GTD will always be the brightest star in my task-management firmament. Pre-GTD I made occasional to-do lists and got frustrated with seeing them carried forward day after day.
GTD taught me to get my commitments in their totality out of my head and into a system external to my mind.
GTD’s bottom-up strategy worked for me. All the previous top-down methods I had tried failed me.
But now that I have been GTDing for a few years I am a different person. As David Allen has said, I can now do the top-down thinking that eluded me when I couldn’t ever clear my runway.
And now that I have been GTDing for a few years I have been finding that my lists are large and often contain items that languish for more than a year. Then, a couple of months ago, I read the following post:
This post by w_i_t_n_a took my breath away. It represented a fundamental change to the GTD method. The method had been to keep those lists no matter what. If they were huge it was because I had committed myself to a huge amount of tasks. Someday/maybe represented those tasks to which I had not yet committed myself. The description “someday/maybe” was slightly deceptive. In effect, all NAs were “somedays.” Life is fast-paced and unpredictable. The reason I kept NA lists and did not schedule my tasks on the calendar was because my time commitments were in a state of constant flux. So, NAs did not have times associated with them. The key thing was that I had decided to do them sometime, someday.Here are a couple of tips that were given to me by Meg Edwards during some tele coaching.
Projects lists should only contain those things that you need to deliever on in the next 9 months.
Deliverables beyond that belong on your 'Someday / Maybe' list and can be turned into Projects when they fall into the 9 month window.
If you make sure you include a review of your Someday / Maybes in your weekly review you wont miss the projects and you can get them off your mind.
Next Actions Lists should only contain NA's that you plan to complete in the next 2-3 weeks. Other actions that I think of during my weekly review are written and stored with Project Support Material and I can turn them into NA's when I need to.
These two simple things have helped keep my NA's and Project lists under control
“Maybes” were just that: items to which I might commit myself but to which I was not committed now. They were items about which I was agnostic: maybe I’ll do them and maybe I won’t. I kept my maybes on the list as a reminder to decide later whether to add them to my list of NAs or to delete them.
So, NAs were items I had decided to do at sometime, someday. Maybes were items that I had not decided about.
I, like many GTDers, felt a gnawing sense of lack. I, like many GTDers, made some adjustments. My decision was to create a “weekly goals” list. I would select some projects and NAs from my lists and put them at the top of my calendar for the week. These were goals that I hoped to accomplish that week. I didn’t always complete the goals on my weekly goals list. But it did help me stay more focused. I still reviewed my NA list frequently throughout the week. But I didn’t spend as much time going through it trying to figure out which NA to work on next. I looked to my weekly goals list for that.
Then I read the post by w_i_t_n_a. This represented a conceptual shift. NAs were no longer atemporal. A new dimension has been added to my NA list: time.
In GTD 1.0, the trusted system’s list was three-dimensional: there was a description of the action, a context for the action, and commitment level for the action. Note well, there was no timeframe attached to the action. Time was a dimension restricted to the calendar, the hard landscape (where the spatial metaphor of “landscape” is used to capture the temporality of actions).
In GTD 1.0 actions to which I had committed myself went in the list as NAs. And actions and projects to which I had not committed myself went in the list as someday/maybes.
In GTD 2.0 as presented to us by w_i_t_n_a, the trusted system’s list is four-dimensional. There are the three dimension of GTD 1.0—action, context, and commitment—and the fourth dimension of time. In GTD 2.0, actions to be taken in the next 3 weeks go in the NA list and those to be worked on later in time will go on the someday/maybe list.
The problem with this is that the someday/maybe list is now confused. It segregates items both by temporality and by commitment. The solution is to break apart someday from maybe. Maybe represents absence of commitment. Put the items that still require a commitment decision in the maybes. Someday represents time. Put the items that will be done some time later than 3 weeks in the somedays.
For many GTDers, the recommendations given above will be enough. But I do have a suggestion for those of us who use digital systems for our GTD lists. Most of us are using systems that have a “priority” field. Now, before anyone proposes to ban me from the board, please understand, I am not suggesting that we give our tasks priorities. I am suggesting that we use the priority field in, for example Outlook, to capture the temporal element of our actions.
The digital system I use allows A, B, C, and D priorities. So, I use A for this week. B is for the next 3 weeks. C is for the next 3 months. And D is beyond 3 months. If you only had 3 values, you could follow have 1 week, 3 weeks, and more than 3 weeks (or some other configuration more congruent with your life situation).
Again, A items are not higher priority items than C items. Rather, I designate with “A” those items I aim to work on this week and I designate with “C” those items I will only work on after I have completed the As and Bs.
The last point I would like to bring up for consideration is the degree to which GTD 2.0 revolutionizes GTD 1.0
I had always found there to be a disconnect between the temporal basis of the altitude goals (50,000 feet, 40,000 feet, etc.) and the timelessness of the project and action lists. 30,000 feet are 1-2 year goals. 40,000 feet are 3-5 year goals. 50,000 feet are life goals. These are time-defined. If the higher level outcomes are time-defined, why not add the temporal dimension to the runway and project-level outcomes?
In the GTD book, David does present a kind of argument against defining actions/projects temporally. He states that the world changes and we need to be flexible and resilient. This is true. But he does suggest we commit ourselves to outcomes two years, five years, and many years in the future. The unpredictability of the world increases exponentially as we move farther into the future. If we can define outcomes temporally five years hence, we could do so five days hence.
One could retort that there is actually much more volatility in most of our lives in the short-term than there is in the long-term. Furthermore, there is great uncertainty regarding the actual duration required to complete any given action. So, it is inefficient to microplan when we are going to do every little action because all it takes is one phone call, one crashing of the server, one ill key employee and the whole schedule needs to be rewritten.
I think that the points made in the previous paragraph are good ones. That is why Meg Edwards advised w_i_t_n_a to schedule her actions not with great specificity but with great latitude. Meg Edwards did not tell her to schedule action X for day Y at hour Z. Rather she is to schedule action X to be done either in week A or week B or week C.
In conclusion, GTD 1.0 advised us to put time-specific actions on the calendar and to keep our other actions and projects on atemporal lists. GTD 2.0 advises us to put on the calendar actions that are highly time-specific. And the other actions and projects that are less time-specific will have their soft times loosely specified on the actions and projects lists.
I have found GTD 2.0 to be an improvement over GTD 1.0. I have found that the GTD 2.0 system, going from 50,000 feet to the runway, is better integrated and more consistent than the GTD 1.0 which specified time at some levels but not at others. And lastly, I have found it useful to use the priority field of my digital expression of my GTD system to represent the temporal dimension of my actions and projects.