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  • 3-ring binder sections (100% paper)

    I've read GTD a couple of times and i'm trying to find the best way to adapt it to my current system.

    I'm a 27 years-old professional that works as a systems analyst for the local government. I am starting to tackle bigger projects and for the first time in my life, i'm going be managing a medium-size project and one co-worker.

    Back in 1996, I programmed a simple application in Clipper that printed calendar pages. I simply input a date, it would then go back to the monday of that week and print a week with big squares and lines. I've been using this as a life logbook as well as a general (calendars) for date-specific actions. I use this to jot down basic things (bought new hard drive, went to dinner with Roxanne, purchased VCR for 90$, etc.)... This has been working nicely.

    At this moment, my personal binder has the following sections :

    1) Calendar (I have about 60 pages, I keep 3 months backlog and 12 months forward)

    2) Notes

    3) Address book (which is a simple Word file I update and print out as needed )

    4) Work (work-specific documents, insurance thingies, paychecks, etc.)

    5) Misc (hospital cards, newsletters I need to read, etc.


    What i'm having trouble with is managing the projects and next actions with paper. I tried using a PROJECTS section as well as an ACTIONS section, but I end up writing actions on both sections. I would like not to have to re-write as much. I also try to use @home, @work and @out as main categories.

    Can somebody give me tips on how to manage PROJECTS and ACTIONS with plain paper?

    Thanks a lot, regards from Quebec City, Canada !


    Dave

  • #2
    3 Ring Binder Sections

    Dave,

    I have a manual GTD system in a 3-ring binder. My sections are as follows:
    1. Calendar
    2. Action Lists
    3. Agendas
    4. Checklists
    5. Project Lists
    6. Project Plans
    7. Values/Mission/Goals
    8. People
    9. Misc Info & Lists
    10. Journal

    I think the reason you may be writing the same stuff in both your action lists and your project lists is that you are not properly differentiating next actions and projects.

    Projects are outcomes that require more than one action to bring about. An action is something you do at a particular time in a particular place with a particular set of resources.

    Projects should never be written on action lists. As a matter of fact, if a "next action" gives you a confused, depressed feeling, and you don't quite know what to do to get started on it, then you have probably put a project on an action list. The solution is to determine what the real next action is, and put that on the list. Then move the project to the project list.

    Conversely, next actions should not be put on project lists. They should be put on the action list for the context in which they will be done.

    What may be causing you to double-enter actions is that you may be creating project plans that go down to the next action level. In that case, you are over planning. Project plans should only go down to the sub-project level where each sub-project is what I call a "simple project." A simple project is one that can be accomplished with ad hoc planning, which is where you determine what the next action is only when the previous action has been completed. You can get away with this because simple projects have simple, well-defined outcomes that make it easy to see what to do next to accomplish them. As a matter of fact, when it stops being easy to see the next action, it is probably because your simple sub-project is becoming complex and giving birth to sub-sub-projects.

    It is even possible to put a project (or sub-project) on a project list (or plan) and get it done while never writing down a single next action. How? When every single next action on the project is a two-minute task. You just do one action after another until the project is done.

    Hope this helps.

    Comment


    • #3
      One more thing...

      Dave,

      I submitted a couple of posts on the subject of integrating formal project plans with GTD. You can find them under Projects - prioritizing feature requests on the posting board.

      You might find the discussion to be useful.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: 3 Ring Binder Sections

        Originally posted by Scott
        My sections are as follows:
        1. Calendar
        This section is the one I work in the most. I use my tiny Clipper program with a duplex laser printer. I just print pages as I need them (I just printed out june 2004 earlier today so I have it in my binder).
        Originally posted by Scott
        2. Action Lists
        Give me an idea of what your actions lists look like. You say list(s), so I guess you have many of them. How are they categorized? Do you have one sheet of paper for @Home, another for @Work, and so on? All the items on those lists are unrelated to each other, right?
        Originally posted by Scott
        3. Agendas
        I can't seem to have a need for this section. In your system, what do these paper sheets look like?
        Originally posted by Scott
        4. Checklists
        I don't see why I would use this but still, it could come in handy for some repetitive tasks and the like.
        Originally posted by Scott
        5. Project Lists
        6. Project Plans
        This seems to be the part I need to work on. I think I will use one sheet of paper for each project... but OTOH, I might start writing next actions on those sheets again *gasp*
        Originally posted by Scott
        8. People
        Is this your address book?
        Originally posted by Scott
        10. Journal
        My calendar serves as a journal. I have 1 week per page, and the reverse side of the paper is just plain lines on which I can jot notes relating to the current week.
        Originally posted by Scott
        Projects are outcomes that require more than one action to bring about. An action is something you do at a particular time in a particular place with a particular set of resources.
        Projects should never be written on action lists. As a matter of fact, if a "next action" gives you a confused, depressed feeling, and you don't quite know what to do to get started on it, then you have probably put a project on an action list. The solution is to determine what the real next action is, and put that on the list. Then move the project to the project list.
        I think I understand what you are saying... but how do I connect the projects with the actions so I can see the flow of things?
        Originally posted by Scott
        Conversely, next actions should not be put on project lists. They should be put on the action list for the context in which they will be done.
        It is even possible to put a project (or sub-project) on a project list (or plan) and get it done while never writing down a single next action. How? When every single next action on the project is a two-minute task. You just do one action after another until the project is done.
        Right on! That was very helpful Scott. Thanks your valuable input!

