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Connecting Projects to Next Actions, Plus...

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  • Connecting Projects to Next Actions, Plus...

    I'm just starting the GTD process. I've gotten my in-box to empty for the first time, and have a project list, as well as several distinct next-action lists. While it feels good to get it all out and down, I'm left with several questions. First, how do I keep a bead on how next-actions are related to projects? It all seems too dispersed. For example, a project I have is setting up a behavior plan/structure for my autistic son. My next actions for this project are all over the place. A call here, read review material over there, computer activities, this agenda, that email. I'm finding it takes a lot of mental effort to keep track of everything related to this project, and how it all is relating together. I thought the point was to help free up this kind of having to hold it all. I'm thinking about setting up a system in personalbrain that connects it all, but is there something I'm missing with my current system (calendar, tickler, project list, and about eight distinct next-actions lists such as At Home, Computer, Errands, Agendas, etc.)? I complete an action, and then I have to back track it to the project it's part of, which may be obvious initially, but 5 generations down in my activity (without constantly re-associating it to the project) it's not so clear.

    Secondly, all my lists are loooong, and I'm finding it difficult to priorities what is urgent with what is slightly less urgent. In other words, something important pops up on the list, but there may be something more important three pages in, but it's lost in the shuffle. How do I get to the place where I'm confident I'm making the right action for the right time if my head is stuck in a mind-numbingly long list of actions (something like eight notebooks worth)? Place on top of this a bunch of checklists, when do I actually take a confident action? I'm being a bit sarcastic, but you get the idea. The same goes for the first part. Actions become kind of diluted, and out of the context of the project when they sit out on one of the actions lists.

    And lastly, well, those checklists. I see their value, but in going through the process, I'm like, "I'm supposed to keep all these lists up to date, AND make a checklist for everything I'm not sure about?" I'm getting stuff done, namely these lists and checklists, but not feeling more clear or confident about my actions, just more anxious about what I know needs to get done but is not.

    Any suggestions or help? Thanks!

  • #2
    Take satisfaction that you are doing things!

    I felt the same way after recently starting this stuff in earnest. The Next Actions lists are always huge and that can be dis-heartening if you let it get to you.

    I think one place to see progress is in your projects. IMO your project support material should include a project plan that is sort of a checklist where you can easily map your progress toward completion.

    But the real place to see progress is in how you feel. Hopefully you see your life and work getting more sane and organized and under control, and that should be the payoff.

    OK, I need to go complete and check off some actions! Good luck!


    • #3
      "IMO your project support material should include a project plan that is sort of a checklist where you can easily map your progress toward completion."

      Good tip. This has really helped me see progress and keep a project moving forward.


      • #4
        Make sure to differentiate between current projects and someday/maybe projects

        When I found that my next action lists were becoming more than one page long, I realized that I was listing NAs for projects that weren't really important to me right now. They were really someday/maybe projects. And I didn't really need to be cluttering up the NA lists with them.

        I found that, what worked for me was not actually a project "list" (i.e., a written record of all projects, one project per line), but a project "three-ring binder". Each project got its own page. On each project page was the project description at the top (e.g., "Submit grant proposal" or "Do Xmas shopping"), a ruled-off area for short project-related info (project objective/outcome statement, websites, contact info, directions, price data, etc. - bigger project support material (brochures, catalogs, forms, research papers, etc.) got their own folder elsewhere), and then a ruled-off area for the project plan (a list of actions I had determined needed to be done).

        The binder itself was divided into three sections. I usually had 10-30 projects in the "currently underway" section, many projects in the "someday" section (usually things that had to wait til a different time of the year - yardwork projects when it is currently December, for example - and future ideas for my job), and many projects in the "maybe" section (usually personal growth goals like "Brush up on German" or "Learn to sew").

