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Lost without lists | by Terry Madeley
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Lost without lists

My GTD system on Outlook was working fine for a while back then. But then I started to grow numb to this huge list, and started writing short, daily to-do lists in my notebook. A no-no, as I've then got two separate lists to work with; or rather one, as the other larger list doesn't get read, or updated, or added to.


It was too fuzzy, I think, that Outlook list. Not succinct enough, not 'What is the very next physical action' enough. For instance, an e-mail would come in that I would need to reply to and


a) I very rarely kept to the 2 minute rule to deal with it there and then, or delegate it there and then and track it in @waiting For, and


b) I'd drag the e-mail to my Outlook task icon, thereby creating a copy of it in my tasks folder, which is good, but I wouldn't properly amend the subject line, so I'd just end up with stupid tasks like "FW: APL certificate", or "RE: meeting", and


c) because of this, there's a good chance I'm not going to notice this task and act upon it from my crappy/fuzzy/not-really-next-actions list, so I'll leave the original e-mail in my in-box, as I know I'll at least keep on noticing it every time I check my e-mail. The result of all this is a next action list that tells me nothing and a crowded in-box full of unresolved commitments.


This has been a gradual slippage, but the thing I've never got my head round with my GTD/Outlook set-up is the Projects List. 'Anything over two action steps' just doesn't do it for me. I've ended up with a list that's as long as your arm, full of duplicates, fuzziness, Someday/Maybe things, Waiting For things and projects with no real outcome. I've been a good boy and set my Weekly Review as a recurring appointment (it's set as a weekly appointment, whether I actually get round to do it is another matter), but the one area I struggle with every time is the review of the projects. Creating new NAs and crossing through done ones goes well, but this blurry project list gets ignored every time.


Until last week.


My project list in Outlook is as vague as ever, but the one I've written up in the back of my notebook is now spot on. Rather than reviewing and editing the crap I've been growing numb to, I just sat down with a coffee, a blank page and a pen, and knocked out a fresh one. Much clearer, much more focused. Only 26 things on it, so that's down by about half. I'm going to delete that entire list and replace it with this one. I think I'll still use Outlook -- it's hard not to with the set-up at work -- but I need to be much more disciplined about what goes on there.


And I really need to manage my e-mails better: an improved project list won't help with that. I need to hike things out of my in-box much quicker than before, by recognising what can be done straightaway (and doing it), what can be delegated straightaway (and doing that), and if things need to be deferred, by being clearer on exactly what I need to do to move it forward and complete it.

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Taken on May 30, 2006