Is a project/action link needed or not?

jpm

Registered
tominperu;44394 said:
Jpm,
this is interesting, you are saying that hiercarchical outliners don't work with lots of projects while I was thinking that's when they might come into their own! I have few projects and so have little need for a project/action link but I was thinking this might be different if I had loads of projects. But you're saying the opposite.

I assume something like Life Balance is a hiercarchical outliners. Why didn't it work for you with lots of projects? (also, incidently, what is UI? - I have no idea)
UI is User Interface. I've found tools such as Life Balance and other hierarchical outliners difficult to use for several reasons. I think the most prominant is that with larger numbers of Next Actions and Projects it is difficult to assign the next action to a project. Most tools use a drop down box and picking from 150 items doesn't work nearly as well as picking from a dozen.

I don't know that drop down boxes are really the problem, I think it is really more a matter of screen real estate... I just can't see all 150 projects on the list...

Remembering what I named a project can also be difficult. When I look at a next action, I intuitively know what it is about but I don't necessarily instantly recall what I named (tagged) the project. So finding the name in the list can be a pain sometimes.

When I've played with these tools they've made my weekly review run about 50% longer as I fiddle with putting in all the links... It just seems like wasted time to me so its something I don't worry about anymore...

I'm not saying it's not possible to develop something that would be useful but so far I haven't seen it.

Your idea that we as GTDer users have not made our needs clear on what we want from software tools is also interesting.

Anyone willing to say exactly what they would like?

I'll have a go now:

If I did want a project/action link, the tool could work like this. I just want to see the two lists side be side on the screen: project list and action list. Projects that don't have a next action show up in red. If I want to make a link I just click on the project and then click on an action, and that's it. When the curser is over a project, the next action should also appear. If it was that simple I MIGHT go back to a project action link!
Tom
Actually a side-by-side view would go a long ways toward making this easier. So far, I haven't seen an app that does this... But it would make doing the weekly review much easier...

I'd prefer speed keys to mouse clicks however...
 
I

Ivy

Guest
One more thought:

I don't need the link when I'm "cranking" so my NA list has no reference to projects apart from clear titles "Call Bob re TA travel" versus "Call Bob" or "Finish XYZ report conclusion" versus "Finish report." I started with references to projects in the NA list and it just slowed things down (because I'd always end up THINKING about the project instead of DOING the NA).

However, I do like to see the link when I'm doing a weekly review of my project list. I like to see the NAs I've completed, the NAs I'm working on, and the items I came up with as possible next NAs. It's a good reminder for me of project scope and gives me ideas for by inbox (more stuff to do). And I can easily make sure that all the projects are working. I'm notorious for "forgetting" or "losing" projects that aren't in my face so this helps me double-check that each of my active projects are working.

The tool I use allows me to do that with no duplication and very little overhead. I did have to come to terms with the idea that not all NAs will be under their project. Something quick and dirty I come up with during the week might not get filed under anything... but it does get accomplished (or if it doesn't, I'll pull it under its project during the weekly review).
 

moises

Registered
I look back at the evolution of my use of GTD and I have to chuckle at some of the objections made to linking projects to NAs, because they are so much at odds with my own personal experience.

When I first started my GTD implementation, I did it in Excel and I had a tab for each context, as well as one for Waiting For, and another for Someday/Maybe. Note, I started at the runway level. I didn't have a projects list.

Then I graduated to Outlook. I still didn't keep a projects list. And I didn't have project plans for anything except the most massive projects like moves and real estate acquisitions.

Eventually I migrated to the GTD Add-In for Outlook. I started creating projects with NAs under them. But I was never comfortable with the way projects worked in Outlook. I would resist creating a project, precisely because of the objections raised here: it was too costly in terms of time and too cumbersome for me to make the effort.

Now I use a hierarchical outliner. Only now do I implement GTD as David Allen himself recommends. Now, if there is the possibility of my needing more than one NA, I will create a project. There is virtually no cost. And the effort of answering the question, "What is the desired outcome?" forces me to formulate a clear project title, e.g. "November bank account reconciled." If I can achieve the desired outcome with a single NA, I won't create a project but otherwise I find it very helpful to write this desired outcome down in a clearly stated phrase.

