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  • Project vs Next Step vs Planning ahead

    Hi all,

    Trying to implement GTD, finding it extremely useful. Two questions though:

    1) I understand that we create a list with projects, and then, during weekly review, we consider what would be the next step to move the project forward. How, then, do we deal with a project that has about 12 upcoming steps, but all of them rather small (say 30 minutes' worth of time each)? Obviously I cannot let it go twelve weeks, it may be something that needs to be completed by "Wednesday", as an example, but some will take place on Monday, some on Tuesday and some on Wednesday. If I do the weekly review, and only write the "NEXT STEP" in my actual list, then, I may do that Monday morning, but, surely I would not wait till next week Friday's review to write the next step.

    I assume that as soon as the step is completed I should think about the next one, no? Do I then simply write that in the list, and do it as I get to it?

    2) Continuing on from the previous question: say I have a project: Present first StageIt concert. As I think about it, four, six or eight different steps (which will all be in sequence, NOT simultaneously, in fact, some will depend on others being completed first) come to mind. I don't know how to "plan ahead"...ie.: write these down so that I cover them all without haveing to do any "RE-THINKING" every step of the way. Is there any sensible way of structuring a project where you already have a good idea of the following steps, in such a way that they automatically "follow" one upon another, spcifically for an EXTREME SCATTERBRAIN like myself, where I may get very excitred about the project, brain-storm it, and have many steps that need to complete, BUT, if I don't write them down, I may forget/loose them. Yet, If I write each one down as a separate project, I'll not have 50 to 150 projects in my projects list, but closer to 800! AND...I'l;l probably get lost between all those (that's what's happening at present), or, if I complete one, I have to do all the thinking OVER again, to remember what was the next step, and then go in search of it.

    Take this project as example: Pan first StageIt concert:
    I need to consider my calendar, as well as sensible times for my audience (which means I'll have to go through my database of follower's info and see who are in which time-zones. Upon having that info, I need to schedule the most effective time for the concert.
    Next (dependent upon the decided time) need to first design a little advertising email, which I will then send to my database of followers on FB, Twitter, Email lists, Google+ and website contacts. (Each of these could be regarded as separate projects, since sending the email entails uploading the graphic, entering the recipient/s, sending, and then continuing on to the next database). Although, most are dependent upon the design of the advert.
    Simultaneously with all that I mentioned above, I need to put together a program and make sure I'm happy with all the songs, and have a script for the banter between songs. Again here are multiple "projects', but some dependent upon each other, and some steps that I already know (during the brainstorm time) which need to follow which, BUT, if I do not WRITE them down, I may forget, and have to re-brainstorm or re-think all again.
    I need to setup the purchases for tickets (again dependent upon very first paragraph where I decide upon date.

    The above is an extract of what I believe is required to do my concert (obviously there's quite a bit more), but, I honestly have NO idea how to fit this into GTD in such a way that I don't forget all that I now have in brainstorming, and that I don't create a mud-pool of 400 projects, where I will spend 12 minutes finding any sensible task in any ways. Please bear in mind...this "project" is but one (and I only shared a part of the requirements here) of MANY, MANY others that I need to attend to, such as specific training videos for Youtube (various videos and chapters for various topics etc etc etc), as well as live concerts, training sessions, studio sessions, office hours at our local church, admin tasks etc etc etc...thus, it just feels EXTREMELY messy.

    I say messy not because I don't like the GTD system, but, messy simply because I feel I am not sure how to fit these type of things into my lists, and how to setup in such a way that things which I already know to do, could be listed sequentially.

    I use a very simply online list system, (GOOGLE TASKS) with different lists. I attempted Evernote, but...man...it just does not work as easily as Tasks at present. Also, I use Google Calendar, Google Mail, Google Drive, in fact, all Google product, simply because they currently work well for me, and I didn't want to move away from that just for tasks.

    Any advice/ideas welcomed

  • #2
    Project support can be messy

    Project plans generally fall under the broader category of project support materials. Their nature and structure depends on the project, you, possible collaborators and other factors. The tools you use can have a big effect: someone using omnifocus has options that someone using paper does not. Roughly speaking, I think of projects as having different levels of complexity:

    Really simple: there's going to be an obvious next action at every point, and I don't need any plan. An example is freezer repair, where the first step is to find possible repair companies, and go from there.

    Simple: some sort of simple plan is needed. I generally will use a note attached to the project entry to store any thoughts about issues, major components, et cetera. About 90% of my projects are simple or really simple.

