Using the Calendar for important, but not time dependent items.

Discussion in 'PUBLIC: Discuss the GTD Methodology' started by Jmeyer, Apr 24, 2016.

  1. Jmeyer

    Jmeyer Registered

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    I know that GTD advocates only using the calendar for things that are day and/or specific. But, how do I handle things that are important, but not day/time dependent? If I don't block out specific calendar time for these types of items, other things seem to fill in my available time, and I never get to them. Any suggestions for handling these types of items? I realize I could put them on a next actions list, but if my calendar continues to fill up with other items, when do I find the time to work on these high value items?
     
  2. Folke

    Folke Registered

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    That's my understanding, too, and it is actually one of the things that attracted me most about GTD, but it might surprise you to learn how many people there are around here who understood it the other way around, and they've even got quotes by DA supporting that view. (But I still don't do that myself)

    Are those other things truly date-specific? E.g. meetings all day long for weeks on end? If so, maybe blocking out time on your calendar is your only choice.

    I keep them as regular next actions, but I color code them in three levels depending on the review frequency I deem appropriate. The really important and urgent ones I assign to the highest bracket, with gives them a red marker, which means I review them every time I even look at my next actions list. (The medium level is to review at least daily,; the third level is to review at least weekly. In addition, I also review them whenever I look at a particular context or project.)
     
  3. Longstreet

    Longstreet Registered

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    David Allen does in fact supports blocking time on your calendar. In a recent interview on a Dutch talk show, he clearly stated that actions that take a hour or more SHOULD be on the calendar. I can provide the link to this interview if you wish.
     
  4. Alex

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    If the talk show is in English language, yes, please. And do you have a page reference about blocking time on the calendar in the new GTD 2015 edition? Thank you.
     
  5. Longstreet

    Longstreet Registered

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    Yes, it is in English. It is a 2-hour interview and the discussion about 1 hour next actions being on the calendar is towards the end. I will find the time and indicate that for you. I don't think he stated this in the 2015 edition of GTD. But he has made these statements in GTD Connect and other interviews. If you need to block project time, area of focus time, or time for specific, major next actions on your calendar, then by all means do so! I do this avidly as I must ensure I protect my time and get the important things done. Trust me...you can do this and still be doing GTD. Don't let anyone tell you differently.
     
  6. TesTeq

    TesTeq Registered

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    Forum quotes from David Allen:

    In reading through all the posts, I have to say that I agree with most everyone here--especially when it comes to: whatever really works for you. GTD is really about doing whatever you need to do, to maximize your ability to be present with whatever you're doing and prevent your attention from being hijacked by something you can't do anything about at the moment. If time-blocking quiets your mind, do it. If time-blocking creates a distraction because you don't trust that you'll hold to it, don't do it. Sorry if I disappoint by not providing more detail...but frankly, I don't have any more detail than that, as advice. Well, just one more thing: try it, and if it works, keep using it. If it doesn't, cool, now you have more experience and perspective about how you work. - David Allen, 2014-09-01, 10:32

    Hey folks, if you've ever committed to a meeting on your calendar, you've already acknowledged the value of a time block for some resulting outcome. Time-blocking with yourself is simply recognizing that you have an inner committee that needs corralling, in the same way, for the same kind of outcome. Block away! - David Allen, 2016-02-05, 11:44

     
  7. Longstreet

    Longstreet Registered

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  8. GTD-Sweden

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    Wow - 2+ hours interview with David in person.. Thanks for the tip, Longsteet!
     
  9. PTKen

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    I have just watched this segment. First of all thank you for posting the link. Great stuff. I plan to watch the full interview later (it's two hours, so I guess I should block it out on my calendar! :) )

    All kidding aside, here is my interpretation of what David Allen said:

    I believe a good approach would be a combination of what Folke states — keeping the calendar sacred for date/time specific items such as meetings, appointments, etc. combined with a review frequency status indicator — and making commitments with yourself on the calendar for long tasks (greater than one hour). You could basically keep these tasks on your next actions list with the appropriate status indicator, but not on the calendar, until you decide it's time to move on that task/project. At that time (probably during a weekly review), you can then block out the time on the calendar because you have already decided it is now something that you will work on and that you want to move forward.

    I don't see any value in putting a task that takes longer than one hour on the calendar to make sure it moves forward just because it's a long task. I also must decide that this task is now important enough, given my other priorities, that I want to commit to doing it now instead of later. Only then will I block out time on my calendar for it.

    This is not something I have been doing but I see the value in giving it a try. I usually try to break down my long tasks into the shortest possible block of time needed to make progress on it (so I don't normally complete the task right away), but I think scheduling a longer block of time with myself could be very useful.
     
  10. Oogiem

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    Why don't you consider appointments to be ones with yourself? I have in the past blocked out time for my weekly review to keep from being booked into a meeting. Just because it's an appointment with myself doesn't make it any less sacred. Still allows blocking time as required but also holds to only the day specific stuff. Just that I've made a conscious decision that I am making an appointment with myself for some specific purpose.
     
  11. Gardener

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    I see a variety of possible strategies:

    - Making appointments with yourself, as discussed, for specific tasks.

