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  • Question about defining projects

    Hello everyone. This is my first post. I am a biology professor at a small midwestern school. Recently, I received a surprisingly unfavorable review from my tenure committee, and it came to light that even though I thought I was organized, I was, in fact, not. I took my critique to heart and sought out to find some information on organizing at work. I happened upon GTD, bought the book, read it, and have implemented it. I have a question about projects. I understand projects to be "outcomes" (I think I'm using that term correctly) that involve 2 or more steps. Much of my work involves 2 or 3 step activities. Let me give you two examples. First, an outcome I have is to Prepare Chapter 14 Lectures. The steps involved include, and in this order, 1-Breaking chapter down into 50 minute lecturable topics/themes; 2-Preparing slides and lecture notes (these are prepared at the same time); 3-Post slides to course management system. Step 1 would be done in the context of @Noncomputer work. Step 2 would be in my @Computer-offline folder, and Step 3 would be in my @Computer-online folder. Another example might be Grade Chapter 13 homework. The steps involved there are simply 1-Grade homework; 2-Post results on course management system. Depending on the class, Step 1 may be in the @Noncompuer work or @Computer-online folder and Step 2 would be in the @Computer-Online folder. The first example may take, in total, about 4-8 hours, depending on the class and material. The second example may take about 15 minutes (in an online assignment that is graded automatically). I currently take each step and place them in their appropriate folders before I start and do not setup a separate Projects folder for each Chapter or assignment. Then, as I complete each step, I just remove it from the folder in which it was stashed. Is this a correct method, or do I really need to make a separate Projects file for each chapter or topic I teach? I'm worried that I might have hundreds of projects with only 2-3 steps that take a short time to complete. I know it is up to the individual on how they implement GTD, but I would like to implement my GTD in its intended, and purist form until I become more proficient and feel comfortable modifying things. Also, I use MS OneNote to manage my lists and folders. So, making a projects folder for each of these would not be a big deal. I just wonder if it is worth the time to do so for each chapter/topic I teach. Thanks for any information you can give.

  • #2
    Hi RichB!

    Welcome. I am fairly new at GTD too, but I have some thoughts. There are a few other academics around the forums - it will be interesting to hear how they respond (i.e. whether each class they teach is a project, or whether they itemize each outcome related to that class as a seperate project).

    Overall, I would say yes, you should capture these things in your Project folder. That is what the projects list is for - to capture all the outcomes you have to do that will take more than one step to complete. If you have multi-step things in your action lists that don't have a placeholder on the projects list, then your projects list is not complete.

    My second comment would be about putting the various steps on their respective action lists. Only independent steps should be in your lists at any one time. So, for example, posting your materials on the course mgmnt system (step 3 from your example)should not be on your computer list until you have actually prepared the materials (step 2). (Because you cannot actually DO that action yet, so it will require mental energy when looking at your @computer lists to remember that you can't actually do that action yet.) The notes field of the relevant entry on your projects list (or wherever else you keep your project support material - I'm not familiar with MS OneNote) is where you keep these later actions until you are ready to put them on your action lists.

    In practice, you may not end up transferring these actions to a list. Once you complete your lecture materials, you may be able to immediately post them onto the system, knowing this is the next required action - you don't need to have it on your @computer list. But if you couldn't do it right away, you would catch this during your daily or weekly review. You would notice that step 2 is done and would move step 3 from project support to an active list.

    Well, that's enough from me - I'm procrastinating on my weekly review by writing this reply. Hope it helps. You could do a forum search for phrases like "nested projects" or "projects within projects" to try and find further insight on how to handle multi-layered projects.

    Good luck!

    Comment


    • #3
      Thanks

      That really helps, especially what you said in your third paragraph when you said it takes mental energy to sort through what comes first on the action list. That's exactly what I've been running into, but didn't know how to verbalize it, I guess. I find myself scanning through my list to see what needs to occur first before I do it. Again, thank you very much for taking the time out of your day to respond. I hope I can get to the level to return the favor to others soon!

      Comment


      • #4
        I have one project for each course. I work from my course syllabus for overall structure, and generally prep lectures and problem sets the night before class, because I like to be fresh with the material. These are on my calendar, but also repeating next actions. I will also have next actions for things like emailing a document to the entire class, or grading an exam. Occasionally I will have a next action to plan a sequence of lectures on, say, solar energy.

        Comment


        • #5
          little note on the side

          First of all RichB congratulations for taking the critique from your committee seriously, not many would do that.

          Great answer indeed from MJP, I would just like to add a little note on the side:

          Originally posted by RichB View Post
          ...do I really need to make a separate Projects file for each chapter or topic I teach? I'm worried that I might have hundreds of projects with only 2-3 steps that take a short time to complete.

          Originally posted by MJP View Post
          Overall, I would say yes, you should capture these things in your Project folder. That is what the projects list is for - to capture all the outcomes you have to do that will take more than one step to complete. If you have multi-step things in your action lists that don't have a placeholder on the projects list, then your projects list is not complete.
          Those are not the same: you do need (as MJP pointed out) an overview of your current projects and some sort of placeholder (where did I get in that project). But no, you don't need separate project files for every project. Sometimes projects just don't require a project file.

