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  • GTD implementation in AP

    Longstreet asked me for the details of how I implement GTD in the hierarchical outliner application called Achieve Planner. What follows is my answer to him. I don't think this would be of much interest to anyone not using Achieve Planner.

    Obviously I have customized AP to fit the needs of my job and lifestyle and you would need to make adjustments to accomodate the specifics of your life.

    I spend most of my time in AP using the Outline tab (Go, Outline). Within the Outline tab, I have customized my view (View, Customize Current View) to show the following fields in this order: Focus, Icon, Priority, Completed, Name, Target Start, Deadline, Assignee(s), and Keywords.

    At the top of the Outline tab I check the "Group by category" box. This places all my projects and tasks under the Personal and Work categories, and groups them by Results Areas. I have 9 personal Results Areas and 14 work Results Areas. Results Areas in AP are what David Allen calls Areas of Focus in his GTD book. It's similar to what Covey calls roles. I like to see my projects and tasks grouped by Results Areas. All my Purchasing projects and tasks are grouped together, all my Finance projects and tasks are grouped together, all my Human Resources projects and tasks are grouped together, etc.

    I color code all my items by priority (Tools, Options, Display, Priorities).

    I wrote a lengthy write-up a while ago titled "GTD 2.0" describing my overall strategy for implementing GTD in AP. The gist of it was that I use what AP calls "Priorities" to segregate active from inactive items.

    At my Weekly Review I assign priority codes to my projects. A project gets an A priority if I plan on doing some action on that project in the coming week. It gets a B priority if I plan on doing some action on that project in the coming month. C if I plan on doing some action in the next 3 months. D is more than 3 months.

    On possible future tweak would be to reduce the priorities to 2 or 3 from 4. Please note that what I am suggesting with regard to priorities is the same thing that the David Allen Co. trainers do. They just don't use A, B, C, D. But the forum is full of advice like, "Put everything into Someday/Maybe, except what you plan to work on next week." In my implementation of AP, that could translate into, "Assign priority B to everything except what you plan to work on next week, which gets an A."

    Going through my outline view column by column I have:
    Focus: I like to assign a focus to some projects or actions for the next week. An A priority means I will do something. But a focus means I will try to commit significant effort to the item.

    Icon: I like using the icon to differentiate projects from tasks.

    Completed checkbox: when it's completed I check the box and the item disappears from the view.

    Priority: I never filter on priority in this view. But I need to enter a priority when I create a new item.

    Name: I use the convention that projects begin with subject and end with a verb in the past tense: Will instructions prepared, Vanguard assets allocated, Health Insurance contract signed, etc. Tasks (NAs) begin with a verb in the present tense (if I am the person doing it): call John, measure table, organize cabinet #4, etc.

    Target start: I just added this. I like to keep a record of when I entered the item. It's especially helpful when I call someone who hasn't done what they said they would in time.

    Deadline: I don't assign every item a deadline.

    Assignee(s): I filter on this field frequently throughout the day. A lot of my job is keeping tabs on what others are supposed to be doing. Many of the items in my system are Waiting Fors. When my supplier Frank calls me to tell me what a great job he did on the last bunch of widgets he sent me I filter this column for "Frank" and remind him of the 6 other jobs that he promised to have to me last month and which I still have not received. The AP grid system is great at displaying lots of information in one screen. This is a great feature.

    Keywords: I use this field for GTD's contexts. I keep my contexts very simple: Home, Office, Errand, Someday, and Waiting For.

    Once a week I do my Weekly Review. AP has an amazing view in the Outline tab called Active Project Priority. It enables me to filter all my A Projects and their children irrespective of the children's priority. So my Weekly Reviews go much fast than they used to go prior to using AP. First I filter all my A Projects by using the P-Priority field. Then I filter my B Projects. I usually skim through my Cs and Ds rather quickly.

    My Active Project Priority columns are the same as above. The only difference is that the P-Priority column is added.

    You will notice that AP has all kinds of very powerful tools and gizmos that I do not use. I don't use the Task Chooser. I don't run the Schedule tool to find out which items are overdue. I don't use the Project Blocks and I don't use its Weekly Schedule, since I have a calendar in Outlook. My feeling is that these are great gizmos but I have decided that they are not worth the overhead. I want to spend as little time as possible massaging my system and as much time as possible doing.

