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Using outliner program and working from a project list - pros and cons?

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  • Using outliner program and working from a project list - pros and cons?

    I am organizing my N/A lists and projects list using a simple outliner program. The way the outliner works is tempting me to combine the two lists into one. I think this would be possible because the result would be a list of things to work on, some of which would be discrete next actions and other items would be project titles. Clicking on any project title would pop open it's own list of actions and project's next action would then be immediately visible (along with all the following actions that have been planned). Since the elements of the project are visible at a click, this really combines the project planning support material into the same document as well, making it pretty comprehensive, but also hiding the levels of detail that are not needed at any time.

    I realize this is a significant departure from the GTD method because I would not be looking at a list of discrete next actions, but rather a list of mostly project titles. I can see this being a disadvantage, but on the other hand, the projects are what have significance and maybe it makes sense to first pick out which project I should be working on and then, with a click, see what the next action for that project is. It would also save transferring actions to the N/A list.

    The downside is that the list might then look like a bunch of undable stuff that would be demotivating. So I am wondering if this makes sense and if anyone else is doing anything similar. I am definitely not looking for a different software solution such as LifeBalance, etc. even though that may be a very good product. I have decided to implement GTD with whatever tools I already own and am comfortable with, which includes paper, a Palm PDA with a simple outliner (called "Progect") and a Desktop PC with standard Office applications.

    Thanks for any comments or opinions.
    Last edited by Barry; 07-25-2005, 06:11 AM.

  • #2
    Yes, you are suggesting a significant departure from GTD. Which of course is fine, if it works for you. For me, combining projects and actions in one list would be a disaster. That's where I was when I adopted GTD, and it just wasn't working at all.

    Katherine

    Comment


    • #3
      Using Outliner Program

      I tried what you're describing with both Shadow Plan and Bonsai. It worked for a while for me, but eventually I left it to go more or less Plain Vanilla - (something I used to swear I could never do because my life is too complex!)

      The only way to know for sure if it will work for you is to try it. I know other people that have done similar set-ups and they swear by it.

      Janice

      Comment


      • #4
        Toying with the same thing....

        I’ve been toying with this also. I still prefer the task view over the Projects view, but once I complete a task I have a nagging urge to go to the Projects list and find the next action that I should pull over where sifting through close to 100 projects becomes tedious. Obviously, this is something you attack at the weekly review, but some projects I make great progress on the first couple days of a week and I don’t want to have to wait until the weekly review to put a next action on my list. Of course, I'm not forced to wait the whole week, but I would like a format that allows me to immediately kick the next NA onto the list.

        So, Instead of something that looks like this with the outliner…

        -PROJECT: Complete landscaping behind house
        ...• Go to Landscaping suppy store & get more decorative stone
        ...• Dig up all grass in designated area
        ...• Put down sprinkler pipe
        ...• Buy 1 ½ HP pump for sprinkler system
        ...• Etc…

        -PROJECT: Powerpoint for sales presentation completed
        ...• Call Joyce to get marketing input
        ...• Email Tom and request new PPT template
        ...• Email team for survey of top 5 pain points
        ...• Etc...



        It ends up looking like this….

        -@Phone
        ...-Call Joyce to get marketing input
        ......• PROJECT: Powerpoint for sales presentation completed
        ......• Email Tom and request new PPT template
        ......• Email team for survey of top 5 pain points
        ......• Etc…

        -@Errands
        ...-Go to Landscaping supply store & get more decorative stone
        ......• PROJECT: Complete landscaping behind house
        ......• Dig up all grass in designated area
        ......• Put down sprinkler pipe
        ......• Buy 1 ½ HP pump for sprinkler system
        ......• Etc…

        This format allows me to promote the next immediately actionable task and demote the project heading along with the other NAs under it. Once I complete the task, I simply promote the next NA.

        This format allows you to do mini reviews at the project level each time you complete an NA. The “-“ minus signs above denote where you can collapse the outline.

