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Paper 2.0: fine tuning

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  • Paper 2.0: fine tuning

    Back at the beginning of September, I wrote about my transition from an electronic to a paper system: http://www.davidco.com/forum/showthread.php?t=5803

    Like everyone else's, my system evolves, and a few people have asked for updates on the transition. Since I just finished my monthly (and weekly) review, I thought this was as good a time as any for a few comments.

    In general, paper is working well for me. I was especially happy to have it over the last two weeks: I switched from a PC to a Mac, which resulted in a period of limbo while I figured out what Mac software I wanted to use, installed it, moved data over, and so forth. Having a paper system helped me contain the disruption. If you have an electronic system, you might want to plan how to deal with service outages in advance.

    One of the most dramatic changes I made was using projects as contexts. That turns out to not be such a great idea, for two reasons. First, I found that my project NA lists were filling up with "stuff," such as subprojects and project plans, not immediately doable NAs. My brain wants to put everything related to a project in one place, whether it's a true NA or not.

    Second, the premise turned out to be false. My premise was that I work on projects in big chunks, so scattering NAs for the same project across several context lists didn't make sense. Yet it often turns out that, just as I can move several projects forward by spending an hour making phone calls, I can move several projects forward by sitting down with Google for an hour. Having all my research questions in one place is just as helpful as having all my phone calls in one place. Conversely, once I'm focused on a project, the fact that all the NAs might *not* be right in front of me isn't really a problem. If I've kept good project support notes, I can either work from those or, at worst, be reminded, "Oh, yeah, I needed to do some research on this," and flip to the appropriate context list.

    The other reason for treating projects as contexts was the eternal "how do I link NAs and projects?" question. The answer, it turns out, is that I don't need to. If the NA is clearly stated, it's obvious which project it belongs to. Similarly, if the project plan is clear, I should be able to able to make progress without referring to my NA lists at all. Sure, working from one or the other alone might mean that an action gets done (or rendered obsolete) without being checked off, but who cares? That's what the Weekly Review is for. Sure, some projects may have particularly time-critical components, or steps that must be done in a particular order, but a trusted system should make those constraints obvious.

    DA touched on this idea in the recent DA/Merlin Mann podcast, in which he was fairly unkind about people "whining" (his words) about ways to maintain the project-action link. He certainly didn't earn any points for diplomacy, but I'm coming to believe he was right. If you really need an explicit link, the real problem might be some other leak in your system.

    Anyway, my new and improved paper system consists of the following:

    DayTimer two-page per week desk size planning calendar, with tickler inserts and abbreviated project list.

    Letter size Circa notebook, contains project lists, project plans, someday/maybe lists.

    DayTimer two-page per day pocket size calendar, used as a time log and for portability.

    Journal size Circa notebook, contains NA lists by context.

    Current contexts are: @Brainstorm, @Computer (mostly administrative stuff, like database searches or installing new software), @Dragon (I use Dragon Naturally Speaking to capture drafts from paper), @Edit, @Email, @Errands, @Home (Non-office home tasks), @Office (desk needed, but not computer), @Online (online purchases, research questions), @Phone, @Plan, @Read and Review, @Write.

    Addresses remain electronic. Calendar is primarily paper, though items with extensive electronic support materials -- like conference calls -- may have an electronic entry as well.

    I hope this long description is helpful. I always learn from reading about other people's systems, so I thought I'd share.

    Katherine

  • #2
    Comment just on eternal issue of project/next action link

    I don’t want to divert the thread from the issue of your paper implementation but I’d like to take up on your comment on the project – next action link.

    You mention DAs comments very fairly I think. I too thought his comments a bit undiplomatic but have come round to the view that he is probably right (annoyingly)

    When I first started doing GTD I felt I really needed a link between next action and project just to quickly check all projects have at least one next action. I used the Project as Contacts in Outlook method for over a year. With this method one has to open the activities tab after opening the project, which is a bit of a chore and after a year or so I noticed that I wasn’t actually looking if each project had a next action because I remembered anyway. And because I was remembering anyway, there was actually no reason to put the link in system in the first place ( which was also a chore) –the link was just in my head.

