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Out of sight, out of mind?

Hi everyone,

I had a quick question here about GTD methodology. I've tried to implement GTD twice now. I've had a little too much fun fiddling with my implementations. In the end, the system works for a while, but then I always seem to get stuck with the same problem.

In some perverse twist of my imagination, when I make lists of projects and actions, I actually feel less urgency to get stuff done. Yes, I "feel" a little bit more in control; but I also get a little slack in my work habits, knowing that my stuff is on lists, waiting for me. When I keep the thing in my mind, I have an incentive to get it done as quickly as possible--to get it off my mind. GTD takes away that incentive. In the end, I feel much less in control. If I keep stuff in my mind, I have an intuitive grasp of everything I need to do--figuring out priorities is a cinch. When stuff is on lists, my work feels much more mechanical and arbitrary. I have yet to discover the magic of the "flow" that everyone talks about.

The other thing that causes stress is trying to keep my lists up to date. It seems like everyday, the definition of some project changes--or some task needs to be deleted and redefined. With my old "in-my-mind" system, it took very little work to make that change; the system was easy to update. With GTD, I feel like I spend half my time just keeping my lists up to date. I have to hunt for the project on the project list--then I have to hunt for the related actions on the context lists. And then I wonder what the point of it all is anyway.

Once my GTD system gets a little out of whack, I feel far more stress than I ever felt with my old all-mental system, because I feel like I've just created a buttload of extra, meaningless processing work for myself. If I spend almost as much time obsessing about organizing my work as I do actually doing the work, something has to be wrong.

In short, while the idea of getting everything out of my head seems appealing, I haven't yet figured out the trick to making it work smoothly. I'm thinking of simplifying my life drastically by going back to daily to-do lists--i.e., a list that can actually be accomplished in a day. In this sense, I think the GSD method is perhaps the best route. A daily list, with actions carrying over to the next day. This gives me incentive to try to get stuff done today. I generally don't forget the major projects in my life--so if I'm really worried about forgetting something, I can save an extra page for that.

Should I adopt a simpler system? Please advise!

unstuffed's picture

Sounds a bit as though...

Sounds a bit as though you're depending on that adrenaline shove of "Oh, hell, I forgot X! Must do it nownownownow..." Either that, or you've got a constant loop going in your head "Do X, Do X, Do X", which has the same effect. You need to remember that GTD is a system for getting things done and beating that panic; it's not meant to replace work.

For instance, I can look at my Current projects list first thing in the morning, and ask "Which should I attack first?" It's a matter of a few seconds, and I'm off and running, because the list has sparked the mental process of evaluating priorities. I haven't forgotten the projects or priorities by writing them down, I've merely taken them out of RAM, where they were clogging up my processing. Storing long-term data in your RAM is always, always a bad idea.

It also sounds like you have too many projects and too many NAs. How many do you have going at once? I found that I can keep my eye on, and do good work on, about 7 - 14 projects a week. So I have Current Projects, which is the ones I'm working on this week, and Ignoring Projects, which are the ones I'm not working on this week.

I've been talking about this quite a lot over on the davidco forum. Swan over and check out some of the recent threads, particularly this one, and see what you think.

mdl;8836 wrote:
If I spend almost as much time obsessing about organizing my work as I do actually doing the work, something has to be wrong.

Yes, something is wrong. GTD, or your particular flavour of it, should be as simple as possible, because it has to become a habit, something you'd be able to do even when you're sick (according to David Allen). Can you give some more details about your implementation? For instance, is it paper-based or electronic?

I'm also a bit concerned that you say the definition of some project or other changes just about every day. Can you give some examples of your projects?

Remember, you can tweak your implementation to fit the way you work. But it definitely sounds as though there are some systemic issues there.

One last thing: I'd advise against going hi-tech, particularly if you're just getting to grips with GTD. The overhead of maintaining the software system as well as learning and practising GTD can often be way too much. Stick with paper until you've worked out the wrinkles.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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