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  • Disconnect between Projects and Next Actions

    I find a huge disconnect, between the Projects and the child Next Actions. I having trouble getting into having the Next Actions sitting there on their own with no real big picture of what they are for. Maybe you're not supposed to care but it just seems so random to me.

    One method I've toyed with is writing all the upcoming Next Actions into the body of the Project (in Tasks in Outlook). Then when one is complete, I can go back to the Project to find the next Next Action and create it as a new Task. I can also always review all of the Next Actions for a Project, giving me a better feel of where the Project is going.

    I've also been thinking about merging the Next Actions and Projects together. Labeling the task title with the Project name and then the current Next Action for the project. For example "New tires for car: Call Bob's tire store for prices" and have the details of that (the phone number, the size of tires, the brand of tires, etc) in the body of the Task.

    All of the data would be together in one Task item--another thing I find hard to find data from completed Next Actions as they are in separate, closed Tasks with names I don't remember or always associate to the project.

    Any thoughts on this modification? Or other suggestions?

    Thanks.

    -m

  • #2
    Can you share with us a few of your next actions, non-sensitive ones, exactly as you have written them? Usually we phrase actions completely, like "call X re ABC"(*), rather than "call X". It's rather like phrasing actions as you have written your "merged" example project and action re tires. What most of us do is have a project such as "Get new tires for car", and "Call Bob's tire store for prices" as action. What is it about this action that doesn't let you know it is about your new car tires? Perhaps it's just a matter of habit: We are too used to organizing logically related things together, rather than functionally related ones. But after getting the GTD habit, it's inconvenient to shuffle through project notes to find out what is the next thing to do, in the heat of the day.

    Regards,
    Abhay

    (*) Many of us even write the phone number along with the name.

    Comment


    • #3
      Ahh, I think that is the problem. My Next Actions lists read like old-school To-Do lists. And many of the items are ideas that I add notes to once and a while (incubating ideas, I suppose). I need to revamp what I have big time. This just got really frustrating.


      I've been wrestling with this one for a few days now.

      My wife's car currently won't start. I need to add to my list to work on her car and get it fixed. The Project would be the outcome I want--so "Wife's car running again" is the title. That seems weird to me.

      Then the next action would be "Figure out why the wife's car isn't running"...? That seems too vague, but I don't think I can narrow it down further then that.

      Am I on the right track with this one?


      One other...

      I have a Project that is in a Waiting For state. It's quote that I gave to a customer, that I am waiting for their response. How do I properly track this in Outlook Tasks? I'm tempted to re-categorize the Project as @Waiting For, but I don't think that's correct. Do I make a placeholder Tasks in @Waiting For pointing back to the Project?


      Lastly, I frequently miss steps in processes if they are not documented beforehand. I have to check them off, in order, as I work through it to ensure I don't miss anything. I've been putting these steps in the body of Project items and then trying to make Next Actions from there. Is this appropriate?

      For example, when I order a product for a client, there's a number of steps that have to happen. Can I just use those steps as my Next Actions for that Project? Project name "Bob needs Visio at Company X". The steps I'd have written are: "Determine which edition they need, Get quote from vendors, Send quote to Customer for approval, Order from vendor, Enter transaction into Quickbooks and Invoice, WF license key, Register license key, Install software on Bob's computer, Follow up 2 days afterwards."

      Thanks for any insight. I'm very example driven, so any feedback on these is extremely helpful.

      Thanks.

      -m

      Comment


      • #4
        Regarding the car, does it mean that you are the person who is going to fix the car yourself, "dressed for grease", to use DA's phrase in the book? Then your training in car-fixing would tell you exactly where to start, and then "figure out ..." is not vague *for you*.

        If not, which I suppose is more likely for most of us who are not in car-fixing profession, the next action would either be something like calling somebody from the garage either to have a look or for towing the car. Choose what is more suitable for you and write *that* as your next action.

