Should I Stay, or Should I Go? - Next Action Associates

Monika Danner has worked in corporate HR and leadership roles for more than 15 years. She has been a GTD® practitioner since 2014 and works as a certified GTD trainer for Next Action Partners in Germany.

My personal Covid journey is marked by entering the world of virtual training. When I first offered seminars on Zoom and Microsoft Teams in early April 2020, I thought that it would probably be over in a few weeks or months.

The nervousness about tools (where is the chat? How do breakouts work? Why can’t I share my slide deck?) was quickly overcome – virtual workshops have become a daily routine for many of us in the world of training. In fact, they will probably not ever disappear from corporate training programs now.

Personally, I love the presence of people in the room and look forward to the return of in-person workshops! But I also enjoy teaching in the virtual space, and sometimes feel I get even closer to some of my clients than I did before.

From a trainer point of view, handling large groups may be a challenging task – in-person, and even more on Zoom. Of course, we have our tricks. In GTD® training sessions, for example, we talk a lot about focus, and distraction as its worst opponent and enemy. We trainers usually quickly notice when this enemy has entered the room. Rules on phone use can be agreed upon, but especially when we work live in our clients’ inboxes, their emails sometimes shout so loudly that we can hear it all the way to the front: “Look at me! It’ll go really fast. I promise. You can do both, read this little email AND listen to the trainer.”

Here’s hoping that for you, a GTD-trained reader of this blog, the question of multitasking will only evoke an indulgent smile, although I will spare myself the explanation that this will never be the case…

During virtual training, distraction has moved even closer. Mobile phone rules are suspended, email inboxes are just too tempting and too close – maybe even permanently open on a second screen. The others won’t notice! Just a quick check on WhatsApp! The call for all cameras to be switched on permanently is standard advice, but I confess: I actually don’t think that everyone should always have their camera on. I don’t want to control whether delegates are focused, and quite frankly, I also can’t. Distraction as my enemy, I prefer to look it straight in the eye before every training session and tell myself: “Hey, I’m just better and more exciting than you, and you will get your break times between my sessions, when you’re allowed to strike.”

However, a few months ago, this well-known enemy got a little sister, born and raised up in a remote working world. And she is dangerous. Because she pretends to be the “good version” of distraction.

I’m talking about appointments that are created parallel to training times, and which force my training participants to decide which button in their diary to click. Far more often than I experienced in face-to-face training, seminar participants these days have to fulfill organisational obligations even during full training days. “I’m afraid I have to leave early” and “I’ll be absent tomorrow from 1 to 3pm.” This now usually happens to more than one person in almost every one of my groups. Respecting training times seems to be less pronounced in organisations since they “only” take place on the screen.

As a trainer, I sometimes get questions beforehand on how important the content e.g. from 3-5 p.m. on day one will be, and if it is okay to miss it. When I recently received a similar, nice and polite request from a participant, I thought about what kind of GTD-esque response would be appropriate to this case.

First of all, we would consider a conflicting appointment to be “stuff”, that has to be captured and clarified. In that process, we then ask: what is the “next action” for this second diary entry? As GTD coaches, we often hear that answer: “Decide whether I will attend appointment xy”.

Erm… we don’t really let that count as a next action. Why? Because we believe that “deciding” is not a clearly defined next action. But what we do understand is: “I can’t actually decide upon my next action, because I don’t know what I would rather do. Or maybe have to do because my organisation tells me to.”

Attention, fasten your seatbelts: This is where it gets tricky – we leave the safe shore of day-to-day, next action-based business, and embark on a journey towards our Horizons of Focus, ending up with the big question of “How do I spend my time “?

The magic word for this journey is: Why?

My first question to the participant was therefore: “Why do you actually want to participate in the training? Are you pursuing a specific qualification project (Horizon 1)? To which of your areas of focus does this project belong (Horizon 2)? And does it possibly contribute to higher goals (Horizon 3)? And what about the other appointment, if you keep asking the “why” question? Which of the two appointments will help you most to achieve your long-term visions? “

Other questions can help with the decision, such as the “worst case”-scenario: What is the worst thing that can happen, if you do miss the other appointment? Once the space is opened in this way, I can start thinking in alternatives and variations. I could miss one thing or another, I can be represented, I can make an effort to reschedule, I can ask for a recording in Zoom and watch it later. The possibilities can then be operationalised again in next actions:

@phone: Call Erik to check if the appointment can be rescheduled

@Computer: Email Sara and ask what the exact content of the meeting will be

@Agendas: Ask Stefanie if she can take over the conflicting appointment

Like everything, drawing on the focus horizons to make daily decisions takes a bit of practice. And of course, as a trainer, I believe that it is the decision to spend a lot of your life time with me on Zoom. But I too – like most people – can very much live with a decision against me, if it is made with clarity and focus. Which is, as it happens, also the best weapon against distraction and double bookings from the organisation!


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