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Zoom level for managing action

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Posted by Chris Murtland
Nov 17, 2011 at 02:42 PM

 

After considering the email thread further and my attempts at task management, I think I am just trying to manage a level of detail at a constant zoomed-in level that’s not feasible at worst and needlessly fatiguing at best. It’s probably an artifact of the GTD idea of having complete lists of all available actions always in your face.

But I can zoom out and group my entire work and personal life into about 20 projects and areas of focus at any given time. I’m going to try managing at that more coarse level instead; a project outline for Project X might contain 30 open tasks for the project, but I don’t need to see tasks for Project X if I’m working on Project Y. Managing, scheduling, and deciding what to focus on out of 20 topics seems much more reasonable and sustainable - I can then dive into the detail for an area when I’m “in” that area.

In other words, I don’t need to worry about individual trees until I pick a forest.

Does anyone have any experience making this higher level perspective the default for scheduling/managing action?

 


Posted by Ken
Nov 17, 2011 at 04:31 PM

 

Chris,

While I cannot fully answer your question, and I may not be the best one to give advice on productivity as I look at the piles of paperwork around my desk, but I think we share a somewhat similar view of project management and prioritization.  While Ecco was really the best tool for me to handle numerous projects, my calendar, and “other duties as assigned”, I mostly use Outlook at work, but I have kept a somewhat similar approach.  Large ongoing projects have discrete task lists of all the major items in need of attention.  This is my roadmap through that specific “forest”, and it allows me to not have to remember every item in need of attention for that project.

On the flip side, I have a list of tasks that need immediate, or somewhat immediate, attention.  This list is composed of specific tasks from a variety of ongoing projects, e-mail messages, and “other duties as assigned”.  This list gets updated at least daily, but usually more often as urgent items get added or accomplished.  These items are sometimes scheduled on my calendar, but it is case dependent.

Finally, if I am feeling overwhelmed, I will grab a piece of paper and list the items that are floating around in the top of my head and causing me concern.  I will then ignore most of my electronic productivity devices and focus on what I have written out, because sometimes “less is more”.  Not exactly a groundbreaking approach, but I posted because I find comfort in knowing that there are others dealing with the same challenges, and thought you might as well.  Sometimes I learn a lot from other people’s posts, and sometimes its just good to know that I am not alone, and my issues are really not that unusual.

Regardless, I just keep trying to put one foot in fromt of the other as best I can.  Eventually, I get a better understanding of what I am capable of accomplishing in a given situation.  The hard part is learning to accept an amount that is less than my original expectations.  But, learning to adapt and accept change are critical life skills.  My Tai Chi instructor used to say that things that do not bend, break.  Very good words to keep in mind as I face new, and sometimes unexpected, challenges.

Good luck,

—Ken

 


Posted by Chris Murtland
Nov 17, 2011 at 10:08 PM

 

Thanks, Ken, it does help just knowing these problems are not that unusual. And I do like hearing about different approaches and experiences because it gives me ideas about things to try or to avoid. I do feel “mostly” productive and don’t dislike my work overall, but I’m looking to experiment to reduce stress.

My experiment of the day was to simply take a few of my projects/areas of focus that I felt needed attention and box out time for them on my calendar (from .5 to 1.5 hour blocks). One day might not be enough data to tell how it really will work over the long term, but I think this approach will really work well for me. I’m sort of choosing the forests in advance and then I can completely focus on that forest within the time allotted. It certainly helped reduce some of the stress of choosing which tasks to work on next (I’m very good at focusing on a task once I have started it, but find the decision of which task to start next to be inordinately hard when faced with hundreds of individual tasks). I have greatly reduced the number of possible tasks I’m considering during each block, since I’m only looking at ones for the block’s project or area. It also helped to have an end boundary already in mind to avoid the “work expands to the time available for its completion” effect. And I checked email between each block just to make sure there wasn’t some real emergency.

I doubt I will block out too far in advance at this point - the next half day might be the right horizon.

 


Posted by Alexander Deliyannis
Nov 17, 2011 at 10:39 PM

 

Chris Murtland wrote:
>In other words, I don’t need to worry about individual trees until I pick a
>forest.

I believe this is a workable approach under certain conditions:

- Arrange for sufficient time per forest in order to get some meaningful work done. I try to dedicate whole days to each project when I have very heavy work to do, though it isn’t always possible. But at least half days should be available.

- Get a broader overview every few days so that you ensure that there is no hidden emergency in the forests you haven’t yet picked

 


Posted by JBfrom
Nov 18, 2011 at 01:13 AM

 

So, if I understand correctly, you will still have individual tasks, but won’t sort them individually against each other across projects. Instead you’ll group tasks by projects, and sort projects against each other to determine the next step.

Yes, I’ve tried this and was dissatisfied with it.

Of course there are advantages and disadvantages to this approach.

It will be difficult to “see” urgent tasks since they’ll be buried beneath projects. It will be difficult to meaningfully sort projects without knowing the highest value task under each of those projects.

Also categorization and overlap will become problematic. It’s easier to build categories inductively and flexibly with BrainStormWFO, than creating a top-down approach.

 


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