Choosing which action to take

(Tyler Weitzman) #1

Disclaimer: A friend recently recommended to me that writing extreme opinions is far more engaging for the reader. I attempt it a little here for experimentation.

After a year of practicing GTD, I no longer think it the magical system for getting things done in my life. Quite the contrary. And in fact, I am not at all interested in so-called “stress-free productivity.”

What I want is results. Dream level results. Let me learn to deal with the stress of neglecting all low-level areas so I can focus on the dream visions.

Let’s review how David Allen recommends to choose which action to take and why I think this component of the system is not productive for my dream-driven personality.

Allen offers the Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment in chapter 9 of GTD

1. Context
2. Time available
3. Energy available
4. Priority

Where #4 relies on the Six-horizon commitment model, starting with actions on the ground level and working from the bottom up.

Horizon 5: Life
Horizon 4: Long-term visions
Horizon 3: One- to two-year goals
Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountability
Horizon 1: Current projects
Ground: Current actions

David Allen recommends working from the ground up and it is in some way the least stressful thing to do.

“Buy cat food” may certainly not rank high on some theoretical prioritizing inventory, but if that’s what’s pulling on you the most, in the moment, then handling it in some way would be Job One. - David Allen (p. 218)

Thing is, I don’t want to buy cat food. That’s a distraction from my vision for the future. Let the cat die. I would love to learn and adopt such a theoretical prioritizing inventory instead.

Allen writes,

“Finding out exact details of your personal finances, clarifying the historical data about the company you’re buying, or getting the facts about who really said what to whom in an interpersonal conflict can be constructive, if not absolutely necessary and downright healing.”

Do I really need to know my exact personal finances? Why not just estimate so I can actually work and progress with my career instead?

Is it really worth my time to learn who said what and to whom so that I can be “right” in the midst of drama? No. Either I want to let go of my desire to be right so I can continue a strong relationship with the person, or the person is just so unreasonable that it is not worth my effort to even continue the relationship. Rory Vaden, in Procrastinate on Purpose, lists dealing with unreasonable people as one of the biggest most common time-wasters that should be eliminated. Later in the book, Vaden quotes one of his case studies for the book, Troy Peple, saying

“Whenever possible, I never take an action that can’t be undertaken until either I have to or until there is an overwhelmingly compelling reason that I should.”

Taking a step back to the four-criteria model, let’s consider the reverse of the model. I can start with what’s most important and create the energy, time, and space (context) to do it. As Dr. Stephen Corvey writes in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities

In my class at Stanford, Startup Blitzscaling, taught by Reid Hoffman who founded LinkedIn, we learned that as LinkedIn grew Hoffman always ignored many “fires” to focus on putting out only the important fires. The process started with priorities.

Now there’s one key question remaining: As a person who loves to optimize life, I am fearful of the optimizations that I might miss out on if I neglect every action that doesn’t have, as Troy Peple puts it, “an overwhelmingly compelling reason” for doing it. I would love to have an easy system for prioritization that takes into account all these three components:

(1) Progress towards dreams and goals
(2) Potential return of investment in work energy, focus, or time
(3) Improvement in my quality of life

Maybe taking care of a cat is enough of an improvement in quality of life or in work energy to be worth it? How can that be quantified in a way that isn’t in itself an over complex waste of time? I’ll leave that to comments and suggestions.

(Wilson Ng) #2

I guess I’m not always gonna make the most productive or most logical choice. And I’m ok with that.

What I do know is that I go to OmniFocus and select 3-5 tasks to work on today. Then I choose one Big
Rock project to work on today. Planning my work plan for today first thing in the morning or the day before makes it easier for me to figure out what to do next. I hate working on a task and then referring back to my task manager to choose what I want to do next. If I worked in this mode, I’ll most likely choose all the easy tasks to work on and not select high priority tasks. Planning ahead of time reduces the random chaos of picking a bunch of random tasks In the midst of the chaos of the day.

I try to stay focused on the 3-5 tasks and the Big Rock I’ve chosen. When I do get distracted by a brand new idea, I capture it in Drafts or my notebook to process later. Then I return back to my current task. If I have no choice but to temporarily halt my current task, I make a note of the current progress and what my next action is. Then I take care of whatever fire I have to put out. When I return, my note will remind me where I left off and what I needed to do next.

Thanks for the huge post. I had to chew on this for awhile before figuring out what it meant to me.

(Curtis Spendlove) #3

So, this is one of the difficulties I have with GTD overall. I don’t think the basic concept is explained well enough. I think the newer book goes into it better, but still not well enough.

In my opinion, Allen is just used to people who understand how life vision intersects with a task list. Most people don’t understand this very well. My greatest struggle with GTD was figuring out all the “vision”, high-level junk. :wink:

See, you’re only supposed to work from the ground up for a short duration. Then you’re supposed to flip it and work from top down.

