I’m confused about (and I’m sure you are extremely bored with this question, but from the books I couldn’t work out the answer) – how do you size projects? I’m continually having problems working out what is or isn’t a project – and getting lost in the confusion.
I’m a computer programmer. I have to design systems and then build them. A typical “task” of mine will last 6 months – and involve maybe 800 real hours of my own work. There will be all sorts of things inside that that can be done simultaneously, things that I have to wait for and so on. Is the whole thing a project? Or do I break it into individual projects of do the first screen, do the second screen, do the back end?
I even have trouble with the concept of next actions – because more often than not nowadays everything is done for you – my task of “build a content management system” – actually becomes “find a content management system” – sitting on Google looking at products, downloading them, trying them etc. This task could take me anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 days – and I don’t have any idea before hand how long it might take – most of what I do is investigative. For instance, “fix the credit card processing” – that’s my task – but at first I don’t know what’s wrong with it – I have to try things until I do find out – and it could easily take me the next 8 hours solid work just to identify a problem, or I might find it right away.
GTD seems to work brilliantly if I have lots of tiny jobs to do and keep track of (such as in my personal life) – but in my professional life I can’t figure out at all how to integrate the concepts of projects being composed of many sub-projects and more importantly of tasks of which the duration is completely unknown and unpredictable.
Any suggestions you could give me would be greatly appreciated.
Good questions, and my answers are likely going to be simpler than you think.
First, anything you can finish in a few months needs to be reviewed at least once a week – that’s why I call them “projects”, so they sit on that list and get looked at with rigor during the Weekly Review. If they’re as complicated with sub-projects as many of yours likely are, then you just need to drill down another level in the Weekly Review on each one, identifying the “moving parts” – i.e. the ones that are not dependent right now – and ensure that you have next actions on each one, as appropriate.
“Next action” doesn’t mean short – it just means that you know exactly where the action happens and what it looks like. So it could be a 20-hour action – you’re just clear that it’s at your computer it moves forward instead of the hardware store.