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  • How to keep Next Actions list synched with Projects list

    I've been using the GTD system for over a year now with great results. But one thing I'm uncertain about is how to efficiently keep my Next Actions list synched with my Projects list, such that each project has at least one associated next action. Since it appears that the GTD system recommends keeping these as two separate lists (so the next actions can be sorted by context), how does one efficiently identify which projects need next actions and update the next actions list?

    For example, I normally have 70+ projects and 100+ next actions. I keep these in digital lists on my PC. As I complete actions and projects, I delete them from the appropriate lists. When I do my weekly review, I may have 5-10 fewer projects and 30-50 fewer Next Actions than when I began the week. If all I see is a list of projects and a list of next actions, it takes me a long time to figure out which projects need new actions to be identified and which are already current. In other words... how does one efficiently resynch the Next Actions list with the Projects list? And is this supposed to be done daily, or can it simply be done at the weekly review?

    Might it be a mistake to even let these two lists get out of synch at all? Whenever I complete a next action for a particular product, should I immediately decide on a new next action and add it to the Next Actions list? This would keep the lists constantly synched, but it doesn't feel right to me, as it interrupts the flow of doing the actions with a lot of decision-making that could be deferred and done as a batch. Doing this kind of synching somewhere in the range of once a day to once a week seems like it would be more efficient.

    The method I've been using to help me keep these lists synched is to give each project a name. Every item on my Projects list is preceded by its project name, and the same goes for the associated actions on the Next Actions list. So I can quickly scan (or search) to see which projects already have next actions and which need new ones to be identified. When I look at each action, I can immediately recognize its associated project.

    Any suggestions/ideas on other approaches to this problem?

  • #2
    linking Projects and Next Actions

    Since you are already keeping your lists on your PC, I thought I'd share how I make this work. I use a Macintosh, but the process is very similar. The key difference for me is that I use no special software, and I keep all the lists in a paper binder all week. This works much better for the fast input and access that occurs during the week.

    I just use empty folders to make my lists. I have a folder for each Next Action category (@Calls, @Office, etc.), and one for Projects, Someday/Maybe, and Waiting For. Inside each, I use more folders as the items in my lists. The folders are all empty, and just serve as placeholders. They are automatically alphabetized, easy to move around, and I don't have to learn any new software or even upgrade. Now for the cool part that is relevent to your question.

    The Projects folder contains one folder for each Project. Inside each I have one folder for each next action. If there is more than one next action, I make a folder called "ON DECK @" and tuck in there all the ones I can't do now. Then comes the magic. I drag an alias (shortcut) of each active Next Action into the appropriate Next Action Category folder, leaving the original Next Action in its associated Project folder.

    Now, during the review, I can very quickly scroll through all the Project folders to see if there is a next action inside. Plus, as I look in each Next Action Category folder, I can follow any aliases (shortcuts) that don't make sense back to their original folder. This has saved me a world of anxiety.

    When I'm all done, I simply print out each folder's directory, and viola, my lists. Punch, bind, and ready for another week. Here's the process at the end of the week that gets me back to squeeky clean.

    1) Process all loose stuff into the computer folders
    2) Add all the new handwritten notes I have made on the lists during the week. I don't pay any attention to the things I have crossed off. You'll see why later. I still cross them off, but just so they don't stay in the way after they are done.
    3) Review each Project one at a time. If not still committed, delete or move to Someday/Maybe. Then, are the Next action(s) still valid? Leave it (them) alone. Complete? Delete it and go delete the alias (shortcut). Make a new folder representing the next Next action (or pull the next one from the ON DECK @ folder), and then drag a new alias (shortcut) to the correct Next Action Category folder. Collect any new ON DECK that come to mind.
    4) Review each Next Action Category folder one at a time. Sort by Kind, which groups all the aliases (shortcuts) together. Ignore them, because you already reviewed them all indirectly (they are each associated with a Project, remember?). Review the rest and either keep, delete, or move to Someday/Maybe.
    5) Output a directory of each folder, punch and bind. Your lists are ready for another week, and you know each project has at least one Next Action.

    Good luck.

    Comment


    • #3
      synching projects NAs

      http://gettingthingsdone.com/forum/v...8986bdb6258139

      Here's my approach - needs a little upkeep but it works well for me.