    Complex: this takes lots of forms. A project can have a simple linear structure, but milestones, multiple people involved, et cetera requires more tracking. A project may have many sub-projects that can be worked on in parallel. The nature of the project may have multiple phases, and the first phase may be R&D to determine the nature of the project. A number of tools can be used: text documents, mind maps, outlines, project planning software, et cetera. The natural planning model is valuable for any project when more clarity or more action is needed, but it is especially helpful for complex projects. The example project you gave seems suited for its own document in Google Docs, which you can refer to as necessary or desirable.

    You also mention all the other projects and commitments you have. GTD objectifies projects, next actions and calendar items, and this can seem overwhelming. You have the commitments with or without GTD, but the outcomes will be better with GTD. I cannot stress enough the value of the weekly review in this. Good luck!

    Comment


    • #3
      Don't wait 'til the next Weekly Review!

      Originally posted by riaaneloff View Post
      1) I understand that we create a list with projects, and then, during weekly review, we consider what would be the next step to move the project forward. How, then, do we deal with a project that has about 12 upcoming steps, but all of them rather small (say 30 minutes' worth of time each)? Obviously I cannot let it go twelve weeks, it may be something that needs to be completed by "Wednesday", as an example, but some will take place on Monday, some on Tuesday and some on Wednesday. If I do the weekly review, and only write the "NEXT STEP" in my actual list, then, I may do that Monday morning, but, surely I would not wait till next week Friday's review to write the next step.
      Consulting the Projects list, each project support materials and common sense as often as necessary is not forbidden in GTD. It is recommended. Don't wait 'til the next Weekly Review!

      Comment


      • #4
        Don't take things too literally

        mcogilvie's comments are both wise and correct, so there is very little I can add to that particular aspect of the problem, but perhaps I can add something else. I have also had that same problem, after I moved from paper to computer in the late 90's and have been trying since then to find a computer app and a system that really give me the support I want.

        First of all I would like to add that GTD is a general framework of thought, and adaptations to your own needs may not only be necessary, they are even encouraged by David Allen if you really need them. And I would also like to add that I think you could benefit greatly by getting a better task app, but more about that later.

        In response to your first question I would say, as you even say yourself, that you obviously cannot just put one single action on the Next list(s) and then wait for a whole week, so you simply have to solve it. How you solve it is up to you. What I might have done, if I were using paper or a basic list app like Google Tasks, is either:

        1a) move a week's worth or two of tasks onto your Next list(s), and perhaps put a mark on the ones that really are Next right now to distinguish them from the rest, or:

        1b) work straight off the project's own task list. This will work particularly well if all the tasks all require the same context, but will work anyway.

        1c) get a better app that can distinguish between true Next and subsequent (intended) Next. Those apps also handle contexts for you. Omnifocus (Mac only) is probably the best (but I have never tried it), MLO is powerful but perhaps a bit unwieldy. I use Nirvana, a mid-level-app that allows me to handle this situation, but Zendone, another mid-level app, is more flexible when it comes to this.

        As for your second question, I confess that I too have no use at all for a gigantic list of micro-projects - 800, no way! If you want to build a complete hierarchy with full dependencies etc you probably need MLO or Omnifocus, but what I do (with a 2˝-level app) is I use the highest level (called project) for my major 30 k objectives (real-world "projects", usually with a 3-30 month horizon) and for my 20 k AoRs, and I use the task level (called actions) both for true Next actions and for subsequent Next actions AND for subsequent sub-projects and projects at all levels, with individual tasks or hints etc in the task notes, i.e. I manually convert these projects-in-disguise to individual tasks when they are "near". So far I have not found the perfect app that has the overall simplicity of use and the power to let me do what I want.

        Just as mcogilvie indicates, I too generally keep project support material (budget, purpose, people, whatever ...) totally outside of the task app, but what I do want to keep inside it is the general outline of the "Do" steps, i.e. tasks, sub-projects etc all the way up to AoR or 30 k level.

        EDIT / Clarification about major objectives and the "Do" outline:

        To avoid any unnecessary confusion, when I mentioned major objectives at 30 k and keeping the "Do" outline in my app, I am (of course?) referring to all this from my own personal point of view. For example, one of my AoRs is "Consultant" (for hire). A typical client job in this area is just a regular project that goes under that particular AoR, and my project covers only my own direct participation and associated activities, regardless of the fact that what I do for the client is probably just a small part of a much larger "project" or effort in their eyes. I do not attempt to keep their entire "Do" outline in my app, only my own "interface" activities with them and my own individual activities for delivering the agreed result and achieving a good overall result for both them and me. If the client has provided me with a time plan for their total effort, that is just reference material as far as I am concerned, and regardless of how large their effort is, it is normally still just a regular client project, not a 30 k major objective, for me. (I don't know if this clarification was necessary, but better safe than sorry.)
        Last edited by Folke; 10-19-2013, 02:29 PM. Reason: Clarification

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by TesTeq View Post
          Consulting the Projects list, each project support materials and common sense as often as necessary is not forbidden in GTD. It is recommended. Don't wait 'til the next Weekly Review!
          Absolutely true. I had missed that in my a-b-c list above.