    - Similar but not identical: Making BIG repeating appointments with yourself for work on focused tasks. For example, Monday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons are blocked off for Big Tasks Requiring Focus, and you maintain a list of Big Tasks Requiring Focus. You refuse to allow interruptions or other types of tasks during that time.

    - Shrinking the size of your lists overall, so that the big tasks are less likely to get lost in the weeds. This might include keeping the Big Tasks Requiring Focus list very, very short, and not allowing a new one on the list until an old one is done.

    No doubt there are many other possible strategies.
     
  12. TesTeq

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    I was recently thinking about time blocking and GTD. And I've encountered a slightly disturbing question:

    How do we appear in our @contexts?

    If you have a top priority Project you switch contexts to get this Project done. If your top priority Project is to build a fence and you run out of nails you switch context from @home to @errands, go to the nearest hardware shop and buy nails to keep the Project going.

    But when you are not in the top priority Project mode...

    Aren't our @contexts a form of time-blocking?

    Isn't there a time structure over the whole GTD execution engine?

    For example:
    06:00 - 07:00 @home_ (I have to add these underscores because of this stupid forum software)
    07:00 - 08:00 @car_
    08:00 - 12:00 @work_
    12:00 - 13:00 @lunch_
    13:00 - 17:00 @work_
    17:00 - 18:30 @errands_
    18:30 - 19:30 @gym_
    19:30 - 23:00 @home_
     
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  13. PTKen

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    I do this as well. I have one hour per week (Friday from 4-5 PM) marked on my calendar for my weekly review.

    This is where I see the danger. I don't want to block time for tasks just because they will take a long time. What if that block of time comes and I see on my list that I really do have 7 smaller tasks that are all much more important than any of my large tasks? Do I keep the appointment just because it's on my calendar and I decided to not break that commitment? If so, then I am not properly engaged.

    Let's say I need to fill out and file my taxes. This will certainly take longer than an hour, has a hard deadline, and I have no problem putting it on the calendar. But I won't do that until the weekly review where I decide "It's now mid-March and I need to do this in case something unexpected crops up. I'll put it on my calendar for this week." Now I have a commitment that is truly a current priority and needs to be kept.

    What Oogiem suggested,
    I totally agree with. I just don't want to make an appointment with myself for some specific task simply because it will take a long time. I have to choose that it is also a priority first. So a combination of Folke's method and blocking time on the calendar once you have selected to do something sounds like a good plan to me.
     
  14. Gardener

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    Yep. I think that's why I prefer the idea of regularly blocking off a Big Tasks Requiring Focus time block, rather than making appointments for specific tasks. For me, it seems to fit more neatly into the GTD structure.

    I say "for me"--if I were, as discussed in other threads about this timeblocking concept, a musician for whom regular practice is absolutely mandatory (perhaps more mandatory than breaking for lunch), then I would certainly schedule an appointment with myself for that. The same if I were a full-time small grower and getting out there and hoeing for two hours three times a week were essential to keep the whole operation from falling apart.

    I think that there's a bit of a spectrum here. There are tasks that are not time-dependent in the sense that if you're fifteen minutes late, you're doomed. but there are some that can't be more than an hour or so late. (Feeding the kids.) Or more than a day or two late. (Practicing music or weeding the garden.) Or more than a week or two late. (Planting the long-season squash in a short-season climate.) There are a huge number of permutations of task types and personality types, so there are a lot of different ways to manage them.
     
  15. PTKen

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    Well said.
     
  16. Gardener

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    PTKen said:

    "This is where I see the danger. I don't want to block time for tasks just because they will take a long time. What if that block of time comes and I see on my list that I really do have 7 smaller tasks that are all much more important than any of my large tasks? Do I keep the appointment just because it's on my calendar and I decided to not break that commitment? If so, then I am not properly engaged."

    (Why isn't normal quoting working for me?)

    I'm not suggesting that you do this just because a task will take a long time. And I'm not suggesting that you're never allowed to break that appointment. I'm suggesting that if you find that you're not getting to important big tasks--which was the problem as presented--then you may need your system to reflect the fact that these tasks are important, even if they're not urgent.

    Your system probably reflects all sorts of things that are important but not urgent. It's not urgent to eat THIS lunch--you could skip a lunch for an urgent task. It's not urgent to get THIS night's sleep--you could pull an all-nighter for an urgent task. It's not urgent to go home and have THIS dinner with the kids--the kids will survive without you for one dinner, if you have an urgent task.

    But you recognize that it's essential that you USUALLY eat and sleep and see the kids. So you (probably) have a discipline that skipping those things requires a high level of urgency. If you do an evaluation for each and every occasion, then pretty nearly every time there will probably be something more urgent than the eating/sleeping/family time. So a case-by-case evaluation isn't going to work.

    I'm saying the same thing for these big tasks. If you do an evaluation every single time that you sit down to work on big tasks, then odds are that THIS work session is less urgent than your most urgent other task. But if you evaluate (1) not doing the urgent task now versus (2) NEVER getting that big task done, which one is more important? If the big task is more important in the long run, then you must frequently treat it as if it's more important in the short run.
     