          And some real small projects with only two or three steps won't even make it to your project overview. For example: you get a form in your mailbox that needs to be filled out and then sent back. If you don't fill it out immediately, you'll note "fill out form" in your next action list, and maybe after that you might not send it immediately, but instead put "send form" in your next action list. But this won't make it to your project list, even if it is a project (it has multiple steps).

          In your example by the way, I wouldn't call "prepare chapter 14" a project, but the whole course would be one project (as mcogilvie does), with some next actions that could occur at the same time (for example prepare chapter 14 and grade homework chapter 13). I know there are different points of view on this one, some would call the "chapter 14 preparation" a subproject, some would indeed call it a project.

          greetings,
          Myriam

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by RichB View Post
            Is this a correct method, or do I really need to make a separate Projects file for each chapter or topic I teach? I'm worried that I might have hundreds of projects with only 2-3 steps that take a short time to complete.
            I am not a teacher of any sort except the occasional lecture on farming stuff to local groups so my way may not be appropriate.

            I would make every course you teach an area of focus of sorts with separate projects for each major section. So I would have separate distinct projects for Chapter 13 work, Chapter 14 work and so on. In my tool, Omnifocus, I use folders to be areas of focus or groupings I want to keep together. Because I like to view only the next actions not all available I'd rather have more projects and no sub-projects. It just works better for me.

            For example in the traditional GTD approach I have an AOF of Personal Development. That is a folder. Within that I have folders for things like Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle, Spinning, Weaving and Scrapbooking. All my projects go under those folders. In Scrapbooking right now I have a project for each week's assignments for an on-line class I am taking.

            I'd suggest trying one course that way, set up as many separate projects as you need for each multi-step task and then try one that is more granular with only large chunks as projects and see which works best for you.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Myriam View Post
              Those are not the same: you do need (as MJP pointed out) an overview of your current projects and some sort of placeholder (where did I get in that project). But no, you don't need separate project files for every project. Sometimes projects just don't require a project file.
              Good catch Myriam on the distinction between project list and project files. Some things will just be a title on your project list and will not require an actual file of support materials.

              I would disagree with this point though:

              Originally posted by Myriam View Post
              And some real small projects with only two or three steps won't even make it to your project overview. For example: you get a form in your mailbox that needs to be filled out and then sent back. If you don't fill it out immediately, you'll note "fill out form" in your next action list, and maybe after that you might not send it immediately, but instead put "send form" in your next action list. But this won't make it to your project list, even if it is a project (it has multiple steps).
              I would say this example is exactly the reason that DA defines "project" as he does. We are not likely to forget the big projects in our life, but these small multi-step processes are the kind of thing that can slip through the cracks without a placeholder. Faced with this situation I would immediately enter "submit form re XYZ" on my project list, with a due date if applicable, then look at whether it deserves to be on my current next action lists. If it is urgent, I may, in fact, complete the project in one sitting the very same day, making the entry on the project list seem a little excessive. But if it is not urgent, or for some reason I only complete part of it and then forget to note the next step on my next action lists, the entry on my project list is how I get reminded to finish it. I see that entry during my next review of my project list and think - oh yeah! Gotta send in that form!

              RichB - let us know how things go for you!

              MJP

              Comment


              • #8
                funny

                Originally posted by MJP View Post
                I would disagree with this point though:

                I would say this example is exactly the reason that DA defines "project" as he does. We are not likely to forget the big projects in our life, but these small multi-step processes are the kind of thing that can slip through the cracks without a placeholder. Faced with this situation I would immediately enter "submit form re XYZ" on my project list, with a due date if applicable, then look at whether it deserves to be on my current next action lists. If it is urgent, I may, in fact, complete the project in one sitting the very same day, making the entry on the project list seem a little excessive. But if it is not urgent, or for some reason I only complete part of it and then forget to note the next step on my next action lists, the entry on my project list is how I get reminded to finish it. I see that entry during my next review of my project list and think - oh yeah! Gotta send in that form!
                MJP
                It's funny you should mention this, because I do the exact same as you and also just the opposite. I also immediately enter those tiny little mini projects, but not on my project list, but rather on my next action list, with the deadline next to it. The rest goes the same as in your case. Either I complete almost immediately, either I do it later, and the fact that it's on my NA-list prevents me from forgetting it. So my placeholder is in my NA list for those mini projects, not in my project list.

                greetings,
                Myriam

                Comment


                • #9
                  welcome!

                  Originally posted by RichB View Post
                  Hello everyone. This is my first post.
                  Hi, RichB!

                  I just wanted to say welcome and congratulate you on taking the plunge into the heady world of GTD. I'm not an academic so I won't venture an opinion about how you structure your system, but I commend you for wanting to start off a purist. Once you've really grocked the essentials you're going to want to tweak them... remember as you go that tweaking is encouraged! And we'd love to know how your progressing, so please check back in to let us know how it's working out for you... or post more questions if you have them. It's a vibrant Connect community so I encourage you to pick some brains!

                  Enjoy!