        Lastly, I frequently miss steps in processes if they are not documented beforehand. I have to check them off, in order, as I work through it to ensure I don't miss anything. I've been putting these steps in the body of Project items and then trying to make Next Actions from there. Is this appropriate?
        Perfectly all right. Only the immediate next action should be on your actions list. The rest of them can be in the body of the project, called "project support material" in a general sense. Just note one thing: the step such as "Determine which edition they need" is fine as a step in the project notes, but when you take it to the actions list, it is vague. How do you "determine"? Perhaps by calling somebody? by writing to somebody? Decide that, and add that particular "call / write to Z of company X asking which edition of Visio they require" (note the details level). And once you call/write, something like "Z of company X: which edition of Visio (requested on MM/DD/YY)" becomes a @WaitingFor item. Same thing for "Get quotes", and so on. Unless the action words create an image of the action for you, they will create one (more) level of resistance.

        Another point: it's not the project that goes under WaitingFor in your system (though definitely in your mind). It's an item like the above that goes in a separate WaitingFor list, and the project stays a project. And with the words giving full details like above, there is no need for the system to point this waiting-for to the project: by reading it your mind has already done that. Arranging for such connections takes extra time and maintenance of the system, creating a system maintenance resistance.

        Regards,
        Abhay

        Comment


        • #5
          For many more insights, listen to these podcasts:

          http://www.davidco.com/podcasts/play/12.html
          Podcast: David Allen - How to Organize Project Actions

          http://www.davidco.com/podcasts/play/30.html
          Podcast: David Allen - Best Practices of Processing

          http://www.davidco.com/podcasts/play/36.html
          Podcast: David Allen - Best Practices of Organize

          Comment


          • #6
            I found this very thing. My solution is to use onenote.

            Each project gets its own page in onenote, then i write the next actions on each page (in a table, for neatness sake). OneNote has context tags you can attach, so I change the tags to become GTD contexts. i then attach a tag to each next action.

            The neat thing about this is that when you click the search for tags it searches all your notebooks, then sorts them according to context.

            even better if you click on a next action in the list, it takes you to that page.

            So you sit at your desk, think "whats next", press the button and a list of all your next actions comes up, ordered according to context. You think about which to do, and if you need support material, or if you need to remind yourself why you're calling someone, you press the next action and it takes you to a page. Bear in mind you can dump stuff on a OneNote page a bit like a folder - so you can dump emails there, any files, clippings from the internet, etc.

            Another great benefit of this is that you only have to write out your NAs once, then rather than copy them over, they appear automatically in a list.

            hope this helps
            Attached Files

            Comment


            • #7
              I agree and there have been a few posts to the forum recently that touch on exactly the problem you describe.

              My solution is to focus on projects. I start the day with a project review and jot down all of my next actions (which I define informally as something I will do today) on a sheet of paper. Then I put my head down and work, jotting notes on my action page and processing it at the end of the day.

              Comment


              • #8
                I phrase the project as a statement in past (or present tense) with a noun up front. That statement is preeceeded by a + which is preceded by what needs to be done next to keep the project moving. Everything else (information about the project or other steps in the project) go in the note section of the task (which I keep in Outlook syned to my BlackBerry). When I complete a task, I DO NOT check off the task as done. Instead, I replace what is to the left of the "+" sign with whatever now needs to be done next. The task is not checked off as "done" until what is to the right of the "+" sign is a true statement. In the example of the wife's car that won't run, my first thought might be to get my next-door neighbor to take a quick look at it. My task list in Outlook would say:
                Jim-Look under hood+Wife's car is running

                In my mind, the project is getting the car running, not finding out what is wrong. I guess one could argue it is a subproject, but to me that would simply complicate things. Until the car is running, there is still stuff to be done.

                I have been using this technique for more years than i can remember at this point. Works like a charm.

                Frank Buck
                frankbuck.blogspot.com

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by invisik View Post
                  I find a huge disconnect, between the Projects and the child Next Actions. I having trouble getting into having the Next Actions sitting there on their own with no real big picture of what they are for. Maybe you're not supposed to care but it just seems so random to me.
                  I also really care about the next actions being tied to projects most of the time. I don't use outlook, I use Omnifocus and it's obvious that the actions are related to a project and you have to set up a separate list for non-attached actions. During project planning I put in as many next actions and notes as I think are necessary as part of the planning model and then as they get done the next one is automatically set for me to do. When I review the projects I make sure they are planned. I use OF as my project support material for many of my projects. Since many of my projects are so long term, and since so many have actions that take a while and because I don't want to lose the thinking that went into the projects initially I keep far more future actions around than most.