    So recently I’ve started just having my project list under my action list in Outlook Tasks (but flagged up in blue – Outlook is great for automatic formatting). I have my project divided into focus areas (no subcategories) and with no sub-projects. Simple does indeed seem to be best. Having tasks and project on the same list also means it is really easy to change an action to a project when I realise it is indeed a project – which happens a lot.

    I do still think DA was a bit unfair. I remember I really felt I needed a link at one stage although I’m can’t quite explain why it was necessary. Maybe it’s a stage one has to go through! I also sometimes wonder if I had more projects and a more complex workload whether I would revert back to a link, even if just for a feeling of security – but my guess at the moment is that it wouldn’t be necessary.

    Comment


    • #3
      A few questions

      Katherine, I continue to be fascinated by your electronic-to-paper conversion—and thoughtful comments—and would greatly appreciate it if you would be willing to expand on a few points.

      I seem to recall, from earlier postings, that you characterize many of your work projects as being “high focus” and requiring substantial chunks of time and concentrated effort to move them forward. I also gather that you decide during your weekly review just which projects to move forward during the week ahead, and then focus on those.

      I would be curious to know how you plan and manage those kinds of projects, since they seem to be my nemesis. For example, you were a user of MindManager/ResultsManager at one time but dropped the duo in favor of paper. Do you ever find yourself using MindManager to work out a project plan? I believe I tend to think with greater agility with pen and paper in hand than with electronic gizmos, but MindManager excels at organizing and reorganizing what’s been captured and should therefore be quite useful for planning and organizing a project through numerous iterations as more becomes known and as the project progresses. And since you write of deadlines, do you ever timeline your projects to guesstimate how much time you will need to dedicate to each one? Or to know if it’s even possible to take on another project or another client?

      High focus projects—beyond being a sequence of discrete tasks—often entail the collecting and processing of a lot of information. Some of that information may be on paper but anymore a lot of it is electronic. How do you organize it? Does it find its way printed out and placed into your Circa notebooks? Or is it scattered about in different places. And if so, how do you keep track of it?

      Comment


      • #4
        Information management (long)

        Originally posted by smithdoug View Post
        I seem to recall, from earlier postings, that you characterize many of your work projects as being “high focus” and requiring substantial chunks of time and concentrated effort to move them forward. I also gather that you decide during your weekly review just which projects to move forward during the week ahead, and then focus on those.
        Yes, that's accurate.

        I would be curious to know how you plan and manage those kinds of projects, since they seem to be my nemesis. For example, you were a user of MindManager/ResultsManager at one time but dropped the duo in favor of paper. Do you ever find yourself using MindManager to work out a project plan? I believe I tend to think with greater agility with pen and paper in hand than with electronic gizmos, but MindManager excels at organizing and reorganizing what’s been captured and should therefore be quite useful for planning and organizing a project through numerous iterations as more becomes known and as the project progresses. And since you write of deadlines, do you ever timeline your projects to guesstimate how much time you will need to dedicate to each one? Or to know if it’s even possible to take on another project or another client?
        I'll answer the second question first. I develop a rough time line for a project as part of my initial quote. That helps me make sure that I have enough bandwidth to accept the project in the first place, and makes clear what milestones the client has to meet in order for me to meet the agreed deadline, what contingencies might push the deadline back, and so forth. The likely difficulty of meeting the deadline affects my pricing as well.

        Many of my projects are similar, and therefore don't require an enormous amount of planning. I do use mindmapping extensively though, both to work out project plans (where necessary) and to organize the information associated with the project. Sometimes the maps make it into MindManager, sometimes they stay on paper, basically depending on how much revision is required.