                  Dena

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Ha!

                    Originally posted by Myriam View Post
                    So my placeholder is in my NA list for those mini projects, not in my project list.
                    As Dena says - tweaking is encouraged! Perfect example!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Myriam View Post
                      It's funny you should mention this, because I do the exact same as you and also just the opposite. I also immediately enter those tiny little mini projects, but not on my project list, but rather on my next action list, with the deadline next to it. The rest goes the same as in your case. Either I complete almost immediately, either I do it later, and the fact that it's on my NA-list prevents me from forgetting it. So my placeholder is in my NA list for those mini projects, not in my project list.
                      I do the same thing, and sometimes write

                      next action > mini-project

                      updating the next action, and moving or duplicating and changing context as needed.
                      A real-world example:

                      Discuss departure time w spouse > make plane reservations for niece's wedding

                      In this case, the travel is complicated by another trip I'm taking
                      right after the wedding. This is probably just a few steps,
                      but it helps me to remember the mini-desired outcome of the mini-project.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Hi, RichB.

                        In your case, I would say that it is not merely of some importance, but is of fundamental importance, that you not only be organized, but that you manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be organized. (allusion to a quote in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R_v_Sus...parte_McCarthy )

                        I would suggest therefore that you expend some effort in attempting to understand as clearly and fully as possible what exactly the committee meant by "organized", how they were able to perceive your degree of organization, and what impact it has or is seen to have on the university, students, members of the committee etc.

                        You might want to consult an objective observer -- possibly another professor whom you trust -- to help interpret the committee's message and figure out what they meant. You might also want to review the actual wording of the committee's comments at regular intervals. That way, you may be better able to direct your efforts in the most fruitful directions. For example, possibly the committee's only real concern is that you submit marks on time; or possibly their concern is something else, or some combination of things. "Organized" can mean different things to different people.

                        You might want to define a goal, area of focus or other higher horizon of focus something like "become organized to the committee's satisfaction". This way, you can try not only to satisfy your own, or David Allen's, or this forum's definition of organized, but you can focus on satisfying the committee's idea of what organized is, and to do it in such a way that it has a positive impact on the university and is perceived by the committee members.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          OneNote

                          I also use OneNote - this might help

                          My OneNote system consists of several notebooks:
                          -Projects
                          -Areas of focus
                          -Reference
                          -Done (move completed projects here)

                          In the Projects Notebook I have several sections:
                          -Projects (for all the mini projects like the office party, Awards ceremony, anything that only needs one page to plan and track outcomes
                          -One section per project (for you I would have it as one per subject, eg Biology, Maths etc. when you move it to the Done folder, include the year in the section name so there would be Biology 2012, Biology 2013).

                          In each project section I would have several pages for the plan, information, and each subproject and keep notes of them. Use subpages to group pages together and rollup the pages for easier page navigation.

                          Tags - I use them a lot. Need to customise them, get rid of the default and setup these:
                          ? +Process
                          Pin +Review
                          Check box Project
                          I use the first two since I capture a lot of info directly into OneNote, but might want to process and review it later.
                          Use one check box per project, and use this to tag each committed outcome, like Prepare chapter 14 lectures, and Grade chapter 13 homework.

                          The advantage of tags is that your outcomes can be anywhere in OneNote but easily consolidated into a central list. Do this by pressing Find Tags, and Group tags by Tag Name. It will do this in alphabetical order, which is why I have a + at the start of Process and Review, so they'll be at the top of the list and not mixed up with the projects.
                          By ticking the check box and ticking Show only unchecked items you can hide items from the list. You can print the list by Creating a summary page - but delete this afterwards as it creates duplicates which will show up in subsequent summary pages. I don't tend to bother with it, as I only want to read my list on the computer, and not print it out.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by RichB View Post
                            I'm worried that I might have hundreds of projects with only 2-3 steps that take a short time to complete. I know it is up to the individual on how they implement GTD, but I would like to implement my GTD in its intended, and purist form until I become more proficient and feel comfortable modifying things.
                            One possibility here could be to introduce checklists to your system. For example, if homework routinely comes back twice a week, I can imagine:

                            - Creating a "process submitted homework" project folder. (OK, here I'm cheating and not doing the "outcome" title, because those annoy me. I suppose an outcome title could be "Fall semester's homework processed in a timely manner.")
                            - Creating a "process submitted homework" checklist, a checklist that lists all the steps for all the courses on one sheet. (Alternatively, you could have a separate checklist for each course.) This could include the necessary course numbers and other information for processing homework, if you ever delegate this task or if you ever have to look them up.
                            - Printing out a body of checklists, two per week for every week of the grading period, and writing dates on them.
                            - Putting all of those checklists in the "process submitted homework" folder.
                            - Then your system just needs to include "Work this Tuesday's submitted homework checklist," and "Work this Thursday's submitted homework checklist," repeating every week. That task is indeed in a project, but it's a project that's been rethought and resized so that it makes sense being project size.

                            I don't know if this is nice and GTD-compliant; it's been a little too long since I read the book. But I can't see anything really noncompliant about it.

                            Comment

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