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Question on Projects, Next Actions and "Sub-Projects&qu

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  • Question on Projects, Next Actions and "Sub-Projects&qu

    Hi all.

    Forgive me if this is a stupid question - but I've only recent read the GTD book and am working out how to apply it...

    I get that... GTD divides between time-bound 'next actions' (which I am to put in a dairy) and 'next actions' that need to be done asap (which are stored under context-specific lists).

    I get that... the project list is foundational, because I can regularly review it to satisfy myself that there is an actionable 'next action' for that project stored on either my diary or to-do lists.

    I also get that... the definition of a project is any process that has more than one action required for it's sucessful completion.

    What I am struggling with is how to plan a project out and store that in this system.

    For example, I have on my project list right now: "Get 10 speakers for the SF conference" (I work as a conf organiser). Achieving this aim has something like 15 actions, some of which are sequential and some of which can be carried out independent of each other.

    Presently, when I review my project list and come across this project, I can define the next action as 'research the web to find target speakers.' But there is a whole bunch of other actions to be done that crowd into my mind as I review this project. Do I ignore them or store them in a list somewhere that plans out that project.

    Of course, that happens because 'getting speakers' is a familiar project for me and I understand the process already - but what about a project that is new to me and I want to work out it's steps from start to finish?

    How does this kind of thing fit into the system? Or am I just over-comlicating things?

    cheers for your thoughts!


  • #2
    I record possible future next actions so that I can get them out of my head without forgetting that I may want to do them at some point. Usually, I put them in the note section of the project on my Palm. If more detailed planning is involved, I put them in the file with the project support materials. Sometimes I end up deleting them because the project went in another direction and they are no longer relevant. Other times, I move them onto my next action lists as I am ready to do them. Once I have future next actions recorded somewhere, I can forget about them for the time being and focus on the immediate next actions. At the same time, I can trust that I will come back to them when I need to because they will be connected with my projects and reviewed during the weekly review.


    • #3

      You are on the right track. I keep a list under each project of all the steps I know. If the project is very large, I use MSProject to develop a GANTT chart and use sub-lists for the next actions. I also brainstorm and use DA's natural planning method to develop lists.

      Sometimes I put the list in outlook nder the notes section of the project task ( I use the GTD add-in). Sometimes I put the list on paper and stick it in the project folder or binder.

      The important thing is to get the actions out of your head and recorded somewhere where you trust you will review regularly, and be able to find on demand.



      • #4
        I've been thinking about this a lot lately, as well. I've done several different things - list all possible next actions, list those I can think of, jot down a few, note only the very next action, etc. For me, it depends on the project.

        I do think, though, that if you list out the steps from start to finish, that you need to remain flexible to change those steps as appropriate. For me, this often happens at the weekly review. And the most important thing is to get the next action itself on your context lists. That's what will actually move the project forward.


        • #5
          Thanks for your replies, very helpful.

          A good example of what I'm talking about has just occurred as I do my weekly review:

          One of my projects is "Send out prize draw email shot." When I came to this project, there are two action points in my head straight away - 'Write the text' and ''Get the database ready to send the email shot to.'

          Let's say that I choose to only list one of these actions on my next action lists (and maybe store the other action in a seperate project list in one of the ways described above).

          I then move on to my other projects and assign next actions for them. Because there are many projects - approx. 250 - I end up with a very long "When At PC" next actions list.

          Here's the problem I face: The project "Send out prize draw email shot" is a high priority one project. But, for example, the project, "Get signage designs ready" is a low priority one.

          But with the GTD system, in which I process the next actions on my contextual next-action lists up till I do my next 'projects review' - everything moves forward only one step at a time. Sure I do the next action for my high priority task - but I don't do the second next action with this project till I either complete all my "When At PC" actions or review my projects list again.... by which time the world has moved on and I am running late with my urgent/priority project of "send out the prize draw email"

          I'm sure this is kind of obvious and that I'm missing something fundamental with the system here, so sorry for that and I'm grateful for any pointers you can give me!


          • #6
            There are many more adept than I, and I am certain they will chime in also, but here is a start.