        High focus projects—beyond being a sequence of discrete tasks—often entail the collecting and processing of a lot of information. Some of that information may be on paper but anymore a lot of it is electronic. How do you organize it? Does it find its way printed out and placed into your Circa notebooks? Or is it scattered about in different places. And if so, how do you keep track of it?
        Information that I receive on paper goes into the project support folder. Information that I receive via email goes into an email folder for that client (and a subfolder for the project, if needed). Those are actually pretty easy to deal with. In the past, though, I've really struggled with organizing information that I developed interactively. For example, if I interview someone, my notes on the conversation are a new information "chunk" that didn't exist in any form before the interview. If I do a literature search, both the annotated bibliography and my notes on the articles that I've read are new. In both cases, I've found it's easier to capture the notes on paper, but I've also found that I might want to refer to the material long after the project is complete, which means I need some kind of electronic index.

        For the capture step, I use spiral bound notebooks. I had these customized to my specifications, so they are as close as I've been able to get to perfect (for me): the right dimensions, the right number of pages, nice rigid covers, etc. The first level of indexing is a table of contents in the notebook itself, color-coded by project. (The pages are numbered.)

        For longer term indexing, I've just started using a package called DevonThink. (Mac only, and its fans say it's sufficient reason to get a Mac all by itself. I'm not sure I'm a fan, yet.) It's essentially a freeform database with full text indexing and some AI "serendipity" features. I can dump documents -- including web pages -- into it, but the real utility for me comes from a lightweight rich text editor. (Actually Apple's TextEdit, called as a service by DevonThink.) I use it to write up abstracts from my paper notes, which are then indexed electronically for further reference. Since the files are electronic, I can paste in images, add links, etc.

        I've tried doing the same thing on a PC, but never found a solution that I liked. I think the key with DevonThink is that it has good tools for both manipulating large numbers of existing files and creating discrete notes. The PC tools I've tried seem to do one or the other, but not both. For example, EverNote, the PC approach I've used most recently, can only index things contained in individual EverNote notes. But what about my existing library of hundreds of PDF files?

        DevonThink is also blindingly fast, which greatly reduces the overhead associated with typing up notes, creating links to existing files, and so forth. Doing essentially the same thing with Evernote seemed to involve many more steps. I don't know how much of the speed improvement is due to good interface design and how much is due to the fact that DevonThink is running on a brand new computer with a huge screen.

        Big projects also create lots of administrative information: purchase orders, email addresses of people who need to approve things, meeting agendas, etc. I found EverNote very useful for capturing these, and am now using Circus Ponies Notebook on the Mac. (Thanks to the forum member who suggested it.)

        I should emphasize that the switch to Mac is very recent, so all of these tools are new to me. I like them now, but haven't used them extensively enough to know how they will work for long term retrieval, once the databases get larger, etc.

        Hope this helps,

        Katherine

        Comment


        • #5
          I use a paper-based system, too, although mine is primarily moleskine/index card-based.

          What do you mean by "tickler inserts" in your calendar? I use post-its in mine.

          Thanks for your detailed description of your system. Very helpful!

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by pooks View Post
            What do you mean by "tickler inserts" in your calendar? I use post-its in mine.
            My two-page per week calendar is loose-leaf. It comes with short-trimmed insert sheets, which I use as a tickler.

            Katherine

            Comment


            • #7
              I like your vertical 2-pages a week format. I just found it on the Franklin Covey site, too.

              Comment


              • #8
                Thank you so much for your post, Katherine. Interesting to see how it works out for you. I've just started my switch to using paper GTD and find it very refreshing.

                Couple of questions:

                Do you use templates from www.diyplanner.com ?
                Why the change to the Mac?

                Finally, I have heard incredibly good things about DevonThink. Now that you're using it, and assuming it is that good, does it make you consider using it for GTD instead?

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Ruud View Post
                  Do you use templates from www.diyplanner.com ?
                  Why the change to the Mac?

