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Sequential and Parallel Projects

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  • Sequential and Parallel Projects

    Hey Guys,

    I'm a long time Omnifocus and GTD'er. I've been heavily relying on Omnifocus's ability to do Parallel vs. Sequential projects. Sequential projects hide any tasks which are dependent upon a task before it.

    Sequential Example:

    1. Call girlfriends mom about her ring size @phone
    2. Go to the mall and buy ring @errands
    3. Make dinner reservations @phone

    In this example, only the first task will show in my @phone next actions list since the other tasks are not available yet.

    I'm a software developer and a few of my colleagues (who have built some fantastic GTD software) disagree with this methodology. They say this is not a standard GTD practice, it's something that I've just added to my own workflow.

    I've read the book several times, and I don't remember this ever being directly addressed. But, the concept of only seeing items that are actionable was addressed quite clearly.

    Are my colleagues right? Should I be working entirely out of parallel projects and ditching sequential projects entirely?



  • #2
    I think it's very GTD, as the only tasks that should be visible are the ones that are real Next Actions i.e. they can be done next. Certainly the Thinking Rock software takes that approach, and it suits me perfectly.


    • #3
      I think the issues are critical mass and simplicity.

      Once you have enough next actions to fill up your contexts, such that you can always find something positive to do, it no longer matters whether you see a project's next action or all available actions.

      So then onto simplicity and I find the structure of sequential versus parallel to be a distraction when looking at a project's list of actions. So I ignore the parallel feature completely and leave it all sequential, just ensuring that no new action is placed above a pre-requisite action, which I check during the Organisation step.

      The time when seeing multiple actions comes into play is when viewing actions according to due date. Then it's good to see all actions so you can see your time-critical workload over time, but again sequential versus parallel is of limited value, you just need to know how much effort to put in.


      • #4
        Thanks guys, this was very helpful.


        • #5

          I agree with prior posts. I would only add that to me sequential is only non-GtD when I am pressuring myself to come up with all the actions needed to get to a goal. I just think of the actions that naturally occur to me in order to get the project off my mind. If some sequences pop up....I keep only the next action physically visible but no worries about adding them in. My Life Balance app works that way as well.


          • #6
            Originally posted by joshwalsh View Post
            Should I be working entirely out of parallel projects and ditching sequential projects entirely?
            If anything in the strictest sense of GTD you'd ditch the parallel ones and only work sequentially. The "one next action" phrase that trips up so many people.

            But the reality is that each project needs at least one clearly defined next action. If it's a parallel project like you describe or one with sub-projects that can all be worked on at the same time it only makes sense to put in the available actions.

            Omnifocus will, however, only show you as next action the top one. I don't knwo the ratio but I have lots of both parallel and sequential projects, whatever makes sense.

            For example The project to trim the sheep toes has actions of Trim Ewes Toes, Trim Ewe Lamb Toes, Trim Ram Toes & Trim Ram Lamb Toes and is parallel because each group of sheep is in a different pen and we can start with any group.

            But the project of Get Irrigation Running for the Year is sequential because it's actions, Clean shared ditch, clean top catch ditch, put together top orchard gated pipe, mark orchard & west field, clean bottom orchard catch ditch, put together pear orchard pasture gated pipe and mark pear orchard pasture depend on the action first in line being done. We can't do the marking until the gated pipe is installed and we know where the gates are positioned. We can't install the pipe until the top catch ditch is cleaned because the pipe runs next to it and we'd break it with the tractor if we did it after the pipe was put together, we can't run water to the pipe until the shared ditch is cleaned and so on.

            Use whichever mode is appropriate for your projects.