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  • Confused on implementation of GTD (using Outlook Add-In)!

    Hi,

    I'm reading the book and using the GTD Outlook Add-in. However, I'm having trouble getting my head around how to work my projects using this system and Outlook etc.

    I'm running a few different Programs, and my main tool of work is email. I use a word doc for keeping a running 'to to list' / latest actions etc.

    The problem I have is fitting my 'Programs/Projects' into the GTD system, especially with the outlook tools. Let me give you a 'pretend' example.

    "BIG Computer Project" - this is a program/project I own and run.
    The same project runs in 3 different countries, so I have:

    "BIG Computer Project UK"
    "BIG Computer Project France"
    "BIG Computer Project Spain"

    And each country project has seperate projects for multiple products. In the end, the folder system I have for filling the emails looks like this:

    - "BIG Computer Project"
    ----- "Product ABC"
    ---------- "BIG Computer Project UK"
    ---------- "BIG Computer Project France"
    ---------- "BIG Computer Project Spain"
    ----- "Product XYZ"
    ---------- "BIG Computer Project UK"
    ---------- "BIG Computer Project France"
    ---------- "BIG Computer Project Spain"
    ----- "Product 123"
    ---------- "BIG Computer Project UK"
    ---------- "BIG Computer Project France"
    ---------- "BIG Computer Project Spain"

    and so on...

    now, for each level of this project (overall/at product level/at country level), I get many actions, many emails etc etc.

    THE BIG QUESTION!!!!: how do I get this into the GTD(outlook) system. Whats a project? What's a task?!

    Is (Run "BIG Computer Project") a project? Or is it (run "Product ABC") or ("BIG Computer Project UK")??

    It's a shame that I can't have the same kind of hierarchy in the GTD project/task list.. there's only one level, from what I can see.

    Please help! I'm going mad!


  • #2
    Hi,

    There is definitly no reason for going mad! I have recently implemented GTD myself and probably know where you are stucked.

    First of all: There is no right way for your problem. You have to find a way that fits you personal needs in the goal of implementing GTD: Getting things out of your head!

    This is may way I would probably walk if I were in your position:

    As I like to have as less projects as possible I define three projects:
    "BIG Computer Project UK"
    "BIG Computer Project France"
    "BIG Computer Project Spain"

    From my point of view it is absolutely ok, if you have several Next Actions for one project as long as they are all "doable" indepently from each other. So for "Big Computer Project UK" I can have several Next Actions regarding different Prodcuts.

    I guess, it is obvious that the three computer projects I have defined in GTD all belong to The big computer project.

    Regarding the folder system for filing emails I suggest a flat hierarchy. I know this bundles a lot of mails in one folder but it definitly helps you to file emails. You don't have to thing about filing anymore you can jsut do it. To find the all emails regarding one of your Products to implement I suggest using "Lookout" from Lookoutsoft (http://www.lookoutsoft.com/Lookout/lookoutinfo.html ).

    This tool uses indexing to find any Outlook item lightning-fast.

    I hope this helps you!

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by egg
      THE BIG QUESTION!!!!: how do I get this into the GTD(outlook) system. Whats a project? What's a task?!

      Is (Run "BIG Computer Project") a project? Or is it (run "Product ABC") or ("BIG Computer Project UK")??
      First point -- outcomes and actions. With the GTD paradigm, express as much as possible in terms of successful outcomes and actions to achieve them. For "Run Big Computer Project," what is the successful outcome? For "Run Product ABC," what is the successful outcome?

      Here you really have 9 projects that are part of a grand Project. For purposes of GTD, you can factor out the grand Project. Then you have

      Product ABC is delivered in UK
      Product ABC is delivered in France
      Product ABC is delivered in Spain
      Product XYZ is delivered in UK
      Product XYZ is delivered in France
      Product XYZ is delivered in Spain
      Product 123 is delivered in UK
      Product 123 is delivered in France
      Product 123 is delivered in Spain

      To organize these better conceptually, you could certainly group them EITHER by country OR by product and have a perfect outline. However, from the viewpoint of outcomes and actions, it looks like you have 9 separate projects to organize.