                  Finally, I have heard incredibly good things about DevonThink. Now that you're using it, and assuming it is that good, does it make you consider using it for GTD instead?
                  No, no DIY Planner templates. I use Day-Timer calendar pages and plain Circa notes pages. I looked at the DIY Planner pages, but they didn't match what I wanted.

                  I switched to a new system because the old one was starting to groan under the load I was placing on it. I choose a mac because I think the OS is generally more robust (OS X is Unix in fancy clothes) and because I was impressed with the overall design. (And also because the Intel macs can run my legacy Windows software pretty easily, while Windows boxes can't run mac software at all.)

                  Based on my limited exposure to it, I would say that DevonThink is utterly unsuited to my "style" of GTD. I switched to paper because I wanted to simplify, while the whole point of DevonThink (as I understand it) is to manage very large, very complex collections of information. YMMV, but if I need DevonThink for my NA and project lists -- as opposed to project support -- I'm doing something wrong.

                  Katherine
                  Last edited by kewms; 12-04-2006, 12:53 PM.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by kewms View Post
                    The other reason for treating projects as contexts was the eternal "how do I link NAs and projects?" question. The answer, it turns out, is that I don't need to. If the NA is clearly stated, it's obvious which project it belongs to. Similarly, if the project plan is clear, I should be able to able to make progress without referring to my NA lists at all. Sure, working from one or the other alone might mean that an action gets done (or rendered obsolete) without being checked off, but who cares? That's what the Weekly Review is for. Sure, some projects may have particularly time-critical components, or steps that must be done in a particular order, but a trusted system should make those constraints obvious.

                    DA touched on this idea in the recent DA/Merlin Mann podcast, in which he was fairly unkind about people "whining" (his words) about ways to maintain the project-action link. He certainly didn't earn any points for diplomacy, but I'm coming to believe he was right. If you really need an explicit link, the real problem might be some other leak in your system.
                    Originally posted by tominperu View Post
                    You mention DAs comments very fairly I think. I too thought his comments a bit undiplomatic but have come round to the view that he is probably right (annoyingly)

                    When I first started doing GTD I felt I really needed a link between next action and project just to quickly check all projects have at least one next action. I used the Project as Contacts in Outlook method for over a year. With this method one has to open the activities tab after opening the project, which is a bit of a chore and after a year or so I noticed that I wasn’t actually looking if each project had a next action because I remembered anyway. And because I was remembering anyway, there was actually no reason to put the link in system in the first place ( which was also a chore) –the link was just in my head. . .

                    I do still think DA was a bit unfair. I remember I really felt I needed a link at one stage although I’m can’t quite explain why it was necessary. Maybe it’s a stage one has to go through! I also sometimes wonder if I had more projects and a more complex workload whether I would revert back to a link, even if just for a feeling of security – but my guess at the moment is that it wouldn’t be necessary.
                    I didn't hear the podcast. But not needing an explicit project-action link requires having it in your head, or somehow identifying the project in the NAs. The people who are least likely to have the link easily in mind, or to write NAs that clearly identify its project, are those just starting out with the GTD process, and those who do not religiously do a Weekly Review.

                    Say a newbie reads the book, collects a three-foot-high stack of "stuff" to process, and several days later has organized it into his very first set of NA lists and a Projects list. For awhile, he is going to be looking at those NAs he generated and wondering what the heck some of them were for.

                    Another type of person who will need a better external project-action link is someone who has to juggle a lot of projects each week, as tominperu mentioned. I know this from experience.

                    Even with fewer projects each week, I am personally not sold on a no-link, must-review system. I still like automatic-link, weekly-review-optional. I think it would be just as valid to come up with a productivity system in which the project-action link is considered necessary, while the need for a two-hour (DA's words) Weekly Review to sync them indicates a "leak in the system."