      Comment


      • #4
        This might not be overly helpful for you but here goes:

        I did a big update/weekly review yesterday (Haven't done a real one in a couple of months I think). In the process, I updated my desktop software to show customized views.

        I use Time Matters, which has project tracking built in. I use the project tracking regularly - I enjoy seeing my own progress on things, and I try to keep detailed records on client related work. In any case, the project "form" screens are highly customizable, and separated into tabs. I have one tab which shows me a list of pending/incomplete next actions, and a list of completed ones. This lets me see "at a glance" what's done or not done. On the same tab I have a list of recent email messages in and out, plus a list of specific calendar items related to just that project.

        So on one screen I can see Pending Actions, Completed Actions, Recent Email, and both pending or completed calendar items - all specific to just one project.

        When I sync my Palm, the desktop software inserts a little tag into the note of my Action item - ie. [project name] - so when I'm looking at NAs, I know what they relate to. If I need to search my Palm for everything related to project X, I can.

        It's not perfect and takes a little dedication to keep updated, but it's not overly complicated and it allows me to have the mix of Palm + simple lists, plus comprehensive project tracking/detailing.

        Kathy

        Comment


        • #5
          All -

          Something just occurred to me while replying to another post...

          If we're tying all the "Next Actions" to the "Higher Levels of Focus" - such as Projects, or Outcomes or what-have-you's; why not use one of the tools that's at our fingertips for the past 6 years...

          Graphitti "Short-Cuts"

          Make a Graphitti Short-Cut in your Palm for any Project or Outcome that you are moving toward completing. There is no limit as to how many of these you can have in your system (one thing that Palm doesn't limit to 15).

          Write down your "Next Action" - but after you've captured the thought, enter the Graphitti Shortcut (usually two to three stylus strokes) that ties it to your Project/Outcome.

          Then, when you DO review your Next Actions - the project that it's tied to is right in your face (maybe even include parenthesis as part of the ShortCut text)

          i.e. - (Annual Taxes)

          (now THERE's a "multi-action outcome/project" if EVER there was one.....)

          Dpeneding on where you place the text in the title of the Next Action, it may help you even sort them by Project.

          Of course, just by entering the "ShortCut" in Palm's "find" application will automatically bring them all up for you.....

          Comment


          • #6
            All -

            Something just occurred to me while replying to another post...

            If we're tying all the "Next Actions" to the "Higher Levels of Focus" - such as Projects, or Outcomes or what-have-you's; why not use one of the tools that's at our fingertips for the past 6 years...

            Graphitti "Short-Cuts"

            Make a Graphitti Short-Cut in your Palm for any Project or Outcome that you are moving toward completing. There is no limit as to how many of these you can have in your system (one thing that Palm doesn't limit to 15).

            Write down your "Next Action" - but after you've captured the thought, enter the Graphitti Shortcut (usually two to three stylus strokes) that ties it to your Project/Outcome.

            Then, when you DO review your Next Actions - the project that it's tied to is right in your face (maybe even include parenthesis as part of the ShortCut text)

            i.e. - (Annual Taxes)

            (now THERE's a "multi-action outcome/project" if EVER there was one.....)

            Dpeneding on where you place the text in the title of the Next Action, it may help you even sort them by Project.

            Of course, just by entering the "ShortCut" in Palm's "find" application will automatically bring them all up for you.....

            Comment


            • #7
              Synching N/As w/ Projects

              I asked the same question, Steve. Some discussion ensued in this thread:

              http://www.davidco.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=492

              --Bryan

              Comment


              • #8
                I've been wrestling with this for a while. One option is to use specialized software (outline of some form) that allows you to associate the next actions right under the project in a hierarchical sense. Another option is the clever dating method described elsewhere (assign each project and all its actions the same date, actual or artificial, so they appear together in the to-do list). A third option, the one I'm using now, is the most intuitive: to review my project list and think of the next action. I then go to the appropriate list to add the action. If it's already there, no harm no foul and I move on to the next project. If it's not already there, I add it. Now, I acknowledge to myself that there could be other next actions for the same project on other lists as well (I just didn't think of them as I reviewed the project list). For now, I'm operating on the assumption that they'd also still be valid, i.e. no predecessors required. I've used outliners in the past (Shadow is my tool of choice), but my palm is getting long in the tooth and Shadow takes a while to use. I do operate in a "serious" project management environment, so I supplement as needed with either Shadow or MS Project for those projects that need that level of scaling up. I tie the action to the project by using a brief project name in front of the action, as many others have discussed elsewhere. (Project = "Post re synching n/a to project". N/A = "GTDPOST: Draft post")

                YMMV, but HTH!

