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project spawning too many next actions?

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  • project spawning too many next actions?

    As I try to apply the GTD system I end up putting too much on my plate in next actions. From the book I understand that for a project I should identify the next action needed to carry it along. After the NA is completed I add another one until the project is done, and if I drop the ball and don't schedule more NA's my weekly review will catch the partially finished project.

    The problem I have when I try to actually do this is each project spawns multiple parallel NAs, and I end up feeling overwhelmed with all the NAs. For example suppose I want a summer garden. Once I know what I want to plant I should loosen the soil, buy a hose, buy some plants, start some seeds, get some articles on using seasonal produce. So one small project led to 5 NAs, and many of the projects I want to do are like that.

    Is this just the way it is? Or is there something you can suggest on how to keep my NA lists from growing so big they feel overwhelming?

  • #2
    Small project?

    Originally posted by Mike L View Post
    For example suppose I want a summer garden. Once I know what I want to plant I should loosen the soil, buy a hose, buy some plants, start some seeds, get some articles on using seasonal produce. So one small project led to 5 NAs, and many of the projects I want to do are like that.
    For me it is rather an Area of Focus with many small Projects.

    Comment


    • #3
      I would argue that when a project spawns multiple parallel NAs, there's a good chance that that means that it's multiple projects. I'd say that your example could represent five projects:

      - Prepare soil
      - Obtain tools
      - Obtain plants
      - Start seeds
      - Research garden produce

      I realize that that doesn't actually reduce the number of NAs, it just splits them up so that you're more likely to have just one NA per project.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Mike L View Post
        The problem I have when I try to actually do this is each project spawns multiple parallel NAs, and I end up feeling overwhelmed with all the NAs. For example suppose I want a summer garden. Once I know what I want to plant I should loosen the soil, buy a hose, buy some plants, start some seeds, get some articles on using seasonal produce. So one small project led to 5 NAs, and many of the projects I want to do are like that.

        Is this just the way it is? Or is there something you can suggest on how to keep my NA lists from growing so big they feel overwhelming?
        Are they all definitely next actions? For example, if you were in a place to buy plants, would you do so even if the ground hasn't been dug over yet? If not, they go on the project plan rather than next actions.

        Are you dividing them onto context lists? For example, loosen the soil might be on a gardening list which you'd only want to do when you have time off and it's sunny. Buy some plants and a hose might be on a DIY store list, and you'd only want to see those when you're out and about. Start some seeds might be on a greenhouse list which you can do when it's raining, but not when the kids are around, etc.

        It's a problem I've run into again lately, after a change in circumstances. I got a little excited about having time available, and moved a load of stuff off of my someday maybe lists, flooding my NA lists in the process. Apart from errands, all of my contexts are available all of the time, so it become overwhelming to have so many choices. I've switched to only adding tasks to my NA lists that I want to do in the next couple of weeks, and moved the rest back to SM temporarily. Feels much better.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Mike L View Post
          The problem I have when I try to actually do this is each project spawns multiple parallel NAs, and I end up feeling overwhelmed with all the NAs. For example suppose I want a summer garden. Once I know what I want to plant I should loosen the soil, buy a hose, buy some plants, start some seeds, get some articles on using seasonal produce. So one small project led to 5 NAs, and many of the projects I want to do are like that.

          Is this just the way it is? Or is there something you can suggest on how to keep my NA lists from growing so big they feel overwhelming?
          The example you give is a good one, because there's a lot going on. Everything you mention is contingent on deciding what, when and how to plant, and it's not even clear that's a next action. Unless you are an experienced gardener, you probably need to do some research. Once you have made your decisions, there are things that need to be bought. Organizing by contexts may allow you to batch your purchases. A lot of the subsequent actions are dependent on context and time available. You may need to schedule weekend time to prepare the garden bed, but there's also an implicit @home-not-raining there. Your final next action of getting articles on using seasonal produce would not be a next action for me until I at least had something growing in the ground. I would consider what you have to be project brainstorming: possible future actions which need to be organized in terms of components, sequencing and priorities. That's the 3rd step of the natural planning model, and the fourth step is to organize them. But organizing them is exactly what I just did: research and planning, buying supplies, making time to start the garden, cooking the bountiful harvest. That's why it's a natural planning model: we do it pretty naturally, but we do it even better when we are consciously aware that we need to do it.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Mike L View Post
            For example suppose I want a summer garden. Once I know what I want to plant I should loosen the soil, buy a hose, buy some plants, start some seeds, get some articles on using seasonal produce. So one small project led to 5 NAs, and many of the projects I want to do are like that.

