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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

I like the idea of...

mdl;8850 wrote:
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?

Not exactly. Here's my implementation, roughly:

I have project trays in one of those little 5-tray gizmos, and each project is written on one sheet of paper. This is mainly rough scratchings about what I want and some steps that occur to me that need to be completed. The trays are InTray, Waiting, Current Projects, Ignoring, and Dreaming (David's Someday/Maybe).

Then, at weekly review time, in addition to the normal stuff, I'll collect my Current and Ignoring projects, and sort out which ones I'll work on this week. I prefer about 7 major projects, and some smaller projects, because things always come up during the week. My major projects benefit from a half to a full day of working on them: if I can't commit to that, I'll ignore it for a week.

If any project gets moved from Current to Ignoring, I make a note on the project sheet so I remember where I was up to. Not always necessary, but can help. And date everything, so I know which projects are sluggardly.

Only then do I work out the NAs for each current project. This keeps my NA lists relatively clean, and there's no confusion about which projects the NAs belong to.

I have a weekly project list, and that's really all: there's no need for a total project list generally because the trays (Current and Ignoring) comprise a sort of 3-D project list.

mdl;8850 wrote:
Everything (both work and personal) is mixed together in no particular order in the same list....snip... I suppose I need some way to notate which are the "hot" projects.

Nope. You need to slice off some things. Whether it's a full week or a 2- or 3-day block, you have to restrict your focus somehow, or your brain will explode. Having work and personal on the list is fine, and no order is also fine, but you're trying to keep all your balls in the air all the time, and that's bound to cause stress. Focus on just juggling 5 or 10 of those balls for a few days, then choose another 5 or 10 balls to juggle. Otherwise it'll just be raining balls (I feel like Benny Hill).

mdl;8850 wrote:
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.

How often is 'as often as I can'? The Hipster PDA implementation would work nicely with my scheme, by the way: every project on 1 card, just stash the Ignoring ones in a case or something, and carry the Current ones around with you. Or whatever.

mdl;8850 wrote:
But my biggest problem has to do with tying actions to projects and discerning priorities in the lists.

Nope: try working out the priorities in advance, like I do. If you've got a lot of things that really have to be moved, pick a few to focus on for 2 or 3 days, and ignore the rest. Then, rotate. This way, you do your deciding on priorities all at once and upfront, and the NA lists give you some easy widgets to crank. Looking at your NA list shouldn't be the point at which you're faced with millions of choices.

mdl;8850 wrote:
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.

And here's where my project sheet comes into its own: I can just shelve the project and resurrect it as necessary; it's as easy as moving a sheet of paper from one drawer to the next.

It really does work much better, at least for me, than having to keep my eye on a whole bunch of projects all at once. I do suffer from procrastination a lot, and I've got chronic lifelong depression, so if I keep my focus very narrow I can achieve things and have little overhead: otherwise, I get overwhelmed and tend to give up.

Hope that helps a bit.




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