When first implementing GTD you need to get all your daily junk organized. There is literally no benefit in planning your life at a higher level if life is living you (your day consists solely of putting out fires).

However, once you have your system in place, you can start living your life. You start choosing what your day looks like.

This leads you to be able to actually choose what you want to be, what you want to accomplish.

Do you want to be a person who would fail so badly in their responsibilities to let the cat die because they chose feeding it was unimportant?

So, if you find yourself in a “dream vision” review, and decide that buying cat food is a distraction, then your dreams and reality are not aligned.

You are now entering the second phase of GTD. Where you flip it around. In your reviews, you now need to consider what your personal vision is.

Sounds like your cat isn’t part of your personal dream. :wink: That is okay. That is a good discovery. And I’m willing to bet you can find a slightly more philanthropic way of changing that situation, even if It temporarily takes more time and energy.

I feel like the whole reason to use GTD is so that you can eliminate stress because you aren’t neglecting low-level stuff.

The trick here is that your “ground-level” should be a direct result of working down from the top. Your ground level should reflect only the stuff that gets you to your vision.

If a cat isn’t in your vision. If finances aren’t in your vision, then they shouldn’t be on your task list. There are many ways to “solve” this and take them off.

I can’t answer that for you. But I can help you answer it for yourself. If you don’t know your exact finances will you still have shelter, food, and clothes? If the details aren’t compelling to you, can you delegate your finances to someone who either enjoys doing it (partner, friend, family, the cat that seems to need to find value in your life)?

If your life falls apart because you aren’t focused on the details, then working on your vision from a cardboard box outside of McDonald’s doesn’t seem the best result. (And, I would suggest you aren’t quite to “vision” level.)

If you have an extra hundred bucks (or can cook up a steak dinner for you and a buddy who is great with finances and likes to barter his skill for grilled cow) you can “delegate” that detail away.

Now it is gone. You don’t have to stress about it, and it isn’t getting in the way of the rest of your productivity. :wink:

All it takes is a bit of planning during a weekly or monthly review, which is always supposed to be informed by your vision.

There is nothing wrong with postponing an action. “Defer” is one of the standard actions. In fact that is the whole idea behind the tickler file.

I don’t have enough information to decide whether I want to join AAA this month. I’ll reevaluate that in May. I really want to go to the Toby Kieth concert, but do I have the time and energy? Eh, I’ll decide next month. Do I need to hire another person for Project X? I need more information, I’ll wait until the second week of March (the week after the next budget meeting).

Only you can decide. You can do it in a review, have an epiphany in the shower, or maybe the cat helps you decide during a belly rub after a stressful day.

For me, I love my cats. They definitely provide a greater return to our family than we put into them. And honestly “buying cat food” is just an item on my list. It is available in many places where I have to go in a given two-week block. It never weighs too heavily on me, nor does it waste more than a few minutes of time in a month.

For others, well they probably aren’t cat people. :wink:

My vision guides my choices in those regards. I want to be a philanthropist, and one of those areas I want to improve actually involves animals. It is a no-brainer return on investment for me.

Those tasks are guided by my vision. By who I want to be. By the Things I would like to hear about me when I’m dead and turning to dust. By the legacy I want to leave with my children.

You won’t find anything on my task list that doesn’t pertain to those overarching goals. I have refined my lists over time.

I do have finance stuff on there. I do like to know alll the details of them. To me it isn’t minutiae. To me it is a direct influence on several portions of my personal vision.

Your mileage will vary. :slight_smile:

(Joe Buhlig) #4

Love this. :heart:

I think I land in the camp of GTDers who bought in on the conceptual model, but didn’t bite on the technicalities. I see a lot of “Why I Left GTD” articles out there where people explain their new system and all I see are the GTD concepts under different names.

That said, I think you’re absolutely right here:

But at the same time, I personally struggle with the mundane day-to-day tasks I don’t want to do or I don’t feel are important enough to schedule. Thus your “cat conundrum.”

I find that the conceptual piece of using an external system to help me maintain some semblance of order to my life is the most important. I’m not always the best at following that system but I know it’s there for me to rely on.

And the structure of Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect, Engage is what helps me put the system together. It doesn’t matter what exactly you capture and organize but the process itself is one that I see very few people deviate from. Which brings me to…

Too many people get locked in on the runway tasks, the things that need doing today. That piece of the book seems to be the spot where people pause. It’s as if they struggle to get past that point, which is valid because I’ve found it to take a number of years before I could understand how to apply the GTD model to beyond the runway and start focusing on the higher goals and Horizons.

But if you can see the path to applying the GTD model beyond daily tasks, I think you begin to give guidance to what your runway is, as opposed to letting it happen to you.