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Often during crunch time of a project when only one goal is of supreme priority, I stop looking at my next action list because it is obvious what the next action ought to be. If such event persists for a couple of days, usually right before a deadline, my GTD lists go out of sync and becomes stale. It takes me significant effort to restart the habit. How do I avoid this disruption in GTD flow?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

While I don't strictly use GTD, I do run into similar issues. I'll have my to-do list...mainly to make sure that I'm blocking off sufficient time and not forgetting anything, but I often get into the flow of things and don't mark things off as I go. Like you experience, sometimes the task can be so engrossing and the next steps so self-evident that your GTD becomes irrelevant.

I'm a huge proponent of the idea that there is no one system that fits every person at every time, and it's OK to throw the thing out the window. The purpose of time & productivity management systems is to give a person a bird's eye view of time and tasks so it becomes easier to visualize how to improve, increase, and maintain productivity.

The thing to realize is that sometimes you'll be productive without NEEDING the list. And that's fine. For me, I always build time into every day to review my calendar and tasks. Part of the process is to refresh the list, re-sync the list between my different sources, add new items that may have been scrawled on a post it and put in a folder to add to my formal to-do list. Sometimes that process takes thirty secods, sometimes it takes an hour. It all depends on whether I spent the time since my last updates/refresh maintaining my list or putting it on a back burner because it wasn't necessary at the moment.

Maybe during those pre-project crunch times, you switch to pomodoro, and use your hourly breaks to update your list? That's one thing I've done that I find helpful.

I would posit that being in the flow gives you productivity gains that far supercede the gains of following a productivity method, and as our productivity ebbs and flows as it naturally will, there will be times that the GTD (or whatever method used) will fall out of sync. Don't sweat it. Sometimes that just happens. Consider it a "cost of doing business" and, recognizing that it's something that happens for you, build some debrief time into your project schedules to allow you the time you need to resync, re-prioritize, and reflect on how good it feels to check off a whole mess of Things-Gotten-Done at one time.

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In GTD terms, you want to restart with a mindsweep and weekly review. This is a common problem, falling off the wagon of your personal management system for whatever reason, and needing to restart. Whether the issue is vacation, urgent deadline on must-have project, health emergency, or whatever, the GTD solution is the same - allocate time to get things out of your mind, go through all your inboxes, review projects already in motion, and review everything.

You might also look at your GTD implementation - is it as simple to use as possible? We all seem to go through a phase where we complicate our systems trying to get them to be more automated. After a few episodes of having to restart and finding it burdensome, I found myself simplifying again. You may find the same thing. To reference a David Allen quote, is your system one built for a rainy Saturday when you have time to play with it, or will it hold up to the firehose of a day at work full of meetings when you have the flu and can't take a sick day? You want the latter.

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When there is a fire/emergency and I have to work without my time management system, I allocate time when things "calm down" or "go back to normal" to catch up. That means going through email and organizing the tasks that have come up in my absence.

It does feel disconcerting not to be doing it all along. And it is often tempting to dive straight into what has collected. But I know that will be bad in the long run. My organizational system works for me and I need to keep it going.

One analogy is vacation. I come back from vacation to 1000 emails and many tasks. I have a system for dealing with that. I've learned that my system when coming back from a fire/emergency is remarking similar.

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Thank you. This is helpful as well. Too bad I can only accept one answer! – Memming Oct 11 '13 at 14:24
That's ok. I'm sure you upvoted it to show it helped! – Jeanne Boyarsky Oct 14 '13 at 0:59

I find it's super helpful to break down what I have to do into the smallest steps possible - so I can feel a sense of accomplishment even when I do something very small (like, clear five emails from inbox)...often just taking that one, small, step leads to doing more, but sometimes it won't and you still feel like you accomplished something. And you can jump around from project to project, getting little things done consistently - with the goal being that these little things end up BEING the project when it's all said and done.

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