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  • Processing Projects into Next Actions

    Greetings All,

    I first started GTD in 2006 and I abruptly stopped after 3 months because I was using Microsoft Outlook and just couldn’t commit to doing the weekly review. It’s 2008 and for one reason or another I bought another new copy of the book and bought the audio version and jumped right back in.

    I’m ready to go through my processing stage but I have a huge mental roadblock and I’m hoping to get help, guidance or tips and tricks to help me get through this…

    Here’s the issue: I’ve got my list of projects unprocessed in my inbox. What do I do next? You see I can assign each of the active projects a physical next action but as David says over and over these next actions are so fast (usually taking less than 2 minutes) that once I’m done doing that next action (ie fire up the computer) I don’t know if I should keep working on those small tasks until I reach one that will take more than 2 minutes.

    My issue is with Next Actions and Project Planning. Should, when I process my inbox “make plans” for my project. Here’s an example

    Area of Focus: Maintain Healthy Lifestyle
    Project: Implement 30 minutes of a Yoga routine in the morning at 7:00 AM
    Subproject: R&D Morning Yoga Poses, Positions and Best Practices
    NA: Google: Morning Yoga workout @Mac: Online

    As you can see here I’ve got a next action that I can do at my computer. But after I google this…then what? Should I plan then entire subproject or main project as I see it moving forward before I google?

    Or

    Should I just put a note in my inbox saying. ‘googling done: “New next action is X for project Yoga” and wait for the weekly review to process and organize this information.

    I’m very confused on how far to plan projects and David says, that each one is different. So, I guess what I’m getting at is…What are the best practices for processing projects from your inbox?

    Any help would be appreciated.

  • #2
    Originally posted by aaronmclay View Post
    Here’s the issue: I’ve got my list of projects unprocessed in my inbox. What do I do next? You see I can assign each of the active projects a physical next action but as David says over and over these next actions are so fast (usually taking less than 2 minutes) that once I’m done doing that next action (ie fire up the computer) I don’t know if I should keep working on those small tasks until I reach one that will take more than 2 minutes.
    You could, if you like. If you do, keep a timer: most people overestimate how much they can actually do in two minutes. Or you could call yourself "done" after you do the first two minute task. For me, it really depends on how much stuff I have in my inbox and how much time I have to process it.

    My issue is with Next Actions and Project Planning. Should, when I process my inbox “make plans” for my project.
    You should identify the very next physical action. All planning beyond that is optional in the GTD model. Generally, I find that simple projects such as your example need very little planning, while larger projects might need several dedicated planning sessions.

    Should I just put a note in my inbox saying. ‘googling done: “New next action is X for project Yoga” and wait for the weekly review to process and organize this information.
    No, you should add action X to the appropriate context list right away. Your inbox should be empty most of the time, and at worst should be emptied once a day. If you wait until the weekly review, you're creating a minefield for yourself.

    Katherine

    Comment


    • #3
      Excellent points, Katherine!

      aaronmclay: Think of your inbox as a big pile of stuff, all of it unknown. You may have some idea of what to do with some of it, but it can all be treated as unknown.

      So you pick something up out of the inbox. If that "something" represents a project that you want to take on, add an item to your Projects list, and add an item to the appropriate Next Actions list, right away. Then discard or file the "something," and continue to the next item in your inbox.

      Once you're done with the inbox, proceed to your Next Actions list. Pick an NA. If that NA represents the first of many steps, as in your yoga example, feel free to continue on within that project until you reach a natural stopping point. Then cross off the NA you completed, and add a new NA representing the next physical action to move forward on that project.

      That make sense?
      Last edited by Brent; 05-07-2008, 01:45 PM. Reason: Added tag to indicate who I'm talking to

      Comment


      • #4
        Doing something to stuff before it goes to "IN"

        I am looking for pros and cons, what works best for people...

        Let's say I have a pile on my desk that includes 2 weeks worth of unopened mail, some previously opened and unprocessed mail, the contents of my brief case, and all the stuff I shook out of my kids' backpacks after not getting any papers from them for 3 weeks, clippings from newspapers and magazines, receipts from a trip and daily life, and few nuts, bolts, fabric samples, and extra office supplies.

        Do I pretend the whole mess is in an IN box and process it that way?

        Do I do a presort? Such as trash, bills, reference, putting parts of documents together, like items together, etc., so that I can batch process?

        If I have done a presort, should I file one item at a time? Or should i collect a stack to file in reference and just put the stuff pertaining to active projects in their designated area?

        Does it matter if the A to Z reference file is huge?

        Is there any rule of thumb pertaining to items that fill a single category but will ultimately need further sorting, such as receipts, recipes, photographs, kids' art work?

        What is most efficient?

