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Too Many Projects? (To Limit or Not To Limit)

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  • Too Many Projects? (To Limit or Not To Limit)

    As a long time GTD user, who has the runway mechanics down cold, I find myself now pondering some questions. For example, I wonder if having all of my projects listed out is really ideal. In other words, maybe I should only have the “Top 10”, if you will, in writing. Perhaps the rest, stuff like “Change smoke detector batteries.”, will resolve themselves? I want to make sure the heavier weight stuff gets my attention more so than the lighter weight stuff. Or maybe you need them all there to begin with to then be able to whittle the list down to the “Top 10”?

    Part of what makes me think about this is that I like to work in 3 month “chunks” of time. I find this is long enough to get real work done while short enough to not feel infinite. However, it does make me want to turn my entire projects list over quarterly as opposed to having those longer term goals on the list for months and months. The sense of completion is a real incentive, especially for those last 1 or 2 projects. You know, the ones you have resisted for so long!

    I find that I only complete between 10 and 20 small but meaningful projects every 3 months. As such, I find myself wanting to limit my written projects down to this number. Feels a little anti-GTD unless everything else gets dropped in Someday/Maybe. Has anyone out there experimented with the optimal number of stated projects on the projects list? If so, I would love to hear your thoughts.


  • #2
    Great question. I don't know if my answer will help but here goes.

    I've been using GTD -- loosely at times -- for about 2 years now, and I think I have a problem in the projects area myself. I've found that I tend to only list those immediate projects, particularly business/client related, in my actual project list.

    On my palm at the moment, I have 10 projects listed and 85 someday/maybe. So my guess is that I tend to put the bulk of things into S/M. In thinking about it, I believe I do this with any project that is not currently "active" and being worked on. I do though, think that I also put what would technically be a project, into a context category.

    A current example, in my @Home category. I have "hang Manda's teddy bears". This is actually a project by GTD standards. I have to find the nails and hammer, figure out where on the wall I want them, mark the spots, and maybe a few other things. So "hang teddy bears" is not technically the very next action and thus shouldn't be on my home action list.

    I also know that I have a couple of misc projects listed in TimeMatters, that are not listed on my Palm. These are more of a tracking/goal/asperations type of thing for personal or professional growth. So they're not actually projects and probably shouldn't be in my desktop project list either.

    *Most* of my goals (short, mid, and long-term) plus focus lists and values, are kept in the Palm Memo app as reference. I try not to list those as active projects, but I have found myself doing so in the recent past.

    As for what will work for you? I'd suggest trying a couple of different setups for 2-4 weeks at a time, and see which one fits best



    • #3
      I just cleaned my project list out at the last Weekly Review and dumped tons of stuff into Someday/Maybe. I had found myself putting things in my Projects list that I would really LIKE to do, but realistically don't have TIME to do for a while. Then I would feel guilty that every week I had the same next action and no time to actually move it. Since there aren't really any ramifications to putting it off, I just switched them over to S/M and feel much better about it. They'll come up again in the weekly review when there's actually time to do them. As long as they're actually parked somewhere you're probably OK.


      • #4
        Projects-Active and Inactive

        In the GtD Book, there is an implication that part of the Weekly Review is to update the system for Next Actions completed and not yet recorded - then a review of Projects to make sure that there is a Next Action for each Active Project or a transfer of Inactive Projects to Someday/Maybe.

        Like many others, I prefer to keep the accounting for Active Projects current by immediately noting the Next Action when an action step is completed (creating a bookmark). IMO, for a simple Active Project, if you choose to do it this way, there is not much point in putting the Project on a Projects list. It is easier to simply edit the Next Action and put it in the correct Context and have the desired outcome permanently attached to the ToDo, either in the text or in an attached note. Better yet, I make all Projects simple by reducing the active elements to sub-Projects. This also reduces the absurdity of making a Project out of a no-brainer like paying a utility bill. All that I have on my Projects List are Active Master Projects that are awaiting completion of sub-Projects.

        I put unstarted and suspended Projects in Someday/Maybe unless I intend to activate them with a Next Action in the next few weeks. I don't go into much detail on them until they appear withing my planning horizon.



        • #5
          If I remember it right it should (could) work that way that the projects will be evaluated each review.

          David Allen said in his book, that it is essential to sort the things into the correct categories. So if you have worked on a project a bit but now it comes to rest and you will not go on with it in the next few weeks, than put it back to "Someday/Maybe". So that will keep your list of projects limited; in theory! If you go on with it, you can sort it back to the project-list.


          • #6
            Too many projects? Can be a good thing!

            I think defining ALL of your projects (big, little, personal, professional) is a great exercise. Then, what you actually DO decide to work on then is top quality. The Someday/Maybe list, though, is what I'd suggest you utilize more. (I have 145 on it right now.) Might as well either dump the stuff or park it on S/M so you don't have to have anything actually to DO about it.
            That way, you won't feel bad about your own agreements.

            Sometimes, it's easy to avoid defining the project because it's too big ("amorphous, out of my control"), too small ("some dumb, dorky little thing") or too ambiguous ("I'm supposed to do WHAT?"). Interestingly, you would only avoid moving on it if the action step isn't clear enough or the project is not meaningful enough, given all your other projects. A great way to get around that is to completely define the successful outcome of the accumulation of action steps required to complete that "thing." For every active project on that list, ensure there is a "next action" defined and captured into your system. Finally, if you're still not getting it done, then slide it off the active list.

            Also, keep in mind that having a "complete" projects list forces (and makes easier!) the priority question. "What's most important for me to focus on?)