        The only challenge with this format is working with NAs you can work in parallel. This format serializes the process.

        I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve been thinking about implementing it.
        Last edited by DoubleDippin; 07-25-2005, 07:16 AM.

        Comment


        • #5
          Thanks for all the replies. The Keep It Simple approach is probably sage advice and I will likely end up there after giving this just a little more thought.

          DoubleDippin, that structure is a very good idea. I toyed around with something like that for a while, but never came up with anything that worked. Your layout looks like a good one. The only drawback is that you pretty much lose the Project List view unless you maintain that list as a separate document. But as far as giving you a true list of next actions while still imbedding the project and follow-up actions, it would really work well. I think I am going to experiment with that a little bit.

          Comment


          • #6
            The problem with the simple-outliner approach is that it is the context lists which provide much of the benefits of GTD, yet the simple outliner doesn't provide the facility for organizing those same actions by context in addition to by concept. So you can use your outline only for organizing your project lists or for organizing context lists, but not both, or at least not both in one outline. You need an outline with an additional dimension in order to organize both. The limitation with the basic outline is in the data structures of the software which do not provide organization around the cross-cutting additional dimension of context.

            It seems to me a shame to have to manually maintain and update separate lists for projects and context-NAs when the items they organize are exactly the same. Especially when there are tools available that will do this for you, beautifully.

            It's always worthwhile to have good tools. I recently bought a power tool for a job I could have done by hand, but the results with the power tool were far better and achieved much faster than I could have done by hand. Tools are true investments: they pay for themselves and then some.

            The same is true with software tools. If you need the features of a word processor, why use NotePad?

            Why do something by hand because you haven't yet acquired the power tool for the job? Just because you don't already have something, it doesn't logically follow that you don't need it.

            You can organize your project lists with Progect and then separately and manually organize context/NA lists either with Progect or on paper or whatever. But why? It's like cutting your lawn with a scissors instead of getting a lawnmower.

            Comment


            • #7
              Good point, Andersons. Did you have a specific tool in mind for this need? I am going to guess that LifeBalance provides this functionality, so maybe that is what you are referring to?

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by kewms
                Yes, you are suggesting a significant departure from GTD. Which of course is fine, if it works for you. For me, combining projects and actions in one list would be a disaster. That's where I was when I adopted GTD, and it just wasn't working at all.
                Actually, I find the palm outliners Shadowplan and Bonsai to be incredibly effective at handling the vertical and horizontal in one outline in a single app. Without going into a long detailed explanation, you can create one outline that contains all of your projects. Specifically, mine are setup in five levels:

                1. Roles
                2. Areas of Focus
                3. Goals and Objectives
                4. Projects
                5. Next Actions

                To get the horizontal next action view you can setup filters that will filter on a tag or key word. I use Bonsai and I set up all my next actions with a keyword like this - Call: Joe/ABC Proposal. I set up my filter to find all items containing "call:" and there is my next action list. My filters are saved so invoking them requires about 2 taps.

                These outliners also have a zooming function that let you focus on a particular level. Very effective for brainstorming sessions and reviews.

                Admittedly, I have bounced back and forth between vanilla-ish and outliner systems, but ultimately I found it wasn't my tool that was the problem. I had to develop the habits to make the system effective.

                One of the biggest hang-ups I found with the outliners mentioned above is that not all of their features are useful. I used to enter all my next actions in outlook and then use the outliner's import feature. It would then take me forever to move those tasks from the bottom of the outline where they were imported to the right spot in the outliner. I later realized that by entering the item in Outlook, I wasn't really processing the item - I was moving it from one inbox (my paper note or voice memo) to another inbox (outlook). Now, I process directly into my outline and use the find feature in Bonsai to navigate quickly to each area of the outline. Things are much smoother now.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by 1drummergirl
                  Actually, I find the palm outliners Shadowplan and Bonsai to be incredibly effective at handling the vertical and horizontal in one outline in a single app. Without going into a long detailed explanation, you can create one outline that contains all of your projects. Specifically, mine are setup in five levels:

