Saturday, November 5, 2011

How To Use The GTD Someday Maybe List

I received a question from one of my readers regarding how to use the GTD someday maybe list. Before I talk about her questions specifically, I wanted to say a big thank you to all of my readers who take the time to send an email or comment on the site. It is always great to get some feedback and it helps me know that people are reading what I write and I appreciate it very much.

Here is her question:

Hi Michael,
Love your blog posts! And congrats on your 30 day project goal
achievements! I have been doing GTD for a very long time and
can't imagine my life without it. My one area of struggle I
wonder if maybe your readers might be struggling with, also.
Maybe you'd want to write a blog on this topic, if you don't
have the time to email me back personally: I faithfully write
everything down (or type actually) to get my mind "quiet"....
I feel good about my system. My greatest challenge is moving
things from my active lists to my "someday maybe" list. My
"someday maybe" list gets way too long so I don't want to
read it and it makes my weekly review too long. So I started
doing a shorter weekly review and went to a longer monthly
review when I read my "someday maybe" list. But now that
review feels like it gets too long, so I end up not reading
my "someday maybes." Then that backs up my system and my
current list of "to dos" becomes not current and then I
don't trust my system as much. I realized that even if I
get 100 things accomplished each week and don't get to 20
things per week, that is 1040 "to dos" by the end of the
year that don't get done. The 20 things I don't get to
weekly are still things I would like to do (they are not
"someday maybes").... perhaps I am an overachiever and
optimist and that's the crux of my problem? I'm a big
believer in the GTD's "you have to know what you are not
doing".... I do know what I am not doing and I prioritize
well, but the 1040 "to dos" bog down my system and is often
the reason I fall off the wagon.

Any suggestions?

Thanks for your inspiration and the Black Belt Project!
Mary Sue Williams


OK. So let's talk about the someday maybe list and I'll let you in how I would approach this problem.

For me personally, I use the someday maybe list as a "wish list". I put things on this list that I think I might want or want to do. I put them on my list so that I can get it out of my head and "someday" I might want to "maybe" buy them or do those items on my list.

I may never actually follow through on those items on my someday maybe list.

Let me give you a concrete example so you can see how this might work. The other day I was working and and had to wait in a break room for a few minutes before a meeting. In the break room was a book called the Impatient Gardner. It had a good section on how to make your lawn look good and I certainly would love to have a nice lawn. I didn't have time to finish reading the book, so I sent myself a text to remember to put it on my someday maybe list which I did later. It would look like this:

  • Read the Impatient Gardner about lawn care

Just as a side note, I do send myself texts for things I need to put on my next action lists but in this case, this wasn't something I would definitely have to do or not. I might like to read this book again. I might lose interest which will probably be the case. I didn't want to forget though just in case.

When I do my GTD weekly review, I scan my someday maybe list quickly to see if there is anything on my list that I might want to take action on now. If so, and if it is a item that requires more than one step, I would put it on my project list and assign a next action to it.

As another example, on my wish list is to create a section in the members area of this site for new members to give them instructions on what to do first and how to get started. During my weekly review, I would put this on my project list as something like:

  • Set up quick start section on the Black Belt Project for new members

I would then look at that project and decide what the next action is. In this case, I would probably decide that I would like to make a welcome page for new members. I use an @action list for this and would put down the following next action.

  • Create a welcome page on the Black Belt Project

I would then finish my weekly review.

Once an item goes from my someday maybe list to my next action list, it never returns to my someday maybe list. It stays on my next action list until I decide to do it or it gets stale and I figure out that I am just probably never going to do it anyway.

Each week, I prune my next action list of items that are completed or that I just won't do for one reason or another. Otherwise, items stay on my list as long as needed to remind me to do them regardless of how big the list gets.

What tended to happen for me at this point was that I found things would stay on the action list and I just wouldn't do them for one reason or another and I also didn't want to delete them.

I've noticed that this issue cropped up for me in all areas of my system. At first, I noticed that my inbox would be crammed full of stuff and I wouldn't get it to empty. Then I would noticed that my @calls list wouldn't get done on my calls list as well as things not getting done on my action lists.

How I tackled this issue was by starting at the front end of my system and making sure that I would get that component of my system to black belt. I started getting collection under control. I then got my inbox always to empty. I pictured in my head an iron pressing everything down my system and moving it out kind of like tube of toothpaste on the other end.

What I noticed happen is that my head was clear enough to focus on the next thing I needed to get functioning at a high level. I would make all of my calls on my calls list for example.

The other thing that helps me is by looking at each list as an assembly line and to handle one item at a time as it appears on the list just like when I process the stuff in my inbox.

I also give myself permission to have a list as long as I need and permission to not have to do everything just because I put it on my list.

Which boils down to the problem a lot of us GTD'ers have and that is the "DOING" part of GTD. It's a lot more fun to organize everything but a lot harder to actually do.

I'm not saying that your problem is a problem related to doing. But it sure was for me. I think for you I would suggest that you make your someday maybe list a one way ticket to your next action list and if it doesn't get done there, it is a one way ticket out of your system either because you did it or decided you weren't going to ever do it.

I also suggest to periodically prune your someday maybe list of items you have lost interest in but I wouldn't hold the items on your someday maybe list to as a high standard as your action list. This is because a "wish list" is just that. Things you dream you might want to do and I wouldn't ever want anyone to limit those. You could also consider segmenting your someday maybe list into two groups items. Things that might be more likely you would do and others you might not think you would ever get around to. I personally use only one list.

One other side note to your question that pertains to the length of your weekly review. It made me wonder if you are doing more processing and organizing than actually reviewing. I would also confirm with yourself that in your review, you are reviewing and not doing. I use to do that a lot without realizing it.

I hope this helps and good luck getting your someday maybe list under control.

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Michael Kuhn

Black Belt Project: Build Mental Strength


Thank you Mary Sue for the question. This helps to on my part. I to have a huge weekly list that never gets done. Then my daily list is really big. This week I am going to try something different. Put only about 6 items on there and at the bottom of the page put two extra action.

Hey Tina,
This is exactly how you move to black belt. Once you set the bar and you and achieve the 6 items, I'd suggest that is where you leave it. Each time you work on that list get at least six done. Once you are strong enough to do six every single time, move it to seven. I call this progressive resistance. It's like if you go to the gym. If you can do an exercise where you lift five pounds easily, increase it 6 pounds. You won't notice the difference much but small increases over time improve your mental strength incredibly. Good luck and report back!