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  • From Your head, to inbox, to next action to ????

    I would like to get my GTD system streamlined. Now I just need to find out what the actual step by step process is when entering things in your inbox after you have thought of it and how to action all the necessary steps of a project.

    A project as clearly stated is something with more than one step. Here is what I do not understand, once you have that thought or idea, the 'stuff' which you write down and put in you inbox where to from then? Okay I did read that you need to process it and decide what the next action is, but I sometimes think of things as next actions on a project that I am already busy with as an additional step in the project. I also think of something that should be a project but that initial thought of mine is a couple of steps ahead of what should actually be done to get the project finished in a streamlined manner.

    So my suggested solution for my own predicament is that once I think of something, write it down and process it I should double check to see if it is not part of a current project and if it is, where does it fall in, then put it in the project steps etc. where it belongs. But if it is not a necessary step in that project at that time why then have a next action for it. What is your thoughts on this?

    The other scenario is that once I think of something that should be part of a project which I have not yet started I believe I should do as follows. Once I process that 'stuff' I check to see if it is part of a project, if not and if it should be a complete project then (Aha now I thought of it!!!) you should complete the project as you believe it should happen step by step and then only put the first step down as a next action for that project.

    The other thing I just thought of is that if you get 'stuff' in your inbox and it is not part of a project, rather decide on what the project is and have the next action on that initial 'stuff' be to complete a project list of what you want the outcome to be, only once that step by step project list is complete then you move to the first next action to complete the project.

    All this is because I have a lot of things which do have more than one step and are currently on my NA lists, but I do not know what each project is or what all the things are that should complete the project. Thus I am not working in a streamlined way.

    Any input? Advice?

  • #2
    The tasks that will come in a project's future and are therefore not Next Actions should, IMO, go in the project support material rather than the GTD system.

    In my case, I have "agenda" lists for most of my projects, and that's where I put those stray actions, reminders, thoughts, and so on. Of course, I worry that I will forget those things, so my GTD system does have a weekly reminder to read all agenda lists.

    In most cases, I don't try to sort these things, or fill out the gaps to get a full game plan for the project - I just tuck thoughts that I _do_ have into the agenda lists. If I do feel that the project needs some sort of formal plan - for example, if I need to write a design document for a database application, or my manager wants a schedule - then the creation of that plan becomes a project in itself.

    > All this is because I have a lot of things which do have more than one
    > step and are currently on my NA lists, but I do not know what each
    > project is or what all the things are that should complete the
    > project. Thus I am not working in a streamlined way.

    I'm not clear on what you mean by "all the things are that should complete the project". Do you mean all the tasks that you need to do, or all of the accomplishments that will make you feel that the project is done? In either case, I suspect that you may be making your projects too big.

    For example, "Remodel the house" is not, IMO, a project; it's too big for that. It's an area of focus. A project within that area of focus might be "Get upstairs bathroom painted." And the Next Action for that project might be "Spend half an hour looking at paint samples."

    If a project outcome can't be stated as simply as "Get upstairs bathroom painted", then odds are that the project is too complex.

    Gardener

    Comment


    • #3
      Weekly Review works for me.

      I write down every idea (full or partial with meaningful description) and throw it into the inbox.

      When I process the inbox I do know that I am able to associate every item with a Project or a Someday/Maybe (if it exists) since I've done the Weekly Review within last 7 days.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Gardener View Post
        I'm not clear on what you mean by "all the things are that should complete the project". Do you mean all the tasks that you need to do, or all of the accomplishments that will make you feel that the project is done? In either case, I suspect that you may be making your projects too big.

        For example, "Remodel the house" is not, IMO, a project; it's too big for that. It's an area of focus. A project within that area of focus might be "Get upstairs bathroom painted." And the Next Action for that project might be "Spend half an hour looking at paint samples."
        I do mean all tasks and all accomplishments. If you look at the GTD Workflow Chart, have read the book and looked at some of Davids videos on Youtube. He refers to the processing part as taking something in your inbox, deciding what the outcome of that should be to complete the project and taking it a couple of steps back to the first required step of "Next Action". My idea is to actually write down the thought process of the 'processing' part immediately. Capturing the projects task/accomplishments there and then when you are processing it. Referring to your "Get upstairs bathroom painted" that would be your desired outcome, during that 'processing' phase there are a lot of things regarding the project you thought of that should be done etc. That is what I am talking about, capturing those ideas/steps immediately. Because once you have thought of the next action and you write that down you would have to think about the next action again once you are done with that first action. You probably forgot everything else that you thought of initially.

