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Working On A Single Project vs. Next Actions

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  • Working On A Single Project vs. Next Actions

    Hello David Co. and Others,

    I seem to be having a disconnect with the GTD system, and I am hoping you can help...

    So, I have my project list and I have my list of next actions organized into contexts.

    This works for getting more tasks done across the board, but I am not getting projects done in time now.

    I like to take a designated time and work on one project for a long time. This helps me get in the flow and stay focused and sometimes I want to work on one project until completion.

    The disconnect that I am having is that when I am working off of my next actions list, I am working on stuff by context not by project. So, by the end of the week I've done a lot of the little steps towards a lot of projects but I have not focused on one project.

    Since I like to focus on one project at a time--how do I work my Next Actions list into this?

    Any help is greatly appreciated.


  • #2
    Put the very Next Action for a project on your NA list. After you do that action, continue working on the project for as long as desired. When you stop, "bookmark" the project by, again, putting the very Next Action on your list. Repeat.



    • #3
      I say put the next action on your Project list and put it like this: Get out Project Z File and work on Project Z for 4 hours, or until I am totally burned out or it's done. How's that?


      • #4
        I simply determine which project I'm going to work on and just stay at it until time requires me to shift to another or leave the office. This Project/Next Action system really is ingenius and can help me move forward on a lot of projects in a relatively short period of time. But good old-fashioned focus on a single Project is still a great way to move that Project forward.


        • #5
          Hey, Thanks for the responses!

          I see the idea of using the NA list like a reminder or bookmark to then work on that project, but I am still feeling resistance while staring at this huge list of NAs.

          The thing that doesn't seem to be working for me is the lack of prioritizing.

          I like to see all the projects that I have in my scope and then pick the most important ones for the week. Then I can focus on finishing these projects.

          More stuff falls through the cracks when I work this way as opposed to working off a list of all my Next Actions, but I've found that the stuff that falls through the cracks was the less important stuff anyway.

          Any project that I am working on, I have always backward planned it down to the next action--I just didn't work off a Next Action list. The idea of contexts seems brilliant, however I still seem to get more done when I just pick a project no matter what the context and blast right through it with laser sharp focus.

          I feel like the odd man out here with so many people having such great results with the GTD system. What do you think?

          How do you deal with focus and prioritizing?


          • #6
            I may be the odd man out with you but I get to feeling pretty fragmented doing pure GTD and miss doing my most imp things--to me, the most imp things anyway. I do think that between your big pushes, you will have time here and there and then it's great to rip of a few na's in the kitchen or make the dentist appts etc. Call your mother. But I think you are bringing up a great point and I for one appreciate it. I was too scared to bring it up, but with you ahead of me, I'm with you.


            • #7
              Personally, more complicated multi-step projects get a different treatment. I generally map them out and work back on a timeline with good fudge room for the usual messes and delays. I also review them frequently or at least weekly in a weekly review to see where I am. I do use a next action list, I think it's pretty logical to incorporate some kind of priority scheme which is basically the spirit of the calendar although it doesn't have to be exactly that. I really think this is about integrating a smooth catch-all system that you can have faith in. Not everyone's work is the same nor are their strengths and weaknesses the same. If I didn't keep some sense of priority I'd spend a whole lot of time fiddling with minutia. Certain actions are more timely, have higher value, and hold large consequences for not getting them done.

              Hopefully something in there helps you.
              Last edited by ChrisF; 04-12-2008, 03:54 PM.


              • #8
                I too had the same problem. The way I get around this, and I see many others on the forum do as well, is by creating a daily list. My daily list consists of about 5 to 6 items. Some of the items are NAs, others are projects. On several occasions one of the items on my daily list have even been a context, if, for example, I have only been doing pc work and not any calls. I prefer to do it this way rather than scheduling a make-shift calendar of tasks, which works for many, but definitely not for me. Although working down the NA list can sometimes be very gratifying, I mostly find that once I'm in a project I will work further into that, then record my NA and move on to another NA. Like you, I will also list the tasks in most projects in advance.

                I don't think there is a problem with a daily list. I chuck mine at the end of the day and start a new one based on my next day's NA, project lists, and any deadlines and calendar items. Some on the forum have talked about a closed daily list, but I worry I will only go back to uncompleted closed task lists. Many seem to work well with those.

                Another thing that helped, and I didn't understand it really at the start, was other members saying to me "trust your system." Once I started doing the weekly review and "working" from my NA lists daily, did I really begin to trust my system. A big part of that system though is in seeing in what framework you work best.


                • #9
                  Problem is in the question

                  "having trouble getting projects done in time". Problem is in the question. Time sensitive Projects go on the calendar or in the tickler. Project and NA list are for discretionary time. If you have a project on your calendar, you ignore project and NA's until it is done.

                  eh....It's a theory.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by kwes View Post
                    The thing that doesn't seem to be working for me is the lack of prioritizing.
                    Huh? What lack of prioritizing?

                    I like to see all the projects that I have in my scope and then pick the most important ones for the week. Then I can focus on finishing these projects.

                    Are you doing the Weekly Review? Every week? That's where the prioritization is supposed to happen.


