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  • In Between Next Actions and Projects

    Hi GTD Forum,

    I've been practicing GTD for over two years. My system is based on my reading GTD and MIAW and listening to some podcasts. I still get hung up on some things, and I have improved my weekly review over this time frame. I would like your opinion on how to handle tasks beween Next Actions and Project, as shown in this example.

    Let's consider an example where I have to write a report for a client. First, I start a project in my company's filing and accounting systems. Then I add the project to my GTD Project List called "Dallas - Water System Efficiency Report - due Friday June 25th". Then I start thinking through the possible next actions. Possible Next Action 1 - "I need to write an outline". Before I write an outline, I need to (Possible Next Action 2) "collect water use data" and (Possible Next Action 3) "collect billing records from the City". Also, I need to "get my graphic artist started on the report cover" (Possible Next Action 4). In order to "collect water use data", I need to (Possible Next Action 5) "set a kick-off meeting with my client". In order to start the report cover, I need to (Possible Next Action 6) "draft the text for the cover" and (Possible Next Action 7) "select some photos for the cover". I will have a young engineer working on this project, so I need to (Possible Next Action 8 ) "invite young engineer to kick off" and (Possible Next Action 9), "schedule internal kick-off with young engineer and quality control engineer".

    After thinking through these 9 possible next actions, I decide to write (Possible Next Action 5) "call Joe to set a kick-off meeting" on my Calls List, and I write (Possible Next Action 6) "draft the Dallas Report Cover" on my Office List".

    So, here is my question. What do I do with the 7 possible next actions that didn't make my next action list? I've already thought through these actions, and I don't want to think of them again. They don't represent a complete plan for the project according to the Natural Planning Method. They don't belong on my next action lists, because they have other actions that must happen before I can get them done.

    I hope this example isn't too convoluted. I appreciate all your opinions.

    Thank you,
    M Shelton

  • #2
    A couple suggestions, based largely on how you captured these actions and how would you like to see them again when you need them:

    If you captured digitally and, more importantly to me, if you'd like to see them again digitally, then I'd suggest putting them in a note attached to your project in the project list.

    If you captured on paper, and prefer to review a paper list when you need a next action, you could drop this list into a file folder labeled "Dallas - Water System Efficiency Report "

    A third suggestion, which I sometimes use for a series of a few very small sequential items is to create a next action like this: "Call Joe RE kickoff, then Call Fred in City Water Office RE water usage". As I complete one action, I just delete it from the action (e.g., I delete "Call Joe RE kickoff") and then move the next part of the sequence to the appropriate list (in this case, since it's another call, it'd stay on my calls list). I typically only use this last approach for very small projects that are "more than one action", but only have a couple of actions total; it might be helpful, though, so I thought I'd mention it.

    In summary, I'd suggest one of the first two options, with the third as a possible consideration.

    Any of that make sense?

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by TheHMan View Post
      Any of that make sense?
      TheHMan,

      Thanks for your thoughts. You make a lot of sense. I especially like your #2 idea. I keep my projects list as an outlook note and my next actions lists as outlook notes, but almost all my project support is in paper files. I think I could add a single piece of paper to my project folder, then during my weekly review, I could pull that paper out and pull new next actions off of it. Great idea.

      I've actually tried your #3 idea in a limited way. I had some problems with it, because these nested next actions made me a little "numb" when reading my next actions list.

      Again, TheHMan, I really appreciate your input. I look forward to any other ideas from the forum.

      Thank you,
      M Shelton

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by MShelton View Post
        What do I do with the 7 possible next actions that didn't make my next action list?
        Project support materials, wherever you put those. For me it's usually in the note section of the project in Omnifocus. Might also be a piece of paper with the notes on it in a physical folder.

        Comment


        • #5
          Yes, I think "#2" ist vital: I often have ideas about actions for my projects that are still far from being next actions. They go on those notes attached to the projects.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by MShelton View Post
            So, here is my question. What do I do with the 7 possible next actions that didn't make my next action list?
            For me, the handwritten notes would go in "project support"' i.e. A manilla folder with the name of the project, filed alphabetically.

            I'd also record the future next actions in my system (omnifocus) because that system can also handle actions that are not the NEXT action.

            Comment


            • #7
              Use project support materials

              Something that GTD doesn't talk about much is project support materials. I think this was done on purpose. This can be a very big bucket depending on the size of your project/creativity, but just writing stuff down and filing it into a project related folder that you can check on later is very calming.

              For example, I use Things for Mac and when I have many possible next actions but the order is still unclear, like yours, I file them in the project but put them in the inactive category. That way they don't show up in my Next list and distract me, but they are still accessible if/when I need them.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by MShelton View Post
                I would like your opinion, as shown in this example.
                I just wanted to start off by saying I love these sorts of posts; they provide enough detail to allow some direct and useful advice. So thanks!

                Let's consider an example where I have to write a report for a client. First, I start a project in my company's filing and accounting systems.
                This is the first indication that something is rotten here. In my experience, it's virtually impossible to keep your own personal GTD project files in some big corporate filing system. So I'd strongly recommend instead starting with a step like starting a project in your own system, and adding 'start project in company's system' as an action.