        Dave

        Comment


        • #5
          Projects on paper

          Hi Dave -- I can't speak to all of what you ask, as Scott seems capable of addressing them.

          I'd say though, that your Projects list is a single page listing all your *active* projects (not someday/maybe). For some people, it may be only those projects you can get to within the next 7-14 days. For others, it may be projects where you only schedule one next action but that's enough to keep it active.

          Project Notes would be 1 page per project, with misc notes, list of sub-projects, etc. Kathy, who posts here a lot, had this helpful project template in her Palm:
          Goals/outcome:
          What's next?
          Things to do:
          Support files:
          Ideas:
          My motivation:
          -LOG-

          You could implement the above as a standard blank template to print out as needed.

          HTH--mike

          Comment


          • #6
            Perhaps this goes without saying, but don't forget to check out David's description of setting up a paper organizer in the "Tips and Tools" section of the website.

            HTH,
            Gordon

            Comment


            • #7
              I know, but...

              Hi Kudzo,

              I know David has given his idea on sections for 3-ring binder organizers, but it's still not clear to me what the paper should actually "look" like... I use plain sheets for which i'm trying to implement generic fields that I just fill up (in Word for example, I build blank forms that I punch holes through), or I could use cheap lined sheets also.

              It's just not clear for me what I should be doing with them. I'm concerned about how they should "look right".

              At the moment, I this ACTIONS tab in my binder. In this, I have three sheets of paper named @Work, @Home and @Errands (I don't really need @Phone).

              Then, I have a PROJECTS tab. In this, I have WORK, PERSONAL and SOMEDAY/MAYBE.

              Here, lets take a few real projects I have :

              PROJECTS (tab)
              PERSONAL (sheet)
              -Open bang acccount at BankABC
              -Build a pedalboard for my guitar effect pedals
              -Read newest Mary Higgins Clark novel


              ACTIONS (tab)
              @Work (sheet)
              -Read chap 1 and 2 of Mary Higgins

              @Home
              -Gather pedals and decide layout
              -Solder tiny cables to connect
              -Paint plywood
              -Add feet under board
              -Attach pedals with zipties

              @Errands
              -Buy plywood sheet at Home Depot




              Is this the way it should be? Thanks for trying to help Kud. I hope i'm not bothering the readers too much


              Dave

              Comment


              • #8
                Dave,

                You could keep some of these actions in your project support and off your actions lists. For example, any work on the plywood can't be a next action until you've bought the plywood. Otherwise, you'll find your action prompt lists clogged up with stuff that you can't actually do.

                Good luck!

                FBA

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Scott's Planner Sections

                  Dave,

                  Before I start describing my planner sections, I should emphasize the fact that if you don't think you need one, don't use it. It may strike people that I have a lot of sections. I created them because I found myself frequently thumbing past a large number of pages in a section to get at certain things. Now those certain things are in their own sections. I can just go straight to them.

                  Let's go through the sections:

                  1. Calendar - Mine is maintained in ECCO. I just use it to keep track of appointments

                  2. Action Lists - Mine are manual. I have one sheet (or set thereof) for each context. My contexts are Calls, Office, Study, Home, Yard, Waiting For, and Delegated Items. (Some may notice that I don't have an Errands list. More on that later.) All of the lists are on college ruled, loose leaf notebook paper. At the top I put the context. There are three columns on the page. The first contains descriptions of the actions. The second contains the dates I decided to do them. The third contains the dates I did them. I leave a blank line between every action. For me it keeps the page from becoming an amorphous blob of text.

                  The items on these lists can be related to each other because projects can have more than one next action. However, only real next actions are on the lists. "FBA" pointed out in his/her post that your example contained items that were not next actions. You were essentially putting the entire project plan in your next action list.

                  3. Agendas - These are lists of discussion points or business items that should all be done at a single event or the next time I'm with a particular person. Each person or event gets its own sheet of notebook paper. The name of the person or event is at the top, and the items are just listed down the page.

                  4. Checklists - I have several of them. Mainly as checklists for complex routine tasks and tasks I don't do very often. I maintain them in Word and print them out.

                  5. Project Lists - These are just lists of my projects on notebook paper. I keep four main lists: Activities (i.e., projects that never end), Personal Projects, Work Projects, and Someday/Maybe. I also have a couple of support lists like Books to Buy and Music to Buy. If a project has a plan, I put a "P" next to its name. Remember, simple projects do not require plans.

                  6. Project Plans - I'm pretty flexible here. For formally planned projects, the plan might be a printout from Microsoft Project. Or it might be a handwritten list or a mind map or an indented list maintained using an outline editor like the one in ECCO. Each project gets its own page or set of pages. This can present a temptation to plan down to the next action level, but not if you pay attention to what you are doing.