    I currently have 182 projects. I don't feel overwhelmed, since many of these projects are Cs and Ds.

    If you have any questions, I 'll do my best to answer them.

  • #2
    Achieve Planner syncing with PDA

    Moises,

    After reading your GTD 2.0 post several months ago, I implemented your suggestions (as best as I could). I’ve really enjoyed this upgrade in how I do GTD. Because that has been so helpful to me, I decided to scan through many of your other posts. I consider myself indebted to you and your insights. Would you mind answering a few questions that I have?

    I would like to manage my next actions and projects as well as you do. I use the Outlook Add-in and find myself (like you mentioned) reluctant to create new projects because of the way it is configured. I see that Achieve Planner works well for you.

    Does it take any longer for you to process your email and get next actions/projects into Achieve Planner than using the GTD Outlook Add-in?

    I noticed in another post that you sync Achieve Planner tasks with Outlook to sync to your PDA. Is there a way for you look at your tasks by context in your PDA? If so, how? If I understand correctly, you’re using keywords in Achieve Planner for contexts, and I believe my Treo would need the @Whatever to be in the tasks Category field.

    How much longer is the process of syncing with your PDA since switching to Achieve Planner?

    Thanks so much!
    Tim

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by tim.dorsch View Post
      Moises,
      Does it take any longer for you to process your email and get next actions/projects into Achieve Planner than using the GTD Outlook Add-in?
      Yes. It takes longer. I must move or copy the e-mail to a folder and then sync AP with Outlook.

      Originally posted by tim.dorsch View Post
      I noticed in another post that you sync Achieve Planner tasks with Outlook to sync to your PDA. Is there a way for you look at your tasks by context in your PDA? If so, how? If I understand correctly, you’re using keywords in Achieve Planner for contexts, and I believe my Treo would need the @Whatever to be in the tasks Category field.

      How much longer is the process of syncing with your PDA since switching to Achieve Planner?
      Contexts work essentially the same way with AP and the Outlook Add-In (OL A-I). I could see my tasks by context in my PDA whether I used AP or OL A-I.

      My OL sync to my PDA uses Microsoft's ActiveSync. So it's syncing all the time. What's new is that I must periodically sync AP with OL. The sync could take a minute. I have many hundreds of tasks.

      Originally posted by tim.dorsch View Post
      Moises,

      After reading your GTD 2.0 post several months ago, I implemented your suggestions (as best as I could). I’ve really enjoyed this upgrade in how I do GTD. Because that has been so helpful to me, I decided to scan through many of your other posts. I consider myself indebted to you and your insights. . . .Thanks so much!
      Tim
      Glad to be of help.

      Just for the record, my move to AP was inspired by two posters on this forum, whose contributions are worthy studying. One was kewms and the other was andersons. Please note that neither of these posters use or used AP but they both were using electronic systems in exciting ways and were an inspiration to me. Also, it is worth noting that subsequent to my migration to AP, kewms underwent a conversion and has become a forceful and articulate advocate for a Luddite paper-based system.

      kewms-andersons argued convincingly that there is an advantage to having a system which can group by context or by project, depending on the user's needs at the moment. At the time, kewms was using MindManager with ResultsManager. I checked it out and I didn't feel it was for me. andersons was using LifeBalance.

      andersons had a system into which she entered all her tasks, along with due dates and values of importance. Her system spit out an ordered list of NAs and she would work off the list, in the order that her system instructed her.

      This sounded a lot like one version of GTD pictured by David Allen in the GTD Fast audio series. In GTD Fast, David says (with some hyperbole, no doubt) that he only thinks once a week, during his review. The rest of the week he cranks widgets. In other words, he does all the mental heavy lifting of deciding during his weekly review when he formulates his NAs as material, physical actions. For the remainder of the week he is merely doing which, allegedly, is very easy compared to the heavy thinking we executives are burdened with. I think that David called his NA list a punch list. The idea being that all the thought was involved in listing the NAs and the doing was mere physical, material acting.

