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  • Challenged by Project NA logistics

    Greetings,

    I'm a newbie to GTD, though I've been a time management junkie for a long time. I see great value in many of the key features of GTD, however, I'm struggling with projects. I've nearly completed my very recent "conversion" to GTD, so I haven't truly been practicing the discipline yet. I use a Palm Treo synced to Outlook in a corporate environment. I'm hoping some of you can guide me in the right direction.

    My problem is that I'm "resisting" fully embracing DA's advice on Projects. I completely subscribe to the notion of NAs, but I'm struggling applying them to projects. I think I fear losing sight of the forest by focusing on the trees. As I'm imagining using this, I am uncomfortable with what I sense is a very "segmented" or superficial view of my project. I suspect it's because I'm lacking experience in applying GTD. I'm also rambling, so let me cut to the chase with an example of my dilemma.

    Assume I have a project that might include 30 5-minute actions. I believe that the first step should appear on my NA list. Realistically, I'd prefer to allocate some quality time to a project, so I might set aside a half hour with the expectation of completing up to 6 of the 30 actions in one sitting. So, here are some questions related to this scenario:

    1. When do you identify the full scope of the project (all 30 steps)? I realize most projects are dynamic and that changes will occur, however, it's my nature to want to initially map out key steps in any project.
    2. I know I can list the project steps in the note section of the task. Is that what most do?
    3. If I complete 6 steps in one sitting, does step 7 become my NA?
    4. Do I list the project and it's next step on my NA list (1 entry on NA list), or do I list several next steps for the same project on my NA list (multiple entries)?
    5. Do you experience any discomfort when coming back to a project mid-stream (e.g., getting back in the groove or remembering where you are relative to the big picture)?
    6. Is there a section in DA's book that addresses this issue that I just didn't absorb adequately?

    I'm not sure I'm making myself clear. I don't want to lose sight of the big picture and where I am relative to that while working on a project. I expect to tackle multiple steps on projects at a single sitting whenever possible (context dependent). I seem to "fear" that myopically focusing on a single next step on my list makes me less in control.

    Please set me straight. Thanks in advance for any enlightenment.

  • #2
    Project planning

    Originally posted by 2toxic View Post
    1. When do you identify the full scope of the project (all 30 steps)? I realize most projects are dynamic and that changes will occur, however, it's my nature to want to initially map out key steps in any project.
    That depends a lot on the scope of the project. When I first identify a project, the first thing is to identify what done looks like. What is the objective and why do I want it? That goes into an outlook task in the projects category. The task subject is the project name the first line in the task item body is the objective stated as if the project were done, the second is my purpose for wanting to complete that objective.

    Then I'll list a series of next actions. Sometimes that first next action is plan project. How I approach that will depend on a lot of factors.

    If I'm doing a small personal project that I own more or less exclusively then I will either take 2 minutes to brainstorm the next actions, or create a next action in my @Anywhere context that is "brainstorm project x plan". If it's a multi-month, mult-resource, big department level project my first next action may be to either call my boss and get his desired outcomes for the project or set up a meeting with the project manager for the project planning session.

    2. I know I can list the project steps in the note section of the task. Is that what most do?
    Yes, at least thats what I do.

    3. If I complete 6 steps in one sitting, does step 7 become my NA?
    Probably. It will depend on what the outcome of the previous 6 steps were. By the time you complete step 6 if step 7 is the next physically doable action than yes it is the next action and should go on the next acion list.

    However, if during the completion of steps 1-6 you decide that in order to complete step 7 you'll need to do 6a-6f first then 6a may be the next action. Alternately you may determine that step 7 isn't immediately doable until you complete step 8, or you may conclude that step 7 is no longer relevant.

    4. Do I list the project and it's next step on my NA list (1 entry on NA list), or do I list several next steps for the same project on my NA list (multiple entries)?
    That is a matter of taste really. At least one should be listed on a next action list. If you have more than one that is truely a next action (immediately doable) then it's okay to have more than one. It's not okay to put step 7 on the next action list if 7 requires 6 to be completed first. That will clog your list with undoable stuff. (Stuff being the primary thing that GTD is trying to get away from)...

    5. Do you experience any discomfort when coming back to a project mid-stream (e.g., getting back in the groove or remembering where you are relative to the big picture)?
    If there is a transition, then that means you are having to think about the next action before you complete it. That means it may not be a true next action. Next actions should be physically doable and should not require (significant) thought.

    Depending on the scope of the next action there will be some transition. If your next action is a five minute action you shouldn't have to think about it. If it's a 2 hour planning session, drafting a report, etc. then it may require some thought. The point is to be able to context switch where appropriate and to focus where appropriate so that you can use both kinds of time productively. When your standing in line at the supermarket is a good time to do some brainstorming on your palm for an @Anywhere project. When your at your office with two hours blocked out (Yeah, I know how rare that is) is the time to spend drafting that report...


