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GTD Outlook 2003 white paper question re: Projects?

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  • GTD Outlook 2003 white paper question re: Projects?

    Apologies in advance if this has been addressed elsewhere, and I'm just not forum-savvy enough to find it If a previous post exists, I'd be happy to find my answers there, and then ask follow-up questions if necessary

    I've set up my GTD system as suggested by the "GTD & Outlook" whitepaper I purchased from DA's site. However, I'm a bit flummoxed. Like many folks, I have one large project that contains many smaller projects. The GTD setup outlined in the whitepaper seems to set me up well for horizontal control--over all activities in which I'm involved--but I'm not sure how I'm supposed to maintain vertical control over specific projects/"tracks" of work.

    For example, in the "Tasks" list, the whitepaper does a great job of providing some basic categories, but doesn't give much guidance on what to use the "projects" category for, except to maintain a list of current projects. When I'm creating tasks, should I also create a category for each project? What about subprojects--do I create a category for each subproject, and then categorize tasks with the subproject and main project? Seems like this creates a huge clutter of categories, but at the same time, I'm not sure of another good solution to do vertical tracking.

    Did I miss something? Is leaving out the "vertical control" element from the MS Outlook whitepaper a GTD principle, or a software limitation, or both...?

    I've heard about this idea of using the contact management categorization to deal with this more project-management issue in Outlook. Is this a better solution to just juggling projects and subprojects in Outlook?

    To be very specific, I'm looking for best practices to manage this information within a basic Outlook installation, instead of purchasing an add-on. Thanks for your help, all. Look forward to your insights.

  • #2
    The lack of vertical controls in the Outlook whitepaper is deliberate in the sense that there are no tried and true best practices Davidco had to share when it was written. David Allen states in the GTD FAST audio program that your brain will tie all the dots together during your Weekly Review. There is a small annotation on the workflow diagram for Project Plans ("Review for actions"), and that is where you're supposed to be able to tie vertical and horizontal together.

    In practice, I believe few people achieve this. The best homegrown, no add-on solution is to use Bill Kratz's Projects as Contacts method to link everything together if you don't think your brain will remember all that.

    I'd say it's one of the most common issues raised by GTD followers, and I believe David referred to this issue in some Podcast he's done recently.

    Any other thoughts on this?

    Brian

    Comment


    • #3
      I just implemented the GTD Outlook 2004 methodology from the whitepaper too...well, I'm still refining it

      In my opinion, it's intended to be a way to implement GTD for personal time/activity mgmt in Outlook. Seems like you're talking about more full-scale project planning and project management, and i dont' think that Outlook is the right tool for that, nor is GTD really intended to be a large scale program-project-activity methodology (and I think he states it overtly in the wpaper),.

      I think the whitepaper is consistent with DA's GTD book as a way to manage and integrate your own lists, including a list (yes only a list) of projects. The idea for GTD is that as you do periodic reviews of your project list, you "generate" next-actions and plop them on your NA lists; or as you complete one NA for a project, you consult your project plan and slap the next Next Action on your list. Point is: the actual project plans probably are separate animals that reside in your project folders.

      Remember: a "project" is anything that takes more than two steps to complete, so in GTD-ese that means "Build a Skyscraper" is a Project, and so is "Replace TV with HDTV". Obviously, Build-a-Skyscraper might require a whole team of managers to oversee the plans, phases, resources, and ultimately the actions: in other words, many lists and many folders. Whereas Replace-TV-with-HDTV probably has 3 to 5 NAs and probably only needs a folder if you're collecting research on what to buy, discount coupons, figuring out what HD receivers are needed, etc.

      I wouldn't recommend creating 1 category per project or sub-project; CATETORY (or LIST) --> ITEM is supposed to be a manageable hierarchy...you'd run the risk of having dozens and dozens of categories/lists, which in my view would be unmanageable and defeat the whole purpose. If you're using GTD for Outlook to manage a Build-the-Skyscraper project, then I think you're barking up the wrong tree.

      Everything's a happy medium of course, if you have a manageable number of "bigger but not gargantuan" projects, then you may want to create a category for each...

      Comment


      • #4
        My best advice: don't try to do project planning in Outlook. It wasn't designed for it, and it doesn't do it very well. If you add categories for projects as well as context categories, and especially if you add sub-project categories, there are a few possibilities. The most likely is that your system will become unmaintainable, and you will stop using it effectively. Another is that you will spend oodles of time maintaining your system, and some people do this. The projects-as-contacts trick works for some people too, but I have tried it several times and found it unwieldy. There are ongoing attempts by software developers to produce GTD-inspired software that allows connecting next actions to projects as well as to contexts in a way that is elegant and practical. Perhaps the most promising new product is OmniFocus (macs only), currently in alpha.

        If you have one big project, particularly one with a long time horizon, consider promoting it to a higher focus level, and listing subprojects on the projects list. For example, I have a major trip coming up, and various aspects of the trip are all projects. For example, I needed to register and submit an abstract for a conference that is part of the trip, and I needed to work with an associate on her abstract as well. Because there was a common due date, I had one project for this part of a bigger project. Right now, I have eight active sub-projects for this trip, and most of them have project support material outside of my project and next action lists. The work gets done because the projects exist, and the project material is often the focus of that work. I can't get the work done by "managing my lists"; I need to move my attention outside of my lists to the work at hand.

        Comment


        • #5
          Use of MindManager for vertical control of projects

          This reply is probably way too simple minded but here goes: I use MindManager for vertical project control: I make a mind map of the overall project and then a separate mind map for each of the separate subprojects. MindManager seems ideal for this as you can add notes as to whom something is deligated, what the priority of that piece is; and attach text or spreadsheets to any item.

          Best of luck in managing your large projects.

          Steve




          Originally posted by dandykins View Post
          Apologies in advance if this has been addressed elsewhere, and I'm just not forum-savvy enough to find it If a previous post exists, I'd be happy to find my answers there, and then ask follow-up questions if necessary

          I've set up my GTD system as suggested by the "GTD & Outlook" whitepaper I purchased from DA's site. However, I'm a bit flummoxed. Like many folks, I have one large project that contains many smaller projects. The GTD setup outlined in the whitepaper seems to set me up well for horizontal control--over all activities in which I'm involved--but I'm not sure how I'm supposed to maintain vertical control over specific projects/"tracks" of work.

          For example, in the "Tasks" list, the whitepaper does a great job of providing some basic categories, but doesn't give much guidance on what to use the "projects" category for, except to maintain a list of current projects. When I'm creating tasks, should I also create a category for each project? What about subprojects--do I create a category for each subproject, and then categorize tasks with the subproject and main project? Seems like this creates a huge clutter of categories, but at the same time, I'm not sure of another good solution to do vertical tracking.

          Did I miss something? Is leaving out the "vertical control" element from the MS Outlook whitepaper a GTD principle, or a software limitation, or both...?

          I've heard about this idea of using the contact management categorization to deal with this more project-management issue in Outlook. Is this a better solution to just juggling projects and subprojects in Outlook?

          To be very specific, I'm looking for best practices to manage this information within a basic Outlook installation, instead of purchasing an add-on. Thanks for your help, all. Look forward to your insights.

          Comment

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