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  • Struggling with Projects/Next Actions Double Effort?

    Hi all,

    I'm new to the forum and have been partially implemented GTD over the last year.

    Someday/maybe (bonsai on palm tungsten), waiting for (excel on my desktop) and next actions (datebk5 on palm tungsten) have really transformed how productive and 'mentally free' I can be, but I just can't get the hang with projects (more than 1 step jobs)

    The way I understand things - I have a projects list with literally the title of the project on it, then each project has its own folder (so far so good - i do this). Where i fall down is how do I track the next actions for each project.

    I'm currently using a 'NA' list for every single step task thats not a project and a 'project NA list' for each projects individual next actions. At any one time I have to check two lists, by context, as to what I should be doing. It's proving too difficult to choose between do i do project or general 'na' work - and one aspect - either projects or general work suffers.

    I tried putting my project NA's on my general 'NA' list but I was constantly updating 2 lists for every project related action - the 'source' frmo the project file and the all-encompassing NA list (And constantly 'topping up' the general NA list from the project plan lists). I found this too inefficient and things weren't getting updated back in the project list when I'd done something. So I canned this and went back to two lists - and I still am, but it's just not as easy as I'm sure it should be.

    Any help or suggestions or examples of how others manage the 'general' NA lists and their project NAs please?

    thanks!

    Sievert

  • #2
    Similar Problem

    I have trouble keeping true NA's identified for each project too. I'm curious... how, other than it being a shorter list, does a Project NA list make things less confusing than adding project na's to your regular context list? Doesn't it get out of sync with your project plans too?

    I think others will tell us that 1) the NA is just a "bookmark" and that every na doesn't have to be on your na list and 2) weekly reviews are key. I know that I'm "not current" right now - I'm in the middle of a long overdue review. My lists were stale, my projects were not up-to-date... and subsequently, I haven't been trusting my system.

    I started with moving every project NA back to just the project plan (for now). I mark each one with a project # anyway, so it was easy to do. Then, I rewrote my context lists --- absolutely amazed at how many were either already done, no longer relevant, or not truly a next action.

    When I finish it up tonight, I'm going to be ruthless --- mainly moving as many projects as I can to my "pending" list (don't feel right moving them to someday/maybe as I've already committed to doing them, but just not right now... so I created a pending section). Finally, I'll move just one true NA per active project back to my context lists.

    I've also committed to processing my in box daily and blocking off time for large projects and my next weekly review. Hopefully, that will get me back on track!

    Looking forward to others' comments/suggestions. Best wishes!

    Comment


    • #3
      With an electronic list, you should be able to update the "project" view and the "context" view simultaneously. The tool should "know" -- by means of categories or tags, usually -- which lists are relevant to any given NA, and should be able to update all of them simultaneously. If it can't, you need a better tool.

      Even if this maintenance doesn't happen automatically, a disconnect between the project support materials and the NA list isn't the end of the world, anyway. If your project support materials contain enough detail, you should be able to move the project forward without looking at the NA lists at all. Conversely, the whole purpose of context-sorted NA lists is to let you get work done without reviewing the project plan. The Weekly Review lets you refresh the link between the two on a regular basis, or you can take a few minutes to review just that one project whenever it seems necessary.

      Katherine

      Comment


      • #4
        Bit more info

        I think, having read the replies, I can re-state the problem with an example.

        Each project has a project-plan - a series of tasks which need to be completed to 'do' the project (sorry, committed a major faux pas as you don't "do" a project ).

        If some of these need to be performed in a particular sequence, if I put all of my project next-actions (ie tasks on the plan) into my 'next action' list they simply go in sorted by context, not by order of being required - and then the whole project plan goes wrong and work is out-of-sequence.

        If I just 'trickle' in the next next-action for the project, I will have to be updating my next action list from the project plan maybe every couple of hours because I may have a step for a project which may involve next actions for a project such as:

        1) call X for document on Z.
        2) review document on Z
        3) issue summary of document Z to project team
        4) collate summary of document Z and re-issue.

        These 4 steps may actually only take a morning to do completely.

        So my problem is:

        If I have them all in my NA list - and I'm in context for say step 3 before step 1 then it's pointless as I was out-of-step and the work won't get done.

        If I only have the true NA from my project in my NA list - step 1) - then that can be done within 5 minutes. I don't want to have to then spend my time bringing in step 2), which may be done in 30 mins, and then bring in step 3) etc. It's too much 'active thinking' to do this.

        does that help explain my problem? does anyone have a smarter way of integrating sequenced projects into their next actions list. My utopian view would be one next-action list, with all of the things I could be doing at any one time, sorted by context, containing simple tasks such as 'buy sandwich' to the series of next actions which would deliver 'develop new response manual'. I would then have confidence to look at that list and know I wasn't forgetting or not capturing actions from any aspect of my work.

        thanks
        Sievert

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Sievert View Post

          1) call X for document on Z.
          2) review document on Z
          3) issue summary of document Z to project team
          4) collate summary of document Z and re-issue.


          If I only have the true NA from my project in my NA list - step 1) - then that can be done within 5 minutes. I don't want to have to then spend my time bringing in step 2), which may be done in 30 mins, and then bring in step 3) etc. It's too much 'active thinking' to do this.
          Now let's look into your head right the moment after you hang up the phone. What's in there (related to the project)?

          Maybe something like this "Hey, X said the z document must be written acording to the NYSE rules of hysterical fluff writing."

          And then? You will proceed, automatically without the need for any list, to either take a note on what X said and put this note into your inbox (and since you are doing the GTD habits automatically you will empty your inbox today a few times...), or you will pull out document Z and review it adding the new information you got from X.