      Second point - more than 2 levels for complex projects. Yes, you can have more than 2 levels in your project planning. Even if everything possible is expressed in terms of actions and outcomes, you are still going to have 9 complex projects with several levels of hierarchy (i.e., subprojects) before you see actions emerge. GTD mostly addresses the simple projects with 2 levels - project and action - that capture much of what we want to do in our lives - maybe 75%, maybe 90%.

      However, there are more complex projects that need to be outlined, and GTD recognizes that. It's perfectly fine to expand the hierarchy of project planning in GTD. Chapter 10 of GTD talks a little bit about outlining more complex projects. The example there shows 4 levels deep for moving to a new office location.

      With your 9 projects, break the first one down into subprojects, subsubprojects, etc. Try to have the subprojects be outcomes, not ideas, as much as possible. If you keep breaking subprojects down, you should have at the lowest level actions you can do to accomplish the subproject which will help accomplish the project. Actions should be things you know how to do in one sitting.

      After you have planned and organized one project, you might be able to come up with a master project template, or at least a template for each product, so that you do many of the same actions for each product project. Then you can add the actions that are custom to each country as they arise.

      Originally posted by egg
      It's a shame that I can't have the same kind of hierarchy in the GTD project/task list.. there's only one level, from what I can see.

      Please help! I'm going mad!
      Third point - choose the tool that can handle your data. Right now you are trying track actions in Word, and project structure in Outlook. These products were really designed for the opposite use: you could outline the multiple levels of the project structure in Word, then track the lowest-level actions in Outlook.

      Outlook is not designed to represent hierarchical projects. It was designed to track tasks and relate them to other data, files and emails. Outlook can be rigged to represent 2 levels - projects and actions (by configuring according to the whitepaper, using the custom project form from the Gear forum, or an add-in). The most recent add-in for Outlook rigs it to support 3 levels - project, subproject, and action. But all in all, Outlook has relational structure and operations that have to be jury-rigged to act like a hierarchy. You will need to configure it or add something in to capture 2 or 3 levels. So it's perfectly understandable that you are going mad trying.

      Personally, I don't like the additional work and headache of rigging software to deal with data structure it was not designed for. Trying to represent hierarchical data with a relational tool is a pain. Trying to represent relational data with a hierarchical tool is a pain.

      So you have 2 options here. You can abandon Outlook altogether in favor of software that fits your hierarchical project and action data.

      Or, you can plan the outline of your projects and subprojects outside of Outlook, in some other outlining tool, such as Word. There are better tools than Word if you need them. This project planning should produce an outline with levels of subprojects that finally lead to actions you can do. Then use Outlook to track the actions. Or configure it to track the 2 lowest levels -- the lowest level of subproject and their actions (e.g., with the whitepaper, the custom project form on the Gear forum, or an add-in).

      So ultimately, you'll have a project outline in Word or some other outlining tool:

      Product A is delivered in UK [project]
      --> Product A bugs are fixed [subproject]
      ----> Product A has been beta-tested [subsubproject]
      ------> Release Product A beta [subsubsubproject]
      --------> Check with Product A UK manager about beta release status [next action]

      Then track all the next actions in Outlook. You could maybe track the next action along with its immediate parent subsubsubproject.

      Obviously, I don't know much about delivering software products, so my example is likely stupid, but you get the point. And I do know that the steps of releasing software products are standardized to a point; there exists software specifically to track and automate the process because it is complex.

      Finally, see this thread for more ideas, particularly about MindManager/ResultsManager:
      http://www.davidco.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4552

      Comment


      • #4
        There are Projects and Subprojects in GTD Outlook Add-In

        egg,

        The latest version of the GTD Outlook Add-In has both a project and subproject level.

        So there is some level of hierarchy built in.

