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I have somewhat of a dilemma with my GTD system. Lately I started outlining schedules in my application of choice (CC Things). The idea was to create explicit repeating tasks for major activities aside the actual tasks of that activities. For example: Hour of French every two days or Daily Reading and such. The problem is that my daily task count and stress levels skyrocketed with that workflow. I'm also concerned, that this workflow defeats the purpose of GTD. It's too strict, I end up doing ineffective hour of French just to check it off. But this workflow is good for pushing yourself. It feels almost like back to school.

Second workflow is to keep a doable amount of actual tasks (without timebox/scheduling tasks) and trying to pick up the new task every time I'm done or fed up with the previous task — it could ensure effort distribution to some extent, but I'm still afraid some of the tasks could be constantly left out. As a attempt to improve on that, I could add due dates, depending on the horizon of the task. If, for example, the French studies lessons (book) are on a weekly horizon, add due date to the end of the week. They will be still showing in Today, but with a due in ... days box. It could ensure the crucial stuff is done.

I know these rumblings are a bit subjective and smell OCD, but I'm very concerned with finding the most effective workflow with minimal stress trade off. For now I'm trying out the second workflow without due dates, the canonical GTD some would say. So, what are your ideas on that?


Just to clarify. With my French example, with both approaches there would be actual tasks Learn this poem by heart, Exercise 22, etc. With the first approach, however, there is additional Hour of French every two days, that implies, that I'm obliged to do 1 hour of French-related tasks these days. With the second approach I would do French tasks if their priority, energy, my mood and other parameters permit.

Update 2

To clarify: my question is, whether one of these methods is more canon and, perhaps, more effective. Maybe you have other means to keep up with the stuff, that needs to be done more or less regularly, without forcing yourself to do it in strict schedule.

To use the same hypothetical example from above: I need to make sure I'm still working on my French more or less methodically, without rigid scheduling. Let's imagine I also have some creative project, blog and other stuff. I need to split my spare time among these activities (evenly or according to priorities) so that every one of them have progress, but there is no schedule (which D.A. disapproves of) because these activities shouldn't have fixed time associated to them. It shouldn't look like: *Mon - French, Tue - blog, etc. Situation, when I work on my French two days in a row and then I would do three days of some other project if needed — is more natural.

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If you spend more time on the system than you do on the tasks, it's not effective. – Raystafarian May 29 '14 at 12:54
How does my post imply that I use more time on the system, than on the tasks? In terms of system maintenance the first approach is only slightly harder than the second one. – Vsevolod Glumov May 29 '14 at 14:40
I'm not clear on what the question is. Whether or how to schedule your work in a GTD workflow? Should you schedule your work? How to use GTD to keep up with tasks? Can you edit and ask a question? I have practices I use on calendaring actions in my GTD system but I can't tell if that's what you're asking for. – Dennis S. May 30 '14 at 21:57
My question is, whether one of these methods is more canon and, perhaps, more effective. Perhaps you have other means to keep up with the stuff, that needs to be done more or less regularly, without forcing yourself to do it in strict schedule. – Vsevolod Glumov May 31 '14 at 21:25
I updated my posts with the second update. – Vsevolod Glumov May 31 '14 at 21:38
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Most people seem to understand canonical GTD as Next Actions don't have priorities and that the only things that go on a calendar are scheduled activities that must happen at a certain time. That's pretty much your second workflow, and it absolutely includes the risk of some projects never getting done.

The standard response to noting that risk (as @manuelhe notes in his answer) is that the weekly review will keep you on track and make sure you execute on the things that are important. I agree, the weekly review is a critical part of getting things done, and keeps you aware of the relative importance of all your projects and tasks. It's an essential part of being able to effectively make good choices in the heat of the moment as to what task to do next.

There's an additional process I've adopted from other productivity systems that helps to be certain of making progress on major goals. I reserve blocks of time on my calendar. Usually not more than 2 90 minute blocks a week, and each block is reserved for progress on a higher level goal, usually a 30,000 foot 1-3 year goal, although sometimes it will be a 20,000 foot area of focus. I schedule these blocks 2-3 weeks in the future as part of my weekly review, allocating the time to a goal that needs attention or to an area of focus that is out of balance.

Note that I am not scheduling Next Actions into my calendar, I'm reserving time to work on a goal. I also don't use this time for whatever's hot this week, it is for long term goals that otherwise may not get enough attention. Also, these blocks of time can be changed during a week. If another meeting gets scheduled or something happens that preempts the reserved time, I move it elsewhere in the same week. I do not ever move a reserved block from one week to the next.

Your first workflow looks on the surface like a similar approach, although there is a conceptual difference that I think is important. You are scheduling one or more tasks, I'm reserving time for a goal, and will use that time for whatever tasks are current for that goal when the time comes. In your workflow, you're creating a recurring task, which if not done will pile up and increase the number of tasks on your list. In my approach, there are no additional tasks, but a placeholder for time to work on something specific.

Should you choose to try something like this, be moderate! This time blocking technique is most effective when used for only a couple of blocks a week, and the 90 minute time seems to be about right to make substantial progress on something. There's a temptation to block out your entire day, and that's a sure recipe for frustration and stress as things have to change faster than you can update your calendar.

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Yes, you are micromanaging at the runway levels because there is some work at the higher levels of perspective that you have not been doing on a periodic basis. The difference between your two approaches is the level of commitment you explicitly devote toward learning French relative to other areas of focus in your life. You are cycling between two extremes. IMHO the inability to truly comprehend this balance in an objective as well as an emotional manner can be a great cause of stress.

During your weekly review you can do some thinking about how much time you have available for each area of focus. Ask yourself how important learning French is in the next week relative to other commitments you already have. If you have hard and fast commitments mark them down on your calendar. look for available time slots and leave yourself notes that this would be an ideal time to take some french lessons.

Continuously revisiting these questions once a week I think will relieve some of the stress you are feeling. The importance of a goal at any given time is relative to the importance of other things going on in your life.

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Thank you for your reply. I am quite sloppy with reviews, perhaps it could be the root of the problem. – Vsevolod Glumov May 31 '14 at 21:49

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