my NA lists more frequently. I think I started to ignore them too quickly and then they became not current enough and took a lot of time/energy to bring back to current, so I didn't fully trust the lists. Partly this is because I didn't always have great next actions and need to practice that skill more, and partly because when I did have next actions written that didn't end up being the thing I actually did I wouldn't go back in right away to adjust and would leave it to my "weekly reviews" (putting that in quotes since I got too overwhelmed to do reviews most of the time).

I still don't love what ends up being Next Actions for a lot of my stuff (Spend time on this thing; Brainstorm that thing) but it doesn't sound like there's a good alternative.

Oh and I need to use Someday/Maybe more. My lack of reviews made that less attractive to me because I was scared I'd forget something since I wasn't looking at those lists often enough.

Hopefully I do this right...

So if I am reading this right I personally believe the part you are struggling with is Projects within GTD
I think you may be right that this is a part of the problem in two interconnected ways: 1) I definitely have different levels of what I'm calling "projects" that might actually be too big/broad, or might even just be areas of focus. My "Decorate home" project will take several years and I'm realizing the best way to tackle it would be to break it down into sub-projects that can be done within the year. and 2) Because I might be focusing on these big nebulous longer-term things I'm telling myself it's hard to break down the tasks in such an organized way, but really I probably just need to chunk out actual GTD projects that have specific outcomes and will contribute to the higher-level longer-term stuff that's now on my lists.

Lastly, what tool are you using? If you struggle I would HIGHLY recommend a very literal tool like FacileThings. It will force you to live in the system the way David Allen wants you too.
Right now I'm using Todoist and I'm comfortable with it overall, and hesitant to change and learn a whole new thing since I know it's probably my processes that aren't working and not necessarily the tool itself. I just changed up the structure of my ToDoist to basically use my projects as contexts, which is actually working a bit better, still trying to figure out how to deal with smaller projects or tasks so it's not super cluttered. But I will definitely check out Facile Things!

When you stop working on the project, you leave a next action or two you hope will be helpful to your future self in re-starting.

Wanting a “perfect system” is understandable. But the work of GTD is not really in the system, but in ourselves. The key is to aim for better, not for a non-existent “best”.
I do have some perfectionist tendencies and I'm impatient, so this is definitely a problem :). I think I also need to get better at the habit of leaving the next action or two when I finish working on something, I feel like I just walk away when I'm over it and then it takes more time/energy to figure out where I left off.

trying out defaulting to putting things in Someday/Maybe. Think "Hell yeah! or No." Maybe this will even make processing fun.
I have been bad at using my Someday/Maybe as much as I should, partially because I have a lot of "would be nice" projects that I feel like I could pick up at any time, like personal learning or leisurely stuff.

This suggests to me, among other things, that you may have too many projects going on simultaneously. There's nothing about GTD that stops you from, as you say, 'focusing on only 2-3 projects at a time until they're DONE". You can put the rest into Someday/Maybe.
I do have to get better at using Someday/Maybe. I just want to do ALL THE THINGS :).

I am assuming you used something before GTD. Todo list or Covey or ?? Were you successful or at lease content with any of those systems? Secondly, why do you persist with GTD? I find that you may want to at least use the GTD phases of workflow that work and just modify the rest or don't use them. It seems from your post that you understand the system, it just is that certain aspects not working for you. So capture a project and don't list the next action. Just work on it. If you feel you can do it that way fine, as long as you track it and review your progress on the project periodically. At some point, you may just have an aha moment and what evaded your understanding before just suddenly makes sense, or you never get it but your new system works.
I like this idea, and I did reshuffle my system a bit over the weekend to try something a little different that I think is working a bit better. Waiting for the aha moment!

My favourite GTD tool for finding clarity for naming Next Actions is the Natural Planning Model. I use it in a formal format for large, complicated projects, but I also use it every day in an informal format for small projects & sometimes even on one of items (I've even gone through it on a post-it note before).

As you said, Next Actions are not always readily apparent. When they aren't obvious to me I immediately know I need to further clarify the project.

If I don't know what to do next, and I know it's going to take more than the two minute rule to go through the NPM, then I list it as a Next Action.

As in, I literally write "put redecorate bedroom idea through the NPM" on my list.
I DEFINITELY need to use the NPM to clarify my projects more, I think I've been focused on the Next Actions and believing that's my problem but really I'm realizing I have a lot of projects that don't have clear outcomes yet and maybe I need to break those down into smaller chunks. Thanks for the reminder!

Love the username BTW. Just for grins I looked up our lamb number 918, She was Desert Weyr Eva born in 2006.
I just had to laugh at this, I love that there's a lamb #918 out there!

I do get that the Next Actions should just be a bookmark and I'm not bound to it, I think my problem is when I have so many Next Actions on my list that end up not being the thing I end up doing I start ignoring those lists and not keeping them updated. Clearly I need practice on identifying the right Next Actions, or clarifying my project outcomes.
 

Gardener

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(Why isn't quoting working for me?)

Re: "My "Decorate home" project will take several years and I'm realizing the best way to tackle it would be to break it down into sub-projects that can be done within the year."

Yep. Actually, I go much smaller--I like sub-projects that can be done within the month. So instead of "Decorate home" I would have a project "Acquire pillow shams for guest room." (For me, the term "acquire" includes the whole research, choice, and purchase process.) I'd have one or two other Decorate Home projects, and then I might have a Home Decoration Ideas list, so that I can write down my ideas without being afraid I'll lose them, but also without having a million projects clogging up my lists.

Re: "I think my problem is when I have so many Next Actions on my list that end up not being the thing I end up doing I start ignoring those lists and not keeping them updated."

I found that if I had more than one or two actions for a project, the odds were well over 50/50 that I would just have to delete or change those actions later. So now I have one or two, and, as above, I may have an Ideas list or a Thoughts list for the project or area of focus.
 

gtdstudente

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Lamb918, I totally appreciate you "frustration" from last May 2020 and agree very much Oogiem. Hopefully you are still on the GTD journey. On this end, two important factors have helped me very much. 1. More EMPTY the better: Head, Inboxes, Sink-Strainer, Car-Trunk etc. 2. Making the External System's Weekly-Review easy as possible from every conceivable angle. The Weekly-Review truly is the "life-blood" of GTD methodology; Clean-Up, Clear-Up for peaceful Creativity. While there is much, much more to be said . . . hopefully this helps. Ps. I would humbly suggest that clutter, mentally and externally, is enemy #1 to the GTD methodology.
 
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PeterByrom

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Speaking as a recovering perfectionist myself (and I use those words deliberately), it’s time to give yourself a break from saying “I need to get better at” and “I’m really bad at”. Reading your posts, I lost count of the number of times you used those phrases!

Give yourself permission to have some messy learning as you try out GTD. You are not your system and you don’t sink or swim with it! :)
 

Inhuman Artist

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As a complete newbie to all things GTD, I have just finished the book and its daunting to plan getting the system into my life. The thing I dont want to do is over complicate things early on. Maybe treat the whole thing like you have just started and do what you can and work the rest out as you go.
 
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