            Is this just the way it is? Or is there something you can suggest on how to keep my NA lists from growing so big they feel overwhelming?
            I agree that those are multiple projects and that some should be on Someday/Maybe for a while. Get garden space ready is a project that includes the hose and the tilling tasks, deciding on plants and buying them is a project, and learning how to use the garden bounty is a third project. I have lots of these and I usually split them up at weekly review when it becomes obvious that they are really separate projects.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Mike L View Post
              Once I know what I want to plant I should loosen the soil, buy a hose, buy some plants, start some seeds, get some articles on using seasonal produce.
              What's wrong with having 5 NA's from this project? What is it exactly that
              makes you feel overwhelmed?

              "loosen the soil" may be a single NA; or maybe it's something that takes
              more than one period of work on more than one day, so you could put
              "start loosening the soil" instead. Do you know which tool you'll use to
              do that, and have the tool ready? Maybe the NA should be instead
              "Look in basement for spade" or "phone Jill and ask for advice on which
              tool to use for loosening soil". If each NA is a single, doable physical action
              that you know how to do, they'll feel less overwhelming.

              "buy a hose": is this a single action you know how to do? I might put
              "hose" on a shopping list so I'd see it when I'm planning to go shopping.
              Maybe it should be "search Internet for information on types of hoses" or
              something if you haven't decided yet. Or "look at hoses at hardware store"
              so you can think it over and decide another day which one to buy.

              "buy some plants": again, do you know how, or would you need to do
              some thinking about what type of plant? Is it exactly the right time of
              year to buy them? Narrow it down to a single physical action you could
              do now if you were in the right place.

              "start some seeds": Can you really do this before loosening the soil?
              (If not, it's not a NA until you loosen the soil.)
              Do you have all the materials ready to be able to do this? How about
              instead of this, putting "Find seedling containers in basement" or
              "buy seedling containers" or "buy seeds".

              I don't mind having a fair number of NAs. I sort them by context, priority and
              the amount of energy it will take to do them, so I don't have to read
              them all every time. You can decide how many NAs you feel
              comfortable with, and when
              you have more, move some to Someday/Maybe.

              Comment


              • #8
                I think your definition of a project is just fine, and I often have several parallel next actions also.
                The important thing is to keep an actions list in your project support. This includes all the possible actions you can do to move the project forward.
                So you would put the actions there - I should loosen the soil, buy a hose, buy some plants, start some seeds, get some articles on using seasonal produce

                From this the question is what should I do next? Check for logical sequences (eg prepare the soil before buying plants), this will make some actions come later. As you are feeling overwhelmed don't feel you have to put all of the next actions, you can choose to focus on one area of the project if that makes you feel better and more focussed. You might choose to just focus on setting up the garden beds and buying equipment, and only do next actions related to that. Then when that stage is finished, then start buying the plants and seeds. It could slow down the project but if you are feeling overwhelmed it will also reduce your stress.

                Comment


                • #9
                  I do at time have projects that will have many next actions that all could be done at the same time .... but don't have to be done at the same time.

                  I try not to worry myself about this as it's important first and foremost to stay attracted to my lists. And being overwhelmed... is NOT attractive So I'll just take a from my brainstorm and postpone the rest. (I put them in the notes section of the project or leave them in the mindmap until the next weekly review. So using your example for instance, I might just leave 'buy a hose' in my planning notes until I've done the research and I know what produce and plant seeds I may want to buy. That way I just have to make a store trip once and then I'm very clear on what I need to get when I'm there.

                  So, just because it's a next action doesn't mean it needs to be done right now. I give myself permission to put it in my lists ... to commit to it ... only when I'm ready to see it there.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    This

                    Originally posted by Gardener View Post
                    I would argue that when a project spawns multiple parallel NAs, there's a good chance that that means that it's multiple projects. I'd say that your example could represent five projects:

                    - Prepare soil
                    - Obtain tools
                    - Obtain plants
                    - Start seeds
                    - Research garden produce

                    I realize that that doesn't actually reduce the number of NAs, it just splits them up so that you're more likely to have just one NA per project.
                    This. I think this is the easiest way. Its the only way that's worked for me.



                    __________________________________________________ _________
                    Bilingues
                    Last edited by doug4knfpu; 08-23-2012, 05:25 PM.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Pay attention to feelings of overwhelm

                      The suggestions above are very good in terms of deconstructing some of the thinking process and suggesting different ways you could handle this project.

