Using MYN with Getting Things Done (GTD)

Feb 8, 2010

I have been a fan of GTD® for some time. Its focus on next actions is something I applaud (I recommend that all tasks written on the MYN-Tasks list be written as next actions). Of course, GTD did not invent the next action concept, it’s been around for decades. But it did bring it to recent focus.

My strong encouragement to use next actions in your MYN Now-Tasks list (see Lesson 6 in my Outlook book) is about the extent of the obvious overlap between MYN and GTD. MYN’s unique approach to task management is otherwise a quite different system. But they can easily be used together and so you can get the best of both. If you are a GTD user and are looking for more ways to integrate MYN with GTD, here are some ideas on how to do that. Let me know in comments section if you see more ways.

First of all, the two systems are completely compatible—there is nothing in MYN that conflicts with GTD, and nothing in GTD that I find unusable with MYN. Even better, they are fantastic when used together. In fact, many GTD users say that adding MYN principles on top of GTD solves many issues that come up in GTD if it is not used with care. And MYN’s intelligent integration with Outlook provides one way to marry GTD with Outlook, and in a very powerful way.

Here are the best ways to integrate MYN and GTD.

  • Treat MYN’s Now-Tasks list (the Critical Now and Opportunity Now lists combined) as your GTD next-action list. MYN’s smart way to manage tasks there gives you much more control than normal GTD and solves the common problem of the GTD next-action list getting too long to easily review. Used correctly, MYN gives you the tools to keep the next-action list well controlled and well managed.
  • Treat the Low Priority section (Over the Horizon) as the GTD someday maybe list. Like the GTD next-action list, many GTD users complain their someday maybe list quickly becomes too long to review, and tasks there just disappear never to be seen again. As a result, they they stop using the someday maybe list. You’ll see in Lesson 9 of my Outlook book (or pg 73 of  Master Your Workday Now!) how MYN’s Defer to Review process solves that problem quite elegantly (and you don’t need Outlook to use it; any automated task system with start dates works—like ToodleDo). Defer to Review gives you a very intelligent way of deciding what low-priority entries to review, and when to review them. The result is your weekly review is not overwhelming, but tasks still get the appropriate attention they need. If you are a GTD user, you are going to love the MYN Defer to Review process in Lesson 9 of the book.
  • Use the Follow-Up Task process (discussed in Lesson 6 and 8 in my Outlook book, and pg 94 of Master Your Workday Now!) to replace the GTD waiting-for list. It accomplishes the same thing in a way that I think is easier to use because it places the item right in your Now-Tasks list at exactly the right time. It avoids you having one more list to review.
  • GTD’s definition of a project is much different from that in MYN. In GTD, any task that requires multiple steps is defined as a project, so even very small efforts are called projects. In MYN, only large efforts that require formal project management skills are called projects. However, both systems recognize the need to create a project list, and Lesson 12 in the Outlook book shows you various ways to make a projects list in Outlook that meets the needs of both GTD and MYN. With that list, you can then use the list to feed next-action tasks into the MYN Now-Tasks list. Also, look at the MORE tasks solution for multi-step tasks written up in Lesson 6 of the Outlook book.
  • GTD uses the concept of Context to define where and when to focus on what tasks. It identifies tags like @Computer and @Phone that you can sort on to show you candidate tasks to work on when you are in those settings. MYN does not have a similar concept. In fact, in these days of smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, I do not see a strong need for the Context concept. But that said, if you find the Context approach to be useful, you can easily add GTD Context tags to tasks in the MYN system by placing them in Outlook Categories (or ToodleDo’s Folders) that are then tagged on your MYN tasks. You can then use the skills you learn in Lesson 3 of the Outlook book to add a category column to the MYN tasks list in the To-Do Bar or TaskPad. Or use the Customize button on ToodleDo. Either way, you can see those Context names in your Now-Tasks list, and even sort on them.

Those are the obvious ways that GTD and MYN can be used together. I think you will find that TWC-MYN solves the common challenges people have with GTD, but still lets you implement all of GTD’s principles. And I think you will find that GTD principles help clarify how best to use MYN. Feel free to use as many or as few of the ideas above to merge the two systems. And let me know how it goes.

(Getting Things Done and GTD are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company).

9 thoughts on “Using MYN with Getting Things Done (GTD)

  1. Ben

    I agree with all the points you’ve brought up Michael. I’ve been synthesizing the two systems for about two years now, and most of the methods you advocate have found a place in my daily practices. One thing to be added to the context discussion is that in addition to the TaskPad/To-Do Bar view of my Now tasks (written in next-action form), I also created a custom view in the tasks area where I group by context (beginning with @…), thus grouping my contexts together for easy viewing. One thing to mention though is that if a person follows your advice to keep the Now-tasks list to 15-20 current items, the list is short enough that figuring out which items can be accomplished in the existing context isn’t that difficult.

