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How do you manage Projects?

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  • How do you manage Projects?

    I have a gap in my understanding of how GtD manages projects. Follows three problem areas I would like input on.
    • 1. Some projects need new NAs in between WR.
      (Maybe I should schedule extra project review sessions, thus making sure my NA lists shows all my commitments.)

      2. NA lists doesn't give me the relation between the NA and deadlines - how do I prioritize w/o this info?
      (Is it wise to mark up critical NAs? NB I use paper.)

      3. NAs relating to fast-paced projects migrates into new, undefined, actions during the workday (action chain), and other projects are undealt with.
      (Not necessarily a problem, since you get things done. But this isn't the informed decision about what to do I hear David talking about).
    Thankful for all your thoughts! / Kjell

  • #2
    Managing project

    Hi, Kjell,

    This was kicked around a while back on the board, so if you can find the old thread, it might have some useful info. Briefly (and I face the same challenges), a couple of ideas I remember from the prior thread that I've found useful:

    1. After completing an action on your action list, you should immediately update your action list with at least one new next action.
    2. Block project time and work from your project support mat'l during that time.

    I probably would note due dates for everything, and depending on the urgency of the project(s), a mini-review every 3-4 days would probably be helpful to make sure critical path actions stay moving.



    • #3
      How to work within Projects?

      Here's the text from a TIP on our website:

      Defining “Projects” – a Key to GTD


      One of the most consistent challenges encountered by people implementing the Getting Things Done methodology is understanding what we mean by a “project” and integrating the concept into their self-management systems. It is extremely important to get a handle on this, because a complete, current and accurate “Projects” list is the prime ingredient of a thorough Weekly Review; and that is the master key to stress-free productivity.

      Our definition of “project” is any outcome you’re committed to complete that requires more than one action step. That can encompass quite a range of things, from “Replace tires on the car” to “Reorganize marketing division.”

      The reason to define a project as something that requires more than one action step is simple and practical. If you finish one action step you’ve had on an action list, you would mark that off as done. But if your commitment is not fulfilled, and there’s no reminder about it in your system, your head will have to take back the job of remembering and reminding that you’ve still got an open loop out there. And that is what you want to prevent, because it undermines the whole purpose of Getting Things Done—anything left in your head creates unproductive stress.

      You can’t do a project, even a simple one. You can only do action steps. The project merely describes something in the world looking or being different than it currently is. But you don’t actually do “Finalize taxes.” You don’t actually do “Get Sarah into school in the fall,” or “Complete the merger with Acme Brick Co.” Those just describe something being true that’s not true yet. Your taxes haven’t been submitted, your daughter isn’t yet onto cruise control into the third grade, nor is everything in place yet for the new merged organizations. You need some reminder, some stake in the ground, consistently, that those things haven’t fully happened, to trigger the appropriate action decision-making.

      There are also outcomes larger than what we label as projects – goals, objectives, visions, mission, etc. Where you draw the line between a “project” and a greater “objective” is somewhat arbitrary. We have found it useful to make that distinction as follows: A project can usually be completed within a few months at most, whereas an objective would be the kind of thing you would usually find on yearly goals (or beyond). A typical objective would be “Increase profitability of XYZ product line to 34%,” or “Handle our parents’ assisted care situations.” Those would each have several large projects that, if managed and completed appropriately, would achieve the stated goals. A good rule-of-thumb for an appropriately “chunked” project is this: Is it something that adequately describes what you should be looking at on a weekly basis to feel comfortable about what you’re doing about it? You probably don’t need to look at “Increase profitability…” or “Handle parents…” every week. What you will want to put in front of yourself on Friday afternoons is a list that includes “Implement cost-cutting program for XYZ product line” and “Research nursing home options for Mom.” Those are “Projects”.

      Most people have between 30 and 100 projects (combining personal and professional), given our definition. And most people resist creating their Projects list like the plague. The visionary folks have trouble nailing their Big Ideas down to something that concrete. And the busy people don’t like having to define what they’re actually trying to accomplish with all their activity. Yet this is the most functional and important list to have to keep from being overwhelmed by the nitty-gritty operational realities of your life.

      Many things we would interpret as “Projects” are large enough to also have many sub-projects. Again, these are somewhat arbitrary distinctions, though highly useful as you structure what reminders go where in your personal system. A project like “Reorganize Marketing Division” will likely have some key components – engage outside consulting firm, complete internal HR survey, hire new division head, etc. The overall project as well as the sub-projects must be reviewed often enough to keep your mind clear about remembering/reminding next actions. So be it. The Weekly Review ties it all together. Weekly review each project/outcome on your Projects list to identify and capture appropriate next actions into your system. You will need to stop on some of those projects and drill down into another level of detail, accessing your project plans to feel comfortable that you have all the actions that need to be in place to keep all the moving parts in forward motion.

      Defining projects is not as easy as it may seem. As you are reading this, I would bet that over the last few days at least one project has been emerging in your world, that you have yet to get a grip on, exactly. Something happened, and an opportunity has opened up, a problem emerged, or something has just extended into a bigger thing in some way than it was. And you have yet to clarify exactly what you’ve implicitly committed to about it. To get to “black belt” personal management you need the ability to define those short-term operational outcomes (sooner than later), a Projects list to park them on, and the discipline to implement that systematic behavior.

      Some more small tips we have discovered that can make this process of project definition easier and clearer:

      - Create a game you can win. Define the project as something that you can really complete, no matter what anyone else does. For instance, we recommend that you don't make a project "Sell Acme Brick the program," because Acme Brick may have a bad day and not sign, which is not your fault. The project is better defined as, "Finalize Acme Brick proposal" or "R&D Acme Brick contract" or "Maximize Acme's opportunity to buy"...each of which is something you can finish and get a personal "win" about, no matter what anyone else does.

      - Start your projects on your list with an appropriate verb that clarifies the nature of the work. "Write proposal..." has a different end point than "Submit proposal..." "Look into a joint venture with XYZ Company" is more accurate than "Create joint venture," if you're not sure it's going to happen.

      - If you are dealing with defining projects that are part of a very big initiative, with possibly many other people and departments involved along the way, it is helpful to think, "When will I hand this off to someone else?" and make that your personal end-point to define as the project.


      At this writing here are some of the 56 real projects on David Allen’s Projects list:

      Launch GTD Outlook software
      Complete Spanish intensive program
      Take Bahamas trip with Kathryn
      Complete two-book proposal to publisher
      Research dart board
      Get new living room chair
      Get closure on revamped Web site
      Install new backyard lights
      Finalize paperback launch for “GTD”
      Finalize staff meeting
      Bring corporate training video to market
      Finalize new estate plan
      Get comfortable with Photoshop basics

      As a guide to creating and completing your own Projects list, use this list of project verbs. Fill in the blanks. What do you need to…

      Look into…
      Roll out…
      Set up…


      We would love to hear anything from you about this topic. It’s simple, but it’s powerful. We can use your experience, thoughts and ideas to help lots of other folks. Did you create a complete Projects list? What was your experience, in doing that? How many do you have? We’d love to see your whole list (or whatever portion you’d care to share).

      Email us at