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  • Calendaring Time for ALL Projects

    Hi,

    I was wondering if calendaring time for all of my projects might not be a bad idea. In other words, during the work week I would schedule between 30 and 60 minutes of calendar time for each project. In the evenings and on the weekends, I would do the same for my home projects. This means that I need to keep my total number of active projects down to a reasonable number so as to allow for ample “free” time but it would seem to keep each project very much alive.

    I would expect to continue to define next actions for those times when I am free and want to progress any given project. However, I find that without the hard confines of the calendar my day can get away from me and those projects that repel me never do get the attention they deserve. Also, I have found that by simply going with next actions my projects take a considerable amount of time to complete. With a long project list it might be a while before you get back to the one you just finished an action on, especially if you are trying to incrementally move them all forward.

    Any thoughts on this approach?

    Thanks!

  • #2
    Limiting Active Projects and Schedulling Time for Them

    This is what I do. I can't add to your well-written post, except that not all of the small number of critically important projects may be equal as to time-commitment.

    Andrew

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Calendaring Time For ALL Projects

      Calendaring time for your projects may or may not be a good approach depending on a number of things:

      1. How far out you are scheduling time
      2. How often and severely you are interrupted
      3. How much slack you are building into your schedule
      4. How badly you beat yourself up when you can't keep to your schedule when uncontrollable events blow it out of the water.

      The beauty of using context-based action lists is that they are essentially immune from interruption. Next actions sit nicely in their contexts waiting for you to do them no matter how much or how often you are interrupted.

      If you find that making an appointment with yourself to work on a repulsive project makes you more inclined to do it, then I would suggest that you just make appointments for the repulsive projects, and allow the rest of your time to remain under the more flexible control of next action lists.

      I'm not sure what you mean when you say that by "simply going with next actions my projects take a considerable amount of time to complete." I assume you mean that by doing next actions you would tend to work longer on each project before going on to the next one. I don't see that as a problem. This means that instead of working on your projects for arbitrary lengths of time and then stopping, you are working on them until you complete meaningful units of work. That being said, you might think of ways to specify next actions so that they are smaller in scope and take less time to complete.

      I would also suggest that you rethink the idea of incrementally moving all of your projects forward as this can often lead to fruitlessly dissipating your energies. I might be a better idea to focus your time and effort on the few projects that have the most compelling mix of importance and urgency. Get those accomplished, and then move to the next ones.

      Hope this is useful.

      Comment


      • #4
        Hi,

        Thanks for the responses!

        Andrew says: “…not all of the small number of critically important projects may be equal as to time-commitment.”

        I could not agree more. I consider 30 minutes a “check-in” on a project and 60 minutes the minimum amount of time to really get engaged. However, I could easily spend less than the allotted time because of any number of reasons, e.g. nothing to be done on that project at the moment, interruptions, more pressing work. If so, I will simply shift gears into those items, after making a judgment call that my time is better spent on those than on the project I pre-planned, or I will hit my next actions lists for ad hoc work. Of course, I will spend more than my calendared time if I so desire, should I have “free” time abutting my calendared time or for the reasons listed above.

        Scott says: “The beauty of using context-based action lists is that they are essentially immune from interruption. Next actions sit nicely in their contexts waiting for you to do them no matter how much or how often you are interrupted.”

        True. However, I find that with a purely next action based approach I am more often than not progressing someone else’s agenda instead of my own. In other words, I am reading/responding to e-mail, returning voice mails, and/or attending meetings. In turn, I spend time following up on the slew of items that these three mediums create. Without the hard edges of calendar time those next actions will get pushed into a small portion of the day. I prefer to proactively push these other items into a controlled portion of the day (not always small!). Thus assuring I am furthering my agenda. Now, don’t get me wrong. I still do all these things but not as often or for as long as I used to.

        Scott says: “I'm not sure what you mean when you say that by "simply going with next actions my projects take a considerable amount of time to complete." I assume you mean that by doing next actions you would tend to work longer on each project before going on to the next one.”

