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New Definition for "projects"

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  • New Definition for "projects"

    I've wrestled with the definition of "more than one action step" ever since the beginning. I know I make things more complicated than they have to be, but I think this was hanging my mind up in a way.

    Projects to me *now* means "something or some outcome I want to bring about which I need to think or plan on or about". Those single action items, are those things that are no brainers like "I need to go get my mail", "I need to talk to my spouse about...", etc.: things you have probably done before and you know exactly what needs to happen, you just need to do it. Doing laundry at least includes 3 or 4 steps: wash, dry, fold, put-away. However, I wouldn't consider this to be a "project" per se.

  • #2
    We can describe the steps needed to achieve an outcome in many ways.

    If I were a seasoned assassin, "kill my boss" might be a NA. But if I were a neophyte, I might need something different. Under that project plan titled "Eliminate short-term annoyances," I could list the following actions: remove gun from desk drawer, check that safety is off, place gun in attache, call boss to check that he is in the office, walk to office, remove gun from attache case, insert right forefinger in space in front of trigger, flex right forefinger, put gun in attache case, walk calmly out of office.

    Once I were prosecuted I could argue that I was not guilty of murder. I could use my trusted system to support my claim that all I did was flex my right forefinger; surely an innocent act.

    Doing your laundry can fall under many descriptions. We are often misled by David's claim that any outcome that requires more than one action is to be listed as a project. This claim sounds universal and absolute. But our trusted system is not a computer script telling us how to operate. Rather than there being a universal or absolute way to accomplish things, there are instead many different particular ways that are relative to each person and relative to that person's particular circumstances.

    As David points out again and again, we need to enter as much as we need in our system and no more.

    In his GTD book, David present Going Out to Dinner as his exemplary project with which he demonstrates his Natural Planning Model. You define the outcome, you vision, you brainstorm, you set up a plan, you modify the plan. Was the point of his example to tell us that next time we plan a dinner out this is what we should do? Of course that is a rhetorical question.

    We use our judgment to determine what David calls the "granularity" with which we plan. And we cannot predetermine the level of granularity we need with any simple algorithm. I am changing daily and my needs change daily. My trusted system reflects who I am. How I enter information into my trusted system and how I use my trusted system changes as I do.

    I think that the question you raise, DeveloperMCT, is a significant one. Sometimes the most simple and seemingly trivial issues reveal fundamental principles. At times David has said that he only thinks once a week, that the rest of the week he is merely carrying out instructions that he gave himself when he was doing his planning.

    That too, is a rhetorical point. For David also writes that often he chooses to do something in his garden that was never on the plan he and his wife formulated. The plan is not a script that runs us. The plan is a tool that we use consciously. It is not the case that we create the plan and then the plan determines us. In terms of what is going on from a phenomenological viewpoint, we create the plan and then we make judgments from moment to moment on how we are going to use the plan.

    It's very difficult to program a robot to walk down a rocky path. But when I have to do my laundry, I never even make a conscious decision about how I am going to transport my able body from my bedroom to the laundry room.


    • #3
      I agree with what you say, moises. As a neophyte, myself, I know that I tend to break down next actions into more detail than what a more experienced user of GTD might do. I also feel confident that with the passing of time, it will settle down to a more reasonable level of detail. It's a matter of being patient and not thinking too much about it at first.


      • #4
        What works for me is breaking it down to the next step that will get me rolling on a project. I only keep project notes for complex projects that have multiple steps that can all be done now or which have a big line-up of steps that I need to plan time for. Simple projects with consecutive steps that must be done in order are listed only as next actions with the next step being the item on my list.

        So, if I need to do laundry, my next action is not "laundry," it is "gather dirty laundry." Once I do that, I may continue and sort the laundry and start the first load. Or, if I get distracted (which often happens as a SAHM with a toddler), the next step is simply "sort laundry" or "put a load of laundry in the washer." Now, I don't necessarily write all of that down unless the laundry has been ignored and it as a crisis level. I have my routines in place enough that I know when to check the laundry and see when the next step is, but that is beside the point.

        To me, a next action is something that must be done in one sitting. Yesterday, it took me all morning to clean the bathroom. That's because it was a project which I broke down into next actions and did between interruptions from my husband and child. I cleaned the mirror. Then a bit later, I took the rug out and shook it. At another point, I cleaned the soap dish. Finally, I had a chance to actually clean the sink and toilet. I could have done all of that in one sitting, but I didn't have to, and it's a good thing I didn't have to because I wasn't able to. However, the bathroom did get clean because I have the ability to figure out what the next action really is. In my former life (before children, perhaps even before spouse), I could have cleaned that bathroom in one sitting so essentially it would have been a single next action, but not in my current life. Understanding projects (cleaning the bathroom) and next actions (cleaning the mirror) help me get things done in spite of multiple interruptions and distractions.

        I would say at least half of my projects (as I define them) are not listed as projects in my planner but simply as the next action that I need to take. Then if I have time to actually take that next action, I can continue working on the project or determine the next action and come back to it later. That was the understanding I finally came to which allowed me to not get hung up on the "project definition" thing.


        • #5
          I try to define my NA's as "the next physical action required, that I can do in 5 minutes or less." The reason for this is that I will procrastinate less, and I'm less likely to leave it partially finished if I get interrupted.

          The majority of the time I get much farther than that 5 minute action in one sitting, but thinking about the NA in terms of what I can do in 5 minutes just helps me to overcome the urge to skip to something quicker and easier.

          Eric in Denver


          • #6
            Hey Darren - I think you used to be my neighbor...did you used to live in Sullivan, IL?