    6. Is there a section in DA's book that addresses this issue that I just didn't absorb adequately?
    I'm sure there is but I don't have it in front of me and I don't have chapter and verse commmitted to memory. Check out the sections on project planning and on choosing what action to take next.
    I'm not sure I'm making myself clear. I don't want to lose sight of the big picture and where I am relative to that while working on a project. I expect to tackle multiple steps on projects at a single sitting whenever possible (context dependent). I seem to "fear" that myopically focusing on a single next step on my list makes me less in control.
    If you are doing your weekly review weekly you'll find that you don't loose the big picture because every week you are spending some significant time on each and every project on your list. I find that this is not the only time that I focus on the forest. I also do so when I complete some block time on a project. The weekly review ensures that I get at least some focus on each project every week and that goes a long way to easing transition time when context switching and it allows me to plan for when I will need to block some time and also recognize when I need to make calls or take advantage of odd lot time.
    Please set me straight. Thanks in advance for any enlightenment.
    Hope this helps. This takes a while, but the more you use it the better you'll get.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by 2toxic View Post
      1. When do you identify the full scope of the project (all 30 steps)? I realize most projects are dynamic and that changes will occur, however, it's my nature to want to initially map out key steps in any project.
      At the beginning, if you know what the steps are. And at each weekly review, as the scope of the project evolves.

      2. I know I can list the project steps in the note section of the task. Is that what most do?
      I have a paper system, in which each sufficiently complex project gets as many pages as needed. Complex projects often have planning and brainstorming sheets in the project support folder as well.

      3. If I complete 6 steps in one sitting, does step 7 become my NA?
      If and only if it is immediately doable. If not, the next immediately doable action becomes your NA.

      4. Do I list the project and it's next step on my NA list (1 entry on NA list), or do I list several next steps for the same project on my NA list (multiple entries)?
      List as many steps as are immediately doable without waiting for the other steps. If you have five independent phone calls to make, list all five. If four of the calls depend on the outcome of the first, only list the first.

      5. Do you experience any discomfort when coming back to a project mid-stream (e.g., getting back in the groove or remembering where you are relative to the big picture)?
      Ideally, no. But no human system is perfect.

      I'm not sure I'm making myself clear. I don't want to lose sight of the big picture and where I am relative to that while working on a project. I expect to tackle multiple steps on projects at a single sitting whenever possible (context dependent). I seem to "fear" that myopically focusing on a single next step on my list makes me less in control.
      Consider how annoying it is when you are talking to someone who is simultaneously checking his email, and who interrupts the conversation to answer his cell phone. Consider how pleasant it is to talk to someone who gives you his full, undivided attention for the duration of the conversation.

      The fact is, "myopic" or not, you can only do one thing at a time. Do it, give it your full attention, do it well. And then give your full attention to the next thing. Sometimes the next thing will be drawing a multistep plan on your whiteboard. Sometimes it will be fine-tuning a single paragraph of text.

      Put another way, the exact *wrong* time to think about the forest is while you are actually cutting down a tree.

      Katherine

      Comment


      • #4
        Hi,

        You've already gotten some detailed responses, so I'll just breifly re-iterate a key point:

        One of the main benefits of the weekly review is that, done right, it will help prevent the myopia you fear. You are more likely to succesfully take the broad view when you set aside time each week specifically for that purpose than if you are trying to get the broad view while plowing through the daily grind.

        Comment


        • #5
          My $0.02 worth

          Originally posted by 2toxic View Post
          As I'm imagining using this, I am uncomfortable with what I sense is a very "segmented" or superficial view of my project.
          Another way to look at this: the NA captures the point at which you left off working on that project. It represents the snapshot of what-comes-next, so that you can swing straight back into the project and start building speed again, instead of having to spend time figuring out where you'd got to.

          1. When do you identify the full scope of the project (all 30 steps)? I realize most projects are dynamic and that changes will occur, however, it's my nature to want to initially map out key steps in any project.
          I don't map out all key steps, so much as dump out anything I can think of. I have 1 page for each project (in addition to any support materials), and on that page I'll scribble down anything I think of that needs doing. I don't aim for completeness, or neatness: what I aim for is just pouring all the project-related thoughts out of my head. Then, as I go along, more ideas get poured out, and some ideas get removed.

          Sometimes it all gets too much for one page, in which case I start a folder full of these scribbly sheets for the project. Same principle.

