Do you limit concurrent projects?

Gardener

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If, however, one has decided that one isn't going to think about the employee performance reviews that are due in 3 months because one has to finish up a programming task first, that's true in a sense of *priority* - but it also misses the potential opportunities to move "employee reviews" forward with phone calls, material review, and dozens of other little next actions that might be able to happen relatively seamlessly in the meantime *without* sacrificing any progress on the programming task.
But my view--and of course no one has to agree with me--is that you are indeed sacrificing progress on the other projects. My view is that every added project hampers every other project, merely by reducing focus.

That doesn't change the fact that having multiple parallel projects is often, usually, unavoidable. But I do argue that when it is avoidable--and IMO you absolutely could avoid those employee reviews for two and a half months--I think it's best to avoid.

A scenario:

Imagine that you're in the middle of hunting down a code bug. You've got six windows open, you have five methods and four variables and three theories spinning in your mind. You've implemented the code for a theory, and let's pretend it's 1982 and the resulting compile is going to take ten minutes.

During that ten minutes, you could sit there with your mind mostly idle, though likely absently musing over the problem, OR you could make an intense focused phone call about a detailed and emotional issue unrelated to the bug.

My view is that sitting there with your mind idle, "wasting" those ten minutes, will leave you much more effective when the compile is done and you're ready to resume the coding. I think, in fact, that making that phone call will cost you a great deal more than the wasted ten minutes.

Now, that's a task switching example. It might seem totally irrelevant to a situation where you spend four hours on Project A, leave that task to go to lunch, return from lunch to spend ten minutes on Project B, fifteen on Project C, ten on Project D, and then return to Project A.

But I don't think it is irrelevant. I think that B, C, and D are harming A. If B, C, and D are unavoidable, then after lunch (or the next morning) is indeed probably the best time to touch those projects, all in a group, so that A gets several unbroken hours again. But if B and C could be moved to Friday, a day full of meetings anyway, and D could be moved out a month, that is IMO better.

And while my example is programming, I'm not just thinking about programming. As another example, I've been trying to finish the first draft of my novel, and as it gets more difficult--as more of the plot is laid down, and the plot holes and character questions are harder to resolve and concepts are harder to express gracefully--I've been finding that kicking other projects out of my mind greatly increases my progress. I don't think that this would have been so clear to me if I hadn't been trying to do something that is close to the limit of what I'm capable of, so that I'm looking at making meaningful progress versus making zero progress. But I also don't believe that the effect is limited to those "personal limit" situations.

I mean, you have to have something to do when you're sitting there twiddling your thumbs while you're waiting for your meetings to start, right? :)
In my case, no. I am increasingly, deliberately, by design, doing nothing during those idle times.

I remember reading an article about the value of boredom. I'm going to try to find it.
 

Gardener

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I remember reading an article about the value of boredom. I'm going to try to find it.
Here's one article:


I may get myself a copy of the book that it discusses--though of course that is a project. :) I suspect I should add it to my Someday/Maybe Books list and leave it there until my first draft is done--the first draft is stalling and stuttering at about the 85% point, so I need to kill more projects, not add any. (Really, I also need to stop participating on forums. :))

The bit in the article about "default mode" is interesting:

"Now neuroscientists know that the default mode is when you do your most original thinking. You do your problem-solving. It's where you have imagination, where you have empathy."

When I evicted most of my hobbies and optional personal projects, I did leave gardening on the list, because gardens don't deal well with being abandoned. A lot of the work in my vegetable garden is mindless--forking beds, spreading compost, pulling weeds, inserting seeds every three inches, and so on. I've found that if I resist the urge to fill my mind with an audiobook or podcast or phone call, the current plot snarl in the novel is often straightened out by the time I leave the garden. I suspect I'm entering "default mode".

So my view is that GTD isn't necessarily a way to do more projects at once, but a way to reduce the impact of the number of projects that you truly must work simultaneously, so that you can experience both focus and boredom.
 

RobertWall

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and let's pretend it's 1982 and the resulting compile is going to take ten minutes.
I remember generating fractals on an Apple IIe in high school - so I totally get where you're coming from. Why fractals, and why an Apple IIe? Because Scientific American had a great article, I was in a math class where the code implementation looked like a fun thing to try, and the Apple IIe was the only computer I was allowed to use. :D

Just for reference, regarding the "twiddling your thumbs waiting for meetings to start" bit, that's an example straight from David Allen's presentations - so it's GTD canon. Not that that means one has to do it, but it's clearly reflective of the thought process that DA considers to be part of the "pure" methodology.

I see the article you've linked - I'll check it out. Incidentally, I'm finding myself listening to a lot more audiobooks these days for the primary reason that I can do it during time that would otherwise not be available for information intake. Grocery shopping, waiting at doctor visits, etc.

