For those of us immersed or enmeshed in the David Allen "Getting Things Done" (GTD) methodology, lists take on a big part of our daily lives. In a sane day, I go to my lists, consider my options, and pick the "next action" I want to work on based on available time, energy level, and my context. This method can alleviate lots of stress because it makes it easy to live a dynamic life while capturing everything you'd like to do (just add it to the list if you don't want to do it now).
However, many days (and lately, most days), life comes at me pretty fast. On these days, my lists actually increase my stress because there are too many things to choose from. About a year ago, I had to modify my approach to GTD to help me cope with this phenomenon.
My coping mechanism
I have adopted an approach that I call my "Daily Watch List," and I create a list of the things I really must get done today -- no matter what. At the beginning of the day (when things are quieter), I scan my various GTD context lists and identify the top few items (sometimes only 2 or 3, sometimes as many as 6 or 7) that will cause me pain if they don't get done today. I then write them on an index card that I put in my shirt pocket.
I find this approach very focusing because it gives me a shorter list of tasks to focus on within a given day. It's sort of like ordering in a restaurant - I find it easier to decide what I want to eat if the menu is shorter.
This approach has several benefits:
- Portability. My lists all "live" in Outlook so when I'm away from my computer I can still keep my "must do" items in front of me at all times. Sure, my tasks synch to my Blackberry but I don't find its interface easy enough to use when things are moving quickly.
- Simplicity. What could be easier than an index card as a low-tech method for tracking your hot items?
- Focus. I've long believed that sometimes you must limit your options to increase your opportunities. I find that this method filters out lots of merely "fun and interesting" tasks and decreases the likelihood that I will go down a rat-hole working on something that doesn't directly contribute to my highest objectives of the day.
- Flexibility. This method blends perfectly with the GTD method. If you find yourself in a context where you aren't able to do any of the things on your Daily Watch List, simply go back to your "big lists" and find the most valuable next action from the most appropriate context list.
As I said, I've been doing this for about a year and am sticking with it. I was commenting to my office-mate the other day that I felt validated because I'd heard about someone else using a similar approach, discussed on a recent interview I received through David Allen's "Connect" subscription. The person on the Connect interview called his approach the "Daily Radar" but the implementation sounded very similar.
As I described it, it turns out that my office mate hadn't noticed I was using this approach (I guess I'm a poor evangelist), but he liked it the minute he heard it and has since adopted it as part of his toolkit. He now says he 'doesn't know how he ever got along without it.'
Give it a try - and let me know how it works for you.