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Brent View Post
          ... feel free to continue on within that project until you reach a natural stopping point. Then cross off the NA you completed, and add a new NA representing the next physical action to move forward on that project.
          I was confused by the same thing when I first started. Then I heard a podcast where David Allen referred to a Next Action as a sort of bookmark (just like Brent describes). That approach has worked for me ever since.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Jamie Elis View Post
            I am looking for pros and cons, what works best for people...

            Let's say I have a pile on my desk that includes 2 weeks worth of unopened mail, some previously opened and unprocessed mail, the contents of my brief case, and all the stuff I shook out of my kids' backpacks after not getting any papers from them for 3 weeks, clippings from newspapers and magazines, receipts from a trip and daily life, and few nuts, bolts, fabric samples, and extra office supplies.

            Do I pretend the whole mess is in an IN box and process it that way?

            Do I do a presort? Such as trash, bills, reference, putting parts of documents together, like items together, etc., so that I can batch process?
            I presort. Mail gets split into financial, junk (recycled) and other before it even hits my inbox. I handle the financial stuff in a batch about once a week, magazines go straight to the "to read" pile, and so forth.

            The critical issue is to avoid getting bogged down. I can presort financial stuff because I already have a place for it. If there's any doubt, into the inbox it goes.

            Katherine

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Jamie Elis View Post
              Do I pretend the whole mess is in an IN box and process it that way?

              Do I do a presort? Such as trash, bills, reference, putting parts of documents together, like items together, etc., so that I can batch process?
              I recommend that you follow the first route, not the latter, simply because the latter involves more steps. However, if you feel resistance to the big pile and feel like presorting, go ahead and presort. Might work for you.

              If I have done a presort, should I file one item at a time? Or should i collect a stack to file in reference and just put the stuff pertaining to active projects in their designated area?
              I think this is personal preference. Whichever works for you.

              Does it matter if the A to Z reference file is huge?
              Size matters not! How easily can you find things in your A-Z reference file?

              Is there any rule of thumb pertaining to items that fill a single category but will ultimately need further sorting, such as receipts, recipes, photographs, kids' art work?
              I think each of those categories is too specific to provide a general rule of thumb. Find a resting place for the item, and put it there.

              What is most efficient?
              Again, I think this depends on the person. Some people work best with paper; others prefer digital.

              The best is whatever works. For you. Pick a reasonable direction and head that way. Correct your course as you go.

              Comment


              • #8
                aaronmclay,

                Welcome back to GTD. I do hope that you'll have better luck this time around in making it work for you because I know from experience how much of a positive impact it can have on one's life. I hope that we (meaning the forum members as well as myself) can help you implement GTD and get it on cruise control.

                If I understand you correctly, you're struggling with some of the basic fundamentals of GTD in terms of managing projects. I'll share some of my own insights on this topic.

                To begin, I suggest you keep your system as simple as possible. Simplicity and transparency of your own personal system is at the core of GTD. Don't try to track projects, sub-projects, tasks, and due dates to a level of detail where it causes the system to become a hindrance or dysfunctional. I would hallucinate that's one reason why your first attempt at using GTD failed.

                David Allen defines a project as an open loop that requires more than one action step to close. They can be relatively simple in terms of the successful outcome and number of action steps needed to close them ("Get new tires on my car"), or they can be complex and ambiguous ("Implement diversity in our corporate culture"). There's also a type of project that David refers to as a "process project", where your successful outcome is to set up a routine (like exercising) and execute it with regularity (i.e. get it running on cruise control).

                Simple projects do not require complex planning beyond identifying the very next action, while complicated projects with lots of resources and dependencies involved may require the creation of complex project plans. Regardless of the complexity of the project, your GTD system should contain only the outcome on your Projects list and the very next actions that you can take in your context lists. Project plans (including milestones and sub-projects) belong with your project support materials, which you review once a week (during the weekly review) or as often as you need to generate new next actions to keep the project moving forward. I strongly suggest (with some exceptions) that you avoid adding sub-projects related to master projects on your Projects list because it causes the Projects list to become cluttered. You want to keep that list clean and uncluttered otherwise you won't want to look at it and you'll resist implementing the most important habit in GTD: The Weekly Review.

                I cannot stress enough that you MUST make the Weekly Review a habit if you expect GTD to work for you. If you don't do a Weekly Review, your system will quickly die in terms of its functionality. If that happens, your brain will stop trusting your system and take back the job of managing your commitments.

                I see that you've identified a 20,000 ft area of focus in your life--your physical health--and you've also identified a 10,000 ft project--the need to set up an exercise program to maintain it. I would suggest that you put "Set up exercise program" on your Projects list to start. I see you've already decided to start your workout program by doing yoga and I assume you've also already scheduled those 7am workout sessions on your calendar. From my perspective, the next thing you need to do is to sufficiently educate yourself about yoga to maximize the results of your workouts. The very next physical action that I can identify from that is "Surf Web for yoga techniques and workouts", and put it on your @Computer list. You might start that action by doing a Google search, but, in my opinion, that's far too granular to consider that as a next action because you'll likely have to peruse multiple web sites before you encounter all the information that you need.