How many people create a project when there are 2 NAs? I never did until I used an outliner program. It was too much trouble. Now I create a project in my outline and then put a NA under it.

Using my outliner application, I can filter my system by context, by contact (person I am waiting for), or by due date. I can view NAs only and I can view my project list only. But my favorite view is the outline view, where I see all the NAs lined up under my projects.

I don't conceive of myself as "linking my NAs to projects." Rather, I am creating a project list and ensuring that there are NAs attached to all the projects.

Most of my projects do not have project plans. But if they need them, they are in the attached notes of my project.

Yes, I do my Weekly Review regularly and yes, I agree that the Weekly Review is essential to my GTD implementation. But I still don't want to keep my project list one place, my NA list another place, and the connection between them in my head. David had a good idea: get it out of your head!

My outliner application has the capability to tell me which NA I should be working on right now. I never look at this. David's right: my world changes much too quickly and suddenly for me to follow some algorithm based on inputs I made last week. I don't want to put in the overhead assigning values to all my NAs so the machine can spit out an ordered list of NAs. Like David says, I use my intuition to figure out which NA I am going to do next.

I would like to pose a question. If you see on your list the NA, "Buy kumquats," do you assign it to a context like Errands? If you're doing GTD, the answer is an emphatic, "Yes!" Why? Is it because otherwise you're going to try to buy kumquats when you are working out at the gym or when you are sitting at your desk at the office? You know in your head that buying kumquats occurs when you are doing errands. But you still tolerate the overhead of assigning "Buy kumquats" a context because when you are in your Errands context you want to have a system that can filter your Errands and see them all nicely listed.

I know that "Buy kumquats" falls under my project "John's party successfully completed." In the same way that I want to see all my Errands NAs when I am doing Errands, there are times when I want to see all the NAs related to John's party. Especially when I am doing my Weekly Review, I want to see my project and all the NAs that are still open for it. Like a mind map, this enables me to think clearly about other NAs that I need to add.

I use contexts to keep my data organized. I use projects to keep my data organized as well.
 

br4978

Registered
Which outliner do you use? I'm interested because the filtering capabilities sound like a feature I could use....

TIA -

MB
 

Jeff K

Registered
moises;44429 said:
Yes, I do my Weekly Review regularly and yes, I agree that the Weekly Review is essential to my GTD implementation. But I still don't want to keep my project list one place, my NA list another place, and the connection between them in my head. David had a good idea: get it out of your head!
Well said!
 
J

jamie007

Guest
Great thread

This is a great thread. Tom has made some great points at the Propel'r blog and I would encourage others to bombard us with as many ideas as possible so that we can try and deliver the ultimate GTD / project management app.

The reason I always mention project management is that we are trying to push the use of GTD as part of a team. We even use the GTD methodology with clients i.e. client requests (tickets in Propel'r). These are just another part of the "collection" process and Propel'r gives you ways to easily convert requests/tickets into projects and actions.

I would love to give more information on the specifics of Propel'r, however I don't want to make any empty promises. Please keep an eye on the site for further developments and we'd love to hear peoples suggestions.
 
S

StuGib

Guest
moises;44429 said:
I know that "Buy kumquats" falls under my project "John's party successfully completed." In the same way that I want to see all my Errands NAs when I am doing Errands, there are times when I want to see all the NAs related to John's party. Especially when I am doing my Weekly Review, I want to see my project and all the NAs that are still open for it. Like a mind map, this enables me to think clearly about other NAs that I need to add.
I agree with all your previous points I snipped about what an outliner can offer, and have written about how I use Bonsai to do those very things, but this last point is the hurdle that usually causes my system to break down and why I'm now looking at less informal, or no links between projects/actions.

The problem is searching for the project when I'm processing my inbox. So I see 'buy kumquats' and then have to search for 'John's party...'. Individually that doesn't sound like a big deal, but it's another overhead which builds up a resistance to processing my inbox.

The other issue I've found is that I slip into making my outline a project planner rather than a list. It's too easy (for me) when I add 'buy kumquats' to add a sub-project of 'All food bought' and before I know it I've got a 2-3 level structure per project which makes the search and maintenance even more difficult.

