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The interaction between projects and next actions lists

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  • The interaction between projects and next actions lists

    Hello,

    This may seem like a very basic question and could not find it in the forum, but I would love to get anyone's thoughts on this. I've read GTD and am making may way through Ready for Anything. I believe that I understand the concept of the weekly review to look over all open loops, reviewing the projects and making sure that I have the next actions on the appropriate list to knock out. However, I'm unsure of how best to interact with the project entry at the time of eliminating the NA off of the action list.

    For example, let's say that I have a project that will require 10 action steps, and each one of those actions can only be done one at a time, two a day until the project is completed. If I cross out the NA off of the action list, do I then go back to the project and list the next action on NA list? From GTD, I didn't get a clear idea of how the action list and projects relate back to one another besides the weekly review, and the weekly review would not be often enough to update the NA list. I have read of some creating project codes that would link the particular NA to the project list, but what other ways do you all use to link the two together?

    Also, let's say that with the said project of 10 action steps, I can already plan out five of them. Since they have to be done consecutively, I'm only putting the next action on the action list, but should I also type out the following actions as a cluster of sub points on the projects list?

    Thanks for your thoughts. Happy New Year everyone.
    ~Jay

  • #2
    This is actually an FAQ, and inspires more forum debate than any other topic. The most recent thread on the subject was http://www.davidco.com/forum/showthread.php?t=6398, but there are many others.

    The short answer is that the best approach is the one that works for you. If you like a tight project-action link, that's fine. If you don't, don't worry about it. GTD does not recommend any particular tools, and different tools implement the link in different ways.

    On the specific questions you asked:
    * Yes, by all means write down any future actions for a project. That's what project support materials are for.
    * Interact with the project list as often as necessary to stay on top of things. For some projects, you may need to have the project support materials in front of you as you work. For some, you may be cranking through a list of phone calls in your @Phone list, with no other reference materials at all.

    Good luck!

    Katherine

    Comment


    • #3
      As Kewms points out, we recently had a lively debate about this very topic

      What I do is:
      • When I finish one NA for a project, I will very often continue working on that project doing things that aren't on the NA list.
      • When I finish working on the project (whether it was just the one NA or an extended session of work) I try to put another NA on the list for that project-- but that isn't always practicable, so I don't count on that happening.
      • When I do my daily review in the morning, after reading all the NA's on my context cards, I skim my Projects lists. If any projects jump out at me as something that can't wait for my next weekly review, I'll check right then to make sure there is a NA for that project.
      • During my weekly review, of course, I will verify that every active project has a next action.

      This means that every project gets checked for next actions at least once a week, and projects that are more urgent than that get checked more often.

      (I also make extensive use of a "deferred projects" list in addition to my "someday-maybe" file to keep my current projects list focused: I have a lot of interests and tend to switch from one thing to another frequently, so I use my weekly review as an oppertunity to be honest with myself about what I'm *really* focused on for the next week or two, to prevent my project and action lists from becomming unhelpfully cluttered.)

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by JayP View Post
        For example, let's say that I have a project that will require 10 action steps, and each one of those actions can only be done one at a time, two a day until the project is completed. If I cross out the NA off of the action list, do I then go back to the project and list the next action on NA list?
        The key concept in GTD is dependency. I can't butter my toast until after the bread has been toasted. So "butter toast" is a dependent action. I cannot start this action until the action "toast bread" has been completed. GTD tells us to have a NA list, which means we only include in that list non-dependent actions. So, I would not have "butter toast" in my NA list. I would have "toast bread" in my NA list.

        In your example of a project with 10 action steps, you do not state whether or not there are dependencies. If your 10 actions are independent, all of them would be in your NA list. You could also list all of them in a separate area and call this area a "project plan." If some of the 10 actions were dependent on others, you would not put the dependent actions on your NA list. But they would still be in your project plan.

        Originally posted by JayP View Post
        Also, let's say that with the said project of 10 action steps, I can already plan out five of them. Since they have to be done consecutively, I'm only putting the next action on the action list, but should I also type out the following actions as a cluster of sub points on the projects list?
        Here there are 10 actions required to complete a project. Five of them must be completed consecutively. Call these actions A, B, C, D, and E. You do not state defnitively the status of the remaining 5 actions. So I will assume that they have no dependencies on other actions. Call these non-dependent actions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

        Your project plan would include A, B, C, D, E, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
        Your next action list would start out with A, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
        Let's say that the first action you complete is 4, your list would then be:
        A, 1, 2, 3, 5.

        Now you complete A. You would then enter the next non-dependent action from your project plan, which is B. Your list would then be: B, 1, 2, 3, 5.

        If you complete B next your list would be: C, 1, 2, 3, 5.

        Project plans include all subprojects and known actions. NA lists include only non-dependent actions.

        In real life, there is a huge indeterminacy in the number and kind of actions required to achieve the desired outcome specified by a project. To take David's example, you want new tires on your car. the project is "New tires installed." You must first make an appointment. David says that this might be a subproject with different subordinate actions. First you must call the shop. But you don't have the number. So your first action is to call Joanne for the number. So, your project has one NA, "Call Joanne for shop number."

        You don't list all the actions because you don't know them in advance. Maybe Joanne will answer the phone and give you the number you require. Maybe you will get her voicemail and you leave her a message. If the latter is true, your NA is now a waiting for from Joanne. Maybe Joanne will tell you that the shop closed down and you now have a new subproject of finding a new shop.