          In fact, I did not even see your post when I wrote mine - we were probably typing away on our respective posts at the same time. But I absolutely agree.

          bcmyers: "adapt", "implement", "configure", "realize", "materialize", whatever - take your pick

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by riaaneloff View Post
            Any advice/ideas welcomed
            In implementing GTD (more-or-less), I've developed the habit that (more-or-less) whenever I finish doing something, I think about whether there's a next step to follow it. Often the next step is obvious and often I'll do it immediately; or else I'll write a note about it (often on a full sheet of paper, which I can later erase and re-use) and put it in my tickle file or elsewhere in my system. So, when planning a concert, you might see an action on your list, do it, and then be "on a roll" and just keep doing the next logical action for that concert. Sometimes. You can't rely on that happening every time.

            In your situation I might do things like this: When brainstorming, write the list of actions in the form of a flow chart, on paper, with arrows from one action to the next indicating the order they need to be done. Actions that can be done now have no arrows pointing to them. Other actions might have more than one arrow, coming from actions that need to be done before them. Example: A->B->C and D->E->F and also arrows from both C and E pointing to G. When you put check marks next to the things that are done, it will be easy to see what the next actions are.

            You can keep a flow chart like that in a project support folder. If it's for a project due in 2 days I might post it on the wall or put it on my desk. Flow charts for several different projects could be posted on the wall at the same time. The idea is that when you complete an action, you glance at the flow chart and see what the next following action(s) is/are, if any.

            I would also have some reminder to look at the flow chart occasionally, in addition to looking at it when completing actions. I guess that's because I might forget to look at it when finishing an action -- what if the phone rang right then or something? or if I felt like I was finished and there was nothing left to do but there was. For something due in 2 days I might figure it's good to look over the flow chart at least about 4 times a day. I have something I call my "zero folder" which I try to look at twice a day; I would put a reminder in there. Putting it on my desk may also remind me. I might consider setting beeps or computerized reminders, but I tend not to like these because they usually come when I'm in the middle of something else.

            I don't consider posting something on the wall to be a way of reminding myself to look at it. I might or might not. It can be useful there as quick reference when I do decide to look at it. On my desk works better for me as a reminder.

            In GTD, a "project" is just something with more than one action. If you're intending to do hundreds of actions anyway, it might not hurt to call many of them "projects". It depends on whether there are things you do for "projects" (create a separate folder, etc.) that you don't do for single actions. If you can simplify how you handle "projects", it may be fine to have hundreds of them. I used a thesaurus to try to come up with a word for something between action and project: something with multiple actions, but small, so there could be many of them in a project. I didn't find any word I liked much, but settled on the word "set" as in "small set of actions", and then didn't really end up using the concept anyway.

            Checking in with another person can help a lot with getting things clear in your mind. e.g. if you can get another interested person to ask you once a day "How are the plans for the concert coming along?" You can say to them "Remind me tomorrow morning ..." and if you remember that that's going to happen, it can also help you focus because you can try to get stuff done before they talk to you, and you can imagine what you hope you'll be able to tell them you've done.

            It can also help to take little breaks: take some deep breaths, get up, go and get yourself a drink etc. and at those times, think with a bit of a larger perspective: ask yourself questions like "What are the most important things I need to get done today?" So if you've been very busy organizing one concert, that may be the time to realize that there's something urgent you need to do for a different concert.

            You need some way to evaluate whether you're trying to do too much (or too little). For example "Well, I've organized three concerts in one week before and it worked out fine." You might say to yourself: Yes, but what else is also going on this week, and did it really work out fine that other time or was I exhausted and barely avoiding disasters etc.? I think it's good to have some leeway.