            There is nothing wrong with blocking off a set amount of time to focus on a project, particularly if you are in a location where you can engage a number of contexts at once. This may be the most efficient way to get things done, particularly if you are struggling to make progress in an area.

            Being able to engage a number of contexts at once is not uncommon; you may be at your PC with your phone nearby and able to connect quickly to the Internet. If you find yourself "on a roll", you will be more productive if you stay on it for awhile. Many people will do a number of next actions on a project if they can work through them quickly and sequentially where they are. Also, if a series of next actions can be done at once, you don't need to write them down each time, you can just do them, and when a natural break occurs, bookmark the spot you left off by entering a next action in the appropriate context.

            You don't review your Projects list or Next Actions list weekly, or even daily. You review them as often as you need to in order to feel clean and current. This will likely mean a number of time each day, depending on how often you change contexts.

            Good Luck,


            • #7
              I have a question about this as well. I am a software engineer. We have our department heads turn in technology requests forms with any changes, bug reports and enhancement requests. These get put on a spreadsheet (along with an estimate of hours to complete the request) and they are reviewed by our technology steering committee on a weekly basis. The committee decides what tasks fit the current priorities of the company. They then assign a list of "tasks" based upon the priorities for the company and the list of outstanding requests. These "tasks" must be completed by the following week's meeting. These "tasks" are generally projects (based upon the definition that a project is anything requiring more than one next action to complete it) while some of them are actually just next actions.

              If I get a list like this:

              (1) Possibility of e-mailing gift certificates.

              (2) Group Ordering graphics and changes

              (3) There needs to be a cash drawer check before the credit card authorization button is active

              (4) Need to add AVS check

              (5) Add check for invalid cc # and expiration date.

              (6) Authorization button should be inactive until a $ amount is entered

              (7) Error: conflicted with column reference FK_payments_gift ID

              ( Total adjusted if try to delete one of multiple gcs or should have to delete all

              (9) Delete button should be inactivated after cc is run.

              (10) Should not be able to print gcs until cc approved.

              (11) set up automatic cash drawer linkage to gc screen

              (12) ability to print GC from the listing screen

              (13) ability to search by GC #/cust name/GC amounton the listing screen

              (14) List Management for Lead Management

              (15) Link to restaurant directly from e-mail push

              (16) Group order invite after order has been sent

              (17) Great Plains Installation

              Now, items 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10 are all single step items (though they may be tied to a specific project) so they are Next Actions.

              Items 1, 2, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 all require multiple actions to complete.

              My problem in figuring out how to manage these has more to do with the fact that as a whole they are a "project" because they belong to "tasks that must be completed by the next Tech Steering Committee meeting" but at the same time, they belong to their own projects. I am concerned that they will fall through the cracks and not get done.

              How should I be handling this situation?




              • #8
                Mega-projects and subprojects

                Hi Mike,

                I have integrated Anthony Robbin's "Time of Your Life" (TOYL) approaches with GTD quite successfully. The reason I am telling you this is that TOYL has different categories for things as you are describing. First and foremost, small projects that are comprised of a handful of next actions and can usually be done within a week are called RPM Blocks. This stands for Rapid Planning Method. Each RPM block is comprised of a result/outcome, purpose, and an action plan that is the actual next actions necessary to achieve the stated outcome. A project is a much larger entity, and may take weeks and even months to complete. A project is comprised of many single next actions, and many RPM blocks. One could also use the term mega-project for those huge projects that span a year and may have milestone events, multiple outcomes, etc. I think this process would help you out. The small projects within your main project would actually be RPM blocks, all for the purpose of achieving the project outcome down the line. But each RPM block has its own outcome and associated next actions.

                Let me know if you need additional information as to how I have setup Outlook in Office 2003 to have TOYL and GTD working togther.



                • #9


                  Where can I find out more about this TIME OF YOUR LIFE way of doing things?

                  Plus it would be nice to know more about how you integrate it with GTD in Outlook?



                  • #10
                    RPM method

                    Hi spirithaven,

                    Here is a link to an overall summary of the RPM method.


                    Here are the levels of focus, which are very similar to GTD, with a few noticeable differences:

                    Level 1: Action items -- these are the next actions; single, specific items that can be done.