My other idea is to try and limit myself to one level per project (one top-level project item with only one level of NA(s) underneath) and then keep project plans/subprojects (e.g. bought food, invited guests) in a separate outline and just bring NAs across to the main list when needed.

Have you found any of these problems, and if so, how do you overcome them?
 

moises

Registered
To br4978:

I use something called Achieve Planner produced by effexis software. The user base is not heavily oriented towards GTD but I find it works well with GTD and the developer, Rodger Constandse, has been quite responsive to my feature requests.

To StuGib:

The issues you raise are quite significant and need to be addressed.

1. I have the NA "Buy kumquats" in my inbox. How do I find the project denoting John's party so I can get the NA organized into my system?

This was something I did not like about the Outlook GTD Add-In. The drop down lists were cumbersome. In my current application, I don't find this to be a problem. Typically, I use Ctrl-F to search for "John" or "party." We are talking about less than a second. Once the cursor is in located in the correct project, I hit Ctrl-Insert and type "Buy kumquats."

My personal experience has been that this is a non-issue.

2. An outliner is a great tool for planning projects. Isn't the temptation there to use the outliner as a project planner? But if you succumb to that temptation, you are violating the principles of GTD. You are clogging your system with actions that are not NAs but future actions that are dependent on NAs.

This is a very real issue. My outliner allows me to create task dependencies, so I could have "Buy kumquats," and then its successor actions, "Wash kumquats," etc.

My outliner has the functionality that permits me to enter all these tasks, with their dependencies. My outliner would then generate an ordered task list. On that list, "Buy kumquats," would appear above "Wash kumquats."

But I do not use this functionality. My world moves too quickly and my priorities shift rapidly. So I adhere to the GTD discipline of listing only nondependent NAs.

If I want to create a project plan, typically, I will create it in the "notes" part of my project description.

Originally, I was attracted to outliners because I knew that LifeBalance would generate an ordered list of tasks and that sounded like the Holy Grail. I would truly enter GTD nirvana and only have to think once a week, during my Weekly Review. The rest of the week I would merely execute. I am sorry to say that, given my constitutional makeup and given the nature of my job, I can't work that way. So I practice good old-fashioned GTD and use my intuition to decide what I am going to work on next.

So much for nitty-gritty detail. My larger point is that I have found an outliner to be an essential tool for doing GTD as David Allen recommends. Pre-outliner, I resisted creating a project when my desired outcome had two NAs. I would rely on my intuition to remind me, after I completed the first NA, to start the second NA. Now that I have a more effective tool, I create projects at the drop of a hat. Once I check off a NA as complete, I look at my project name, if the desired outcome has not yet been achieved, I add a new NA. Because I am more inclined to create projects, I reap more of the benefits of what David Allen, in the last chapter of his GTD book, calls "the power of outcome focusing."
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
Your GTD approach with Achieve Planner...

Hi Moises,

I would love to see how you have adapted Achieve Planner to GTD. I also have this program and think it is great. Would you be willing to share with me your setup?

Thanks,
Longstreet
 

moises

Registered
Longstreet,

Welcome, fellow APer.
I will try to write up my AP configuration in a different thread. I don't want to hijack this thread. I'll put it in the "Gear, gadgets, . . " forum in the next day or so.

moises
 
I

Ivy

Guest
I use Bonsai as well and have some of the same issues...

StuGib;44443 said:
The problem is searching for the project when I'm processing my inbox. So I see 'buy kumquats' and then have to search for 'John's party...'. Individually that doesn't sound like a big deal, but it's another overhead which builds up a resistance to processing my inbox.

The other issue I've found is that I slip into making my outline a project planner rather than a list. ...

My other idea is to try and limit myself to one level per project (one top-level project item with only one level of NA(s) underneath)...

Have you found any of these problems, and if so, how do you overcome them?
First, finding projects. I currently don't have that many active projects, so I simply open the project filter (basically everything except super long-range stuff is in one giant outline with multiple filters) and search or sort by text. I have my defaults set to always create new items like siblings (this helps both for adding NAs to projects as well as loose NAs to context lists).