My view is that sitting there with your mind idle, "wasting" those ten minutes, will leave you much more effective when the compile is done and you're ready to resume the coding. I think, in fact, that making that phone call will cost you a great deal more than the wasted ten minutes.
I actually agree with this particular example. The most action I would take during those 10 minutes is to go to the kitchen, get some water, use the bathroom, etc. I wouldn't attempt anything that would jog me super-far out of that frame of reference.

But time waiting for a doctor, drive time, and dozens of other little spots of time in my week when I'm *not* holding a dozen things in mental RAM are, to me, great opportunities to move some little stuff forward.

Your mileage may vary, of course.
 

Gardener

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Just for reference, regarding the "twiddling your thumbs waiting for meetings to start" bit, that's an example straight from David Allen's presentations - so it's GTD canon. Not that that means one has to do it, but it's clearly reflective of the thought process that DA considers to be part of the "pure" methodology.
Part of my argument here is that during that thumb-twiddling time you could probably find something to do on your absolutely mandatory central focus projects, rather than working on something that won't be mandatory for ten to twelve weeks. That, IMO, fits nicely into GTD canon and my view, simultaneously. :)

The other part is that on those rare occasions when you can't--when you find that now and then there are a few minutes that you can't effectively fill with those projects--it may not be a good idea to load up a few more projects to fill that gap. You might be better off just embracing boredom for a few minutes now and then.

I'm not sure if GTD does suggest that you fill your plate extra-full to ensure that no moment is ever wasted. It might.

Edited to add: Except, I don't think that those apparently-idle moments necessarily are wasted.
 

RobertWall

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Part of my argument here is that during that thumb-twiddling time you could probably find something to do on your absolutely mandatory central focus projects, rather than working on something that won't be mandatory for ten to twelve weeks. That, IMO, fits nicely into GTD canon and my view, simultaneously. :)
The idea, of course, is to move the highest priority stuff along as fast as one can. That's a given.

But sprinkled throughout the GTD presentations there seems to be a presumption that if all of one's "must do" stuff is available and sorted onto next action lists, there will be realized efficiency. So if there's nothing related to your software project, you'll have a list of stuff to read, calls to make, etc. that moves your commitments along.

I'm not sure if GTD does suggest that you fill your plate extra-full to ensure that no moment is ever wasted. It might.
I don't think it suggest that you ever fill your plate extra-full - I think it just suggests that the fullness of your plate is a result of the total number of projects you've actually committed to, and that anything you've actually committed to doing needs to be on a projects list with defined next actions so you can make maximum progress as efficiently as possible.

For example, if you have forms you need to get from Frank for the project you're starting in two months, and you have a meeting with Frank today to discuss why you can't get a computer that takes less than 10 minutes to compile ( :) ), it (in theory) maximizes efficiency to bring the forms up at the meeting today, switch "ask Frank for forms" to "waiting for Frank to get me forms" in your task tracker, and set a follow-up date for an appropriate timeframe. That way Frank has maximum time to get you the stuff you need, and you're not going to get done with your current project two weeks early and be blocked because you don't have the forms. As long as you have to do the project anyway, might as well get your ducks in a row now.

Edited to add: Except, I don't think that those apparently-idle moments necessarily are wasted.
And to me, that's the gist of what I got from DA's presentation - the idea that if you *could* do something with that time and *don't* do something, you're not being as productive as you could be. It's not that there's never any time to relax and be creative, but it seems the thought is that the optimal behavior is to use time like that (waiting for meetings to start) to accomplish stuff on the task list so the time when you're *not* stuck in a meeting can be used more effectively.
 

Gardener

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I don't think it suggest that you ever fill your plate extra-full - I think it just suggests that the fullness of your plate is a result of the total number of projects you've actually committed to, and that anything you've actually committed to doing needs to be on a projects list with defined next actions so you can make maximum progress as efficiently as possible.
I'm not seeing it this way. For example:

Re: "If you have projects that you’re not going to be doing anything about for some time, they must go on your Someday/Maybe list"

That quote doesn't insist that these are projects that you're not committed to. Just that they're projects that you're not doing anything about for some time.

But I suspect that we'll continue to disagree on that point, and that it doesn't matter that much--it would be interesting to know for sure what the official practice is, but even if the official practice does prescribe keeping all my commitments moving at all times, I still won't be doing it. :) Because that's what works for me. And even if it doesn't prescribe it, I assume that you still will be doing it, for the same reason for you.
 