            Comment


            • #7
              next step = placeholder, not limited list

              Originally posted by riaaneloff View Post
              Hi all,
              1) I understand that we create a list with projects, and then, during weekly review, we consider what would be the next step to move the project forward. How, then, do we deal with a project that has about 12 upcoming steps, but all of them rather small (say 30 minutes' worth of time each)? Obviously I cannot let it go twelve weeks, it may be something that needs to be completed by "Wednesday", as an example, but some will take place on Monday, some on Tuesday and some on Wednesday. If I do the weekly review, and only write the "NEXT STEP" in my actual list, then, I may do that Monday morning, but, surely I would not wait till next week Friday's review to write the next step.

              I assume that as soon as the step is completed I should think about the next one, no? Do I then simply write that in the list, and do it as I get to it?
              You need to not forget that the next step you put on your list is not a limited list of "allowed tasks" for the upcoming week for that specific project. It is a placeholder, helping you to remember you where you got with that specific project and where to continue.

              If you finish a next step that is on your list, you might very well continu working on that same project, maybe even finish it in one long work session. Or you may stop at any given point, and at that moment you just record the very next step as a placeholder in your NA list.

              Greetings,
              Myriam

              Comment


              • #8
                Thanks

                Hey folks. Thanks for all the comments and advice. I already am way more positive about dealing with the projects/next steps. Several VERY GOOD pointers and reminders here.

                Help is much appreciated folks.
                Thanks again.

                Comment


                • #9
                  > If I do the weekly review, and only write the "NEXT STEP"
                  > in my actual list, then, I may do that Monday morning, but, surely I
                  > would not wait till next week Friday's review to write the next step.

                  Correct. You would normally write a next action as soon as you complete the previous action--or, alternatively, as soon as you pause in working on the project. You may go well beyond that first next actions and do hours' worth of work on the project, and in that case you're not obligated to write down each and every action. Instead, when you stop working, you write your next action then, while the status is fresh in your mind.

                  Sometimes you may fail to do this, which is why you *also* ensure, every week, that every project has a next action. At least, that's how I understand it. You write next actions during the weekly review, but not *only* during the weekly review. You're writing them all week.

                  > Is there any sensible way of structuring a project
                  (snip)
                  >... BUT, if I don't write them down, I may forget/loose them.

                  I would consider this to be project support material. I wouldn't put all of those actions in your main GTD system, where they'll clutter up all of your action lists. I'd have them on a separate piece of paper, computer file, file folder, whatever. When you pause on a project and you're not positive of what your next action is, consult that support material and use it to guide your choice of next action.

                  If you have a lot of projects like this, you could make a habit of always having a file folder for every project, and whenever you have a thought for a preexisting project, you could stuff it into that folder. You could add a step to your weekly review, in which you go through each project folder to familiarize yourself with it and tidy it up, and create project folders for any projects that don't yet have them.

                  > Take this project as example: Pan first StageIt concert:
                  > "projects', but some dependent upon each other, and some steps that I

                  I see this as a project with a couple of related projects. I'd probably start it as:

                  Project: Plan first StageIt concert.
                  Next Action: Brainstorm all tasks needed for concert.

                  (Edited to note: I notice that below I keep saying "you'd..." do whatever. I don't know what you would do; this is what I would do. But I'm too lazy to edit that sentence by sentence. )

                  Here you'd create a folder and write down your ideas and your initial view of what you need to do. That's where you'd have things like, "Don't forget to set up tickets!" that you don't want to forget, but you absolutely can't work on yet. When that's done, you check off the brainstorm action and add some new projects. The related part of your system would then look like:

                  Project: Plan first StageIt concert
                  Next Action: WAITING FOR Schedule Concert, Plan Advertising, and Plan Program
                  (This is how I handle projects that have logical subprojects--I add a "waiting for" bookmark for the subprojects. I don't allow more than one level of subprojects.)

                  Project: Schedule Concert for first StageIt concert
                  Next Action: Create sorted followers lists by time zone.

                  Project: Plan Advertising for first StageIt concert
                  Next Action: Spend one hour designing ad email.

                  Project: Plan Program for first StageIt concert
                  Next Action: Spend one hour brainstorming on possible songs and topics.

                  The above three projects seem like a useful division of the work--much more division and you're working on too many tracks simultaneously, much less and you may be unnecessarily neglecting things that you could have progressing. There is no optimal structure that ensures that everything will be done with maximum efficiency, so you just have to pick a happy medium.

                  You notice the "spend one hour" tasks. This is what I usually do for tasks that are unlikely to be done in one sitting. The "spend one hour" acknowledges that fact, so I'm more willing to sit down to what looks like a big task if I've already cut it into bite-sized pieces.

                  > I use a very simply online list system...

                  I use OmniFocus. I think it's great, but I think that it tends to appeal more to programmers/engineers.

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