                --Bryan

                Comment


                • #9
                  My system

                  I went the route of specialized software to make this work for me, because I to couldn't get around the gap of not being able to connect next actions to projects. I currently use Microsoft Outlook (XP) and a Sony Clie (Palm Pilot) to do my planning with.

                  On the Microsoft side, I use the contact as project form from Bill Kratz. This allows me to have all my actions on Outlook linked to Projects through the contact field. Using this metod was great, but I could not get this data to transfer to the Palm.

                  On the Palm side I found KeySuite from Chapurra. The newest version, version 2.1, has a couple of new functions that makes this all work just great. One is the ability to sync multiple folders from Outlook. This allowed me to sync the projects folder (another contacts folder). The other change is allowing me to link activities (todos, appointments, and notes) to a contact. Plus I can view all activites linked to a contact.

                  So what I see on my Palm is two contact databases, one for contacts, one for projects. Under each project I can view all the activites linked to that project (all my next actions).

                  From either platform (Outlook or KeySuite) I can:

                  1. Create a new project
                  2. Create new actions
                  3. Link actions to a project
                  4. View all next actions linked to a project
                  5. Create new subprojects (a new project that is linked to another project)
                  6. Drill down and drill up for more details in either direction.

                  Right now I have what I believe is an almost perfrct system. The logic and style of each system is almost exactly the same. I also have a seperate task list that has all my tasks for a weekly review, and this is synced to the Palm as well. With this system I can do my weekly review with my PC, my laptop, or my palm, and have all the same functionality.


                  Roger Wichmann

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    And I almost forgot...

                    KeySuite does not limit you to 15 categories, so I have all kinds of categories that can exist in both Outlook and the Palm.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Roger- Do you have KeySuite installed on the laptop as well? So you can synch your Outlook information from the PC to the Palm and from the Palm to the laptop and vice-versa? That would be a great solution for those who want to synch at work and then at home too.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Check out this site:

                        http://home.comcast.net/~whkratz/index.htm

                        Lots of info on setting up your projects in Microsoft Outlook as contacts. Once that's done, you can link all your NAs to the project either manually, or via Macros.

                        Easy to follow instructions and a forum, as well.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Question for Intrigueme:

                          So, Intrigueme, it looks like you're using the 'shortcut' as a substitute for DM's "assign it a date" method - a way to put an identifier in the heading of each NA todo item, right?

                          Could you maybe give a more detailed example of how that works? I'm really interested.

                          Also, does this work on the desktop software or only on the handheld?

                          Finally, is this different than having your NAs titled, for example,

                          ANNUAL TAXES: call cpa for appointment
                          ANNUAL TAXES: search for receipts

                          It also just occurred to me that it would be AWEFULLY nice if Palm OS would sort todos alphabetically, so if you used the "all categories" view, all the NAs for a particular project would show up together because of the alphabetizing. BUT, Palm OS does alphabetize memos. Would it work to have each NA as a memo? I have to go check this out!

                          [edit] Ok, I went and tried it. I think it will work. If you put a shortened version of your project title in the beginning of each NA title, as above, and insert that line as the first line of a memo, they will sort alphabetically. Then the memo categories can be things like @calls, @waitingfor, etc. This has an added benefit of being able to store data about the NA or project directly in the memo itself, and not having to click over to the 'note' screen. Hooray, I'm so excited!!!!

                          [edit again] Ok, I'm looking at how to get the stuff I originally had in memos to still live in memos without interfering with my NAs. Does anybody know what character, (besides z) inserted at the beginning of the memo title, will make the memo sort last alphabetically?

                          Thanks!
                          Taxgeek

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            question?

                            how do you cross your todo/memos as done? you will have to delete them I guess! is that really that practical?

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Memos

                              If you're going to do that way you may want to create a category called complete so you can check them off (in a way).

                              But I've tried it both ways and checking off the items in todos always seemed more natural to me. Whatever makes your boat float....

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