                    • #11
                      I remember DA himself saying somewhere that some of the most wonderful projects were never on his project list; they just got done! And one of the reasons behind the necessary relaxed focus was that his mind was free to focus on them since all the open loops were out of his mind onto his lists.

                      GTD is a theme, a human idea, not a hard and fast computer algorithm, to get things done. So I suppose there is no such thing as pure GTD. Take the theme, and tune it, refine it, fill in the details, etc as suitable for you. The central ideas are to capture everything, clarify your commitments, and review them periodically (various levels of commitments with different suitable periods) in order to decide what to do in the moment. Whether you make a daily list out of your committed next actions (once-a-day review of actions), or check it everytime when you want to choose the next action depends upon your personality, your type of work, how you enjoy working, which way you feel less bothered about the system itself and get working, how fast your inputs change, and several other factors. Your intuition will usually give the answer.

                      Same thing can be said about working contextwise. The idea of context is not to restrict you from taking actions; it's just eliminating reviewing actions that you cannot do right now anyway. And the review all context lists usually will let you decide when to be in which context so as to move appropriate projects ahead. If you feel you can make some significant progress on a project sitting in your office for four hours, definitely go head; your office is the context. Your next actions are not the only choices that you have; they are triggers that let you kick start towards your goals. Once in the momentum, you may want to continue working without bothering entering and removing actions into the system. It's only when you want to stop (lunch?, 6:00pm?, meeting?) that you may want to enter into an action list what you would do next given the next chance to work on the same project.

                      Choosing the right actions or right projects to work on requires a feel of what is right. This comes with reviews of the system at various levels with various frequencies. These frequencies usually depend upon several factors such as written above; usually the entire inventory is better reviewed at least weekly. Choose frequencies appropriately.



                      • #12
                        It's not just NA lists

                        Originally posted by kwes View Post
                        How do you deal with focus and prioritizing?
                        What Brent said: weekly review. Daily review if necessary.

                        That's when you prioritize, that's when you decide how much time (and which particular times) to spend on particular projects or in particular contexts. That's when you decide what's *not* going to get done and can be safely ignored (and moved off your main NA list).

                        If you're not reviewing, you're missing one of the core components of GTD.



                        • #13
                          Thanks for all the input.

                          Yeah, I do a weekly review. I did it before I found GTD, and I wouldn't stop now especially since it is main piece of GTD.

                          However, GTD straight from the book doesn't have you prioritize your next actions even in the weekly review. Following the system by the book you end up with exhaustive list of next actions organized by context not by priority.

                          I realize GTD is just a theory and won't fit everyone in the same way--that's why I wanted to find out what others were doing with the same issues I had.

                          What I used to do before I found GTD was to have a master task list (brain dump) and I would prioritize that at the beginning of the week on to a weekly task list. Then I would plan my day off of the weekly list and my calendar which had my appointments and routines for the day.

                          This worked really well for me and is part of the reason why I am so successful today. However, I am always refining my personal efficiency system and I will definitely be incorporating GTD into it now. I think a combination of the GTD system with my old system is what is going to work best for me.

                          I realized something through this experience. My brain is really good at coming up with next actions. When I see a project, I quickly know the next action I need to get it going. I don't need help in that area. However, staring a list of hundreds of NAs just doesn't work for me.

                          What I really needed to add to my system was creating the least amount of buckets possible for all the incoming stuff, creating contexts for my tasks, and expanding on my lists so that I can get all the info out of my brain and organized for easy retrieval.

                          Like you said, everyone has a different personality, works differently, and processes information we need to make our system work the best for us. So just make sure you have customized your system to work the best for you...


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by kwes View Post
                            However, GTD straight from the book doesn't have you prioritize your next actions even in the weekly review. Following the system by the book you end up with exhaustive list of next actions organized by context not by priority.
                            I may be wrong, but I disagree. During the Weekly Review, you review both your active Projects and your Someday/Maybe list, and shuffle things between them as seems reasonable. That's prioritizing, right? It's deciding which of your many projects you're deciding to actively work on this week.

                            GTD "straight from the book" doesn't advocate fine-grained prioritizing. I submit that fine-grained prioritizing is not worthwhile.

                            However, staring a list of hundreds of NAs just doesn't work for me.
                            I submit that, if you have a list with hundreds of NAs, you have too many NAs. The Project list is a list of stuff that you're actively working on this week. Not what you might work on, or all the stuff that you'd like to get done if you had twenty-five hours a day.

                            Example: I can fit all my NAs on a two foot wide whiteboard.

                            How long is your active Projects list? Have you collected metrics on how many of your active Projects you actually make progress on in a given week?


                            • #15
                              You also prioritize at the process phase: doing now, doing it later or maybe, trashing it altogether. The calendar is another prioritizing tool: when you schedule a NA or project you specify highest priority for that given task during the allocated time.

                              Another way to decide what to engage in, prioritize work, are the higher altitudes as described in the book.

                              If you cannot just do any actions from your NA lists without having to think which one to choose, you didn't finish your thinking about your NAs and projects.

                              Having project plans and working from them is part of standard GTD. Also, milestones, deliverables and deadlines can be part of a project plan, this is discussed in the book as well.