Randal Fullhart - priorities

Discussion in 'ALL: What's New in Connect' started by John_Lewis, Feb 8, 2007.

  1. John_Lewis

    John_Lewis Registered

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    At last, priorities get a mention! Am I alone in this? Am I different? Am I missing something?

    For those who are interested ...

    It is just over a year since I ran into the GTD book in a book shop, when I supposed to be Christmas (2005) shopping for gifts for other people. Within a week or two, the junk was in the "in" pile, the office was rearranged so that I could reach the reference files more easily and, of course, the Brother labeller was bought. Project lists and action lists appeared, all on paper (because paper is "OK", I heard). I felt quite a bit better, but knew there was more.

    Something had to be done, I know that there are ways forward and GTD has so many things going for it; so the commitment deepened. I spent the time and money to attend one of David's one day events (in London) (only to be asked "why are you back?"!, well, I am obviously stupid!), and joined GTD Connect. It is great. Of all the things that have come out of this, the most surprising has been the "In Conversation" CD's and listening to them in my car.

    The big thing that got me hooked and keeps me hooked on GTD is something which I do not hear mentioned by others as being a hook for them. It is the contexts idea. The concept of identifying things related to subject areas, projects areas or just plain random thoughts which are arriving in one "dimension" and organising them in the another "dimension" of the context in which they can be done, seems crucial to the whole process. This is despite the fact that I still have difficulty identifying what my contexts actually are!

    So I end up with masses of stuff and tried to structure it this way. But paper is hard, maybe it is just me, (I am sorry but) it just cannot do the referential relationships that seem to be required for this. (Tell me I am missing something!) I tried various homemade electronic and other techniques (MyLifeOrganized is the only tool that I can get excited about for this).

    Anyway ... this is clearly a very long road; I can see the sunny uplands in the distance, but they are not getting any closer!

    Every now and again, someone asks about PRIORITIES. It is like: "Excuse me, I am sorry to ask a silly question, but is anyone else thinking that I need maybe just a little bit of help with priorities?" Hey, my ears are pricked up, my eyes are open, what is the answer ... show me. And the answer is: "well ... do what ever you feel like...". Oh no!! I love it and hate it at the same time. Yes it is so Zen to just feel the time, feel the totality of all the things one might do next, feel the wind on one's face and just feel what is right to do next and do it. Wow!

    But wait, if I don't do this thing today and get it to Fred, then Fred is not going to get his bit done by the end of tomorrow and we are going to be up a creek without a paddle at the meeting on Monday. Where does this information come from? This, for me, is the huge fear of just taking all those bits of paper, including the note to do something urgent today, and putting into this big pile of IN things and trusting that it will all come out in the wash and (low and behold) that pressing thing will emerge again as the next things to do! I'd love to trust it, but I don't! At least not yet.

    Of course, I know techniques for doing this; but I am supposed to doing GTD!!

    So Randy Fullhart is asked about priorities and right away he has answers. I knew them already, but I needed to be reminded ... not least because I am submerged in this GTD thinking which doesn't mention them.

    "Fly the plane!" How many times I have heard that, and told it to other people? I fly a bit (350 hours mainly on a lovely, but old, Socata Trinidad) and the first time the cummy door catches on an old Cessna come open and the door flies open as you climb away, you had better have a built in voice saying "Fly the plane!" or you might not get the opportunity again. ANC: "Aviate, Navigate, Communicate" is a fuller version of that. Again, it really helps a lot and especially when you are overloaded (also known as a "brain fire" in aviation).

    And the big rocks, middle sized rocks, small rocks analogy ... of course, have I been asleep?!

    So now I am going to change tack. The most important project is the most important project! Let's get the things organized for a small number of the important projects and concentrate on the most important one. Let's get the contexts thing going and if, while doing the next thing on the most important project, I can also mop up a couple of others in the same context than that has got to be effective.

    At last, I can see how this can move forward ... why does this all take so long?!

    Regards,
    John
     
  2. Dave John

    Dave John Registered

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    Once you have everything parked correctly in your GTD system …. turn your back on it.