                    Level 2: RPM blocks -- RPM blocks require more than one next action to accomplish. Each RPM block has its own outcome, purpose, and massive action plan (MAP). An RPM block might take a day to a week to complete.

                    Level 3: Projects -- Projects take more than a week to complete and sometimes even months. They are comprised of both next actions and RPM blocks, where the next actions all lead to the outcome specified in the RPM block. You can also have next actions that need to be done that don't necessarily fit into an RPM block. Of course, according to the TOYL philosophy, one could create an RPM block of these seemingly disconnected next actions.

                    Level 4: Mega-projects -- These are huge projects, with perhaps multiple outcomes, milestone events, and may be comprised of more than one project to complete. Think of building my own house from scratch.

                    Level 5: Categories of Improvement (COI). These are the same as your areas of focus, or your specific roles in life via the Covey approach.

                    Level 6: Areas of Management -- Most people have two of these -- Professional and Personal.

                    I will provide more information later on my Outlook setup (it is not really anything that special) as to how I do this. I have some outcomes that I wish to accomplish today...



                    • #11

                      Thank you for posting this question as it is exactly what I have been trying to get my mind around as I finish reading GTD and start to finalize how I will transition from my previous planning method to this.

                      Here is the best advice I have found so far from Michael Hyatt's blog at

                      Michael Hyatt's Blog

                      Scroll to the bottom of the page to see his article from Aprill 30, 2004 entitled, "A Tweak to David Allen’s System."

                      He basically describes creating an @Today category for his tasks that is applied during a daily review of his projects list.

                      With this tweak, you could impose a sort of priority to the tasks from the projects you know you need to work on that day.


                      • #12
                        Re: RPM method

                        Originally posted by Longstreet
                        Level 2: RPM blocks -- RPM blocks require more than one next action to accomplish. Each RPM block has its own outcome, purpose, and massive action plan (MAP). An RPM block might take a day to a week to complete.
                        BTW, on my planet there are things similar to RPM blocks. Those things are called "routines, "batches", "sub-projects" and "small projects".


                        • #13
                          Thanks, Longstreet

                          Thanks, Longstreet!

                          This looks verry, verry interesting! I can see how it would mesh with GTD so well.

                          Thanks again for providing me with another avenue of information.



                          • #14
                            I like the @Today category - it solves a couple of operational problems for this new GTD'er. I already have an @Errands-Any and an @Errands-Today list. (I use them to try and keep the display to a single screen or less). Adding an !Today list which pops to the top makes a lot of sense for N/A's. I'm also thinking that this virtually eliminates the need for "All Day" events in Outlook and keeps the appearance of the hard landscape even cleaner. Thanks for posting that link.


                            • #15
                              Here is what I do:

                              If something I have just thought of is

                              a) a series of actions (usually something that has several stages or steps to fulfill) I create a new project in my Palm program called ShadowPlan. Then I try to think of all possible next actions that this project would require. I think of at least 3-4 (later, I can always add more). The action that needs to be done first is always at the top. After, I set a link from the first logical next action in this project to another Palm application called Datebk5 and that link is immediately displayed in that application in the ToDo section.

                              b) something that consists of just one action and can be done some time in the near future (such as this week), I set a floating event in Datebk5. This way, I can do it today, tomorrow or anytime in the near future when I have time.

                              c) something I would like to do next week or next month, I enter it into the ToDo section in Datebk5. I usually revise these during my Weekly Review.

                              d) something that I would like to do in the distant future, I enter it into the Someday/Maybe file in ShadowPlan. I usually then review these every couple of months or so.

                              e) something that has to be done at a specific time (such as meet Mary at Gino's for lunch on Friday at 1pm) I enter as a scheduled event in Datebk5

                              f) something that is a recurring event (such as a haircut every 5 weeks), I set as a floating event that repeats every 35 days in Datebk5. This way, when the next time I have to execute this task comes up in my Datebk, I can still wait a day or two and it will just float over to next day until I check it off. Say I allowed 38 days since my last haircut. Fine. All that has happpened is I was still reminded when 35 days since the last haircut was up, but I still chose to wait 3 days. I had my haircut, checked off the floating event, which auto-rescheduled itself to repeat NOT from the day when it last appeared, but from the day when checked I off.