  17. jenkins

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    I think this is one of those situations where you can "break" the rules only after you know them. I think the reason for keeping your calendar "sacred" is the same reason you don't put errands on your @Calls list. Doing so would undermine the effectiveness of both lists because your brain knows something is amiss and expends energy inefficiently trying to make sense of everything. In other words, it becomes "stuff" again, in David Allen's terms. So too with the calendar. If you can't look at your calendar and know what's "happening," you spend a lot of energy trying to make sense of the mess, figuring out what's important, what's not, and so you stop trusting and using your calendar because it just stresses you out.

    So that's the reason to only put things on the calendar that belong on the calendar. And it's the reason to only put things in your kitchen drawer that belong in your kitchen drawer, and to put socks where socks go, and to put batteries where batteries go. David Allen says it is so gratifying to have everything in its place not only because we get our psychological and physical arms around the problem, "but because there is nothing of that nature lurking anywhere else" (Making It All Work, p. 201).

    I believe this outcome is attainable while still blocking time on your calendar. The rule to me for what goes on your calendar is not what but rather of what nature? So long as your calendar is for the kinds of things you commit to do at a certain time/place, there's no reason you can't have an appointment with yourself. The problem is when people don't treat it that way. I guess we don't respect ourselves as much as we do our colleagues. That's a problem of self-management and integrity in my view, it's not fatal to the calendar in and of itself.

    I think a sophisticated person finds a way to block off time for important but not urgent tasks. I learned that from Stephen Covey. It doesn't have to be on the calendar and it doesn't have to be time-specific, but it could be, and it actually might be highly beneficial. Me personally? Lately I've been keeping a list on a small piece of paper with each day of the week and 1-2 important goals for that day. I schedule all my meetings after 1pm and try not to look at email until after that time, so I keep my mornings protected for my most important work.

    My point is this: It is useful to set aside time to work on important things and let the little stuff fill in the negative space (the opposite of how we usually try to get things done). This could be accomplished a number of ways, but I don't think it's anti-GTD to use your calendar so long as you understand what goes on the calendar and what doesn't.

    (Side note just so I don't make any assumptions: Blocking time on the calendar isn't an alternative to parking those reminders on your Next Actions lists. At least not how I've come to understand things. The appointment isn't the "Next Action," it's a period of time in which you will DO the next action. Also, if you didn't have these things on your lists, where would you pull these important but not urgent tasks from?")
     
  18. PTKen

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    Okay, then I totally agree with you. This was not my understanding of your post when I first read it. I agree that if you have big, important tasks/projects that you find you are not getting to, then it is wise to block these on your calendar.

    I thought you were suggesting to block time for large tasks, then when you get there look at your list of large tasks and pick one to work on. If I have large tasks but they are not urgent or as important as the multitude of small tasks, then I don't see this as working. But given that you were thinking of important tasks that have been getting overlooked because they will take a long time, then this totally makes sense.

    In any case, I was suggesting one of many possible approaches to this that I will try for myself. I do not currently block time on my calendar for large tasks other than the weekly review. I see that a sacred calendar event that I must do once a week at a specific time (I prefer on Friday afternoon at the end of the week so I can go into my weekend and new week with a clear mind). I try to never miss a review, but of course if it is inevitable, I must reschedule it.

    For large tasks, as I suggested, I try to break these down into the smallest possible chunk so that I can move them forward, so if I have a task that will take 6 hours, for example, I might be able to work on it for 30 minutes at a time and chip away at it. Using the "building a fence" example, that approach would not work. Something like this I can definitely see going on a calendar. It almost has to.
     
  19. Longstreet

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    Great discussion with nice ideas all the way around!
     
  20. Folke

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    I believe we all do quite a bit of time blocking without necessarily putting it on the calendar. For example, as TesTeq points out, a normal working day may have a sequence of contexts, e.g home-car-work etc. Even areas may imply a kind of time-blocking that is not written down in the calendar, e.g work 9-5 Mon-Fri etc. Some of us use various trcks such as avoiding to make appointments before lunch - a form of undocumented time-blocking - whereas others instead make explicit time blocks for "solo time ", "focus time", "admin time" etc on their calendars. To be extra "safe" I try to avoid overbooking my calendar - I feel uneasy if it is more than 50% booked ( I see that as a warning signal).

    One of the things I like most about GTD is the gut-based decisions in the moment about what to do now. That is how I like it - mind like water, always ready, not tied down. I like to record in advance whatever details will be useful for me in making wise such gut decisions in the moment (e.g. context, review frequency, project), but I do not make the decision as such in advance. I avoid making calendar appointments with myself unless I absolutely have to (e.g. if the project truly requires very accurate timing between some of its steps).

    And I agree with PTKen that I absolutely would not put any task on the calendar solely because it is long.

    I do however agree and understand that certain types of projects (e.g. in gardening, farming, research, market communication and many other fields) can entail some very specific demands on optimal timing among some of its elements. I see no contradiction here. We simply need to deal with each type of project on its own specific terms, just as Gardener has pointed out.
     
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