                      I simply want to address the feeling of overwhelm. That is something that is very important to pay attention to because if your lists repel you in any way, you will be less likely to stick with your system and move forward on things you'd like to get done.

                      I encourage you to use the solution that works best for you.
                      There is often a conflict within practitioners between what I think I "should" do, and what I feel will work best for me based on the suggested best practices.

                      One option is simply to put only the amount of parallel next actions that doesn't feel overwhelming to you. Just because there are 5 possible next actions doesn't mean you're obligated by "GTD regulation" to put them on your lists. There is nothing wrong with just putting one of the possibilities if that is what feels good to you.

                      And I agree, some future actions will be apparent once you've completed the next one. Others can be placed in Project Support (notes), and yes, you can opt to break stuff up into more than one project.

                      The goal is to find the way that matches your way of thinking, and most importantly, that when you look at your lists, you're attracted to the doing and not repelled by it. The latter is the part I wanted to highlight as critical, because it will determine the success of your system. Emotions are usually stronger than logic, and if you're feeling overwhelmed, no matter how correct your system is from a GTD standpoint, chances are you will not use it. A system can only be effective if you use it.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Practical ways to identify and deal with overwhelm

                        Originally posted by Zoltan View Post
                        I simply want to address the feeling of overwhelm. That is something that is very important to pay attention to because if your lists repel you in any way, you will be less likely to stick with your system and move forward on things you'd like to get done.

                        I encourage you to use the solution that works best for you.
                        What are some practical, systematic ways to identify overwhelm, and deal with it?

                        I agree with you that it's important to avoid getting into the situation where your lists repel you. Practically speaking, how do you do that? How do you get out of the situation, when your lists DO repel you?

                        Thanks

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by seraphim View Post
                          What are some practical, systematic ways to identify overwhelm, and deal with it?

                          I agree with you that it's important to avoid getting into the situation where your lists repel you. Practically speaking, how do you do that? How do you get out of the situation, when your lists DO repel you?

                          Thanks
                          I don't think there is one technique that works for everybody all the time. The key is to make your lists viable again. An honest weekly review is a key practice. But just cleaning up your lists helps. Delete stuff that is no longer relevant, move other stuff to someday/maybe, et cetera. You can always do a mindsweep and then compare your results to your list. Sometimes the best course is just to do one thing that you are willing to do, and see what happens.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by seraphim View Post
                            What are some practical, systematic ways to identify overwhelm, and deal with it?
                            ....How do you get out of the situation, when your lists DO repel you?
                            Here's a set of things I have done on occasion, some work when others don't try and see what will work for you this time and be prepared to adjust as you change.


                            Set an arbitrary and small number of projects you will work on, do a detailed review of everything that is currently active and carefully decide whether it warrants one of your precious slots. Put everything else on hold in someday/maybe.

                            Split someday/maybe into sets based on timeframe or likelihood so you don't feel bad about putting things there. Possible choices include RSN (real soon now), this season, this year, this decade, in my lifetime, use whatever terms work for you. Remember S/M is not purgatory, it's a bench for those projects that are not in the game of life right now.

                            Make sure you have one and only 1 next action for any given project. Ignore the ones you could do in parallel, trim your lists to the single next action only.

                            Pick a single context and stay in it until everything in that context is done as a focused work. Rinse and repeat until all contexts have been tackled and then do a massive review to clean up the loose ends and reset projects.

                            Pick a single project and stick with it, changing contexts as necessary until that project is done and off the list as complete. Pick another one and do that one. Again then do a complete review.

                            Declare project bankruptcy, move everything into someday/maybe and then very carefully pull a few projects into active status. (Similar to the first one but with a different focus, sometimes one approach works better than the other.)

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              30,000 foot Horizon of Focus

                              I've scanned through this thread, and just have one other thing to suggest (and if someone has already mentioned it and I missed it, please forgive me!)...

                              Instead of treating the garden as an Area of Focus (20,000 feet); or as a Someday/Maybe, have you thought of treating it as a 30,000 foot Goal? While this would strictly be something you intend to accomplish in 1 to 1 1/2 years, I find it a useful distinction. It keeps things a little more active than putting "Prepare Garden" on a Someday/Maybe list, because to me, if something's on S/M, I don't have active projects associated with it. However, you can have subprojects that are both active and S/M associated with a goal (YMMV)!

                              So...
                              30k GOAL: Prepare Garden
                              S/M: Buy new edging
                              Project: Prepare Soil
                              etc. etc.

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