        I will consider the part that you say my project is too big. I will definitely have a look at it! Thanks!

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by DariusOpperman View Post
          I do mean all tasks and all accomplishments. If you look at the GTD Workflow Chart, have read the book and looked at some of Davids videos on Youtube. He refers to the processing part as taking something in your inbox, deciding what the outcome of that should be to complete the project and taking it a couple of steps back to the first required step of "Next Action". My idea is to actually write down the thought process of the 'processing' part immediately. Capturing the projects task/accomplishments there and then when you are processing it. Referring to your "Get upstairs bathroom painted" that would be your desired outcome, during that 'processing' phase there are a lot of things regarding the project you thought of that should be done etc. That is what I am talking about, capturing those ideas/steps immediately. Because once you have thought of the next action and you write that down you would have to think about the next action again once you are done with that first action. You probably forgot everything else that you thought of initially.

          I will consider the part that you say my project is too big. I will definitely have a look at it! Thanks!
          Everyone is different, and every project is different. Most projects don't need a lot of planning or reference material, just a desired outcome for the project and a next action. If you use an electronic system, you can jot down additional notes in the note field of your project entry, or use a sheet of paper. Notice as you finish the project how you used your notes for that project. There is a significant chance that the main value of writing them down was getting them out of your head, not their utility as ongoing reference material.

          Larger, harder projects do require more support material, but you have to find out what works for you. I've used mind maps and outlines with increasing success once I was able to let go of them once they were no longer needed for the project. For example, once the outline of a manuscript is transferred into the manuscript, the outline is not very useful to me anymore: all the information I need is in the manuscript itself.

          I have "Home" as an area of focus, but I probably would not make "Remodel Home" as an area of focus. Whether you would or not depends on you: If you are doing it incrementally yourself, e.g. room by room, then maybe it is an area of focus for you. On the other hand, if the floor installers are coming Monday and the painters on Wednesday, it's a single project.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by DariusOpperman View Post
            My idea is to actually write down the thought process of the 'processing' part immediately. Capturing the projects task/accomplishments there and then when you are processing it. :
            Darius, My approach aligns with yours. I think (though as a newbie I'm definitely an expert) that when Getting Things Done was written it was necessary to write down thoughts and ideas in one place, project support, and then move them to next action lists at the right time. You couldn't put every action you thought of on a single written list and expect to be able to easily see what the true next action was.

            Now with the systems and apps that have been created to be GTD systems one can put all of the steps into a project list and then select which is the next action, click a button and that action goes on the NA list. And a lot of the apps will automatically feed the action to your NA list if you have ordered the actions correctly

            In my work I negotiate contracts. There are 37 actions which have to be taken for each if the supplier is new. So when I get a new deal to work I drop those 37 actions into the list of actions for that project. Then I add, delete and rearrange as I work on and review the project. I can then set my GTD app to show only next actions.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by DariusOpperman View Post
              My idea is to actually write down the thought process of the 'processing' part immediately. Capturing the projects task/accomplishments there and then when you are processing it. Referring to your "Get upstairs bathroom painted" that would be your desired outcome, during that 'processing' phase there are a lot of things regarding the project you thought of that should be done etc. That is what I am talking about, capturing those ideas/steps immediately. Because once you have thought of the next action and you write that down you would have to think about the next action again once you are done with that first action. You probably forgot everything else that you thought of initially.
              I don't do that - I don't try to plan through the whole project, and in fact I actively try to stop myself from doing so. I believe that the GTD system doesn't suggest that you plan an entire project. You create a next action, and you _may_ have project support materials that will inspire more actions, but short of well-defined tasks with things like checklists, planning the entire project _inside_ your GTD lists is not part of the GTD system. IMO, it's actually counter to the philosophy of GTD.

              But I can't help having thoughts, and if I don't write those thoughts down somewhere I'll worry about what I forgot, and that would definitely counter the whole "mind like water" thing. Since those thoughts not a Next Action, and they're not a project (even if they may fit into the future of a project), I consider them either Someday/Maybe or reference material. I write those thoughts down in the "agenda" list for the project and I have a weekly review action to review the agenda lists.

              But I explicitly _don't_ organize the "future thoughts" for a project into a sequence of actions. For many projects, planning a project past the next couple of actions often turns out to be wasted time.