RobertWall

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I'm not seeing it this way. For example:

Re: "If you have projects that you’re not going to be doing anything about for some time, they must go on your Someday/Maybe list"

That quote doesn't insist that these are projects that you're not committed to. Just that they're projects that you're not doing anything about for some time.
Regarding the quote, unless we're quoting different sections or different books, the line is:

"If on reflection you realize that an optional project doesn’t have a chance of getting your attention for the next few months or more, move it to this list.”

That seems consistent with my understanding, as it's talking about optional projects.

but even if the official practice does prescribe keeping all my commitments moving at all times, I still won't be doing it. :) Because that's what works for me. And even if it doesn't prescribe it, I assume that you still will be doing it, for the same reason for you.
Absolutely. It's just interesting to understand what the methodology prescribes, and think about it at some level of depth.

Thanks for the counter-perspective. I'm probably going to get that book from that article about boredom - I'll nab it in audio form and give it a listen during all my misc. little periods of free time that would otherwise go to waste. ;)

Have a great evening!
 

Gardener

Registered
Regarding the quote, unless we're quoting different sections or different books, the line is:

"If on reflection you realize that an optional project doesn’t have a chance of getting your attention for the next few months or more, move it to this list.”

That seems consistent with my understanding, as it's talking about optional projects.
Hmm. My quote was from page 142 of the 2015 Kindle edition of Getting Things done. Yours is on page 178 of that same edition. They do seem to reflect a slightly different philosophy. I do find myself wondering exactly what "optional" means. Optional forever, or optional in the moment?

Edited to add: If you're using paper, mine is a few pages into Chapter 7, shortly after the Workflow Diagram.

Absolutely. It's just interesting to understand what the methodology prescribes, and think about it at some level of depth.

Thanks for the counter-perspective. I'm probably going to get that book from that article about boredom - I'll nab it in audio form and give it a listen during all my misc. little periods of free time that would otherwise go to waste. ;)
Yep; I'm very tempted to get a copy, but, not yet. I've found that reading fiction seems to somehow top up the fiction-writing well, but reading nonfiction is a distraction.
 

Oogiem

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Doubling back to the original discussion ("Someday / Maybe" vs. just deferring in OmniFocus) I don't defer *everything* - I still make heavy use of the Someday / Maybe lists. Heavy, heavy use. :) But to me, if I've committed to doing something (not just an "it would be nice if", but a "I need to do this for sure") it stays in OF.
I see what you mean but as I said if I had everything that is in my S/M lists inside OF there would be over 3500 projects in OF. I'm a fast reader and even *I* can't read and review 3500+ items every week without becoming numb to them. Reviewing quarterly in a separate app fits and is easy to do.

Perhaps a bigger issue that we are discussing is what goes into S/M. For me these are all things I want to do, plan to do in this lifetime, must do at some specific time or by some specific time but that time is months, years or decades into the future or are things that are waiting for some condition to be true (more resources like money or time or another project to finish) that also may not be done until some time months, years or decades into the future. In other words these are all things I am committed to doing. But the population of projects is huge and even I have to winnow it down to what I can accomplish in specific amounts of time. Most are seasonally active. IOW they can't be done during some specific 9 months of the year but in the 3 month period where they can be done they need to be reviewed weekly and worked on.

I have one tiny S/M list called Someday/Maybe by someone else that currently has 5 things on it. It used to have 6. The 6th thing was something I had worked on for several years on and off. Then I finally decided that I was not ever going to do it but it was still a useful thing to do. I put it into this list parked, with all my data and other research and notes. Eventually somoene came to me asking about that exact thing and wanting my help. I said no, I had already decided not to do that thing but that I'd provide all the work and stuff I had done on it previously if they were interested and they could take off. They did and the thing is done now and they used part of my research and work. That one list is the only one where I don't actually truly expect to ever do anything on it. All my remaining 3500 plus projects are things I really plan to do. Now realistically, at my age and stage in life, I seriously doubt if I will ever finish all of them but the list itself can be useful to whoever comes later. When my mother passed away and I inheirited the farm I also inherited her todo list. And in the 22 years I've been the caretaker of this farm so far I've actually accomplished many of the projects that she planned, dreamed of or actually started. I used her research and then continued it. I fully expect that whoever follows me will similarly find at least some benefit in my future plans. Maybe even more than I did as I believe mine are better researched and documented including reasons why they are important that will allow whoever follows to make better decisions about what to focus on.

I've been using GTD for a lot of years. Before that I had similar lists of future things but not as well organized and managed.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
Ah, I see what you're saying.

To me that doesn't sound horribly incompatible. I wasn't suggesting that somebody would be moving miscellaneous other projects along during a time they've blocked for deep work, but rather that a complete inventory of stuff they're committed to would potentially let them move other projects forward productively during their other available time.

