Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


GTD 2006.17: Unplanned Work is an oxymoron

In my day job I do a lot of work with IT organizations on best practices -- aka 'best known methods' -- and IT process improvement. I spend a lot of time working with various research bodies (such as Carnegie Mellon's Software Engineering Institute, the IT Process Institute, along with other industry bodies). Our goal is to determine and evangelize repeatable ways to improve IT efficiency and effectiveness.

For a while, my fellow researchers and I have been talking about "unplanned work" as the silent killer of IT efficiency. Unplanned work is also known as "firefighting," and it usually means you're being totally reactive to what happens to you and your organization.

In a conversation with a colleague of mine a few hours ago, he told me that unplanned work was eating him alive this week. I joked that there are actually two types of unplanned work:

Type 1: This is our traditional definition of reactive firefighting in which you have to deal with urgent stuff didn't expect.

Type 2: This is work that you've consciously added to your list, but you just don't have a plan.

I asked him how much of his unplanned work was self-inflicted -- type #2.

Over the past couple of hours, my mind has drifted back to that discussion and I realized it wasn't just a joke, and it applies to our own personal productivity. When I look at days in my life that have seemed chaotic and unproductive, or taken on a life of their own, I realize that one of these two kinds of unplanned work are often at the heart of my frustration.

And my fondness for procrastination just amplifies both of these. Procrastination is particularly "effective" on Type 2, because those are the situations in which I probably don't know what the next action really is.

After pondering (wallowing?) a bit more, I realized that David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) is effective because it tries to deal with both of these issues head-on. After all, the proper use of GTD combats firefighting by helping you systematically deal with (or renegotiate) the things that "show up" in your day. GTD also combats Type 2 by providing you with a system to ensure that you don't have a bunch of ambiguous, unplanned projects or next inactions sitting there on your action lists.

What about you? Do you find yourself dealing with lots of unplanned work these days? Might be time for a refresher on the basics of Getting Things Done.

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