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NA List cum Project Plans

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  • NA List cum Project Plans

    One frustration that I’ve had with GTD was the requirement that I separate my project plans from my NA list. If my project is “Shed built,” I can’t install the four corner posts until I’ve installed the base. I can’t install the roof, until I’ve installed the four corner posts.

    Sometimes I would cheat and have many actions on my NA list:

    Install base
    Install North post
    Install East post
    Install South post
    Install West post
    Install roof

    Only “Install base” is a NA, since none of the other actions can be done until the base is installed. The order in which the four posts are installed is not important. Any of the posts can be installed once the base is installed. So, once the base is installed, all four post actions are NAs. The roof cannot be installed until all four posts are installed.

    Rigorous GTD states that I should have only “Install base” on my NA list. Then, when the base has been installed, I can put only the four post actions on my NA list. Then, when all four posts are up, I can put “Install roof” on my NA list.

    I would sometimes cheat, and put all the actions on my NA list, because, for simple projects, I didn’t want to put the project plan in a separate place from my NA list. Although the projects were simple, they were complex enough that I did want a plan that told me what to do after each stage was completed.

    If I were doing GTD on paper, I would review my NA list, see the “Install base” NA, then find the “Shed built” project plan and start working off the project plan. What I would like to do is avoid having to look at two lists: NA list and Project Plan.

    If I were doing GTD electronically, I still have the same problem with most systems. Most systems do not differentiate between Next Actions and dependent actions.

    The system I currently use, Achieve Planner, has recently updated so that I can now plan my shed and, with the click of a mouse, view either my Next Actions only, or my full Project Plans. (I have no financial interest in Achieve Planner other than being a satisfied customer.) This means that I put actions under projects, whether the actions are Next Actions or Dependent Actions. I do not have to worry about cluttering up my NA list, because the system can differentiate between Next Actions and Dependent Actions. And the system can allow me to view only my NAs, if that is what I want.

    The system is very sophisticated because it allows me to create both many-to-one and one-to-many dependency relations. In the Shed example, many actions—installing the North, East, South, and West posts—depend on the one action of installing the base. And one action—installing the roof—depends on the many actions of installing the North, East, South, and West posts.

    When I use the NA list in Achieve Planner, at first the only NA is “Install base.” When that’s completed, the four posts appear, all as NAs. When all four posts are marked complete, “Install roof” appears as a NA.

    I used to feel frustrated. When I was planning a project I would usually put the plan in a “notes” section of the project because I didn’t want to clutter up my NA list. If I worked on a project, when I ended, I had to go to the notes section to find the new NA and add it to my NA list. The alternative was to cheat and put dependent actions on the NA list. It always bothered me that my software required me to manually transfer the same item from a project plan to a Next Action list.

    Now, when I create a project, I create dependent actions the same way that I create next actions. They are all items under the project. But, if an action is dependent on other actions, I enter the action’s predecessor actions into my system. Then, when it’s time to do, I work off of my NA list. As soon as I mark my NA complete, the system removes that old NA from view and shows me the new NA.

    I have gone into all this detail because I have found it a pleasure to work like this. It it much more productive to work this way and that is what GTD is all about.

  • #2
    But its too complex...

    The problem for me is that I know that in my head the moment I look at the Project! It takes more time to enter that data into the program than it does for my own brain to figure it out in the (split-second) moment.

    The only time I enter NA's in my plans ahead of time are when either a) I want to get a feel for the time and sequence of events, or b) when it is an NA I could forget to do if I didn't capture it.

    Independent NA's are particularly vulnerable to this, but I am not sure at the level of project planning that does on in day to day living, you will never get your software to seemingly think "for" you without wasting your time.

    Gordon

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    • #3
      I think it's useful to see NA's as a "bookmark" for where it's at rather than feeling a need to record every part. If you do one part then move on to the others right away, there's no need to record anything. But when you change context to something else, you jot down the next step (sometimes arbitrarily). You can look at this and if you feel like thinking around it & doing something else that's fine, but if the project isn't moving forward there's an easy no-thinking-just-do-it reminder to launch you back into shed building. Once you do it you'll probably continue on to a few more steps before bookmarking again.

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      • #4
        I, too, subscribe to the bookmark conception of NAs.

        But, I also agree with David Allen, that oftentimes there are complex projects and in those cases I do want to jot down a project plan. Most projects do not require complex plans, but it's those complex ones that are most daunting.

        My problem was that I used to have to put the project plan in one place and work from my system some other place. Now I can do both in one place and I like it.

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        • #5
          My solution to this now is to just have a project in Outlook. For example: "finalise combination option note". The project (actually a Outlook Task) has a a list of actions in its note. I have the project marked as priority so it will come up as one of my priority Tasks (with other next actions). I might also have a next action like "carry on with finalising combination option note" or a more specific action which works as a bookmark from one day to the next. It gets the job done and I don't waste time on the lists.

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          • #6
            Moises, thanks so much for the software suggestion. I've been trying out Thinking Rock (because it's free and fairly popular), but I think this feature is crucial for my scattered brain.

            I've been reading about GTD for years and have tried implementing it several times, always falling short because my NAs weren't automatically 'unlocked' when their dependent actions were completed.