        Actually, I meant just the opposite. Say I have 50 projects and set a next action for each at least once a week in my weekly review. It might take me more than one week to complete all 50 next actions due to the e-mail/voice mail/meetings discussed above intruding on my master plan. Next actions by their very nature tend to be small, relatively quick items. The inclination then is to work through the pre-defined next actions and not to continue on with any one project after completing a single next action. This in turn means that you are only incrementally moving projects forward each week. This results in projects moving slowly towards completion. This is me. Perhaps others’ next actions are bigger in scope and not the very next physical action that David recommends.

        Scott says: “I would also suggest that you rethink the idea of incrementally moving all of your projects forward as this can often lead to fruitlessly dissipating your energies. I might be a better idea to focus your time and effort on the few projects that have the most compelling mix of importance and urgency. Get those accomplished, and then move to the next ones.”

        I agree. This is why I am trying to limit the overall number of projects I commit to. This way, even with a purely next action based approach all projects can cycle at a faster pace. I believe there is an optimal number of projects for each of us, certainly dependant on size and complexity. I am attempting to find the right balance for me. The “Someday/Maybe” list plays a big part in keeping the active projects list manageable.

        Thanks for helping me think through this. I am just experimenting with what will make me more relaxed and productive. With all of the “stuff” that comes at us constantly I find the hard edges of the calendar a nice buffer. It does feel less fluid than the “out of the box” GTD but, like I said, I am experimenting.

        If you have more thoughts, I would like to hear them.

        Thanks!

        Comment


        • #5
          Calendering all projects

          My experience has been then settiing aside time for all my projects is way too restrictive. One emergency or change in plans can blow the schedule. what I do find very effective and makes a huge difference is a la Covey scheduling some big rocks.
          I set aside certain periods of time where I dont book appointments and I dont take calls as an appointment with myself. This varies from as little as an hour to a two-three hour block. At the end of the week my secretary and I would pick those items that were the Top 3 or 4 things that needed my isolation type concentration and define what I was doing on each the following week. The other times of day there were the quicker things that I did and I went to my list of next actions as well as any appointments or phone calls that were time sensitive and had time for the emergencies or other things that came up. At the end of the month I had always accomplished more of the important stuff when I blocked out that time, then I did when I felt I had to do something on every project.
          I did ask David Allen at the seminar about this. As you know the system is flexible. He said that altho he didn't do it, he knew that it worked well for many people and if that worked by all means do it.

          I recently just finished a 14 month period where my blocked out time was very limited due to an employee's need for a flexible schedule. After a vacation I realized it just wasn't working . I needed coverage during a certain period. The employee found a new job that fits the employee's schedule and I found an employee who is thrilled with the 4 day non flexible work week that I need. Friday is reserved for my non appointment, weekly review, and work on specific projects day. I am really looking forward to it.

          Comment


          • #6
            Mardo says: "My experience has been then setting aside time for all my projects is way too restrictive. One emergency or change in plans can blow the schedule."

            I guess what I have found is that it is easier for those changes in plans to creep in without the structure of the calendar. And once they have are you really any more likely to pick up where you left off in a free form next action only world than you would be by shuffling the missed appointment(s) with yourself?

            It comes back to the idea of whether or not my plan, my projects, is a better use of my time than someone else's plan, ad hoc work (e-mail, voice mail, meetings, interruptions, etc.). I think that you need to always make judgment calls.

            I can shuffle my appointments with myself pretty easily and I do not beat myself up if the plan is not followed to a "T". It is just a guide.

            Mardo says: “At the end of the week my secretary and I would pick those items that were the Top 3 or 4 things that needed my isolation type concentration and define what I was doing on each the following week.”

            Ah! See this is basically what I am saying. Only instead of 3 or 4 I have allowed myself up to 10 or so. If it is not important enough to be a “Top” priority to me then it probably belongs on “Someday/Maybe”. Do you see what I am getting at? Why focus on 20 projects when only 10 are going to really be your focus.

            If the boss drops one on your lap then the total number of active projects goes to 11 or something gets dropped from active to “Someday/Maybe”. I should mention that I try to cycle my entire projects list quarterly. I do not keep 6, 9, 12 month projects on my list, those are goals not projects, projects come out of the attempt to meet the goals. All the other day to day stuff just gets dealt with without ever becoming a project.