      This "cranking widgets" perspective differs radically from the "stake in the ground" perspective which has been gaining currency on this forum of late, and to which I subscribe wholeheartedly. The "cranking widgets-LifeBalance-andersons" viewpoint requires that one's system have lots of dependent actions, not merely NAs. If I am going to be working off a list prepared a few days ago, then it better well have lots of steps, not merely the next step. The "stake in the ground" viewpoint requires only that my system have the Next Action, not all the actions I think I want to do in the next week. The stake-in-the-ground viewpoint is strongly tied to the notion of inertia. The hardest thing to do is to start. So, before I stop working on a project, I think about the first thing I would like to do the next time I start working on the project again. The idea is that once I restart the work, my NA will help me overcome the initial inertia. After that the other actions will be actions that I just do, without entering each one into my system. I only enter a NA into my system again when I am about to stop and I ask myself what the NA is on this project for the next time I choose to work on it.

      So, if my project is "Brooms Replaced", my NA might be "Examine existing brooms." If I wanted a widget-cranking punch list, or a LifeBalance ordered list, I would need to put in lots of dependent actions: "go to Home Depot," "buy new brooms", "give brooms to floor supervisor", "file receipt." If I want a stake-in-the-ground NA list, I merely have "Examine existing brooms" on my list. Once that NA is completed I add a new NA.

      The very concept of a NA is at odds with the widget-cranking perspective. I know that GTD has a strong appeal to geeky computer types. I am not in the computer field but I am geeky. andersons's field was cognitive science. Some of the more extreme geeks post here occasionally asking how GTD can be formalized so that our trusted system can be structured like a series of instructions that we mindlessly carry out. I think that this cannot be done and the search for it is futile.

      I believe that the stake-in-the-ground method is much more efficient than the alternative because my environment (and, presumably, the environments of most GTDers) is constantly changing, requiring me to reassess my action lists constantly. My NA is clear. But the action after that is always subject to revision depending on changing circumstances.

      andersons argued that cognitive science demonstrates that people often act irrationally. We often choose small short-term benefits and lose large long-term benefits. She argued that if we sit calmly at our desk and make a rational assessment of the importance of our projects, and we commit ourselves to carrying out the most important ones, we can use our system to overcome our all-too-human tendency to succumb to temptation.

      I found, however, that the nature of my work means that there is a lot of unpredictability. If I put all the actions I think I need to replace the brooms, invariably, something else will pop up. I don't want to keep adding little actions all the time to reorder the lists that my computer tells me to do. I don't want to spend too much time working my system; I want to spend that time doing.

      So the stake-in-the-ground is the only way to go as far as I am concerned. This means that the advantage of AP, and LifeBalance, and ResultsManager, is their ability to present our projects and NAs in a variety of different configurations depending on our needs at the moment. AP and LifeBalance will calculate what I "should" be doing next. But I don't want my system to tell me that.

      Comment


      • #4
        Do I need steak sauce on that stake in the ground?

        Moises, I really appreciate your reply. I haven't decided if I am going to purchase Achieve Planner or not. I made a couple of custom sorts with my Outlook Add-in that seem to be working better.

        I unknowingly adopted the stake-in-the-ground method recently after reading about how you are careful to not enter dependent tasks in AP. I think I used to be nervous that I would forget some insight from my weekly review about how to complete a project. Thus, if my next action was “put stake in ground” than I might wonder “maybe that stake needs steak sauce after it is in the ground” and I’d write a next action. However, I now put those thoughts in the comments field of the project task. Using project plans like this is what DA recommends in his book. However, I messed things up when I tried to guess future next actions. I used to regularly have dependent tasks that had become irrelevant. I do believe the stake-in-the-ground method is better because of the quickly changing nature of my world.

        By the way, I also have started writing my projects in the past tense as you and others have suggested. Besides the benefit of envisioning outcomes, it has made the Outlook Add-In more manageable. The drop down list used to work terribly because it alphabetizes by the first letter of the first word of the projects. My first words used to always be verbs. Therefore, I would have difficulty finding a project because I could not remember whether a project was named “Buy new printer” or “Purchase new printer”. Now, I can find “Printer bought” much more quickly. I naturally look in the alphabet similar to where I would have looked for something in my filing cabinet.

        Thanks again,
        Tim

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