    Sit down, and look out the window. Sip a coffee, and ask yourself what is the most important thing you need to be doing now?

    The answer will usually arrive naturally and quickly. It could be your next big deadline for a deliverable, or it may be just to make a call and reschedule a meeting or commitment.

    Your number one priority will most likely be them same one you would have had even if you never heard of GTD. The thing is, GTD allows you to focus on that priority with the reassurance that you have looked at everything else, and you can now be certain that there are no time bombs ticking in your in-tray.

    GTD allows you to elevate yourself above your work and look at all the commitments and open loops, and judge which is the most important one.

    Priorities are actually unavoidable. Your number one priority already exists. You can usually make a good guess at what it is, and GTD allows you the perspective to be comfortable that that judgment is correct.

    GTD gives you proof that your choice of number one priority is correct, but it is not meant to be a prioritising tool.

    Dave
     
  3. John_Lewis

    John_Lewis Registered

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    Dave, thanks for your views on this topic.

    Yes, that is the "vision" that I have too. But it is, as yet, only a vision.

    It does exist, so why do I need to guess at it? And if it is only a guess, then is that good enough?

    This is the part that is not making sense. If GTD does help with prioritisation, then it can; if it doesn't, then it cannot. If it is not meant to be a prioritising tool, is your view that it is doing so anyway, as a side-effect, or not? In any case, regardless of what it is meant to do, it has not only to do it but I must trust it to do it, as I understand it.

    Overall, I think that, as currently presented, GTD is extremely difficult to implement. It is only necessary to listen Peter Gallant's experience of this; he is clearly a very bright, energetic and focused individual with a real need and experience of designing workflow software; yet he admits that he had to read the book, try it, bounce off it, read the book again and possibly a third time, and only then after spending significant time and effort did it start falling into place. Now, whatever we think of our relative capabilities (and my gut feeling is that if he can do it, then I can do it too), what hope is there for the vast majority of people?

    A lot of the difficulty seems to stem from the mantra of getting "everything" into the system, when the "system" does not yet exist. In trying (and I mean really trying) to do this, I cling to some things which I know to work well which act as associations/connections into the GTD approach.

    "Putting it by the door" is one. It works because you have put it where you will bump into it when you next need it.

    The shopping list is a classic one: put it on the list and when you go shopping take the list with you. Then, when in the shop, you have the list; it works. My partner, on the other hand, pitches up at the supermarket and then starts trying to remember what we might need; essentials run out, we have duplicates of things ...

    And, for me the biggest example of all is aviation: when flying there are far more things to handle than you can possibly figure out at the time; you need to manage a wide range of things in categories such as airframes, engine, fuel, navigation, radio, etc. and each of these has multiple actions which need to be taken at appropriate times. So, the actions are organised as checklists by context. Contexts are: startup, taxiing, power checks, pre-takeoff, after takeoff, cruise, pre-descent, field approach, pre-landing, after landing, taxiing, shutdown and then a variety of abnormal (emergency) contexts. And the checklist, for each context, has actions from most of the categories. But, interestingly, although they are all written down, I hardly ever read them; instead we have acronyms to recall them. Of course, we have not even mentioned the flight planning, load planning, etc,. which also goes on; oh and all the training, maintenance, accident investigation, air space planning .... and I only know about private flying in light aircraft. Anyway, needless to say, it all works ... most of the time!

    So why can't we start by extending from what we know works, by organising parts of what we do and extending our systems to include those and gradually pulling in more and more, until ultimately it is all in there? As the systems improved and worked for parts of our lives, we would get the payoff from that, would gain experience of doing this and sweep in other larger areas with increasing ease.

    I know that we would not get the great "aha" feeling until at the end; and I have tasted that. We know, for example, (I think) that getting the Inbox down to 20 is useful but it is getting the last one out of there that is the BIG buzz.

    But if we keep bouncing off it and feel no great benefit (and some major uncertainties) until the system is completely set up, working and populated with everything, then ... well, in my view, significant proportions of the population have very little chance of making it.

