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  • What actually works

    Hello

    Like everyone else, I am evaluating software to incorporate into my trusted system. There are some really useful talks to download form this site, and recently I have done quite a lot of work defining the projects I have in my life. Having gone through this exercise, I find that I have lots. Lots and lots and lots.

    As I work with each of my areas of focus, I find more- on one hand that's daunting, but on another I am getting lots more clarity regarding not only what a done project looks like, but also what I want to see develop with each of my areas of focus.

    It's fantastic to work from an image of "done" and then clarify what next action or actions I need to take. All really good so far.

    I remember in one of the downloads David Allen mentioned about tags, and alluded to the fact that systems which require a lot of information, also require a lot of maintaining: This is massively true, and I have hit a bit of a problem:

    A very simple list turns into a forest when I add all my projects
    A very complex list with lots of options is just way too heavy to wield
    Some programs become confusing to navigate when loaded with 30-50 projects

    I'd love to know what people find light enough to maintain, yet wide enough to give visibility on all projects.

    A heretical point here: I don't use contexts. The reason is that I actually have all the resources I have to hand all the time- I think that's becoming more the case as computing becomes more lightweight. I think that contexts for me may be a little bit too much fine-tuning for my purposes. But I am prepared to be corrected...

    Thanks for your help and thoughts!

  • #2
    All projects? No contexts?

    Originally posted by danscoular View Post
    I'd love to know what people find light enough to maintain, yet wide enough to give visibility on all projects.
    Why do you need to see all your projects all the time? I prefer to have no access to my Someday/Maybe list except for the Weekly Review time.

    Originally posted by danscoular View Post
    A heretical point here: I don't use contexts. The reason is that I actually have all the resources I have to hand all the time- I think that's becoming more the case as computing becomes more lightweight. I think that contexts for me may be a little bit too much fine-tuning for my purposes. But I am prepared to be corrected...
    You don't use contexts?

    So you buy everything on-line (no Errands)?

    And you communicate with people via e-mail/chat only (no Agendas)?

    And you don't wait for something to happen (no Waiting Fors)?

    And you prefer to merge all your personal (Home) and professional (Office/Work) Next Actions?

    Then it's OK!

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by danscoular View Post
      A heretical point here: I don't use contexts. The reason is that I actually have all the resources I have to hand all the time.
      Well, resources in the sense of tools, maybe yes, to a very high degree, but what about people, and places? I have a context for @Person and a context for @Out, which I find very handy I have five contexts all in all, just enough to be able to split my next actions into a few manageable groups.

      (Waiting and Someday are not among my "contexts", as my last two apps have both had a special pre-defined distinction for Next, Waiting, Someday and Scheduled, but otherwise I might have implemented those using the context feature.)

      So I am not very heretical when it comes to contexts.

      But here is heretical thought: I have little or no use at all for a single, long, consolidated list of projects the way it is described for paper GTD. I almost always look at a limited subset of the projects, particularly when I review them. In my current app, there is a hierarchical level above the project level, which allows me to very simply classify each new project once and for all as belonging to a particular goal or group of AoRs. I have five such goal/area buckets at the top level, which is just nice for me. My previous app had a different feature to accomplish something similar. I only rarely look at the long projects list, end even that list I keep grouped in a systematic way.

      Another heretical preference of mine is that I do not like to mix big and small projects in the same list. The fact that some little thing happens to have "steps" in it (tasks), does not, in my mind, justify it taking up space in my list of more significant projects. I want my projects list to be intuitively meaningful to me, and not too long. Tiny GTD projects I tend to implement using various workarounds, e.g. single task with comments (and just change the context now and then, if necessary) or as separate single tasks (with undocumented linkage). The latter is not quite as messy as it sounds, because I keep all my single actions grouped artificially into AoR buckets (implemented using the project feature). I have 10 such AoR single actions "projects" in addition to a couple of dozen real active projects.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Folke View Post
        I have five such goal/area buckets at the top level, which is just nice for me. My previous app had a different feature to accomplish something similar. I only rarely look at the long projects list, end even that list I keep grouped in a systematic way.
        Thank you both: Which apps do you use to achieve that end?

        I can see the point in segregating major efforts form small projects: when I was listening to the GTD course material on Projects, one of the speakers discussed how she sometimes recommended using Areas of Focus for really compex projects with various elements, which made sense to me. For instance, I am currently working on something which is in no way my whole job, but is currently taking a significant amount of time.

        I am finding it interesting that in order to become truly effective, a list needs to be really quite flexible, rather than a snapshot of the current situation.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by danscoular View Post
          Which apps do you use to achieve that end?
          I am currently using Doit.im and previously used Nirvana. Doit has a level above projects called Goals. Nirvana has a "tag" called Area that you can use for filtering. I am convinced you could use Omnifocus, too - as I understand it it has a level above projects called Folders.

          Yes, really huge projects that might take a couple of years and are very dominating in your life I too prefer to segregate at the top level (called Goals in Doit). The way I see it, these actually are GTD 30 k objectives (or goals or "super-projects" if you will). My top level currently consists of two such "super-projects" and three "permanent containers" for my main groups of AoRs (Business, Not-for-Profit, Personal).