        The only actions I allowed on my NA lists were either repeating chores ("take out trash"), one-shot tasks that didn't really need a whole project devoted to them ("fill grocery sack for Postal Service food donation day"), or actions that were part of a plan for one of the "current projects". During my daily review, I would go through all the current projects and make sure that they had at least one NA on my lists somewhere (or on the waiting for, although I tend not to have many of those so I don't have a separate WF list); if there wasn't a next action I could put on a calendar or an action list, I seriously reconsidered whether that project should even be in the "current" section. And if I had done some of the tasks on the project plan, then I would cross those off. And then during my weekly reviews, I would quickly flip through all the someday and maybe sections, looking at the project descriptions and think about whether that project needs to move up to the current section.\

        I hope that helps. Have fun with GTD.


        • #5
          I'm another one who has recently learnt the value of moving things off a long list to the someday/maybe list. If you've got 100 NAs, you're not going to realistically get all of them done this week. So try separating them out into things-I-really-want-to-do-this-week, and things-not-to-be-done-this-week. If you've got too many for this week, then you are overcommitted, and that's a different problem.

          Re: NAs and projects - I either label the individual next action with the project keyword e.g. website: design home page, or I use a method I saw on here where I have a project list, where all the projects are numbered e.g. P8 is staff rotas, and then the NA has the project number at the beginning e.g. P8 check next month's annual leave bookings. That way I always know which NA belongs to which project.

          If you're using an GTD specific electronic system you shouldn't even need to do that, as the NAs will automatically be linked to their projects. I use Thinking Rock at home - if there are NAs for the project, the project folder is green, if not it's red. (it's a shame I can't use it at work - we're not allowed to put external software on our computers)



          • #6
            Thanks for the Input

            Thanks to all who've responded. What I'm getting is:

            1. Move all none urgent projects to either a "Someday/Maybe" list or "Soon" list.
            2. Find a way to tag (either via an electronic project management system or with some kind of tagging code) next actions so they're always related to their project.
            3. Use a checklist for each project that's more than a few steps.

            This is all very helpful and greatly appreciated. It also prompts me to read GTD over and over, because there's so much in there that gets missed initially. Later I go, "Oh! That's why he stressed that point!"


            • #7
              Originally posted by Jonathanmilo View Post
              1. Move all none urgent projects to either a "Someday/Maybe" list or "Soon" list.
              2. Find a way to tag (either via an electronic project management system or with some kind of tagging code) next actions so they're always related to their project.
              3. Use a checklist for each project that's more than a few steps.
              I'd modify that a bit. Don't only keep the urgent tasks but also the really important tasks that may not be urgent. Try to get used to long actions lists by slowly training yourself not to worry about the length of them.

              I don't think in tags, so I use a software package that keeps all my finished, next and future actions in one convenient project bucket. Most electronic systems will do that. Not all SW supports tags so if you use that as a method you are limiting what you can use.

              Checklists are IMO more for things that will be repeated. But a project plan can have a series of steps but I don't call that a checklist per se. Probably just different terms for the same thing.

              Definitely re-read the book(s). I get more out of them each time I re-read them so I now have a repeating task to about every 12-18 months to re-read all 3 books. Or join connect and join in the book club, we are currently reading excerpts from Ready For Anything.


              • #8
                Benefits from GTD

                Originally posted by Oogiem View Post
                Don't only keep the urgent tasks but also the really important tasks that may not be urgent.
                At the end, I think that the great benefit we can get by GTD is the possibility to choose which is what we can and we like to do and what we doesn't like to do.

                About your son my best wishes to you and him. Around this emotional load I think, it could be more useful, the last book of DA "Making it all work". With this book you could have more perspective, a long term vision. And try to understand what he really need by you.


                • #9
                  You need a list system that can sort by context OR project, so you can get all the project actions in the one list.
                  I found breaking projects up into subprojects works for me. So the project 'Environmental Risk Assessment' would be broken down further into subprojects
                  'ERA risk register', 'ERA background information' etc. Not all of these subprojects are active at the one time, so I can generate action lists for subprojects, but not have to look at them till I'm ready to start that subproject. I use a simple project management app to manage when subprojects are starting. So I have active lists, and future lists.