                  Just keep in mind that the actions may change as the project changes and be flexible about changing what your true next action is.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    > My wife's car currently won't start. I need to add to my list to
                    > work on her car and get it fixed. The Project would be the
                    > outcome I want--so "Wife's car running again" is the title. That
                    > seems weird to me.

                    I'd phrase it as "Get wife's car running again", probably, but that may be slightly wrong.

                    > Then the next action would be "Figure out why the wife's car
                    > isn't running"...? That seems too vague, but I don't think I can
                    > narrow it down further then that.

                    I'd say that it's either too vague or too large. It should be narrowed down to something that you definitely can do. The next action might be any one of:

                    "Spend fifteen minutes brainstorming about possible causes of car problem."
                    "Spend fifteen minutes Googling about car symptoms for ideas on cause of car problem."
                    "Ask Joe to recommend a mechanic for car."
                    "Ask wife about acceptable times to schedule mechanic's appointment for car."
                    "Make appointment with mechanic for car."
                    "Call AAA about policies for free towing."
                    "Search Amazon for book about car repair."

                    Each of these is just one small step toward the goal, but that's the idea. If you don't know how to do the action, it needs to be shrunk, and possibly shrunk again and again, until it's something that you do know how to do.

                    Gardener

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Replying to myself to say: If I'm totally at a loss for what to do, sometimes my next action is "write next action". It sounds silly, but since it acknowledges that I don't have a workable next action, I think it's better than writing a too-big action that I don't know how to do.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Thank you all so much for your replies. They have greatly increased my insight into working with Projects and Tasks.

                        abhay, definitely some great notes there. I will refer to them frequently.

                        Frank, I dig your method, but I still have to think it through. I can still see value in putting tasks and projects together.

                        bishblaize, that's an interesting way to use OneNote. I gave up on OneNote after a couple months of use, as the volume of stuff I had to put in there made it difficult to find anything. It might be interesting to use it just for the lists, though.

                        Gardener, those are some good Next Actions for my car scenario. I would feel much more focused and less overwhelmed with one of those as the Next Action.

                        Unfortunately, I've been low on sleep these last few days so I haven't put enough quality thought into revamping my system yet. Hopefully over the weekend I can work on it. I guess I need a project called "Tweak GTD system"

                        Thanks again.

                        -m

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Tweak can become an AOF

                          Originally posted by invisik View Post
                          I guess I need a project called "Tweak GTD system"
                          Tweak my GTD system has for me become almost an area of focus. I keep getting more and more refinements and better and better at using it the longer I work in this mode.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by invisik View Post
                            I find a huge disconnect, between the Projects and the child Next Actions. I having trouble getting into having the Next Actions sitting there on their own with no real big picture of what they are for. Maybe you're not supposed to care but it just seems so random to me.
                            -m
                            So do I. I wonder how David Allen himself manages to remember to which 'open loop' (another weird name replacing a well-established term) his next actions belong to. Especially if there are hundreds of projects and zillions of actions.

                            In fact, if you strictly follow GTD you keep your projects and actions in two separate lists whilst keeping the connections (or relations) between them in your head. That is why people have to invent things like "precede your action's name with the respective project's name" and things like that.

                            Is that productive?

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Weekly Review

                              I will tell you from my experience that when I'm doing a weekly review weekly, that pulls it all together. If the last time that you made a mental connection between a project and a next action was within the previous week, when you look at the next action, your mind will (in almost all cases) make the instantaneous connection with the project. This has been true for me even without a notation in the title of the next action as to what project it refers to. It takes a few weekly reviews, done weekly, for this to completely take hold, but once I've been through several weekly reviews (done weekly), this isn't a problem.

                              When my review isn't weekly, that's when the connections start to fade. I've tried to correct that by using elaborate and detailed outlining programs, using software to link things on a next-action list to a project list, putting project names in next-action reminders, etc. But I've found that simply spending an hour to an hour and a half once a week on a weekly review involved far less time, far less mental energy, and got me to the same result.

                              I fought this for a long time. I simply didn't trust that a list of next actions with no reference to a project was enough to remember, or to ensure that projects weren't slipping through the cracks. But after 2-3 weekly reviews done weekly, my mind relaxed and trusted that it could make the connections. It was really hard to believe that the weekly review was all that was needed, but I learned that it really was.

                              Brian

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