Second, level limits. I rarely have more than three levels: Goals, Projects, and NAs (and I'm thinking that that's too many and the goals/project thing is just pointless and just complicates stuff). There are very rare exceptions (for example a project that has several parts that happen over various weeks... I create them as sub-project items but then promote them to the top level during my weekly review).

Third, inbox processing. I've resigned myself to having NAs that might be under a project, but that are just floating loose in my NA list. It might be something I type in quickly on the fly or that came in quickly. But so what? I typically know what it's for and can move it under the project later if I want. Since I work from flat NA lists, I don't see the projects while I'm working anyway.
 

Paul@Pittsburgh

Registered
This continues to be an interesting discussion.

Currently I am using a Projects as Contacts method (or a hybrid of this). There is an overhead in terms of time in making the link between the NA and the Project, although I have found that creating the project in the first instance takes longer than making the link.

There are clearly diverse opinions as to whether a hard link is needed or not. My thought having read the replies and thought about this more myself is that it probably depends on the degree to which we each feel comfortable having that link or not, and whether the time taken to create the links is time well spent. For me it is, since it offers me peace of mind that I can review my projects whenever I want to and see what actions or waiting for's I have on that project.

To those that consider 150, 180, 200+ projects too many to have on the go at any one time - again this depends on your circumstances and definitions. Is a project truely actionable if it has a waiting for and you don't want to move it to a someday/maybe? That would easily account for about 100 of my projects before I even begin to consider the actionable ones. Sure I could move them to another list, but that just creates another overhead for me and having to decide when to move them back on the list etc. So it depends on our circumstances and comfort factor I think.

I feel comfortable with 200 projects because I have the NA links. The few seconds in establishing the link saves me more time (and feelings of discomfort) later than not creating the link and having to figure it out at the review stage.

Also, I don't know about others, but a lot of my projects tend to be action driven/created. By this, I mean that they first appear at my runway. So I create a NA for a WF if I reply straight away. My first inclination is not to create the project although I am getting better at this because I don't know if it will lead to another action or not - e.g. send a prospect info creates a WF and they may answer they are not interested - no action needed! So actually having a Project-NA link helps me make sure that my projects have NAs and also that NA's and WF's where appropriate have Projects too.

I can work from either my NA list or my Projects list as I choose.

As a curiosity I am going to try and estimate how much this costs me in overhead time each day for a week - just to give myself a more measured feel for it.

Paul
 

kewms

Registered
When the only action is a Waiting For or a followup phone call, I put the item in my tickler file for the followup date. These usually don't count toward my project total and do not appear on my project list.

Whatever works...

Katherine
 

Paul@Pittsburgh

Registered
kewms;44466 said:
When the only action is a Waiting For or a followup phone call, I put the item in my tickler file for the followup date. These usually don't count toward my project total and do not appear on my project list.

Whatever works...

Katherine
DO you track the follow up date anywhere Katherine?

I am interested in this because this is an area I want to improve on. Some of my prospects take 1-2 years to get their funds together - so I have a WF, but not a clear follow up date with them - too soon puts them off, too long and I lose touch and feel less proactive. So I tend to think in terms of 3-6 months ahead and just contact them with a newsletter or something. But unless I track the follow up date and know which Tickler its in when it does come in, I have to potentially search through half a dozen files. Well maybe that is not so onerous but you get the idea.

I should add - another benefit I do see of keeping them as a project, is that if a piece of info comes across my path, I think they are interested in, then I can pass that across because they continue to be in my mind at each WR. I don't know if that would happen if I put them in a tickler.

Paul
 

andersons

Registered
tominperu;44297 said:
I find that I also often merge different projects into one and sometimes decide to split a project into a number of smaller projects. Can the links be easily shifterd around in Life Balance or will I have to spend time at weekly review keeping the links current?
Splitting projects is natural because the new subprojects should become new levels in the outline.

If you define a project by its successful desired outcome, that should rarely change. Under the project should come all the actions, subprojects, whatever is needed to complete the project. It shouldn't matter how many items it takes or how many levels. Just throw everything under that parent project. The "link" is automatic and should take no time to "keep current."

