Looking for clarity going from Next Actions to Projects

Discussion in 'PUBLIC: Discuss the GTD Methodology' started by Evan Siegel, Oct 6, 2017.

  1. Evan Siegel

    Evan Siegel Registered

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    I'm new to GTD and while I feel confident it will work for me I am struggling to fully grasp part of this system. The whole next actions thing is throwing me off. What i usually do is either daily or in weekly review just write everything done in my head that I have to do, be it personal, home, work, etc. Then I go through the steps ask if it's actionable, 2 secs... If something is actionable it then becomes a project, with actionable steps to realize the outcome of that project. At this point, do i cross off the item from the next actions list? Let's say I have a project that has 3 steps. each of the steps has to have either a due no later than date or a firm due date. where do I manage this? Professionally, I use MS project, it's helpful to see a project both from the summary level but also at a decomp. This would seem burdensome and overkill to use something like this for personal 'projects'. Am I to assume that if you have say 150 next actions and lets say all but 20 require action and cannot be done in 2 mins then you essentially have 130 'projects'? that seems like a ridiculous amount to manage. in other words, how do you go from writing something down as a next action to actually managing it from beginning to end, but more so, a large list? What i don't want to do is have to review this stuff every day because then it comes a burden, but if you have a large project list I don't see how you can avoid this.

    what is the simplest way people go from next actions to executing and managing project actions?

    If i ask myself on any given day what are all my projects, when do they need to be completed and what do I have to do to complete them, what tool are people using to see this all in one place? The key for me is all in one place
     
  2. Dragon

    Dragon Registered

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    It's only a project in GTD-parlance if it will require more than one action to complete. Many, probably most, of your next actions will not be associated with a project for this reason.

    If it was a project, it shouldn't have been on your next actions list to begin with, because projects themselves are not actionable, they're just desired outcomes. Generally you'd either identify a next action and then realize it's part of a project (so you keep the action on your next actions list and add the project to your projects list) or you'd identify the project first, and then decide the next action for it (in which case you'd add the project to your projects list, then add the next action to your next actions list). There shouldn't be any occasions where you need to cross something off your next actions list because you've decided there's a project relevant to it.

    In general:
    • Your projects themselves go on your projects list, so you can keep track of them
    • Next actions for those projects go on your next actions lists, according to which context they belong to
    • Due dates and other day-specific information pertaining to your projects go on your calendar
    • Any other relevant information to your project, such as planning materials, go in your project support materials

    Unlikely, since many of your 130 remaining next actions won't be associated with a project, and one project may have more than one next action.

    You shouldn't be reviewing all your projects and asking these questions every day, that's unnecessary and inefficient. Your weekly review is where this kind of thinking belongs, you don't need to (and shouldn't have to) endlessly repeat that same thinking every day.

    If you did actually identify 130 projects, then the chances of you working meaningfully on them all over the next week or so is probably zero. In this case, during your weekly review, you decide which projects you are going to work on over the next week or so, move all the other projects to a someday/maybe list, review your project support materials for your active projects to figure out what you're going to do next, and then populate your next actions lists with next actions from the projects that you actually are going to work on. During the next week, you then just work from your calendar and from your lists.

    I'm not sure what you're getting at, here. When we're talking about projects, identifying next actions comes from managing projects, not the other way round.

    At a minimum you need:
    • A calendar;
    • A way to manage lists, either electronic or paper; and
    • Somewhere to keep your project support materials
    If you're doing everything electronically, it's probably possible to find or develop a single tool that does all of these things, but it's probably not going to do any of them as well as a specialized tool would, so it's unlikely to be optimal to insist on "one place". You should figure out which tools you're most comfortable with and work best with. For example, I use the stock Apple calendar, OmniFocus for lists, and Evernote and old-fashioned paper files for project support materials.
     
  3. Oogiem

    Oogiem Registered

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    A lot of your questions are confusing to me. A project is anything that requires more than one action. So for example right now I am currently working on 104 active projects. Now some next actions don't really apply to a project or I may have a project where Ic an do one or more actions for that project independently of each other so I actually right now have 181 available actions.

    I use Omnifocus so a project is the default thing to create. So take for example a 3 step project Get Health Certificates for Sheep Shipping to State X leaving on date y. The first action is call vet for an apt. for the health cert. context phone Second step is Sort sheep for shipping context outside with help and the third step is Vet apt for sheep that are shipping. The project has a due date of now, it's sequential because I can't do things except in that specific order and the actions automatically show up in my action list as they become available.

    You manage the project by doing the actions. Not sure what else you mean. You review your projects at least weekly so you can see if you are on track.

    All of my current and pending (waiting for a start date) projects are in my Omnifocus system. My Someday Maybe for future seasons are in DEVONThink but SOMEDAY/Maybe for this season are in Omnifocus.

