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Linking projects to next actions

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  • Linking projects to next actions

    Hi All,

    I know that this topic has been mulled over for quite some time, but a situation recently arose for me that has made finding a solution important.

    Basically, with GTD, my understanding is that your projects list serves as an index of all of your open projects. Each next action related to each project is then listed in one of your next action lists according to context. As far as I know, there is no link systemically between projects and their respective next actions.

    Where I run into a problem is that because there is no link, there really is no "audit trail" for a project. What I mean by this there really is no record of steps taken related to each project in one place tied to the project. The reason that this is a problem for me is there have been situations when my boss will come to me an ask "where do we stand on x". Since there is no direct link between the project and he next action (I can't just look at "x" in my projects list and see what the very next action is), I have to hurry and scan each of my next action lists looking for any items related to the project. I can't simply determine the very next action for the project "on the fly", and it makes me look very unorganized and inefficient.

    Has anyone come up with a simple solution to handle this? I know that there are outline programs out there that link to the ToDo list, but I've found them to be too cumbersome.


  • #2
    Linking projects to next actions

    How simple? Using Outlook and Palm?

    One way is to keep each project as a "task" item and code it and its next actions - either in the subject line or associated note. You can use the find functions in both Outlook and on your Palm to find related items based on that code. This system travels well - work-to-Palm-to-home and back.

    A second way is best described by visiting this excellent website:

    This system tweaks Outlook - using a "contact" item for the project - allowing you to associate tasks with the project and view them together. This would address your status report issue.

    Best of luck.


    • #3
      My current setup is hard-copy Day-Timer based (it's the technology that works best for me), but I keep a list of all actions and brainstorming related to projects in the Project Notes section. A page for each project. As an action is done, I check it off and then add the next action to the appropriate action list.

      So, in your case, I'd just look in my Project notes section for Project x, and see what's been checked off and what hasn't. I'd also check my Waiting For list to make sure that crack is patched.


      • #4
        Linking projects to next actions

        I put the name of the project as the first word in every project and next action. When you look at the all view, checked and unchecked you have a full list of what's been done and whats next. It also gives you the day that you marked it completed.

        I too need a much more complete trail for reference years down the road. I use my visor only as a list manager. Its great for knowing what the next action is or for memo's on the run, christmas presents books to read etc. and phone numbers. I don't think that it has ever been designed as a full case manager system. I do have a specialized case manager system where I list the work done, calls made, time spent etc. It's terrific and I would hate to be without it. It however does not give me that quick comprehensive list of next actions and lists for my whole life that my visor does.
        If you want to keep it simple just have a work document for each project where you note what you competed and when you did it. Print that and you have a perfect trail for an audit or the boss.


        • #5
          I have a task/note for the project, on which I note the date and what I did, with the most recent action at the top. Then I can say exactly what I did on what day to move the project forward. The sole reason for doing this is so that I have a summary when my boss asks me where we are on something.

          I also make note of things that I will have to do in the future, if there is a chance I will forget by the time the project is moved forward to that point.


          • #6
            I use Ecco, in my GTD template each project is represented by a folder, and is *also* cross-referenced into an action context (@category) folder. So you can look at each project individually, including pending next actions, done next actions, next actions still in incubation (someday/maybe) etc. all on the same screen, depending upon which filter you apply.

            Switching to the @catgory view, you are looking at all 'active' next actions by action context (@category) without segregating them by project. It's real simple, I'll be posting a template showing how it works.

            Ecco syncs to the Palm, what shows up on the Palm is just the list of 'active' next actions grouped by action context.



            • #7
              Searching "past" and current action/project items

              I found that the number of items I *really* need to track is minimal. (Like less than 10%, I would guess.)

              Using the Palm, I simply add a keyword to the NOTE of the task/project. For example, I decided that I would keep track of all the GTD1 seminars I presented. So, I have labeled any seminar with those 4 symbols. Now, when I do a FIND, and I type in GTD1, they all pop up (in chronological order).

              Of course, each person will have their own number of items to track.



              • #8
                Linking projects to next actions

                I'm just catching up with this thread.....

                First I'd like to second Guy Bjerke's suggestion that you visit my GTD with Outlook site at If you work in an environment that requires a complete "audit trail" of your projects, I think that you will find the Outlook methods presented on the site of interest.

                Secondly, I also second Jason Womack's comment. Many projects, depending on their origin and desired outcome, may need minimal tracking. The key is to employ a working system that accomodates a variation of "historical archiving", so that you can fulfill the varying requirements of your workday and lifeday.



                • #9
                  Linking Projects to Next Actions

                  I use ShadowPlan, the outliner. The parent item is the project name and each child item under it is the next action. The action item can be linked to datebook in a date and time slot. When the action is completed, I use the cross off function. Notes can be viewed from the child item.

                  Works reasonably well and without much complexity.



                  • #10
                    My $0.02

                    Might I loudly suggest that a simple method be built into the GTD add-on that David mentioned is on the way for Outlook?

                    Something I've mentioned before in this forum (or at least, the old version) is that sub-tasks would have made Outlook FAR more useful than it is, and even better suited to the GTD methodology.

                    I'll post my workaround again here, as it's been a while since I posted it on the old forum.

                    Simply, all my "Next Actions" are kept in at least TWO categories in my Outlook tasks list. One category is for the actual next action, the other category is for the project. The next action step in a given project is defined by its assigned priority.

                    Example: Get new glasses is a project that comes up in David's book. Action steps could include: Get number, call for appointment, pick up glasses. There are likely other steps too, but we'll go with those three for now.
                    For starters, each of those three items would go in a category called "New Glasses". Each one also goes on a Next Actions list by context. The first two go on my "@Calls" list. "Pick up glasses" goes on my "@Errands" list. The next action for this project is "get number". So that item gets assigned high priority. When it's complete, I go back to the "New Glasses" category and assign high priority to "call for appointment" and so on, until that project is complete.
                    It means that when I review my context lists, I'm doing two things:
                    1) Focusing exclusively on tasks that have high priority attached to them - they're the next action on some project. If an action doesn't have a high priority mark next to it, there's something else that has to happen before that step.
                    2) Periodic review of all my "Project" categories, to make sure there is at least ONE task in that category that has a high priority.

                    This has been the method that works best for me so far, and it works well on my Pocket PC. Of course, it might be too cumbersome for some users, which I'm hoping will be addressed in the GTD add-on.

                    Again, it works for me. YMMV.



                    • #11
                      linking to next actions

                      in response to neil hedley with subtasks in outlook

                      an easy way to do this is to create a custom column in outlook called

                      then assign a project for each todo

                      if you group by project in a todo list then each project will have all it's related tasks in a "project" like format wiuth each task made out like a subtask-- outlined and suboutlined

                      might not be exactly as desired but goes a long way toward getting both vertical and horizontal view of your actions/project