          Under these five top level containers I keep all my normal projects and my 10 "permanent containers" for my 10 AoRs (in these 10 containers I keep my single actions for the respective AoR).

          And in each of these projects there can be - in reality, but not in my app - subprojects, which is something my app cannot handle, so I use tasks with comments, or tasks with checkable subtasks without context, or multiple unlinked single tasks, or other means to accommodate these. It may sound messy, but in practice I do not find this to be a problem.

          I try to keep my writing and categorization work down to a minimum, so I often find it handy to have small everyday projects listed as a single task, and I just pingpong (drag) the task between Next and Waiting, or between @Person and @Out and @Device depending on what the next obvious step is. If it is clear enough to me what I need to do, then there is no need to be overly formal.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by danscoular View Post

            A very simple list turns into a forest when I add all my projects
            A very complex list with lots of options is just way too heavy to wield
            Some programs become confusing to navigate when loaded with 30-50 projects

            I'd love to know what people find light enough to maintain, yet wide enough to give visibility on all projects.

            A heretical point here: I don't use contexts. The reason is that I actually have all the resources I have to hand all the time- I think that's becoming more the case as computing becomes more lightweight. I think that contexts for me may be a little bit too much fine-tuning for my purposes. But I am prepared to be corrected...

            Thanks for your help and thoughts!
            Could you say a bit more about what you are actually doing, and what tools (and platforms) you are using? What programs have you tried? What didn't work for you? Do you have separate project, next action, agenda, waiting and someday/maybe lists? When you say you always have everything you need with you, what do you mean? How do you work? Do you do weekly reviews? The more we know, the better the advice we can give. GTD is pretty adaptable, but sometimes what seems logical is not very workable.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
              Could you say a bit more about what you are actually doing, and what tools (and platforms) you are using? What programs have you tried? What didn't work for you? Do you have separate project, next action, agenda, waiting and someday/maybe lists? When you say you always have everything you need with you, what do you mean? How do you work? Do you do weekly reviews? The more we know, the better the advice we can give. GTD is pretty adaptable, but sometimes what seems logical is not very workable.
              Hi there,

              For project support I use Dropbox and Evernote
              For my weekly review and for brainstorming projects I use Mindjet
              I try to combine my list of projects with their next action/actions

              I always listened to comments about lists having "way too much horsepower" and for the past three years I have used Todoist pretty consistently. I like it's cleanliness, but have found it hard to maintain once the data's in there.

              In October I moved over to using Macs: I hardly ever use a Windows machine now. I've been working with Things since October, and I like it's simplicity. However, I don't quite trust that it does things automatically for you.

              I've veered away from Omnifocus, because it seemed to fit the category of "too much horsepower". It's not exactly pretty, but it might be more accessible (i.e. you can quickly jump into something and adjust it.)... I haven't really started to use it yet, widely, but have practiced loading one of my projects into it and it does feel quite friendly at first.

              I find my weekly review is essential. If I don't do that one week, then I completely loose the long view. Mind maps are really the best way I have found to link 40-30-20-10k feet, and then I link them to projects and areas of focus in my list.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Folke View Post
                I am currently using Doit.im and previously used Nirvana. Doit has a level above projects called Goals. Nirvana has a "tag" called Area that you can use for filtering. I am convinced you could use Omnifocus, too - as I understand it it has a level above projects called Folders.

                Yes, really huge projects that might take a couple of years and are very dominating in your life I too prefer to segregate at the top level (called Goals in Doit). The way I see it, these actually are GTD 30 k objectives (or goals or "super-projects" if you will). My top level currently consists of two such "super-projects" and three "permanent containers" for my main groups of AoRs (Business, Not-for-Profit, Personal).

                Under these five top level containers I keep all my normal projects and my 10 "permanent containers" for my 10 AoRs (in these 10 containers I keep my single actions for the respective AoR).

                And in each of these projects there can be - in reality, but not in my app - subprojects, which is something my app cannot handle, so I use tasks with comments, or tasks with checkable subtasks without context, or multiple unlinked single tasks, or other means to accommodate these. It may sound messy, but in practice I do not find this to be a problem.

                I try to keep my writing and categorization work down to a minimum, so I often find it handy to have small everyday projects listed as a single task, and I just pingpong (drag) the task between Next and Waiting, or between @Person and @Out and @Device depending on what the next obvious step is. If it is clear enough to me what I need to do, then there is no need to be overly formal.
                Thanks for describing your setup- looks excellent, and I especially like your way of dealing with super-projects. I have been trying Things recently, and actually have just downloaded Omnifocus to evaluate...