            Comment


            • #7
              Inclinations

              Yet Another Guest said:
              The inclination then is to work through the pre-defined next actions and not to continue on with any one project after completing a single next action. This in turn means that you are only incrementally moving projects forward each week.
              You would only have this inclination if you were recognizing your next actions only during your weekly review. The time to recognize a next action is immediately after you complete the action before it. Needless to say, if the next action is a two minute task, do it immediately. If not, you have a decision to make as to what to do next. David discusses the various factors that you should weigh when deciding: things like what context you're in, or your energy level. And a key component of your energy level is the momentum you have created by beginning to work on a project. If you rigidly go from one project to the next only doing one next action, you will be constantly frittering away your momentum and incurring the transition costs of moving from one project to the next.

              My own inclination is that, once started on a project, I keep working on it until:
              1) I am interrupted.
              2) I have an appointment.
              3) I have another next action that is more compelling.
              4) I just plain run out of steam.

              Comment


              • #8
                Oh, Yeah, And One More Thing....

                Yet Another Guest said:

                Scott says: “The beauty of using context-based action lists is that they are essentially immune from interruption. Next actions sit nicely in their contexts waiting for you to do them no matter how much or how often you are interrupted.”

                True. However, I find that with a purely next action based approach I am more often than not progressing someone else’s agenda instead of my own. In other words, I am reading/responding to e-mail, returning voice mails, and/or attending meetings.
                This is a problem for me as well, but it is not because I use a next action based approach. The reason is that I am making a poor decision about what to do next. I start focusing in on my inbox as my next action universe and I stop thinking about how important responding to email is versus the next actions on my projects. If you consider everything you have to do before deciding what you will do, you won't be as likely to fall into the trap of being too interruptible or being purely reactive.

                All this being said, I don't think making appointments with yourself is necessarily a bad thing. It can be useful to limit time spent in certain activities (like email). It can be useful to block out time to do something that is important but not urgent. And it can be useful to put a stake in the ground and to buckle down and do something you have been avoiding. I just think you are taking it too far when you try to calendar all of your projects.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Scott
                  I start focusing in on my inbox as my next action universe and I stop thinking about how important responding to email is versus the next actions on my projects. If you consider everything you have to do before deciding what you will do, you won't be as likely to fall into the trap of being too interruptible or being purely reactive.
                  Is it possible that this is where GTD contradicts itself. The system, through the weekly review, suggests that you need to have already thought so that in the “heat of battle”, your work day, you do not need to. Thus, we have NAs. However, I see a contradiction here. As you state, you are constantly having to stop, think, judge, select, and move on. This could be constant if you are always reassessing your entire work load each time you complete a NA. This is really what GTD calls for. With this constant re-thinking has GTD not contradicted itself?

                  The question you are always posing to yourself is, “Is my time best spent on this NA or any one of the myriad of other NAs, tasks, past times, etc. open to me?” You are prioritizing, just on the fly. It would seem to me that by calendaring items you are making more of a plan than the NAs allow for without giving up the flexibility. I can still do all the judging/reprioritizing I want but I have to do it less often. This is due to the fact that in my weekly review I laid out the plan, based on my projects list, for the upcoming week on the calendar and not purely in NAs.

                  With 60 minutes dedicated to Project X, I am not going to do any judging of what else I should be doing in that hour, barring an emergency. If I feel like going for 90 minutes then I will do some judging at the end of the originally calendared block of time. I am also not going to find that I advanced only a couple of projects in any given week because I was in the zone on them and neglected to snap out of it to check in on my other projects. The calendar can force you to put down the "fun" projects and think about the not so fun ones. Now, if I “burn out” before the 60 minutes is up then I hit my NAs list for a couple of quick hits.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Reply To Teflon

                    Originally posted by Teflon
                    Originally posted by Scott
                    I start focusing in on my inbox as my next action universe and I stop thinking about how important responding to email is versus the next actions on my projects. If you consider everything you have to do before deciding what you will do, you won't be as likely to fall into the trap of being too interruptible or being purely reactive.
                    Is it possible that this is where GTD contradicts itself. The system, through the weekly review, suggests that you need to have already thought so that in the “heat of battle”, your work day, you do not need to. Thus, we have NAs. However, I see a contradiction here. As you state, you are constantly having to stop, think, judge, select, and move on. This could be constant if you are always reassessing your entire work load each time you complete a NA. This is really what GTD calls for. With this constant re-thinking has GTD not contradicted itself?
                    I think that the apparent contradiction is based on two things. First, I think you may have an unrealistic idea of what "mind like water" means. Second, I seem to have given you an incorrect idea of what I am doing.