              Gardener

              Edited to add: Returning to "get upstairs bathroom painted", you may not know, when processing that goal as a project, _how_ to accomplish that project. If you require that you write out a whole plan before you start, then you may repeatedly look at the project, say, "I don't know how to do that," and move on, making no progress. If you only require yourself to write a single concrete next action that you _do_ know how to do, you can make progress on the project even though you don't have a clue of how you're going to get there. So your first next action might be "Spend half an hour looking at paint samples at the hardware store." And when you've done that, you might write "Call Joe to talk about how he got his living room painted." And then you might have "Call Joe's painter for a quote."

              Sure, this might end up with some wasted time - for example, maybe Joe's painter uses a different kind of paint from that used at the hardware store, so maybe you'll have to look at paint samples again. But there's no harm in an occasional backtrack, and those backtracks are likely to take less time than overplanning all of your projects.

              Comment


              • #8
                What App Are You Using

                Now with the systems and apps that have been created to be GTD systems one can put all of the steps into a project list and then select which is the next action, click a button and that action goes on the NA list. And a lot of the apps will automatically feed the action to your NA list if you have ordered the actions correctly

                In my work I negotiate contracts. There are 37 actions which have to be taken for each if the supplier is new. So when I get a new deal to work I drop those 37 actions into the list of actions for that project. Then I add, delete and rearrange as I work on and review the project. I can then set my GTD app to show only next actions.[/QUOTE]

                I manage Navy Acquisition contracts for a customer and projects get very complicated very quickly. I've got a working system in Outlook but your description of dropping all planned actions into a project plan and only showing the NA intrigues me.

                What app are you using?

                Comment


                • #9
                  I agree that with today's apps, they make it very easy to keep track of future steps even if they aren't the next action, and it seems unnatural to me not to do so. For example, I spot a crack in the plaster wall of my kitchen, and put "patch crack" in my inbox. Later, when processing it, I realize that I first have to purchase materials to fix the crack, and so add that as a next action, leave "patch crack" as a second action, and put both into a project "Fix wall in kitchen." I can then easily set my app to only show me the first action if that's what I want. It would seem strange to me to either throw away the original "patch crack" item merely because something else has to be done first or else file it away someplace other than with the "Fix wall in kitchen" project where I'll see it when I review the project.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by ccoleman99 View Post
                    I agree that with today's apps, they make it very easy to keep track of future steps even if they aren't the next action, and it seems unnatural to me not to do so. For example, I spot a crack in the plaster wall of my kitchen, and put "patch crack" in my inbox. Later, when processing it, I realize that I first have to purchase materials to fix the crack, and so add that as a next action, leave "patch crack" as a second action, and put both into a project "Fix wall in kitchen." I can then easily set my app to only show me the first action if that's what I want. It would seem strange to me to either throw away the original "patch crack" item merely because something else has to be done first or else file it away someplace other than with the "Fix wall in kitchen" project where I'll see it when I review the project.
                    The problem is that this works best precisely when there isn't much need for it. Some people will look at the crack and immediately put "make list of supplies to patch crack" on an @home list. Others would put "patch crack" on the same list and eventually work their way back to the same point. It's pretty simple. Now some people will go a bit overboard and list every step along the way. That's fine if it works for them, but for most of us it's excessive and a waste of time.

                    Now suppose you have a complicated project that involves months of work, with subtle choices that have to be made on the basis of information that you don't have when you begin the project. A detailed outline of what you think you have to do will often get stale, and you will resist looking at your project, and perhaps your whole system. Worse, you may decide to follow your original plan even though it is obsolete. Embedding large amounts of reference material and possible future actions in your lists is generally a distraction, and occasionally a disaster. It requires a lot of self-awareness to handle this appropriately. I think the best practice is a clear separation of reference material, including possible future actions, from projects and next actions. I may blur the line a little, but experience has taught me that the line is real and to be respected.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      TomW, I use OmniFocus but I'm sure others work as well. It allows me to be in. Context and then show the single next action for all projects where the next action is in that cintext. So if I'm looking at my @computer context and the next action in the Jines project is I the @computer context it will be there, but when I then look at the @ phone context no next action will show for the Jones project

                      I have a template set up with all of my standard/required NAs in it that I copy into any new project I get. Some of the actions won't be required, but it is easier to delete a task when it's unnecessary than to type it in every time it's needed.