                  1. Roles
                  2. Areas of Focus
                  3. Goals and Objectives
                  4. Projects
                  5. Next Actions

                  To get the horizontal next action view you can setup filters that will filter on a tag or key word. I use Bonsai and I set up all my next actions with a keyword like this - Call: Joe/ABC Proposal. I set up my filter to find all items containing "call:" and there is my next action list. My filters are saved so invoking them requires about 2 taps.
                  Oh, sure. I have a similar structure using ResultManager. It saves all that rewriting as I move actions from project lists to the NA list. But that isn't what the original poster was talking about.

                  Katherine

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    After reading the original post and skimming the replies, my thought is that if all of your projects are done at the same place (i.e. the office), that ought to work just fine. But if the projects can or need to be done at different places or contexts (phone, errands, etc.), then it won't work.

                    I'm in the process of trimming from the opposite end - eliminating all "projects" from my lists unless they cannot be propelled forward simply by writing the next action once the current next action is completed. But there are certain types of projects that you might devote an hour or two to at a time where having a list of next actions pop up for that project could be a very good way to let everything else stay on the backburner.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by pageta
                      After reading the original post and skimming the replies, my thought is that if all of your projects are done at the same place (i.e. the office), that ought to work just fine. But if the projects can or need to be done at different places or contexts (phone, errands, etc.), then it won't work.
                      That does describe my situation. I am thinking specifically about my @work projects and I have a very one-context job. I am basically at my desk all the time. (However, it seems that any given project could be moved from context to context as needed depending on the context of the next action.)

                      Furthermore, these are usually small projects. Something that I can usually do in an hour or less, but have numerous steps and will often be interrupted. They don't justify a full separate project file. I guess what I am thinking about is similar to the Pig Pog method that I have seen mentioned, but haven't really investigated yet.

                      I am kind of in that grey area between an N/A and a Project and wanting to manage it without excessive overhead.
                      Last edited by Barry; 07-25-2005, 12:58 PM.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Barry
                        Good point, Andersons. Did you have a specific tool in mind for this need? I am going to guess that LifeBalance provides this functionality, so maybe that is what you are referring to?
                        Barry, I do use Life Balance. I think it is an excellent tool for implementing GTD. In fact, it goes beyond the runway level addressed by GTD and helps you see the big picture, too. I have written about its advantages extensively on this forum. (I also want to add that someone here once claimed that many GTD-ers did not like Life Balance, but when I read every single post here about Life Balance, I found very few accurate, concrete complaints.)

                        In my opinion, the main disadvantages of using Life Balance are 1) being limited by platform, and 2) it can be slow. If you're using only a Linux machine and cannot use a Palm PDA, you're out of luck, I guess. The desktop version ran slow on my old PC (which, to be fair, is ancient), so I didn't use it. Giving LB all the information it needs can be slow, too, though I learned some tricks that make it fast enough for me. If you enter 100 new actions every day, that could seem painful. On the other hand, if you enter 100 new actions a day and have to keep BOTH your projects lists AND your context lists up-to-date manually, that would be even slower, plus much more tedious and error-prone.

                        There are other tools that support additional dimensions of organization. Handy Shopper also allows organization along different dimensions, and some use it for GTD, I believe. But your "outline" would be limited to 2 levels only. Plus it's lacking key features like dependencies. Plus it's even more platform-limited than Life Balance. So it's not nearly as suited as Life Balance for organizing actions and projects, though I love it for shopping lists and packing lists.

                        I'm not sure if Outlook might be another way to maintain both projects and context lists automatically. I haven't used it since version 97 (pre-GTD for me), so I don't know for sure. But a lot of GTD-ers use it, especially with the add-in. I recently heard that it supports both hierarchical organization via folders for email, plus another dimension called "categories." I don't know how this would work for tasks/projects, but if I had to abandon Life Balance, I would check it out.