                    Having "mind like water" does not mean that you don't think. It means that you think effectively and efficiently so that you respond appropriately to what arises without overreacting or underreacting. (See GTD pp 10-11.) The term comes from Japanese martial arts and like other such terms presupposes that it is the end result of years of arduous training. The Marines have a saying: "The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle." In other words, if you want to stay alive on the battlefield, you need to do a lot of hard work and thinking before you get there.

                    In GTD, the arduous training is in learning and mastering the system. People have to understand how to write well-formed next actions. They have to understand how to create and use a set of context dependent next action lists. They need to understand how to plan projects and do a thorough weekly review. In GTD as in battle, there is no substitute for knowledge and skill honed by training.

                    In GTD, the hard work and thinking is done during the weekly review. During that time you go over what outcomes you are committed to and what you are going to do to realize them. You also determine during that time what is important and what is not, what is urgent and what is not, what you intend to work on and what you don't.

                    As a result of having done this work, decisions about what next actions to do will be effective and easily arrived-at since they will be based on a clear understanding of all of your commitments. Another result of having done this front-end work is that as new problems and opportunities arise, you should be able to fit them into the overall scheme of things fairly easily. At no time should your work decision be the result of an arduous and time consuming process of searching through and reanalyzing your next action lists. If you are looking at your next action lists, it is mainly to remind yourself of the results of the thinking you have already done.

                    The question you are always posing to yourself is, “Is my time best spent on this NA or any one of the myriad of other NAs, tasks, past times, etc. open to me?”
                    That's right. However, if I have done my homework during the weekly review, the decision should be easily and quickly made. I would add that the less often you ask yourself that question, the more likely it is that what you will do next will not be the best use of your time. The quotation from my previous post is an example of me not doing this, and being less effective because of it.

                    You are prioritizing, just on the fly.
                    I generally follow David's four-criteria model (See GTD pp 192-195.) I think it is a more flexible and intelligent process than simple task prioritizing.

                    It would seem to me that by calendaring items you are making more of a plan than the NAs allow for without giving up the flexibility. I can still do all the judging/reprioritizing I want but I have to do it less often. This is due to the fact that in my weekly review I laid out the plan, based on my projects list, for the upcoming week on the calendar and not purely in NAs.
                    This is where you and I really part company. I can't see why you would want to create plans that could conceivably be blown out of the water by 8:15 AM on Monday morning. All I can say is, for your sake, I hope you are doing them in pencil.

                    With 60 minutes dedicated to Project X, I am not going to do any judging of what else I should be doing in that hour, barring an emergency. If I feel like going for 90 minutes then I will do some judging at the end of the originally calendared block of time. I am also not going to find that I advanced only a couple of projects in any given week because I was in the zone on them and neglected to snap out of it to check in on my other projects. The calendar can force you to put down the "fun" projects and think about the not so fun ones. Now, if I “burn out” before the 60 minutes is up then I hit my NAs list for a couple of quick hits.
                    Like you, once I have started on a next action, I don't re-evaluate how I am spending my time, either. I have already made the decision that what I have started on is the best use of my time, and that it will remain so for the amount of time I expect it will take to do it. Unlike you, however, if I am interrupted fifteen minutes into the task by something that takes two hours to deal with, I don't have a calendar to rework. I just deal with the interruption, and then go back to working on whatever would be the best use of my time, which at that point may or may not be the interrupted next action.

                    As far as your calendar "forcing" you to work on all your projects, fun or not, I don't believe that a calendar can force you to do anything. It can only remind you of what you have already decided to do. Looking at your project and next action lists would do the same thing, only you won't have to be reworking them every time you are interrupted.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Calendaring time for ALL Projects

                      Teflon, a nice tool (compatible with the Outlook Add-in) for your way of working is Taskline. It lets you automatically schedule your tasks in your Outlook Calendar, taking into account meetings and appointments already there. Check it out at their website: http://www.taskline.info. There's a fully-functional trial version for download available.

                      Comment

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