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In a GTD system, how do I handle a task such as "checking the oil in the car", which should happen once a week or so but is also fairly low priority? My concerns are that

  • this task isn't actionable now, so I don't want it cluttering up my next actions list until Saturday, but I also don't want to forget it
  • it doesn't have to happen strictly every Saturday, so it isn't useful to put it as a recurring task in the calendar (i.e. if I have more important things to do on Saturday it can wait for a few days)

Where should this go?

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5 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I don't want it to clutter up my next actions list until Saturday has past, but I also don't want to let it get forgotten.

The way you say this, it sounds like you may need a better tickler file. Something that isn't actionable until Saturday should definitely not be allowed to "clutter up your next actions list" before that. An effective tickler file should hold onto it silently until Saturday, and then help you remember it. A really effective tickler file would help you remember it at its appropriate context and priority level. Note that items on a calendar should usually be done exactly as scheduled, while items from a tickler file can be more flexible.

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I gained traction on this problem by realizing that it is useful to put it as a recurring task. I had trouble with tasks that didn't need to happen at any particular day or time, but did need to get done, because it bothered me to "arbitrarily" pick a day or time. And, to paraphrase your question: "I might have more important things to do at that time".

For me, that turns out not to matter. The task needs to happen, so I pick a time based on the knowledge I have. Then, when the time comes, I do it!

If I really and truly have a more important task to do, it's not hard to move the lower-priority task, but I don't do it lightly.

When I start to play fast and loose with the scheduled times for my tasks, my overall productivity slips. Never underestimate the power of opt-out vs. opt-in.

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In a paper-based system use a tickler file. When you're prompted, add the item to the appropriate next-action context list.

In an electronic system I set up the task as recurring and use due dates and smart lists to ensure it only shows up when appropriate. I also set the priority of this action a little lower to keep it off the top of my list. For example in RTM I'd enter the task like this:

Check oil in hoopty wagon @home ^Saturday *weekly !2

Now every Saturday the task will pop up to remind me it needs to be done and will stay there until I get around to it.

(No comment on why you need to check the oil level in your car weekly. Other than this comment...and the hoopty wagon jab.)

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Maybe bundle a bunch of related tasks: check oil, check winshield wiper fluid level, check tire pressure, check lights, etc. A weekly maintenance checklist that you put in the glove box of your car, and a reminder in your tickler file to hit the maintenance checklist before you drive off on Saturday (or whatever you do).

That way the stuff is right in the car, and it can stay in the car right until the time when you go to sell it. It's a good selling point.

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Put a recurring task for the double interval for such tasks. For example, you don't have to check the oil each week, but you must check it each two weeks.
At the end of such period you simply do task, if not already, or just go for your business if already heva it done.

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