        You have:
        - "BIG Computer Project"
        ----- "Product ABC"
        ---------- "BIG Computer Project UK"
        ---------- "BIG Computer Project France"
        ---------- "BIG Computer Project Spain"
        ----- "Product XYZ"
        ---------- "BIG Computer Project UK"
        ---------- "BIG Computer Project France"
        ---------- "BIG Computer Project Spain"
        ----- "Product 123"
        ---------- "BIG Computer Project UK"
        ---------- "BIG Computer Project France"
        ---------- "BIG Computer Project Spain"

        I would probably eliminate "Big Computer Project" (BCP). I would make three projects:
        BCP Product ABC
        BCP Product XYZ
        BCP Product 123

        I would then create three subprojects under each project:

        BCP Product ABC
        -UK
        -France
        -Spain
        BCP Product XYZ
        -UK
        -France
        -Spain
        BCP Product 123
        -UK
        -France
        -Spain

        If you really wanted three levels you could cheat and add extra contexts. So, your project would be BCP. Your subprojects would be products ABC, XYZ, and 123. And then you could create three new special contexts UK, France, and Spain. I don't want to open a can of worms here and get the thread off track, but you might, with some exegetical cleverness, be able to find justification for this in the writings of David Allen himself. He allows contexts for people with whom you have regular meetings: like @accountant, @boss, @production manager. So why not have an @UK so that the next time you are on the phone with your UK contact you can see all the NAs specific to the UK?


        What I like about the GTD Outlook add-in is that I can create tasks from my emails. Whenever I send an email that involves me waiting for someone else to do something, I click "send and delegate" as my send option in the Outlook Add-In. This creates a task in my Outlook task list. This waiting for task is now integrated in my trusted system. When I do my weekly review, I can choose a project or subproject view, and see all my open tasks, including the emails I whipped off.

        I find this automagical transfer of emails into tasks to be extremely valuable. Since many of my key projects involve lots of email exchanges, it would be quite cumbersome manually to create waiting for tasks after each time I email someone asking them to do something.

        I do wish that I had more levels in the project hierarchy than two. I find andersons paeans to LifeBalance quite compelling. But I will stick with my two-level add-in for now because of its facility with getting emails into my tasks list.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by moises
          I find this automagical transfer of emails into tasks to be extremely valuable. Since many of my key projects involve lots of email exchanges, it would be quite cumbersome manually to create waiting for tasks after each time I email someone asking them to do something.

          I do wish that I had more levels in the project hierarchy than two. I find andersons paeans to LifeBalance quite compelling. But I will stick with my two-level add-in for now because of its facility with getting emails into my tasks list.
          I wouldn't necessarily recommend Life Balance for this project. The Life Balance developers actually use special software to handle the specific and complex tasks of releasing software. And I imagined that there would be an awful lot of Outlook emails flying back and forth in this monster. Plus, you don't really want to learn a new, very different tool when you're in the middle of a huge project either.

          My point was that egg shouldn't feel bad about having difficulties trying to get Outlook to handle all of this stuff. And that Outlook won't be able to handle all the levels of the big project. It wasn't designed to, so it takes some rigging just to handle a few levels. The upper levels have to be moved out. But it's good to know that the bottom 3 levels can be rigged, especially when the volume of email calls for Outlook. Hopefully your post will help egg get those bottom levels set up.

          I was more thinking of the MindManager/ResultsManager combo here to integrate the project planning with next actions and Outlook. But I haven't tried it myself (yet).

          Comment


          • #6
            Thanks!

            Thankyou everyone for your great/extensive comments. Nice to see such help for a first time poster.

            Something are a little more clear now. However, impementing some of these ideas are not so clear.

            Let me give you an example of how I plot a short project on paper and track on paper. Maybe by solving the issue for a small item - I can them implement for others as I go along.

            MY CURRENT TO-DO LIST
            "BIG Computer Project - Product ABC"
            - do an action at overall project level, ie update main org chat.
            - do an action at overall project level, ie send out team list via email.
            - a bunch of notes about the project
            - some of interesting things, notes, ideas etc.
            "UK team/project"
            - Send an email to the UK contact
            - write a report for the UK team
            - get an excel doc from UK team
            "French team/project"
            - Send an email to the French contact
            - sack the French team
            - hire a new French team
            - create a doc for French team

            etc etc...