    Am I alone in feeling this?!

    Regards,
    John
     
  4. Dave John

    Dave John Registered

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    Hi John
    I often go back to the sub-title of GTD when I am explaining it to people: “Workflow Management”. GTD is a way to totally manage the flow of work through your life.

    Your flying analogy seems to seek total and utter control over all things in life simultaneously in the same moment – but we can only focus on a small amount of things at a time. And we can comfortably focus on a few things when we know that the rest are tagged and current.

    Your “major uncertainties” could be due to the fact that you have not fully thought about certain things and identified outcome, plan, commitment and next action, and then captured them in your trusted system where they can't drop off the radar.

    Dave
     
  5. cris

    cris Guest

    Randall Fulhart interview

    I really liked this interview. In particular:

    1. Teamwork - that the important things are accomplished by capable teams rather than individuals. Also that the important things are the projects.

    2. That the purpose of the organization was to train leaders - the flying and maintenance of planes was a byproduct (or a means to that end as I saw it).

    3. That he uses a three-ring binder with printouts from Outlook. This is my method - I have my lists on the computer, but the working version is printed out, and I make notes on paper. Go paper!

    4. There was a mention of time that was needed to spend on the greater than two minute actions. This is my downfall - these are the things that do not get done (at home, not at work - the realm of the personal is my challenge). The idea of asking myself what is my "perfect schedule" - I really liked that.

    Overall it was a great example of a basic GTD system used by a capable leader that allows him to focus on the most important aspects of what he and his organization have to do.

    I did have one objection. When he gave the analogy of putting the plane on autopilot and having the co-pilot monitor it while the pilot dealt with a problem, I think the point was there has to be someone to fly the plane in order for the pilot to deal with specific problems. This didn't seem to me to be how David interpreted it - that we can be on autopilot if we have our lists and reviews in order. There has to be someone flying the plane that isn't us, thus the importance of being part of team rather than an individual. Maybe I'm reading more into this than was there.

    I can actually see some ways to apply this to my life at this point. We are in the process of building teams at my church, in order to be more effective with community service. I know that I would rather work on my own, but I can only get so far by myself.

    Now how do I make my husband and kids understand that our family is a team? That is the $64,000 question.

    Cris
     
  6. John_Lewis

    John_Lewis Registered

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    Dave, that is helpful
    I agree that this is an important aspect of what GTD offers.
    Well, yes and no! Clearly the aim is that nothing falls through the cracks so that, in that sense, everything is under control. But, as I was trying to describe, this is managed specifically by not trying to handle them all "simultaneously". I drew the analogy because GTD uses the same approach, as follows. One can simultaneously handle the specification of related actions which hang together over time to achieve an outcome; this could be a project in GTD or the management of an aircraft's fuel resources in aviation. Also one can simultaneously handle the actions which can be executed at the same time; this could be all your telephone calls in GTD or all the aircraft settings to be made before making an approach to land. In both cases, the totality of the actions to be performed is being subdivided in one dimenstion for specification. and in an orthogonal dimension for execution.
    Exactly, and, as described earlier, I am suggesting that this is the reason that this is such a barrier, takes so long to achieve and, most likely, has a high rate of attrition among potential practitioners. How can a system be trusted, if it has not been designed, does not exist yet and has not been used by anyone? How can the results of identifying outcomes, plans, commitments and next actions be recorded if the system does not exist? GTD seems to be providing a specification for the behaviour of a personal management system, as well as some design guidelines and some techniques which might work for you. But it (understandably) resists committing to specific systems designs, which could potentially be easily implemented.

    I want to trust "my system", but I don't yet. This doesn't stop me working on designing and building it.

    Regards,
    John
     
  7. namaste

    namaste Guest

    priorties

    As Roy Blunt, Jr., the great writer, once said, "life is a many angled thing." And like life priorities tend to have many, many angles. In the GTD Connect white papers there is a download about "What is Important." It runs you through a grid of making some choices, frequently hard choices, about what is important now. It looks like a great tool.