                Best of luck!

                Comment


                • #9
                  The next action is....

                  Just in case you might miss this, like me....

                  A perfectly legitimate next action to "bookmark" is, "Brainstorm actions for x project" or "Think about x project" or "Outline steps for x project."

                  Thinking is a very important part of any job. Just because you need to put down a next "action" doesn't mean it can't be taking time to do some thinking and planning...

                  Best Wishes,
                  Gordon

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by BigStory View Post
                    A perfectly legitimate next action to "bookmark" is, "Brainstorm actions for x project" or "Think about x project" or "Outline steps for x project."

                    Thinking is a very important part of any job. Just because you need to put down a next "action" doesn't mean it can't be taking time to do some thinking and planning...
                    Very true.

                    Unfortunately, I find that these are the kinds of tasks I have trouble actually moving forward. Too vague, I think. I need something more precise, and it's hard to be precise about brainstorming tasks. Maybe "brainstorm X project: what are requirements for widget master design?"

                    How do others handle this kind of stuff?

                    Katherine

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by kewms View Post
                      Unfortunately, I find that ("thinking actions") are the kinds of tasks I have trouble actually moving forward. Too vague, I think. I need something more precise, and it's hard to be precise about brainstorming tasks. Maybe "brainstorm X project: what are requirements for widget master design?"

                      How do others handle this kind of stuff?
                      I try to phrase in the form of a physical, concrete goal. Instead of "Brainstorm Project," I "Create Outline for Project."

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by kewms View Post
                        Unfortunately, I find that these are the kinds of tasks I have trouble actually moving forward. Too vague, I think. I need something more precise, and it's hard to be precise about brainstorming tasks. Maybe "brainstorm X project: what are requirements for widget master design?"
                        My default next action for brainstorming tasks is "write note re: project ...."
                        This reminds me that I need a piece of paper and a pen, think about that project, and write down my thoughts.

                        Rainer

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by kewms View Post
                          Very true.

                          Unfortunately, I find that these are the kinds of tasks I have trouble actually moving forward. Too vague, I think. I need something more precise, and it's hard to be precise about brainstorming tasks. Maybe "brainstorm X project: what are requirements for widget master design?"

                          How do others handle this kind of stuff?

                          Katherine
                          My approach differs from project-to-project depending on complexity. Sometimes I start by just scribbling thoughts or ideas down on paper, making a vertical list of things that have to happen over the course of the project, or creating a Mind Map.

                          I've recently started making use of Mind Maps; I created one to plan a specific vacation and realized that I could expand it to trigger thoughts about any vacation I want to take. Mind maps can be made on paper or by using a software tool like FreeMind. It's open-source and free. Just Google it if you want to download it.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I have noticed that vagueness definitely hampers project advancement. As an example, I have been working on one project that I had outlined, but it would overwhelm me easily. This project is large, complex, and integral to my HOFs. Only through further and further clarification of its parts, am I able to make headway. Sometimes the steps I have written down seem so simple, but it takes work to get to that point and I am making serious, positive progress.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Brainstorm Project X

                              What I take from GTD, and what I think there is some scientific research to support, is the idea that it's good to get things out of my head.

                              For knowledge workers, there are two primary means by which we can get things out of our heads: talking and writing.

                              If possible, it helps to talk to another person. But that is not a necessary condition for talking. One can talk to oneself, or, if one prefers, talk into some kind of voice recorder. Talking out loud is a good way to get ideas out of one's head.

                              As far as writing is concerned, mind maps have already been mentioned and David Allen mentions them in his book. On paper or digitally, they are a good way to generate ideas. (For mindmapping I use the awesome, free Compendium software.)

                              Another good way to write is to "freewrite." One method of doing this is to set a timer. Maybe five minutes. You must then write nonstop until the timer goes off. If you can't think of anything to write, you must keep writing nonetheless. So you might write "I can't think of anything else. I have no more ideas." Very quickly you'll find it a lot easier to write something else.

                              Freewriting is supported by David Allen's brilliant slogan that the best way to get a good idea is to get a lot of ideas. When freewriting, the goal is to turn off one's internal censors. Don't worry if what you write makes sense. Don't correct spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Just keep writing. If you get off topic, that's OK.

                              Freewriting is your next action. After completing that action, your next next action might be to write a first draft of a project plan. If you're not ready for that. You can spend another 5 minutes doing another freewrite. The second time you can be even less censored than before.

                              So, rather than have a Next Action named "Brainstorm Project X", I would have one of the following:
                              Talk to person Y about Project X
                              Talk into my recorder about Project X
                              Mind map Project X
                              Freewrite Project X

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