            So, how do I implement that into the outlook system?

            What gets created as a project item in the task folder(and how)?
            Do I put some of the above text into the Project Item "text field"?
            Every short item above is an action under the project item?

            OK, that I can kinda get... So where's my Next Action list? ?!?!

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by egg
              MY CURRENT TO-DO LIST
              "BIG Computer Project - Product ABC"
              - do an action at overall project level, ie update main org chat.
              - do an action at overall project level, ie send out team list via email.
              - a bunch of notes about the project
              - some of interesting things, notes, ideas etc.
              "UK team/project"
              - Send an email to the UK contact [about what? what is the successful outcome?]
              - write a report for the UK team
              - get an excel doc from UK team [technically, this an outcome; the action is probably to email somebody, then put the email in a @WaitingFor context for later followup if needed]
              "French team/project"
              - Send an email to the French contact [about what? what is the successful outcome?]
              -sack the French team [probably a project with multiple actions?; let's break it down just for fun: ]
              -----call lawyer about French team contract termination
              - hire a new French team [this is a project because it will require more than one distinct action to achieve]
              -----email so-an-so to advertise programming jobs in France
              - create a doc for French team [about what? what is the successful outcome?]

              OK, that I can kinda get... So where's my Next Action list? ?!?!
              OK, the ones in green look like Next Actions to me. But some may still need further breakdown and specificity so that you're sure that when you see them in a list, you know how to do them and exactly what you're going to do.

              To use Outlook to manage your Next Actions, you would probably create a task for each one of the action items in green. I haven't used the add-in so I can't advise about the details.

              But if you make an Outlook task for each action, the task view will be a Next Action list that looks like

              O update main org chat
              O send out team list via email
              O send an email to the UK contact. . .
              O write a report for the UK team
              O email so-and-so for doc from the UK team
              O send email to French contact
              O call lawyer about French team contract termination
              O email so-and-so to advertise programming jobs in France
              O create a doc for French team. . .

              The blue item, "sack the French team," is not on the list because it's probably a project that needs further breakdown. I broke it down hypothetically and put the Next Action on the list. Same with the orange item, "hire a new French team," which is certainly a multi-step project that needs further breakdown. I put a hypothetical Next Action on your list.

              In GTD, a project is any outcome that requires more than one step. This is a strange way to think of a project, but the point is that to achieve an outcome, you have to break it down into a series of steps, each of which is a thing you can actually do. So projects like "hire a new French team" should not appear on your Next Actions list, because they require further decision about what to do next. In GTD, you separate the decision stage and the action stage; this makes it easier both to make decisions when needed and then to act on them later. Does that make sense?

              The result is that your Next Actions list is a collection of actions that you have already decided you will do, and that you know how to do right now. Working from that list, you can Get a lot of Things Done!

              Now about the items in gray above, like "a bunch of notes about the project." These could be
              1) reference material for planning the project (e.g., ideas)
              2) hidden action items in disguise
              3) support information needed to complete specific Next Actions

              If these notes are reference material used for planning the project, you could put them wherever you keep reference material. You want to be able to outline the multiple levels of the project. You could do this in Microsoft Word and put the notes in the outline as you go along. Same thing for ideas and such.

              However, you also want to read through the notes to see if you want to act on anything in them. There could be potential actions hidden in there. Ask yourself, Do I need to act on any of this? then if the answer is Yes -- What's the Next Action?

              In your master project outline in Word, you could get into the habit of highlighting actions in green, highlighting potential projects (that need further breakdown into actions) in orange, etc. Then make sure that each green action item gets tracked in your Next Actions (Outlook).

              If some of the information is needed to support a Next Action, then put it in the notes field for that action. For example, say you have heard of a software designer in France who is supposed to be good. Put that information in the "email so-and-so to advertise programming jobs in France" action and at the same time ask so-and-so to interview the software designer or something like that.