        David tells us that it is almost impossible to plan ahead all the actions of a project because the possible actions grow exponentially as we move farther into the future. For this reason, we only list non-dependent actions. We don't write the dependent actions down until their precedent actions are completed.

        Generally, project plans are not filled with action lists. Generally, project plans are populated with lists of subprojects.

        Comment


        • #5
          Yep... I'm actually a little surprised that you couldn't find anything because this is probably the most heavily discussed topic on the forum!

          A while back I stopped associating Next Actions with "To Do's". I came to the realization that rather than To Do's, Next Actions were simply reminders of what the next physical action is to move something forward. I believe that is an important distinction, and once realized, will help you get past the need to "sync" in some sort of artificial fashion all of your projects and their related NA's.

          The time that you would need to figure out what the next action is (the "something else I should be doing") is when you stop working on project "X" and need to put a stake in the ground to remind you where you left off, or you could just catch this at the weekly review.

          You wouldn't necessarily, upon the completion of a NA, stop what you're doing, think of the NA, write that NA down and then keep working... Instead, you'd just keep working.

          When you reach a stooping point, you'd either:

          1) Put the project aside and move on to something else (and catch the NA at your weekly review), or
          2) at that point think of what the NA is and write it in the appropriate list as a reminder for when you pick up the project again to start working.

          At least, that's how I'd do it.

          Comment


          • #6
            I use a "P" next to the actions on my NA list that are part of a project. Whichever ones that can be done now are on my NA list.

            I don't have a project page for every project. I find that I need it for the ones that are complex and/or require creativity and planning. I also use it for things that I need to do but don't want to do so that I at least have the satisfaction of crossing things off my list as a motivator to get them done. I also have projects such as knitting projects which are merely a project list - I track them only because I need a record of the big picture so I don't take on too many projects, but when I sit down to work on them, I always know what to do next.

            I use a paper planner and have a separate section for the projects which have their own page. I am someone who likes to work on one thing for large blocks of time rather than skipping around so I spend as much time working from my project section as I do from my NA section. In fact, in my world, the only NA's I put from projects on my NA list are the ones that stand alone - such as make copies at Kinko's - something I can do at Kinkos and isn't done along with any of the other NA's associated with that given project. I always have at least one NA on each project page so I have a specific task to do when I sit down to work on a project, which makes it much easier to get things rolling - I don't waste a half hour figuring out what to do when I sit down to work on a project.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by moises View Post
              The key concept in GTD is dependency. I can't butter my toast until after the bread has been toasted. So "butter toast" is a dependent action. I cannot start this action until the action "toast bread" has been completed. GTD tells us to have a NA list, which means we only include in that list non-dependent actions. So, I would not have "butter toast" in my NA list. I would have "toast bread" in my NA list.
              Yep, in my example, I was assuming each were dependent. That's what I meant by consecutive, but I should have used the common language of "dependent."

              Thank you, everyone, for your thoughts.

              Jay

              Comment


              • #8
                Chained next actions.

                Originally posted by moises View Post
                The key concept in GTD is dependency. I can't butter my toast until after the bread has been toasted. So "butter toast" is a dependent action. I cannot start this action until the action "toast bread" has been completed. GTD tells us to have a NA list, which means we only include in that list non-dependent actions. So, I would not have "butter toast" in my NA list. I would have "toast bread" in my NA list.
                Some time ago one of the GTDers suggested that in case of the Palm GTD implementation it is convenient to write "chained next actions" - for example:

                @Kitchen
                toast bread : butter toast : eat it

                If you are using Palm Notes for keeping lists you can see just the beginning of the note title - so you see the actual next action.

                When you do it you simply edit the note and delete the first action (optionaly you have to change the context (category) of the note).

                Comment


                • #9
                  Great stuff.

                  Man this is great information. Reading how other people are implementing GTD really helps to solidify what I've read and move me along. Confusion causes distrust, which causes you to not put everything in the system. This has really helped me to get clear about how I want to use the system and understand GTD better. Thus causing less confusion and a higher trust level with my system.

                  Thanks for all the input.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    About 1 cents worth, US

                    Okay, my $0.02 (Australian dollars): I use a single sheet for each project as a kind of brain dump. So anything that I can think of gets scrawled on there. And date everything. Seriously. Thoughts, questions, everything. Makes a surprising difference.

                    That means that your 5 NAs that you've thought of would go on that project sheet, even though you can't do the last 4 until you've done the first, and so on. Every thought you've had should be scraped out of your head and sloshed onto paper, to save you having that thought again (spend your brain time on better things!).

                    Then, if I'm working on a project, I'll have the project list near at hand, as well as the context list, so if I get on a roll, I can be updating the project list as I go along (depends on the nature of the project, what sort of work you do, phases of the moon, etc).

                    Originally posted by LJM View Post
                    (I also make extensive use of a "deferred projects" list in addition to my "someday-maybe" file to keep my current projects list focused: I have a lot of interests and tend to switch from one thing to another frequently, so I use my weekly review as an oppertunity to be honest with myself about what I'm *really* focused on for the next week or two, to prevent my project and action lists from becomming unhelpfully cluttered.)
                    I've started doing that recently, and it's made quite a difference. Although, being inherently a silly person, I call mine the "Ignoring" list. Means, to me at least, that I can sneer at those projects as I pass by on the way to something else, knowing that they'll get their turn in the weekly review.

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