            Maybe I'm different than the rest of you... I'm not in the business world. I'm a mother of 4 with dozens of different projects (yard, diy, homeschooling, etc) going at any one time. So it's important that the NAs rise to the top and scream at me to get them done without me having to sift through project plans to find them.

            BigStory, all of my NAs are the kind that "I could forget to do if I didn't capture it". That's why I need this system. But maybe my brain is way more cluttered than the average GTDer.

            Thanks again,
            Wendy

            Comment


            • #7
              Wendy, I have used Thinking Rock for about 2 years now and haven't looked back. I don't have a desire to change to anything else right now either. I also like to have my NAs linked to the projects, plus I see right away if a project doesn't have an NA. I also like that I can create template plans, since I have some irregularly recurring projects where I don't have to recreate the wheel each time and I don't want to forget one of the tiny steps that often end up meaning something down the road if you forget it.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Wisdom of the Moon View Post
                I've been reading about GTD for years and have tried implementing it several times, always falling short because my NAs weren't automatically 'unlocked' when their dependent actions were completed.

                Maybe I'm different than the rest of you... I'm not in the business world. I'm a mother of 4 with dozens of different projects (yard, diy, homeschooling, etc) going at any one time. So it's important that the NAs rise to the top and scream at me to get them done without me having to sift through project plans to find them.
                Sounds like me. I'm a farmer, with a lot of ancillary projects. I have numerous interests (quilting, sewing, knitting, weaving, spinning, reading, photography and more) I have hundreds of projects that span decades, a single next action can take years to complete. I also have lots of dependent tasks (I can't do x until y is done) and a lot of things due or critical on a seasonal time frame. I have many active projects that I want to keep moving on. I also have lots of projects and actions that will blow up if they are not done (lamb shots, making hay, schedule chicken butcher etc.)

                For me the biggest improvement in my entire GTD system was finally implementing Omnifocus really accurately. It has dependencies built in and I can manage my hundreds of projects. If it is a possible option for you (mac based only) give OF a good look. I've experienced a huge improvement in my entire system now that I have OF working well.

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                • #9
                  sdann, there are a lot of things I like about Thinking Rock, but the most important feature to me, the ability to make certain actions dependent on other actions (thus 'locking' and 'unlocking' them), doesn't seem to be available. If I could do that with Thinking Rock, I'd be a happy girl.

                  Oogiem, we have a lot of similar interests, so I know how those projects can get out of hand. The first GTD software I found online was Omnifocus, which my sister uses. Unfortunately, I don't have a mac. But she was saying that when you set dependencies, it's kind of an all or nothing deal. Either they are all independent or there is a line of dependencies. If that makes sense. She says that she was having the same problems as I was. I'm glad it's working for you, though.

                  Thanks,
                  Wendy
                  http://wisdomofthemoon.blogspot.com/

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    re: Projects, Next Actions, Dependence

                    When I came out with the Ready-Set-Do! program for the mac I spent a lot of time with David Allen's book -- especially on Projects. What I came up with was based on his distinction between what he called "Mission-Critical", "Key Milestones", and "Deliverables".

                    What I realized was that each category has to do with how items get sorted. The first is sorted by priority, the second by sequence (i.e., with dependencies), and the third to whatever degree required. In my system, any tasks that go into Mission-Critical or Deliverables can have next actions defined and they go into the Active Lists immediately; they can be worked on simultaneously. Tasks in Key Milestones are the only ones that function like a "bookmark" because each one is dependent on the other.

                    So far this is working very well for me. I really like the ability to keep tasks in categories based on the relationship they bear to one another (i.e., priority, sequence, miscellaneous).
                    Last edited by Todd V; 07-02-2011, 01:18 AM.

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                    • #11
                      Wendy,

                      I didn't recognize this thread when I saw it at the top of the list. I was shocked when I opened it and discovered that I had initiated it.

                      About 6 months after I made the first post in this thread I began to make some changes. So, that post no longer reflects how I work currently. But I am glad that you found it helpful.

                      Today, I use the digital application Achieve Planner (AP) for project planning. There are some actions in AP, but not many.

                      I now keep my NA list on paper, Autofocus2-style.

                      DA said a long time ago that you don't need fancy software linking actions with projects. It took me many years to appreciate the wisdom behind that.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Wisdom of the Moon View Post
                        But she was saying that when you set dependencies, it's kind of an all or nothing deal. Either they are all independent or there is a line of dependencies.
                        Makes sense but isn't accurate. You can set dependencies on action groups independently within a given project. So I can have a project set to dependent with a group of actions clustered that can all be done at once. And when I get to that group as my next action all the actions within that group are available.

                        Hard to explain but I have a lot of those types of things set up in my system.

                        Now what I did wish it had was a status of Maybe in addition to the on Hold, active and dropped it does have.

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                        • #13
                          Oogiem, thanks so much for that info about Omnifocus; I will definitely pass it along to my sis and hopefully she can sort it out.

                          Still doesn't help me, though, as I am, sadly, mac-less.

                          So far I've found Thinking Rock to be the most like GTD in structure (with guidance to the brain dump and forcing you to process items top to bottom), but am currently testing out My Life Organized because of the dependencies.

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