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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!

mdl's picture

Thanks for the feedback. It also...

Thanks for the feedback.

Unstuffed;8847 wrote:

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 generally have 50-75 projects at any given time--a project being any desired outcome that requires two or more steps. I like the idea of "current" projects and "ignoring" projects. It sounds like you create a second list each week (current projects) for hot items. Is this correct?

My projects list does indeed seem a bit of a jumble. Everything (both work and personal) is mixed together in no particular order in the same list. I scan it in the morning, but by the time I've gotten to the bottom, I've forgotten what's on top. I suppose I need some way to notate which are the "hot" projects.

The problem, however, is that even if I've located the current projects, their actions are still all over different context lists, so I have to do the process of weeding out "current" actions from the context lists. I really, really would like some sort of prioritization notation--even though this goes against orthodox GTD methodology.

Earlier I had a system that tied projects and actions together a little better--one index card per project/action. But flipping through all those index cards was a bit of a hassle.

Unstuffed;8847 wrote:

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?

My implementation is standard hipster PDA: project and context lists on index cards. I like how compact and portable the system is. I act from one side of the hipster--lists--and collect on the other side of the hipster--blank cards--and process the hipster inbox as often as I can.

But my biggest problem has to do with tying actions to projects and discerning priorities in the lists. Generally, I have anywhere from 5-25 live items on each context list. So then, once I've finished one action, I have to slog through my lists once again to identify the next action. I would really like to have the most important actions all together, viewable at a glance. I suppose I could create a daily list of hot items each morning.

But as the GTD book suggests, the problem with building lists based only on prioritization is that second-tier projects stall and stagnate.

Unstuffed;8847 wrote:

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?

O.K. Here's and example. We're moving. One current project is "find housing in X" But then the question emerges, should we buy or rent. Suddenly this spawns a bunch of extra projects. "Research buying options." "Research rental options." "Learn about house buying, mortgages." Each of these generates other actions subprojects: e.g., look up realtors, contact realtor, get advice from friends who live in X. Then, based on some information we receive, we decide not to buy. So all those buying projects get deleted, but I still want to remember to double-check our decision, so I create a new project: Confirm decision not to buy. Suddenly, based on new information, we're considering buying again, so I have to resurrect all the old projects and actions I crossed out. The whole system gets way too cumbersome. And once it gets out of date, it just feels like too much work to keep it updated.

If I had done this in my mind, the whole thing would seem so much more organic.

Thanks in advance for your input.




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