    I’d be very interested to hear how people are blending the GTD discussion of goals management with the MYN system. This is one of my weakest areas still, and I’d love more advice.

    Reply
  2. Rachel R.

    I haven’t actually read Master Your Workday Now! yet (it’s in the mail); I’ve just read The One Minute To-Do List while I wait for it to arrive. So I’ve not fully implemented things. I’m still mulling it over in my head.

    But here is my dilemma: I use paper. I don’t have/use mobile devices, so if I set up a computer-based system it’s clunky and falls by the wayside and I keep going back to my tried-and-tested pen and paper. But all of the higher-level elements of this system – like Defer-to-Review – are highly dependent on the ability to automate the process.

    So I’m wondering if anyone else has integrated this with a paper-based system and could weigh in on how they set it up. (Is there a message board somewhere or something?)

    I’m realizing that I’ve actually been using my (GTD-style) Context lists as something of a Defer-to-Review. I’m a stay-at-home homeschool mom and blogger. So I have a lot of online work, but apart from that no real “corporate”-type tasks, and no corporate setting. Meanwhile, I have a heavy focus on household tasks that need to be managed. So I’ve had Contexts for a long time that are dedicated to certain days of the week that I focus on certain types of tasks or parts of the house.

    Putting an item on the “kitchen” list, for instance, has ensured that I don’t have to look at it again until my next weekly “kitchen day” rolls around. But I’ve been pulling out a few more urgent tasks, writing them on a sticky note, and sticking them to my calendar for the day. So at some level I knew I was deferring most of those tasks until a later date, but some couldn’t get “lost” until that time. Simply being conscious of this and doing it intentionally will be quite helpful, I think!

    Reply
    1. Michael Linenberger Post author

      Rachel, the book you are waiting for, Master Your Workday Now! , shows a way to use Defer to Review on paper. (Thanks for your post!), Michael

      Reply
  3. Keith

    Hello,

    Just finished reading the book and loved it. I do have a question about merging GTD and MYN, specifically related to Agendas (or items that you want to track for each next 1×1) Would you have one per @Agenda, or one per item per Agenda using the initials as indicated in the book. Very curious to hear your thoughts!

    Reply
  4. Markus

    The last question by Keith is already a year old, but i would also like to hear Michaels opinion about how he handles “Agenda” / 1:1 items

    Reply
    1. Michael Linenberger Post author

      Hi Markus, I may have replied by email to Keith, cannot remember, but my answer would have been this: I put my agendas in the Calendar appointment itself, rather than in tasks. Hope that helps, Michael.

      Reply
  5. Tom

    Michael,

    Like many, I have struggled to implement the canonical GTD methodology (let alone share it with my team or demonstrate its best practices). It is only after getting my teeth into MYN that I have really managed to make work, well…work!

    That said, I feel that the by-the-book methodology that David Allen lays out does have some cool features that can be easily utilised in electronic implementations of MYN with a few simple tweaks:

    Batching in certain contexts: For me, the greatest tool in the GTD toolkit to me is the ability to open a list of similar next-actions, start at the top, and mindlessly crank through. This is an oft-overlooked way to get a massive return on energy, as the elimination of context-switching manages to preserve critical attention in the middle of the day (key for ADD-types such as myself). However, by using keywords when typing next actions, you can simply search in ToodleDo/Outlook and come up with a similar list. The use of “@ … {Grocery Store/Hardware Store/Town}” can also help here, as can setting start dates on personal tasks to (ideally a weekend) date when you actually intend to do them (Ari Meisel-style). This may not be a perfect substitute, but it does help keep everything in one system.

    Task Selection: The paradigm for choosing actions in the GTD system always seemed a bit head-in-the-clouds for me. That said, it can be good to walk through those steps from time-to-time. The ‘Time Mapping’ concept in the Outlook book is a perfect workaround here, as it eliminates the need for conscious decision-making during the day (David Allen quotes Roy Baumeister frequently, but seems to overlook the extraordinary implications of his work. Whether you realise it or not, I think MYN is far more congruent with the research in this area).

    ‘Project’ management: I use projects in quote marks because of the distinct definition that GTD holds. I have personally found that having a ‘stake in the ground’ to check weekly is hugely helpful in putting my mind to rest that I am not letting anything slip. That said, the “PigPog” workaround in the Outlook book is a massive time-saver in that it keeps that stake fixed without the need for extensive weekly reviewing (recommended reading, even for Mac/ToodleDo users such as myself).

    Furthermore, the extended defer-to-review cycles shorten the time required for system maintenance, which I believe is a key issue in compliance with these kind of personal management systems (plus the fact that the weekly review can be darn tedious!).

    Sorry for rambling – hope some of this is of benefit to someone!

    WIth gratitude,
    Tom

    Reply
    1. chris

      Just wanted to say thanks for the rambling post, @Tom. All good points and reminders. I love applying MYN practices on top of GTD fundamentals…it works very well!

      Reply

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