I mean, you have to have something to do when you're sitting there twiddling your thumbs while you're waiting for your meetings to start, right? :)
Of course! But actually I connect with other people at the meeting before it starts, so that is what I do versus twiddling my thumbs. ;)
 

mcogilvie

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Of course! But actually I connect with other people at the meeting before it starts, so that is what I do versus twiddling my thumbs. ;)
Yes. GTD can help give you the bandwidth to be present too.

Re programming: I spend much more time these days debugging students (and the code they write) than writing code myself.
 

RobertWall

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Hmm. My quote was from page 142 of the 2015 Kindle edition of Getting Things done. Yours is on page 178 of that same edition. They do seem to reflect a slightly different philosophy. I do find myself wondering exactly what "optional" means. Optional forever, or optional in the moment?
Now *that's* interesting. Gives me something to think on. :)

Yep; I'm very tempted to get a copy, but, not yet. I've found that reading fiction seems to somehow top up the fiction-writing well, but reading nonfiction is a distraction.
Purely out of curiosity, BTW, what sort of fiction do you write?
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
This has been an excellent thread. We have different opinions, but we all can agree that GTD gives us the bandwidth to think and pursue as we see fit. My own personal experience is that when I am focusing on a major project, I do not ever want to worry about moving another 50+ projects forward by task-switching, just because actions are on my context lists. I think we are becoming too distracted and are losing the ability to focus for long periods of time. But everyone is different and everyone's circumstances and work environments are different.
 

ivanjay205

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I know I went dark for a bit but as the OP just wanted to thank everyone for the great discussion. I just have been following it along. I think what I took from it is our individual roles in work greatly affect the necessity of what happens.

I can see how software development is very different and needs specific focus at task at hand. You need to get "sprints" done and cannot run 200 of them at once.

As a COO, I do not always have that luxury. I have my own large and wide projects that are enterprise wide (for example in Q4 of 2019 I led a massive restructuring of our company with 0 terminations I might add :) ), and that had a lot of my focus. So for a rare opportunity I was laser focused on 5-6 projects because they were mission critical and everything else was secondary and "on hold". With that complete I am now back to my more typical grind. Just yesterday I returned to the office from vacation and the first 4 hours of my day was a revolving door of people with suggestions, questions, needing my input, etc. because I was gone for a week. I fully expected that so was prepared for it but it obviously quickly starts to build new ideas, tweaks, and communications I need to send out. So now very quickly my project list is going from 5-6 laser focused (not counting personal, just focusing on work) to 20-30 (again just work) spread out initiatives.

So I guess in essence I even have my own "context" of when I need to be laser focused on my own initiatives vs responding to others needs. I go through periods back and forth as after implementing numerous widesweeping changes it is very important to sit back, monitor, measure, support, and tweak vs change more things.

For me having the ability to sometimes limit my number of projects is important whether it is pure or not as it keeps me moving towards my short term goals without losing sight of the over-arching items I need to accomplish beyond them.
 

Gardener

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Purely out of curiosity, BTW, what sort of fiction do you write?
That's a harder question to answer for this first novel than one might expect. :)

(I'm not yet published; "Become a traditionally published author" could be regarded as one of my main Areas of Focus.)

This novel is either alternative history, or fantasy without magic, or possibly I can put the word "interstitial" in there and wave my hands a lot. One of my projects, eventually, is going to be, "Figure out what to call this thing when I submit it," likely followed by, "Come up with a more marketable concept for Novel Number 2," and "Decide when it's time to shelve Novel Number 1." (Or "Close your eyes and change the things that you know darn well are going to make Novel Number 1 unsalable.") But I'm still in, "Get the first draft finished if it kills you."

(Actually, I may have that more marketable concept, but it's for a middle grade novel set in the real prosaic world, so as I understand it, even if I sell it and do well, it's not going to get the hard-to-define kinda-fantasy thing sold.)
 

TesTeq

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That's a harder question to answer for this first novel than one might expect. :)

(I'm not yet published; "Become a traditionally published author" could be regarded as one of my main Areas of Focus.)

This novel is either alternative history, or fantasy without magic, or possibly I can put the word "interstitial" in there and wave my hands a lot. One of my projects, eventually, is going to be, "Figure out what to call this thing when I submit it," likely followed by, "Come up with a more marketable concept for Novel Number 2," and "Decide when it's time to shelve Novel Number 1." (Or "Close your eyes and change the things that you know darn well are going to make Novel Number 1 unsalable.") But I'm still in, "Get the first draft finished if it kills you."

(Actually, I may have that more marketable concept, but it's for a middle grade novel set in the real prosaic world, so as I understand it, even if I sell it and do well, it's not going to get the hard-to-define kinda-fantasy thing sold.)
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