If you complete every item under a parent project, the project itself will show up on your ToDo list. If the project is not done, you know that you need to define another action to move it forward. The childless project catches you; you do not need to catch it.

This feature is a major time-saver, believe me.

Stuff in the outline generally takes the format

> Highest level = organizing category of projects
--> Successful project outcome is completed?
-----> NA A
-----> NA B
-----> NAs that have to be completed in order (only one at a time shows on ToDo)
--------> NA 1
--------> NA 2
--------> NA 3

A successful outcome is a successful outcome. I have a hard time imagining why I would need to merge or split project successful outcomes in a project outline. (Merging or splitting would roughly be the same as moving file "folders" on a computer's hard drive, visualized in an outline view, like with Windows Explorer Folder pane.) But instead, I urge you to specify your project as an outcome, which will rarely change, and throw everything needed to complete that outcome underneath it.
 

tominperu

Registered
andersons;44473 said:
If you define a project by its successful desired outcome, that should rarely change. Under the project should come all the actions, subprojects, whatever is needed to complete the project. It shouldn't matter how many items it takes or how many levels. Just throw everything under that parent project. The "link" is automatic and should take no time to "keep current."

If you complete every item under a parent project, the project itself will show up on your ToDo list. If the project is not done, you know that you need to define another action to move it forward. The childless project catches you; you do not need to catch it.

This feature is a major time-saver, believe me.

Stuff in the outline generally takes the format

> Highest level = organizing category of projects
--> Successful project outcome is completed?
-----> NA A
-----> NA B
-----> NAs that have to be completed in order (only one at a time shows on ToDo)
--------> NA 1
--------> NA 2
--------> NA 3
Thanks for that andersons. I intend to start trying Life Balance this weekend. I think I need to use it over a period of time to get used to the new way of working and give it a fair trial.

Many of the recent posts on this thread seem to be from people who use outliners and say they like them.

Tom
 

andersons

Registered
BigStory;44299 said:
In the Podcast interview that Merlin Mann and David created, David specifically stated that he has never had the question, "How do I link next actions and projects?" raised by someone who consistently did their Weekly Review.

So I guess David's answer is that your brain does the linking, and there is no software that even comes close to power and efficiency of your brain - and that, besides adding the drag of additional data entry.
From the viewpoint of rationally analyzing the methodology of GTD, this answer leaves a lot to be desired.

First, the Weekly Review as described in the book is a long process that many people find difficult to do. Compliance is a big problem with this stage of the GTD process.

If anyone following any system of productivity (or no particular system at all) were to spend two hours each week (the number mentioned in the book) thinking about and reviewing everything he needs to do, he'd be organized and quite on top of things.

This is like Dr. Atkins saying that he has never seen a person follow the Induction Phase of his diet and not lose weight.

Second, "your brain does the linking" does not fit very well with the "get everything out of your head" message drilled elsewhere. And it is not a good line of reasoning. Why keep a Projects list at all? My brain knows what project each action belongs to! Keeping a separate Projects list is a lot of extra data entry and maintenance overhead that definitely creates a lot of drag in the system -- as compared to a basic ToDo list.

Third, "there is no software that even comes close to the power and efficiency of your brain" is a ridiculous statement. Well-designed software routinely does certain tasks many orders of magnitude faster and more efficiently than any human brain can -- which is why computers exist.

For me, if software can link related pieces of information together, I am not going to spend any time linking them with my own brain during a Weekly Review. Why should I?
 

andersons

Registered
jpm;44302 said:
This is exactly the point. If you aren't doing your weekly review, you aren't doing GTD.
Hmm. Well, maybe so, but then I guess GTD is not the only way to get things done, or even necessarily the Best Way.

jpm;44302 said:
It took me a year to realize that David was right. Just before going to Road Map in SF last year I sat down to prove him wrong. I was certain I needed the link (I'd only been doing weekly reviews about every other week). I did a weekly review (over 200 projects and close to 300 Next Actions) and then went through every next action and instantly knew what project it was for...
If you had been linking them previously, and reviewing them every other week, then of course you should be able to identify the correct project for each action, given a list of actions.

The real question is how well your brain would know your projects and actions if you had never, ever organized them with external links.