                Then I start thinking through the possible next actions.
                You're close here, but I think the emphasis has to be on writing stuff down, not thinking stuff up. Yes, you'll need to think stuff up too, but really the important GTD part of the activity is writing stuff down. "The next physical, visible action" sort of thing.

                What do I do with the 7 possible next actions that didn't make my next action list? They don't represent a complete plan for the project according to the Natural Planning Method.
                I wouldn't get too hung up on how complete or NPM-compliant your planning is. No plan is complete. As others have mentioned, this sort of thing goes into the Project Support folder, which personally I often fold into the Project folder. Which you'll need anyway -- you need somewhere for the results of actions like "collect water use data" to persist.

                Thanks again for the great question, and I hope this helps.


                Cheers,
                Roger

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by bradenchase View Post
                  Something that GTD doesn't talk about much is project support materials. I think this was done on purpose.
                  Hi there. Most of the second day of the Getting Things Done course (Managing Actions, Projects & Priorities) is about Project Support and Project Planning (the Natural Planning Model.) You'll also find lots of information on Project Support in the GTD book.

                  And, we are working on a new product to release in the fall about project planning.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Follow Up Question about Projects and Next Actions

                    I think this question -- which I've been struggling with for some time -- is related to this thread. If it's not, please let me know, because I don't want to hijack someone else's thread.

                    What if I create a project similar to the way M Shelton described, but instead of 9 potential actions, I have 30, and 10 of them can be done right away. They don't have to be done in any particular order, and they can all be done at my office. Some of these might only take 5 minutes to do, but I need to write them down on a list when I think about them, or I'll forget them and that will cause significant problems. So, should I just write them all on one piece of paper dedicated to the project (in the Plans/Notes tab of my GTD Organizer) and cross them off as I go? Or do I need to first write all of the them there as I think of them, and then write one task at a time on my Next Action list, do it, cross it off the next action list, and then write another?

                    I know this seems like a trivial question, but for some reason this has been a real stumbling block to me for full GTD implementation.

                    Thanks,
                    Dan R.
                    Last edited by Dan@danrofohio.com; 06-02-2010, 02:42 PM.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Hi Dan,

                      Not a trivial question! It's actually quite a common question we get.

                      You can capture as many Next Actions as you want to, on your context-sorted Next Actions lists, as long as they are all current, can be done simultaneously, and are not sequential or dependent on something else happening first. You just may not want to flood your Next Actions lists with all of that at once though. Really up to you. Some people like to stage it and just add a few at a time, staging the rest in Project Support.

                      I have a big project I am working on right now that will be done by the end of June. I have dozens of Next Actions captured on my lists to choose from at any time. Anything that's not on the list is a future/dependent/sequential or Someday action.

                      Does that help?

                      There's a Webinar I did with another coach, that's on GTD Connect, about project support, that you may want to check out too.

                      Kelly

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Dan@danrofohio.com View Post
                        instead of 9 potential actions, I have 30, and 10 of them can be done right away. They don't have to be done in any particular order, and they can all be done at my office.
                        Personally I'd enter them all. Omnifocus is what I use and I can enter in all the actions that can be done at once. Only one will be highlighted as "next" but all the rest are "available" and I can see them if I choose to.

                        Makes it simple,which is critical for me.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Dan@danrofohio.com View Post
                          Should I just write them all on one piece of paper dedicated to the project?
                          That's often the way I do it, but I always feel a little bit guilty about it. I think they properly should each get their own sheet. Mostly I find myself doing this with the smaller projects.


                          Cheers,
                          Roger

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Roger, I really appreciate your feedback. Detailed and clear!

                            Originally posted by Roger View Post
                            I just wanted to start off by saying I love these sorts of posts; they provide enough detail to allow some direct and useful advice. So thanks!


                            This is the first indication that something is rotten here. In my experience, it's virtually impossible to keep your own personal GTD project files in some big corporate filing system. So I'd strongly recommend instead starting with a step like starting a project in your own system, and adding 'start project in company's system' as an action.
                            Yes, I should have been more specific here. Starting the accounting and filing is a less than 2 minute action, so I do it immediately, it is two short emails.

                            Originally posted by Roger View Post

                            You're close here, but I think the emphasis has to be on writing stuff down, not thinking stuff up. Yes, you'll need to think stuff up too, but really the important GTD part of the activity is writing stuff down. "The next physical, visible action" sort of thing.


                            I wouldn't get too hung up on how complete or NPM-compliant your planning is. No plan is complete. As others have mentioned, this sort of thing goes into the Project Support folder, which personally I often fold into the Project folder. Which you'll need anyway -- you need somewhere for the results of actions like "collect water use data" to persist.

                            Thanks again for the great question, and I hope this helps.


                            Cheers,
                            Roger

                            Sounds like the consensus is project support. This is a good wake up call to me. I have two filing cabinets full of project support, but very little of it is project action documentation. I think I can use this advice, thanks to all!

                            M Shelton

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