    Of course I'd use GTD for personal and professional projects. It's all one life, why not use the best tools. Just because one of my projects is a hobby item of say, Create scrapbook of the sheep AI experiments from the past 13 years doesn't mean I won't want to manage it within my GTD system. After all it's going to take many steps to complete it so it's clearly a project. In fact the first action for that one might be, select pictures from each years' experiments for the scrapbook context Lightroom and then once selected I might choose to print them or send the to an on-line scrapbook creation place, depending on how I want to do the scrapbook. Or another that I am working on right now is knit a new winter hat for me, It started with selecting eh wool, spinning the yarn, deciding on a hat pattern, knitting a test swatch, adapting the pattern to fit me and now I'm at the knit the hat action. Its's going to take several weeks to finish but that's still the next action.
     
  4. bcmyers2112

    bcmyers2112 Registered

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    In GTD parlance, a next action is a physical, visible activity that can be accomplished in one sitting. A project is an outcome that will require more than one action to achieve.

    Next actions don't have to have associated projects. If something can be done in one step, there is no project.

    As for how GTD recommends you organize your lists, if you identify a next action you can't do in two minutes or less, you add that action to your calendar (if it is date- or time-specific) or to one of your next actions lists (calls, at computer, at home, at office, errands, etc.). If the next action is part of a project because the desired outcome requires more than one step, you add that project to a separate projects list.

    You review your calendar and your next actions lists at least daily. You review your projects list at least once a week during the weekly review to make sure everything is on track. You can review your projects list more often than that if it will help you, but there is no need to review them daily.

    Your calendar and next action lists will serve as your daily guide for choices to make about what to do about your projects. The projects list will serve as your guide for ensuring that your calendar and next actions lists include the things you need to do to achieve the outcomes you've identified as projects.

    I think you're correct that MS Project is too high-powered a tool to be useful for managing your day-to-day activities. As for what tools people use, it varies based on what people have available and what their preferences are.

    You don't *need* a tool that provides linkages between projects and actions; if you're following the process as laid out in the book, your daily and weekly reviews will serve as the glue that keeps everything together. For some people, however, such a tool is a "nice to have."

    As far as the tools people use, they range from paper lists, to general-use software tools (for example, I manage my GTD lists in something called Evernote) to software tools that are designed specifically for GTD. Be cautious about software tools that advertise themselves as GTD solutions; some of them were not designed with a sound understanding of GTD principles.

    If you have questions about a particular tool or are looking for specific recommendations, people in this forum are usually happy to help. To help you identify what's best for you, it helps to know more about your preferences and environment. For instance, what type of computer system do you use at home and at work (Mac or PC)? Do you use Outlook? It is important to have your lists live where your email does? Do you prefer paper or digital tools? Do you have a smartphone and if so is it iPhone or Android? Etc.
     
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  5. Oogiem

    Oogiem Registered

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    One minor quibble. Next actions do not have to be completed in a single sitting. I've had individual next actions that took days, weeks and yes, even months and years to complete. (Project make a cloak, action weave 30 yards of fabric took several years of elapsed time. Total actual weaving time was around 1500 hours) Granted my months and years ones are an anomaly but it's frequent that a next action will take than a single sitting to finish even for more normal projects.
     
  6. TesTeq

    TesTeq Registered

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    I'm confused too. A lot of misleading information from gossip GTD sources.
    GTD book is the SOURCE. Highly recommended!
    It is not possible to copy the whole book here.
     
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  7. bcmyers2112

    bcmyers2112 Registered

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    @Evan Siegel, have you read the book Getting Things Done? Because what I've been trying to do is help clarify what's in the book. If you haven't read it, I would recommend starting there.
     
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  8. mcogilvie

    mcogilvie Registered

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    My experience is that a lot of people who are doing ok with their projects and next action have developed techniques that overlap a bit with GTD. Such people often expect GTD to be a set of tricks and hints that they can apply, without any fundamental change in mindset. It's a bit like being referred to a neurosurgeon and only hearing that aspirin may relieve some of the the symptoms. There are a lot of hint, tricks and suggestions in GTD, but that's not what is fundamental. I have explored alternatives to core GTD recommendations many times, but I always come back.
     
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  9. ggray50

    ggray50 Registered

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    I use an Excel spreadsheet so I can quickly identify and update projects and their related next actions and waiting fors. I don't use different contexts for my work based next actions, although I do have a "to read" column (y/n) so I can quickly identify those. The linkages are clear to see, as the projects, na's and wf's are separate columns on the same sheet. I have separate pages for sdmb, agendas, archive, trigger lists. I have two sections (contexts) to the workbook- one for work and a separate one for home. I've recently added an errand y/n column so I can quickly group these if out and about. I use Outlook calendar. At work, I just open the spreadsheet and calendar in the morning and work from them.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2017
  10. treelike

    treelike Registered

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    Have you ever completed a next action, deleted it and (without meaning to) deleted the project related to that next action? It's just that I seem to have a similar spreadsheet-like system to yours and more than once have accidentally done this and then wondered where my uncompleted project has gone.
     