          Look at the next actions more as some sort of a bookmark for a project (Where was I?) and not so much as a STFU for your consciousness.

          Comment


          • #6
            The way I handle your example is more, "I need to work on Project X now. What's the next action?"

            Look at lists. Do next action. Realize I have more time to work on Project X. Open up project support materials and get to work.

            When I need to move on to something else, figure out what the next thing I need to do when I look at Project X is, and put that on my NA list. Before that, don't worry about it.

            Remember that the point is to get things done. Having a system that is perfectly in sync at all times might be nice, but is not necessary and can get in the way of actually using the system.

            Katherine

            Comment


            • #7
              I don't use it, but many have had success with the PigPog system. Essentially, it eliminates the Projects list, and just attaches the outcome description to the Next Action.

              Call Bill re proposal meeting {Proposal was presented} - @phone list

              The Next Action stays in your context lists, and when you do the Next Action, you change the action but keep the outcome the same.

              w/f Bill's availability for meeting {Proposal was presented} - waiting for list

              The upside is no more disconnect with the Projects list (although it really is true that a real Weekly Review creates and keeps the mental connection). The biggest down side is that it works best when you only have one Next Action for each Outcome. You can work around that by doing the following, but you have to be careful that one of the branches doesn't get overlooked.

              call client to confirm proposal meeting {Proposal is presented} - @phone list
              and
              take proposal materials to copy store {Proposal is presented} - @errands list

              Again, a Weekly Review makes it all work, and according to users of this PigPog method, the review takes less time this way.

              Best,
              Scott

              Comment


              • #8
                Perfect tools, used imperfectly (and vice versa)

                Because GTD explicitly distinguishes between projects, project parts (often "tasks" or "sub-projects"), and next actions, there has been a tremendous amount of discussion about software that would allow both project views and next action views.

                The best software for this I have ever used is OmniFocus from Omnigroup, currently in alpha (more like beta for most developers). It has a hierarchical view with projects and next actions, and a flat view of next actions by context. It has many optional features, including coloring of next actions, folders of projects, parallel or sequential steps, and sub-projects. It's the first software I've used for GTD that has not produced a strong desire to switch to something else rather than tackle a weekly review. For me, that is unique! Omnifocus should be very good. It was designed by one of the very best Mac software groups (sorry, PC people- no Windows version) with the help of Merlin Mann of 43 Folders and Ethan Schoonover, who developed the popular Kinkless GTD based on Omnioutliner.

                So Omnifocus seems to be the best software yet for GTD. But I don't use it "perfectly." I have been working this morning on a high-priority project with three major components. So my little outline in Omnifocus should have three sections, right? It doesn't, because there are hidden, subtle dependencies between the parts. So I have been bouncing back and forth between sections as I get more clarity. This is a big enough project that it has its own 3-ring binder, with about 100 pages of notes so far. Frankly, as I look at my sub-projects for it in Omnifocus, the small number of items there are all out of date and pretty useless. Does this bother me? No, because I finished the last really difficult part of the project this morning. I will now cheerfully rethink what has to be done. Now one could describe all this as a lack of discipline, but I think it is really a reflection of how projects get done. The path always looks clearer in hindsight. The GTD cycle between next actions and projects de-emphasizes the stuff in between because: a) you can't do sub-projects (they're not next actions); b) they are not desired outcomes (project); c) sub-projects morph as we gain clarity. I know from experience that staying wedded to an out-of-date "project plan" can lead to paralysis.
                Last edited by mcogilvie; 06-26-2007, 09:38 AM.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Mindmanager 7 with its ability to (finally) save views and its ability (always had it) to synch topics/categories with Outlook is in my mind a very, very good tool for GTD. I can keep Goals, Objectives, Projects & Next Actions listed, collapse and view (map or outline) as needed, and can link a fully developed project plan for brainstorming, process & organizing, and finally review once a week to each project level topic.

                  Mindjet has taken a great project and actually really improved it in version 7.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Kewms has it right, IMHO -- and it mirrors what DA said at the recent Seattle RoadMap seminar. If you write down too many "next actions" in sequential order, you're doing too much too soon. The example I think he used was:

                    DA: Project A: What's the next action? Call Fred.
                    Audience: And then I'll need to write up XYZ document, so...
                    DA: What if you call Fred, and Fred's dead? Changes your next action.

                    The point being is that it's OK to brainstorm for your project support folder, but don't plan out too many steps in advance.

                    My take on this is personal as well: sometimes I feel like I SHOULD be planning out each step of a project, from A-Z, as a way of establishing some comfort with the whole thing before I start. However, if I don't know step "N", say, I'll get stymied.

                    I have on my wall this tidbit from DA:

                    "You'll never see how to get there if you're waiting to see how to get there before you see yourself there."

                    - which I take very literally as I'm doing "project planning". I can only do one Next Action at a time, and that one small thing is something I CAN do.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      dcubed
                      It's free, flexible, powerful, well supported in Google Groups.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Do the real next action

                        If you want to go exercise, just write down, "take bike outside." Once you're out there with the bike, the next actions like getting on, going to the park, riding around 6 times, etc, become apparent. So the key sometimes is to choose really good next actions that make their 'children' actions self-revealing.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by theorganizedartist View Post
                          If you want to go exercise, just write down, "take bike outside." Once you're out there with the bike, the next actions like getting on, going to the park, riding around 6 times, etc, become apparent. So the key sometimes is to choose really good next actions that make their 'children' actions self-revealing.
                          That's a great example! Thanks! Lots of good comments/suggestions in this thread. I have to admit, this is one part of GTD where I often get stuck.

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