          Yes, some projects are large, complex, and full of fiddly bits. Some projects have bizarre requirements from bosses. But I've found that, at least at the beginning, I write down as much as I can think of, and don't try to plan the rest, because (a) it's a waste of time, and (b) it's just discouraging because I don't know enough about the project yet.

          2. I know I can list the project steps in the note section of the task. Is that what most do?
          See answer to 1.

          3. If I complete 6 steps in one sitting, does step 7 become my NA?
          As kewms said, whatever is the next physical thing to do becomes your next NA. It's like a bookmark.

          4. Do I list the project and it's next step on my NA list (1 entry on NA list), or do I list several next steps for the same project on my NA list (multiple entries)?
          Depends on how you function: if you feel pressured when there's too much on your lists, just list one. If you know you can crank through a whole bunch, stick 'em on. But only the ones which don't have any preconditions.

          5. Do you experience any discomfort when coming back to a project mid-stream (e.g., getting back in the groove or remembering where you are relative to the big picture)?
          Cunning choice of NA can minimise this: make sure it's something you can do without thinking about, just to get you thinking *about* the project. And each time you complete some work on that project, you'll have to set a new NA, which will require pulling back a little. Then the weekly review takes you back out to project level.

          6. Is there a section in DA's book that addresses this issue that I just didn't absorb adequately?
          DAs book is like that Swedish dessert: layer upon layer upon layer. I've read it at least 5 times now, as I've gone through the process over a year or so, and I'm still discovering new insights.

          I don't want to lose sight of the big picture and where I am relative to that while working on a project. I expect to tackle multiple steps on projects at a single sitting whenever possible (context dependent). I seem to "fear" that myopically focusing on a single next step on my list makes me less in control.
          This is why I keep a one-sheet overview of each project: it allows me to keep a 'mud map' of where I've been and where I'm heading.

          Comment


          • #6
            Aaaaaaaand another thing

            I think GTD makes a sharp delineation between the big-picture work and the trenches work, so that your level of focus is always undivided. If you're trying to focus in on trench-level work, while simultaneously trying to focus out at big-picture level, your brain would probably be catapulted out your ears. At the very least, your effectiveness would be reduced, because you'd be constantly shifting context within your head.

            Think about trying to visually focus on a mountain in the distance and a bee on the end of your nose. If you try to do both at once, you'll just get a headache.

            Comment


            • #7
              Mapping out your NAs

              2toxic,

              What you are describing is one of the main reasons I decided to write my own time/project mangement software. The whole concept of NAs is fabulous, but I figured that if I had taken the time to plan out a sequence of them for a project, that when it came time to sitting down and cranking through Actions that I shouldn't have to change my focus; just bring up the next one!

              In other words, picture laying out a flow chart, where each box is an Action -- complete with Resources required, a description, etc. Then, as you complete one the next one is automatically put into the appropiate NA list. If you are using a paper-based system, then it should be very easy to mark something done and transfer the NA. It would also be very clear when you had gone as far as possible, and that more time would need to be set aside for planning.

              So, I guess my bottom line suggestion is to:
              - map out your project's NAs as much as possible
              - use the map to mark off completed NAs
              - put the next uncompleted NA in the queue
              - when you've gone as far as you can, set an NA to do some more planning

              Vince

              Comment


              • #8
                My 2c:

                1. . When do you identify the full scope of the project (all 30 steps)? I realize most projects are dynamic and that changes will occur, however, it's my nature to want to initially map out key steps in any project. - I agree the projects are dynamic so try not to plan ahead. Just Next Action. Then I check the situation around and add a new Next Action.

                2. I know I can list the project steps in the note section of the task. Is that what most do? - Yes, that what I do if there's a real real real need for that.

                3. If I complete 6 steps in one sitting, does step 7 become my NA? - Exactly.

                4. Do I list the project and it's next step on my NA list (1 entry on NA list), or do I list several next steps for the same project on my NA list (multiple entries)? - You list your project on the Projects list and you put Next Action to the appropriate actions list (@Call, @Computer, etc). You can put any number of independent Next Actions for the same project on the action lists simulationously.

                5. Do you experience any discomfort when coming back to a project mid-stream (e.g., getting back in the groove or remembering where you are relative to the big picture)? - At the each Weekly Review when I come back to mid-stream I find that very difficult sometimes to find out what should be next For this case there's a trick to put "Brainstorm the Project" Next Action into the system

                Regards,

                Eugene.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Thanks all!

                  Thanks to all of you who responded. I've been the recipient of some great advice. I will continue to digest your comments and apply them as appropriate to my situation. Already, I have a clearer picture of the necessary steps and feel more at ease about handling my projects. Thanks again.
                  2toxic

                  Comment

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