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When is something a project, when is something a single next action?

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  • When is something a project, when is something a single next action?

    I am trying to get back into GTD, after attempting to use it unsuccessfully a few times over the last 6 years. My work circumstances are changing in some ways that make me think I can adopt it more successfully, and make better use of a system like GTD, than previous attempts. I use Outlook 2007 plus the netcentrics plugin. I'm trying to use all the "vanilla" contexts.

    One thing I'm trying to get better about is capturing all the things I need to do - get them out of my mind and into the system. So one thing I'm doing successfully now is capturing things that come to me in the voice notes recorder of my mobile. I have time scheduled each day to review these voice notes and get them entered into Outlook.

    It's in that daily notes review where I run into a question - which items are "projects" (in the GTD sense) and which are just tasks that I could enter as a next action in a context? Even the smallest tasks can be broken down into multiple next actions if one works at it.

    Can people share their approaches to this? One thing that doesn't usually work for me is to "just go ahead and do" 2 minute tasks - from experience i know that will get me off track. I have to plow through getting organized at various times, and *not* do tasks, or i'll never get organized. So maybe 2 minutes tasks are just next actions, and not projects... that might be a useful way to think about things.

    Anyway, what are people's thoughts on this?

  • #2
    It's single action if it's obvious what it means and you can do it without thinking and all next action would be self evident anyway, for exampe going to a shop to buy something, once you're in a shop all actions are self evident and it's impossible to forget to finish. (you don't need actions to go to checkout, pay and so on)

    If there is a chance that you will forget about the outcome after you do a next action then you need a project. The whole purpose of having a project is to be reminded (weekly) that there is still an open loop.

    So use your common sense
    Last edited by GTDClone; 06-18-2011, 09:17 PM.

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    • #3
      For me, a single-action project, or a single action in a project, is something that I have the knowledge, resources, and equipment to do, that I can do in one work session. This may be different for different people.

      For example, "plant carrots" might be a multi-action project for one person:

      - research carrot cultivars
      - buy carrot seeds
      - look up instructions for planting carrots
      - buy vermiculite and peat moss for covering carrot seeds
      - buy sand for improving soil for carrots
      - prepare carrot bed with sand
      - plant carrots

      But for another person who already has a prepared carrot bed from last year, and plenty of garden supplies, and bought the carrot seeds with his annual seed order, the project may simply be:

      - plant carrots

      On the other hand, a project like "plant vegetable garden" is unlikely to be a single-action project for anyone, because it's unlikely that you can plant a vegetable garden in a single work session.

      Gardener

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      • #4
        It depends on the complexity and how self evident the task is. Most things will be project related, I find single actions are the least of my actions.
        A few examples of non project related actions
        - write update for Quarterly report
        - review and comment on the return to work policy
        - read latest finance software procedure.

        You need to break down tasks into a level of detail such that you no longer need to plan what to do. I know already that to write the update I have to brainstorm some ideas, write up a paragraph, proof read and edit it, copy it into the template, and email it to the GM's personal assistant. I don't need to make this a project because I can remember all of that. Also, for routine tasks like this I write myself procedures/checklists so I can do it the same way everytime. So I already know that reading the latest finance software procedure also involves updating my checklist and my procedure.

        If you are confused, you really need to get clear and get a complete projects list. Once you have that mapped out really well most things will hang to your projects.

        Comment


        • #5
          Projects are things that I need to do a series of steps for. A single action is something that cannot be broken down into a smaller task but in my world a single next action can actually require several or many work sessions to complete. So I don't use the time to complete in a single work session as my criteria for whether something is a single action or not.

          For example: I would never put on a next action list weave 3 inches on twill fabric unless I was stuck and needed a kick in the butt to get moving on that project. My project would be Weave 10 yards of 2:1 twill fabric from lace weight grey blend yarn. There are a lot of steps to that, measuring warps, warping the loom, filling quills with weft but once a lot of the prep work is done the major task is weave the fabric. The time it will take is very long but there is nothing else to do on that project until the weaving is done. It might take me 180 hours of weaving time to do that action and I sure can't do that in a single step but it would still be my next action.

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          • #6
            One thing that helps me make the distinction is to write down the task, and then think through doing it and see if I have any "but first" thoughts. For example, if I write down "Install ceiling fan in kitchen," and think about it, I may think, "But first I have to get more electrical tape and make sure the current wiring is in good shape." Now it's clear that I have a Project with two Next Actions: the first with an @Home context, checking the wiring, and the second with an @Errands context, picking up the tape (and wire, if the first Next Action determines that I need it).

            Visualizing the task and picturing myself going through the basic steps of it seems to make those "but first" ideas pop out pretty quickly. (And those are what kept me from getting started on many tasks, because every task seemed to be made of uncountable but-firsts.) If I can't think of any but-first holdups, the task really is a Next Action. On the other hand, if the task is too complex to visualize from start to finish, it's definitely a Project.