  11. ggray50

    ggray50 Registered

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    No, that's never happened to me. When I complete a next action which is linked to a project, I highlight the relevant cell in the next action column and overwrite it with the new 'next action' required to move the project closer towards the desired outcome. The project column is separate and several columns away from the next action column on the spreadsheet.
     
  12. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

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    I think that there's a hierarchical cofusion here. It feels as if you're seeing:

    Next Actions
    ---Project
    ------(???)

    While the GTD hierarchy is:

    Project
    --- Next Action
    --- (Possibly more actions)
    Project
    --- Next Action
    Project
    ---Next Action

    A project is an effort that requires one or more actions. Your lists should always have at least one next action per project (or if you check off the last actino, you should add one in the weekly review). If a project has lots of actions, those may instead be in "project support material"--thoughts and ideas for the project that are not actually in your main GTD lists.

    Now, this stuff doesn't come out of your mind this way. It's likely to come out of your mind as a cluttered mess of projects, actions, thoughts, and ideas. You then organize that stuff.

    So you might sit down to capture, and write:

    Joey's birthday party.
    Widget Project systems document
    Remember to upgrade MS Word
    New car?
    What's with the hairballs?
    Blue Lake Bush Beans
    Sungold tomatoes

    And so on, for a few dozen items. Then you sit down and figure out what to do with these. You might end up with:

    Project: Joey's birthday party.
    Next Action: Talk to Joyce about what she wants.

    Project: Complete Widget Project systems document.
    Next Action: Ask Fred when he needs this
    Action: Talk to Wilbur about helping with requirements gathering.

    Project: Summer Garden
    Next Action: Create seed list (NOTE: Add Blue Lake and Sungold)

    Project: Eliminate hairball problem
    Next Action: Make vet appointment.

    Someday/Maybe:
    New car?
    Upgrade MS Word
     
  13. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

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    I think that this is a preference thing. For me, I absolutely need a next action to be completed in one sitting, but I will write the actions that way. In your example, I would have a repeating action of "Spend one hour weaving" or something of the sort, and I'd check it off per sitting.

    I'm not saying that that's how it should be, I'm saying that's how it has to be for me.
     
  14. treelike

    treelike Registered

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    Ah OK, this is happening to me because I'm actually using a database table (which is why I said spreadsheet-like) and it's easier for me to mistakenly delete the whole row than just the next action field. I'll bet however that you've found cells randomly overwritten now and again from mistaken keystrokes in the past, no? This is what I have found from using often-edited spreadsheets, it only takes one button push to clear the entire content of a cell and it can happen without me noticing until the next time I want to look at the content of that cell.
     
  15. Oogiem

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    I only do that when I feel I am not making progress in the action/project.

    Too much of farming takes a longer time to do than you can commit to in one go, partly because of the length of time it takes to do the task and partly because of the other tasks that must be done daily that take time away from working on those sorts of actions. No matter what you still have to feed and water the stock. It's also usually important to feed yourself, although that takes a back seat to the animals. If you try to plan anything during lambing the sheep will decide how much you can do at any given instant not you or your plans. Lambs are work as it appears. :) So much of my stuff is like that that I've gotten comfortable with actions that take a long time to finish. It's the nature of my job.
     
  16. ggray50

    ggray50 Registered

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    I've not had any issues of that nature. The only hiccup I've had was when I forgot to save my changes at home on Excel which I'd accidentally left open on the pc and then started editing an online version while at work. Thankfully, I spotted this quite quickly so disaster was averted.
     
  17. treelike

    treelike Registered

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    I've been quite impressed with Google Sheets which would solve the above issue because it auto saves and can cope with editing the same sheet open on different devices. Also can be used over a wider range of devices than Excel, and is free (although I do like Excel too).

    I've actually been considering using Google Sheets as my GTD system because it also offers offline use which I need (uploads changes when internet access available). The only thing really stopping me is that the antiquated 25 year old system that I'm using now is faster than anything I've found available today, which is ridiculous when you think about it.
     
  18. ggray50

    ggray50 Registered

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    I keep the workbook on Onedrive and can edit using Excel online which auto saves the online version. But it's often easier to work on it using normal Excel which has better functionality. It saves to OneDrive too, as long as you hit save or close it down, which then prompts the save option. Leave it open and it won't autosave. On the whole though it works well for me as I can access Onedrive (and Onenote which I use for Project Support Material and General A- Z Reference) at home and at work.
     
  19. mcogilvie

    mcogilvie Registered

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    Nice to see some people still doing it old school. You know, the early days on the frontier, when all a man had was his word processor and his spreadsheet.
     
  20. ggray50

    ggray50 Registered

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    I'd
    I'd like to think you're being sarcastic but given the number of more elegant list managers out there, maybe you're being sincere. Either way, made me chuckle, lol.
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2017

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