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by danscoular View Post
                  I find my weekly review is essential. If I don't do that one week, then I completely loose the long view. Mind maps are really the best way I have found to link 40-30-20-10k feet, and then I link them to projects and areas of focus in my list.
                  You are using reasonable tools that work well for lots of people. My best guess is that you are not spending enough time on the runway, and too much time on beyond 10k, especially on linking things together. Under normal conditions, you should not have to review your 1-2 year goals (30k) weekly. Something like 20k monthly, 30k+ quarterly is sufficient for most people. Things and Omnifocus do let you group by areas of focus, but it' snot necessary. Let me ask you a question: When you carry out a next action, do you look at its associated project, perhaps before or after the action? If so, try to write next actions that don't require this. When you are done working on some project for the time being, just write the very next action on the correct context list without looking at the project. I may be wrong, but less linking, less planning, more doing seems right.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                    Under normal conditions, you should not have to review your 1-2 year goals (30k) weekly. Something like 20k monthly, 30k+ quarterly is sufficient for most people.
                    I totally agree.

                    Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                    Things and Omnifocus do let you group by areas of focus, but it' snot necessary ... I may be wrong, but less linking, less planning, more doing seems right.
                    I agree that more doing is the way to go. And I agree that some apps have an "unwieldy" way of dealing with areas. But keeping things organized in a hierarchy normally does not mean that you need to spend time reviewing or rethinking it all the time. The hierarchical structure you have created is "just always there" for you as a convenient means to access and review your actions. The linking as such happens more or less automatically; if you "file" a new action under a certain project, then that action will automatically belong to the same area or goal to which the project has been associated.

                    Reviewing my actions hierarchically - goal by goal, area by area, project by project etc - is, in my opinion, the best order for me to review my projects and actions weekly, but I do not review the definitions of the goals and areas as such every week.

                    And nothing says you absolutely need to "file" each and every action under a project. Personally, I create "later today" next actions straight on my "starred" list without any filing classifications at all initially (except maybe context). But if the task is going to hang around on my lists longer, and I want to unstar it, only then do I also add a project assignation and a review priority. That's all I actually need to do to keep the linking in place. Not much work at all.
                    Last edited by Folke; 03-01-2014, 09:14 AM.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                      When you carry out a next action, do you look at its associated project, perhaps before or after the action? If so, try to write next actions that don't require this. When you are done working on some project for the time being, just write the very next action on the correct context list without looking at the project.
                      Thank you both, this is really superb. Yes, when I carry out a next action, I always have an eye on the project and what "done" looks like for that project.

                      So check the big picture every quarter, plan weekly at a more granular level than I currently do, and then work on those specific tasks, being sure that those tasks are really clear.

                      Not looking at the project: I am guessing at some point you associate your new next actions with the relevant project- during a weekly review?

                      Really useful help and much appreciated, thank you.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by danscoular View Post
                        Not looking at the project: I am guessing at some point you associate your new next actions with the relevant project- during a weekly review?
                        Really, it's up to you and depends on the tool. Some people associate next actions with projects invisibly- they just know. Some people write keywords into the next action, or use a notation like "next action [project]". Some people use tags, and some apps support a direct connection. Some people only make an explicit connection for bigger projects. Cleaning up connections during the weekly review is a generally good thing to do, but whatever you do needs to be fast and easy, with no resistance or friction. The less work you have to do to maintain a workable system, the better. As David Allen says, the system has to not break down when you have the flu.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by danscoular View Post
                          I've veered away from Omnifocus, because it seemed to fit the category of "too much horsepower".
                          I think that the issue with OmniFocus is that people feel that they have to use all that equipment. To use a kitchen as an analogy, the fact that the drawer contains a pastry cutter and three different sizes of wire whisks and an egg separator and a lemon zester doesn't stop you from just grabbing a spoon and scooping something up. But with OmniFocus, it's not instantly obvious what's analogous to a spoon and what's analogous to a lemon zester.

                          But when you do narrow down to the spoons and use them for a while, it can be really great when you say, "You know, it would be great if I could separate the yolk from the white...hey, look! This thing's been there all along!"

                          I'd say that the "spoons" in OmniFocus are:

                          - Projects
                          - Actions in projects
                          - Folders of projects
                          - The Context view, even if you don't use Contexts, because it lets you see all your tasks together.

                          To set up "spoon mode" I'd probably recommend going to the Data tab in preferences, setting

                          "New Projects and Action Groups" to "Parallel"
                          "In Context Mode, Show Projects and Action Groups" to False.
                          "When completing the last item, mark project or action group complete" to False.

                          And in the General tab in preferences, set "Immediately clean up Quick Entry items" to False.
                          Last edited by Gardener; 03-03-2014, 12:52 PM.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Gardener View Post
                            "New Projects and Action Groups" to "Parallel"
                            "In Context Mode, Show Projects and Action Groups" to False.
                            "When completing the last item, mark project or action group complete" to False.

                            And in the General tab in preferences, set "Immediately clean up Quick Entry items" to False.
                            Thank you very much: I have just done that and will see how it runs for the next month!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                              Cleaning up connections during the weekly review is a generally good thing to do, but whatever you do needs to be fast and easy, with no resistance or friction. The less work you have to do to maintain a workable system, the better.
                              Completely agree!

                              Comment

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