                  7. Values/Mission/Goals - This has things like my personal mission statement and the results of values clarification exercises that I do as part of overall life planning.

                  8. People - This contains my phone book (also maintained in ECCO and printed out) plus any additional information about specific people.

                  9. Misc Info & Lists - Pretty much self explanatory.

                  10. Journal - I (try to) keep a detailed journal through the day. I have found this to be a profoundly useful tool for reflecting on what I am doing and making sure that I capture key information and follow-up actions.

                  More on the Errands List:

                  I don't have one in my planner because it's too much of a pain to carry the planner with me when I'm doing errands. I put errands on 3X5 cards and carry them in my breast pocket. The key value is that I can sort them in the order of my trip and resort them easily as plans change. I also can jot a lot of information on them related to the errands. The deck of 3X5's acts in essence like a satellite planner.

                  More on Projects & Next Actions:

                  Your concern is how you link projects to next actions. You do that in your brain. If you have done the disciplined thinking of planning a project and determining next actions, you should be able to just remember which project an action belongs to or what the next action is for a project or sub-project.

                  It is this desire to "see the flow of things" in the planner that is causing you to write next actions twice. In order to put explicit links between projects and next actions you will need to either write the project name next to each action in your action lists or keep detailed plans of all projects down to the next action level. Don't do it. If you do, it will have the same effect on your use of your planner as turning on referential integrity does in a database. It will slow you down.

                  I would suggest that you practice doing ad hoc planning on simple projects. Don't plan them in advance, just determine each next action as you complete the action before it. I think you will find that this is a much more flexible and efficient process than writing down plans that must be frequently revised.

                  Hope this is useful.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Scott's Planner Sections

                    Originally posted by Scott_L_Lewis
                    Dave,

                    I would suggest that you practice doing ad hoc planning on simple projects. Don't plan them in advance, just determine each next action as you complete the action before it. I think you will find that this is a much more flexible and efficient process than writing down plans that must be frequently revised.

                    Hope this is useful.
                    YES! Scott touches on an issue that I've been giving a lot of thought lately - over-planning.

                    I can't count the number of times that I have embarked on a project by - yes - determining the next action, but also making a long list of actions to follow that action to get to my stated objective, only to see that long list be made irrelevant by my first action. Making a list of actions in advance assumes that you know what the world will look like after your next action - you don't!

                    Example - my boss emails me a project - something that will take several steps to complete. I decide my first next action will be to talk with him to be sure I know what "done" looks like to him. I go to his office and after 30 seconds of discussion, he says "You know, Max, I don't know why I sent this to you, this is really Dave's area - don't worry about it." What if I had made a detailed list of project steps in advance? I would have wasted my time.

                    Or, I do a few of my pre-planned next actions on a project and at some point I run into an impasse - "there's a state regulation that prohibits doing that" from the legal department. Or someone with immutable authority changes the course of your project at whim - you're almost better off in many cases not to look too far ahead.

                    Also, once you've invested time in creating a plan, and wrote it down on real paper with real ink, it becomes harder to be flexible, to be open to what other possibilities are created by the next few next actions.

                    I think part of having a "mind like water" is going for the next action with willingness to flow wherever that action leads next - not to have a plotted course that must be constantly revised.

                    Choose the next action - do the next action - look at where you are NOW - choose the next action -- that's what I'm trying to do right now.

                    Max

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I Have some Activities Checklist (Time/Design Planner) pages that have the following columns:
                      Date
                      Priority
                      OK (where you check when completed)
                      Activity
                      Delegated to
                      Start & Due dates

                      The setup recommends the use of 3 different activity pages as follows:
                      Current Goal & Projects
                      Next Actions
                      Waiting For

                      From the looks of it, the Activities checklist is kind of like a quick, when did I last look at that item page, while the project page is where you will put down the details. This way, you are not performing double entries.

                      I use a Pocket PC with a checklist application for my errands just because it's more convenient for me.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Scott's planner sections

                        Scott, earlier you wrote:

                        Let's go through the sections:

                        1. Calendar - Mine is maintained in ECCO. I just use it to keep track of appointments

                        I also keep my calendar (and lots of other things) in Ecco. I am thinking of going back to paper. How often to you update, then print, your calendar?

                        Best regards, Jeff

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Response to Jeff Grater

                          Jeff,

                          My paper calendar is the collection bucket for appointments. It contains weekly pages for the weeks of the current month plus monthly pages for the following eleven months. When I get a new appointment or day-specific note, I put it on the paper calendar. That way it is always up to date. I update ECCO as often as I can, usually later the same day.

                          At the beginning of each month I print out weekly calendar pages for each week of the current month, monthly pages for months that have changes, and a new monthly page for the 12th month.

                          At the beginning of each week, I reprint the prior week's calendar to have a clean copy for archival purposes and then I print the upcoming week's calendar so I have a clean copy to start off with. Normally, I can just mark up the calendar pages as appointments are made, cancelled, or rescheduled. If it gets really messy, though, I will reprint it in the middle of the week.

                          Comment

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