                      I use OmniFocus both on the iPad and the iPhone. I don't have a Mac and it isn't available for windows so there are some compromises. But my work computer is locked down so a tool for all 3 isn't available anyway. For me, the iPad is the current equivalent to a daytimer of old. I have it with me. It's portable. But it also has the ability to carry a ton of stuff. Like a daytimer, I can take it with me and do my weekly review at a coffee shop.

                      To a certain extent having a system that doesn't allow simple copy and paste or click to move items from one place to another on my work computer may not be the most efficient system, but if I need to move a large amount of data from the work computer to the iPad I can manage it relatively easily. But the need to rekey something often aids in the processing steps. If I could just click and send an email into a next action, for example, I might not give it as much thought as I ought to. But when I have to think about it and actually process it, I do a better job of thinking and processing.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        it's not all black or white

                        There's a middle ground here. While you may well not be able at the very beginning of a project to list every single action that you will take in the exact order you will take them, you may well be able to list a number of actions that you absolutely will have to take and the approximate order you will have to perform them, why do you need to create a separate "project support" something with those actions listed there and then permit yourself only to move an item to an action list when it is the next action if you have a system that allows you to have the list together and then show only the actual next action.

                        I can see where beating yourself up trying to project plan every single action and permutation which might arise is not good, but not getting the actions down that you are quite sure you will have to perform to get to your desired result is going to force you into thinking of the same action over and over rather than thinking of it only once.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Gardener View Post
                          But I explicitly _don't_ organize the "future thoughts" for a project into a sequence of actions. For many projects, planning a project past the next couple of actions often turns out to be wasted time.
                          My experience is different. Most of my projects are well defined and don't change much from my initial planning. I just completed a project that I'd been collecting sequences of actions in for a year and nothing had changed when I finally made it active.

                          So whether the time spent organizing someday/maybe actions is wasted or not probably depends a lot on your types of projects.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by ccoleman99 View Post
                            It would seem strange to me to either throw away the original "patch crack" item merely because something else has to be done first or else file it away someplace other than with the "Fix wall in kitchen" project where I'll see it when I review the project.
                            In your example, I agree with you, because the project is simple and you're adding just one extra action. But if I find myself with a list of more than three or four actions in a project, I usually consider that a bad thing and I find a way to get them moved somewhere else.

                            Before I made that rule, I frequently found myself looking at a long tangled list of actions in a project, trying to figure out what order they should go in and what was actionable. Frequently, rather than actually working on the project, my Next Action for a project was "clean up this project list". I'd get it cleaned up, and a week later I'd have to clean it up again.

                            I realized that for me, the value of the extra "actions" was not as a plan of action, but as a way to get thoughts out of my head, by reassuring me that I wouldn't forget them. So now I move them to the un-ordered Agenda list for the project, and I look at that list as part of my review. Once in a long while that list reminds me of something that I genuinely forgot, but that's incredibly rare. The lists are primarily a "mind like water" crutch - recording the item keeps me from wasting brain space wondering if I should record the item.

                            An example: Let's say that I have a project, "Throw birthday party for Johnny." I might keep having thoughts and throwing them in the Inbox:

                            Bake chocolate chip cookies
                            Make some other kinds of cookies
                            Get balloons
                            Is anybody allergic to peanuts?
                            Need to keep dog away from kids
                            Will the parents want to come?
                            Ask Jane where she got that cake for her 4th of July party

                            I could, as I have these thoughts, try to translate them into actions and tuck them into a long and ever-growing list of next actions for the project "Prep for party". But I won't. I'll instead put those thoughts in (1) a "party agenda" list that serves as project support material or (2) additional related projects. For example, I might create:

                            Project: Get dog gate installed. DUE: Before party!
                            Next Action: Ask Josh what brand & model he uses.

                            Project: Choose and order cake for party. DUE: Before party!
                            Next Action: Ask Jane where she got that cake for her 4th of July party.

                            So while I don't consider it a terrible thing to have two or three extra actions tacked to a project, that's where I, personally, stop the growth of a project action list.

                            Gardener

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Oogiem View Post
                              So whether the time spent organizing someday/maybe actions is wasted or not probably depends a lot on your types of projects.
                              Yep, this is true. At work, priorities and budgets shift, so overplanning at the detail level is usually wasted time. For my personal projects, the project undergoes fewer changes - it may get delayed, but it's usually essentially the same project when I pick it up again. So I'm likely to allow more tasks for a personal project, though if I hit the "clean up project" point, I'll shift those tasks to an Agenda list and future stray thoughts for the project will go in that list.

                              Gardener

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