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by andersons View Post
                      I didn't hear the podcast. But not needing an explicit project-action link requires having it in your head, or somehow identifying the project in the NAs. The people who are least likely to have the link easily in mind, or to write NAs that clearly identify its project, are those just starting out with the GTD process, and those who do not religiously do a Weekly Review.

                      Say a newbie reads the book, collects a three-foot-high stack of "stuff" to process, and several days later has organized it into his very first set of NA lists and a Projects list. For awhile, he is going to be looking at those NAs he generated and wondering what the heck some of them were for.

                      Another type of person who will need a better external project-action link is someone who has to juggle a lot of projects each week, as tominperu mentioned. I know this from experience.

                      Even with fewer projects each week, I am personally not sold on a no-link, must-review system. I still like automatic-link, weekly-review-optional. I think it would be just as valid to come up with a productivity system in which the project-action link is considered necessary, while the need for a two-hour (DA's words) Weekly Review to sync them indicates a "leak in the system."

                      I was thinking along the same lines. I didn't hear the podcast either, but as someone who is a lone guy running a business, I have many hats to wear. Also I deal with a lot of customers and a lot of prospects, each one of which could have both software support and sales queries pending at the same time. So, I can have multiple projects related to a customer and some projects have waiting for's (e.g. sales) that could be pending for several months or more. Throw in anywhere from 50-200+ active projects at any time and around 100-400 NA's+WF's makes the project-NA link essential for me. Sure, I can think and intutiviely know which NA corresponds to which Project, but that all takes time. I prefer instead to do a weekly review by project andc check my NA's and WF's that way.

                      Paul

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        David calls it intuition.

                        Originally posted by andersons
                        I didn't hear the podcast. But not needing an explicit project-action link requires having it in your head, or somehow identifying the project in the NAs.
                        David calls it intuition which is built during the regular Weekly Reviews.
                        Originally posted by andersons
                        I am personally not sold on a no-link, must-review system. I still like automatic-link, weekly-review-optional. I think it would be just as valid to come up with a productivity system in which the project-action link is considered necessary, while the need for a two-hour (DA's words) Weekly Review to sync them indicates a "leak in the system."
                        David insists on regular Weekly Reviews that help maintain the link and prioritization intuition. In the recent Weekly Review Teleseminar Meg Edwards said that the Weekly Review in the mature GTD environment shouldn't take more than one hour.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I would suggest trying it once, maybe even on just one of your lists and see if this is something that works or not. "Call Peter re: good tire change shop" clearly belongs to your tire changing project

                          I do have setup systems of various levels of complexity, prepared for the onslaught of projects wild success would bring me. Yet in my daily reality I have not encountered the confusion of looking at a next action and wondering to which that project could ever belong.

                          Yet even then... When in doubt I can precede the NA with an indiactor, no?

                          "Site X: upload files"
                          "Client Y: call John re: contract"

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            the action - project link issue!

                            Originally posted by Ruud View Post
                            Yet in my daily reality I have not encountered the confusion of looking at a next action and wondering to which that project could ever belong.
                            For me the issue is not so much looking at a next action and knowing what project it belongs to (it doesn't really matter as long as it gets done) but looking at a project list and being sure that there is at least one action on my action list for each project to move each project forward.

                            I look at my action list everyday and when I look at my project list I can easily remember if I have an active action associated with each project or not. If I need to confirm I just scroll up the list in Outlook to check, but this is rarely needed.

                            I was the first to react to Katherines comment on the need for a link between projects and actions and I now feel bad that the original topic of paper implemention of GTD has been submerged by this.

                            I'll start a new thread on this topic specifically...

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              New thread

                              Originally posted by tominperu View Post

                              I'll start a new thread on this topic specifically...
                              You can go to the new thread at:

                              http://www.davidco.com/forum/showthread.php?t=6398

                              Tom
                              Last edited by tominperu; 12-13-2006, 08:24 AM.

                              Comment

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