            Comment


            • #7
              As a general rule of thumb, if multiple steps are required to achieve the desired outcome, it's a project. With that being said, I don't think it's necessarily black and white. One of the examples David uses in his book (or mabye it was a webinar where I heard this) is to use your judgement. Doing laundry could be considered a project but that's not something I'm going to take the time to write out or capture step-by-step.

              Additionally, the "do-it-if-it's-less-than-2-minutes" rule is also something you should approach in a way that makes sense to you. I completely understand when you say that these tend to throw you off track. The same can happen to me but as a rule of thumb, if it's going to take me just as long to add it to my to-do list as it would just to do it, I just do it. I do pay close attention to this though and use judgement to ensure this is not what consumes my day.

              Hope this helps!

              Vickie

              Comment


              • #8
                @Mhoram

                Originally posted by Mhoram View Post
                One thing that helps me make the distinction is to write down the task, and then think through doing it and see if I have any "but first" thoughts. For example, if I write down "Install ceiling fan in kitchen," and think about it, I may think, "But first I have to get more electrical tape and make sure the current wiring is in good shape." Now it's clear that I have a Project with two Next Actions: the first with an @Home context, checking the wiring, and the second with an @Errands context, picking up the tape (and wire, if the first Next Action determines that I need it).

                Visualizing the task and picturing myself going through the basic steps of it seems to make those "but first" ideas pop out pretty quickly. (And those are what kept me from getting started on many tasks, because every task seemed to be made of uncountable but-firsts.) If I can't think of any but-first holdups, the task really is a Next Action. On the other hand, if the task is too complex to visualize from start to finish, it's definitely a Project.
                This is exactly my approach, but it's the first time I see it described this well

                Don't you just love that great feeling you get looking at your list and not seeing/feeling any "but firsts" coming up?

                Myriam

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                • #9
                  Thanks, Myriam. What's amazing is that I'm just getting started, and working through that thought process I described and picking a Next Action to put down on paper is already helping considerably to clear the mental confusion. Instead of thinking, "I should do such-and-such right now, but first I have to do this other thing that I can't do right now," and back into the swirl of worries in my head it goes.....now I think, "Ok, I need to do this sometime, not necessarily right now, so there's no pressure; but whenever I do it, what needs to happen first?"

                  Getting the but-firsts separated into contextual Next Actions ahead of time feels great, and sometimes it makes me realize there aren't as many holdups to a project as I imagined. Once I really think a project though, I may realize there's only one but-first that's holding it up, and suddenly it seems much more doable.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by 23dex View Post
                    So maybe 2 minutes tasks are just next actions, and not projects... that might be a useful way to think about things.

                    2 Minute tasks are next actions. If a project can be completed in 2 minutes, it is not a project it is a task. Projects are anything that takes 2 or more actions/tasks to get done. The thing I have noticed is with smart phone technology, a lot of things that would have been projects a couple of years ago, are just tasks now.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Oogiem View Post
                      For example: I would never put on a next action list weave 3 inches on twill fabric unless I was stuck and needed a kick in the butt to get moving on that project. My project would be Weave 10 yards of 2:1 twill fabric from lace weight grey blend yarn. There are a lot of steps to that, measuring warps, warping the loom, filling quills with weft but once a lot of the prep work is done the major task is weave the fabric. The time it will take is very long but there is nothing else to do on that project until the weaving is done. It might take me 180 hours of weaving time to do that action and I sure can't do that in a single step but it would still be my next action.
                      In my case, I would need a placeholder for a single-work-session action, so if I were doing that weaving task I would create a repeating next action, something like "Spend two hours on twill fabric weaving task", repeating three times a week - or whatever is a reasonable frequency and number of hours. For me, a task without a reminder won't get done.

                      Gardener

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                      • #12
                        it depends, use judgement

                        I like the two minute rule for processing simple singletons-- make a photocopy, file an important document, sign something, note model number etc. but if you have several items, especially those that use one resource like the calendar, your bank account, you might want to combine them into project. If you are processing and you find that you have so many two minute tasks that if you continue to execute them you will have used up your processing time you might think about turning them into a project, especially if they are similar in someway. So you might schedule a time for filing like items (e.g. recipes). Or let's say you have just responded to two graduation invitations in the course of processing your in box and you did execute them but then you find a third. You might at that point, say to yourself, I will set this aside in a "@calendar folder" and see if I have any more and collect them as a project and at the end of your processing session you have found in your in box three more graduation invitations, a confirmation invite, and wedding, and y other things that are time ad date specific--all in June. While it would take only two minutes to rsvp on line and note on the calendar for each one you might want to combine them into a small project "respond and acknowledge June invites". First step, calendar them all. That way you can spot conflicts. Then , let your family know about the dates and times and see who is coming with you, then rsvp. And, in parallel, order gifts or write checks.

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