                        It sounds like there is a promising new application in development, MyLifeOrganized, that is another option for providing the sort of organization that needs to be done in GTD.

                        There may be other options I haven't listed, which have often been mentioned here. I haven't tried them simply because when I needed a better tool for organizing my lists, I found Life Balance first and it met my requirements:
                        1) hierarchical organization for projects/actions
                        2) support for context filtering (especially useful since contexts can include others)
                        3) good support for recurring tasks
                        4) support for dependencies when you must do a series of tasks in order

                        But it's not that I've made a permanent commitment to Life Balance. It's just that I see so many people come to this forum struggling with some of the organization required for GTD when Life Balance (or maybe some other tool) would take care of those struggles automatically. I have read many of these posts and thought, Oh, I don't have to worry about that; Life Balance does that for me. If you need to do something, it's great to find a tool that will do it much more easily. I'm a big believer in using the right tools.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Andersons,

                          Thanks for that insight on LifeBalance. It does look like a good product. When I checked it out years ago, my objection was the way in which it would promote the priority of goals that have not gotten enough recent attention from the user. The problem I have with that is that if I am suddenly spending a lot of my time in one area if my life, maybe it is because that area is suddenly very important or urgent. I may not want those tasks demoted under those circumstances.

                          Is that still an accurate description and is there a way to turn that feature off?

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Barry
                            That does describe my situation. I am thinking specifically about my @work projects and I have a very one-context job. I am basically at my desk all the time. . .
                            Even if you have only one context for all the NAs of your various projects, you still need a context list for NAs. In this case, you need only 1 context list. But you still need it for the reason you gave in your original post: the outline view is great for Planning but not for Doing. You need that list showing you only what you could be doing, right now.

                            The context lists for Doing are fundamental to GTD, not just an optional implementation detail. When you look at your project outline, even if you could see every level expanded in one eyeful, the NAs -- the actions you could be doing right now -- are hard to see because they are scattered throughout the lowest levels of the outline. It's hard to get a view of what you could be doing right now. In fact, it's easiest to see the projects. So the easiest things to grasp visually when you look at your outline are potentially the most overwhelming.

                            So then you're back to making yourself a list of NAs by going through your outline, finding the actions at the lowest levels, and adding them to your list, maybe doing some dependency filtering at the same time. One way or another, you have to make that context-list, even if it's only one context, in order to implement GTD.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Barry
                              Thanks for that insight on LifeBalance. It does look like a good product. When I checked it out years ago, my objection was the way in which it would promote the priority of goals that have not gotten enough recent attention from the user. The problem I have with that is that if I am suddenly spending a lot of my time in one area if my life, maybe it is because that area is suddenly very important or urgent. I may not want those tasks demoted under those circumstances.

                              Is that still an accurate description and is there a way to turn that feature off?
                              Yes, that "Balance" feature can be adjusted with a slider all the way down to none at all. This may not have been true when you checked it out years ago. I've only been using it for 2 years, but I think I read something to the effect that adjusting the balance was at some point a new feature.

                              I have turned it off at times just like you described, when one area suddenly became very urgent or important. However, I have also found that adjusting the "Desired" pie slice can also produce the priorities I want to see on my lists while also preserving the real value of the balance. I finally realized there's no reason that the "desired" time spent in various areas has to stay the same day after day after week after month. Changing that pie slice also has the good effect of helping me stay in control even during those urgent times because I make a conscious choice to reduce time spent in those other areas rather than adopting the attitude of ignoring them altogether (which has gotten me into trouble in my pre-LifeBalance past!).

                              In terms of priorities, if you take a few seconds (after you get used to it) to give LB the information it needs, it will prioritize your lists quite nicely. If things look out of order, there are quick and powerful ways to change them. Or you can just leave them alone and you're no worse off than the unprioritized lists advocated in GTD.

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