              So, ideas you use to plan the project go in reference material or the Big Project Outline you create in Word. These ideas get sifted for Actions, and the Actions get added as tasks in Outlook. Information needed to complete a specific Next Action gets attached to that action somehow (task notes section, link an attachment, etc.)

              Comment


              • #8
                again, wow! Mr andersons, you're a star! Very very helpfull.

                I guess this is where I am now:

                I understand better (thanks to you!) the theory, ie Real actionable items etc, to reach a real goal etc. Good.

                I now understand that ITS OK to have a long list of Next Actions, simply listed, without lots of ties projects.. as with your green list (right?)

                I guess where I still must read/learn/etc is with taking that and using the tools out there in the right way. In fact, I had a so-so system in place, using just word. The stuff I listed below was all in word. I think I was expecting the outlook add-in to be a magic tool that would handle EVERYTHING, without the need for Word or other extra lists/tools.

                I'm getting the feeling that in reality, it's going to be a merger between the two perhaps.

                Anyhow, thanks for the help. I think I need to FINISH! the book before asking for more help though

                Again, thanks!!

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by egg
                  I now understand that ITS OK to have a long list of Next Actions, simply listed, without lots of ties projects.. as with your green list (right?)
                  Ah. Yes, it's not only OK but fundamental in GTD. And yes, that's what the green list was, a picture of a Next Actions list, like the one you should soon see in Outlook.

                  But you do need the project ties also. So in GTD, you need both a view of all your projects (such as a project list or a project outline) AND a Next Actions list. In your case, you will have a project outline. You already have the beginnings of the project outline in the example you gave (and much more already in Word). In my previous post, notice that the same Next Actions, in green, appear in both your project outline and in the Next Actions list I created. They are the same Next Actions: the project outline shows the top-down view for planning purposes, while the Next Action list shows the bottom-up view for doing purposes.

                  So don't toss your project ties; you DO need them to plan this huge project.

                  However, without a separate Next Actions view of just the actions you can do, you look at your huge outline and think, "Where in the world do I start?" You need the outline for planning, but it's not always great to work from.

                  So when your Next Actions are clear and listed all in one place, you should feel something like, "I know how to do that and I can do that right now!" when you read the list. You should be able to work from it, cranking through those concrete action steps and getting them done.

                  Originally posted by egg
                  I guess where I still must read/learn/etc is with taking that and using the tools out there in the right way. In fact, I had a so-so system in place, using just word. The stuff I listed below was all in word. I think I was expecting the outlook add-in to be a magic tool that would handle EVERYTHING, without the need for Word or other extra lists/tools.

                  I'm getting the feeling that in reality, it's going to be a merger between the two perhaps.
                  Right. The Outlook add-in should help you with that Next Action view of things, and I think you'll find that view really valuable. However, your Big Project is going to have more levels than Outlook with the add-in will handle (3). It appears that you naturally plan your project hierarchically with many levels, and that's fine. Just keep developing the project outline in Word for now, and use Outlook for that other view of the Next Actions.

                  I sympathize with your desire to keep track of the projects and actions all in one tool. You are probably going to want some integration eventually. But it's probably best for now to incorporate GTD concepts incrementally here with the tools you're already using. You already have a project outline in Word. That's one piece that GTD calls for. You already use Outlook for email, and many of your tasks involve email. The easiest thing to do now is get Outlook tracking those Next Actions. Then you may also want Outlook to track the parent subprojects of those Next Actions, no more than 2 levels up in the outline.

                  You can always upgrade your tools later, and you may very well need to, when you know specifically what you need them to do for GTD.

                  Originally posted by egg
                  Anyhow, thanks for the help. I think I need to FINISH! the book before asking for more help though
                  You're welcome. I suggest you cheat a little with the book and skip ahead to pp. 236-240. There is a great example of how to break down projects into next actions. And if you have any more questions, don't hesitate to ask!

                  Comment

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