The act of organizing information by somehow visualizing relationships changes the way your brain represents and recalls the information -- even after you stop visualizing the relationships externally.

jpm;44302 said:
But it would need to be completely automated, zero-overhead feature to be of use... Even 3 seconds is too much overhead given the payoff. Over a year, 3 seconds x 200 Next Actions/Week x 52 weeks ~ 10 hours of overhead annually. I'd much rather have the 10 hours for something more productive...
For me, 3 seconds is a worst-case, not the typical case. And no, 3 seconds is not too much. It saves much more time during Weekly Review, when it probably takes more than 3 seconds to make sure your project has a NA.

jpm;44302 said:
Your action lists are supposed to be actionable without thinking. If this is truely the case, why would you need to know what project you are linked to in order to make a phone call?
This is not the only reason, or even an important one, to link projects and actions.

The main reason is that because projects and actions ARE REALLY linked -- the actions are steps to complete projects -- you will have to do the linking sometime, somehow. The GTD way is in one lengthy Weekly Review.

Another reason is that it is often desirable to catch projects with no NAs more often than once a week.

Another reason is that if you can instantly switch to a project-context view of an NA, you can sometimes more intelligently complete that NA. Or even see a better way to make progress on the project. Or get into a "flow" of progress on that project.
 

andersons

Registered
kewms;44353 said:
And yet, maintaining the project-action link is the single most common topic in this forum, and the single most common complaint that people have about their GTD tools, both paper and electronic. No matter how good the solutions out there are in principle, clearly users continue to have trouble with them in practice.

That says to me that perhaps the software is attempting to solve the wrong problem, or maybe it would be more accurate to say that the software users are not expressing their requirements clearly, perhaps because they aren't sure what their requirements are. It also suggests that the attention paid to this particular problem is misplaced: if you need a strong project-NA link, perhaps there is something more subtle wrong with your system.
I see several possible reasons for having trouble maintaining a project-action link.
1) Using tools ill-suited to do so (e.g., Outlook, paper).
Outlook and paper are probably the most widely used productivity tools. With these tools, I probably wouldn't use a link.

2) Using tools suited for the data, but not using them to their best advantage.
For example, as a long-time Life Balance user I have seen many new users (including myself) struggle with using the software because they attempt to continue to do manually what they have always done in the past, instead of letting the software do the work. This is like washing the dishes by hand before putting them in the dishwasher, and then saying that the dishwasher adds more work to the process of getting the dishes clean.

3) But there is a third reason for complaint that is the fault of the software. Even for software designed for the structure of the data, usability can suffer because of the interface. I can think of possible interface improvements for just about every tool I have tested.

But there are some that are already very good.
 

kewms

Registered
Paul@Pittsburgh;44467 said:
I am interested in this because this is an area I want to improve on. Some of my prospects take 1-2 years to get their funds together - so I have a WF, but not a clear follow up date with them - too soon puts them off, too long and I lose touch and feel less proactive. So I tend to think in terms of 3-6 months ahead and just contact them with a newsletter or something. But unless I track the follow up date and know which Tickler its in when it does come in, I have to potentially search through half a dozen files. Well maybe that is not so onerous but you get the idea.
First, let me say that my prospect list is much shorter, and so is my horizon. A potential client who takes 6 months to get things together is moving very slowly by my standards. What works for me may not work for you.

Second, this sounds like the sort of thing that is a core competency of software like Act! Is there a reason why you're not using full-scale contact management software? (Note that I've never used it, and can't talk intelligently about the pros and cons.)

But with those two caveats, your question doesn't actually make sense to me. When I put an item in my tickler, *all* that is in the tickler file is a slip of paper that says something like "June 17: Call J. Doe re: Frozzbozz project. Ready to move? We talked March 3." Everything else related to J. Doe or the Frozzbozz project is filed elsewhere. If he calls me, I don't have to search through my tickler file, but through my action support materials. (Exactly what materials depends on the situation. It might be a note in his contact record, a saved email, whatever. Mostly these materials are filed electronically, and are therefore easy to search quickly.)

So no, I don't track followup dates, but I find I don't need to. YMMV.

Katherine
 
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