    What is important now will change shortly when life's many angles change, and that is frequent. David's advice on priorities may seem like a cop out, but really if you meditate on what you have on your plate in the moment, even if you have not captured it all, what is highest priority will likely appear in a flash. There is a flow that comes from just sitting with things and letting the important stuff bubble up.

    What I suspect is a major problem is that we'd like something a bit more scientific, more certain, more rule bound ... and infinitely easier, with fewer conflicts to grapple with, and such. But to the best of my knowledge there is no system that will give you that kind of answer. I'm not sure that a system could be designed to do that, other than our brain power and courage to plunge in.

    Just my two cents.
     
  8. pascalvenier

    pascalvenier Registered

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    I was also very impressed by the "In conversation" with Brigadier General Randal D. "Randy" Fullhart. I have already listened to it twice whilst driving, but I need to do it a third time, pen in hand this time, as there are a lot of ideas, worth reflecting further upon.

    Since leaving Maxwell AFB, Fullhart is now Deputy Chief, Central Security Service, National Security Agency. His official USAF bio is available at http://www.af.mil/bios/bio.asp?bioID=7856

    I must say that I am most impressed by the way GTD Connect has improved in the recent months. :)
     
  9. DavidAllen

    DavidAllen GTD Connect

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    Ah... priorities.

    Thanks to all of you for this thread - great grist for the mill.

    Believe it or not, I'm going to soon be publicizing (in some way I haven't figured out yet) the value of the daily to-do list! (What did he say? David Allen? Daily to-do list????) Yes. It works. It helps. It's good. Just be ready to re-do it 56 times today. So, as long as you have the flexibility of the pilot (thanks to you airplane aficionados for the analogies) to drop to the tiniest surprise detail when required, keep your eye where you're going, have a good auto-pilot you can trust to keep things on even keel while you troubleshoot, and still can maintain bandwidth and perspective to consider big navigational shifts as they may occur as options... you're on. And I have a MindManager mindmap call "DA World" which I use to grab what most is grabbing me in the moment, for the day, with links to everything else as that might surface for reviewing. I'm just not real invested in figuring out at 10am what I'm going to be doing at 3pm, of if I am, making sure that I'm not putting any concrete around it.

    I've done a pilot seminar for Countrywide Financial called Managing Multiple Priorities, which takes a full eight hours to describe the three core models with which you must have facility and content - strategic perspective (Horizons of Focus), tactical intelligence (Natural Planning), and clear focus with seamless execution (Mastering Workflow). I defy anyone to tell me they can truly trust their priority choice, at any moment in time, without having the capability to use each of those models, with mature and current content at each of the levels. The main reason I haven't focused as strongly on all that as other people have is (1) it's a whole lot bigger animal than "ABC" thinking can even hope to bag, and (2) if people are feeling out of control at all, I wouldn't trust their ability to use the prioritizing models effectively. For you RoadMap participants, you know it's about control and perspective, and those are different, though very integrated, dynamics.

    Anyway, delighted to read your posts - great soup and pot to continually be stirred. - David
     
  10. GTDWorks

    GTDWorks Registered

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    David:

    This is a fascinating post and I look forward to hearing you unpack it further for us.

    I would agree: "I defy anyone to tell me they can truly trust their priority choice, at any moment in time, without having the capability to use each of those models, with mature and current content at each of the levels."

    I have come to understand that there are many layers to this onion and they all need to be peeled back in order to experience the most pungent and yet delightful scent of the GTD System with its resultant benefits to mastering our lives and work.

    Onward and upward!
     
  11. Paul@Pittsburgh

    Paul@Pittsburgh Registered

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    Some excellent posts. I am listening to the interview again tonight after listening to it once already but not being able to give it my most full attention at the time.

    The topic and some of what David said above is very timely for me personally.

    One of my big successes so far this year has been going back to some very basic goal-setting concepts.

    I have the vision, purpose, values, mission etc pretty much down, and plenty of on-going goals/projects associated with each of my areas of focus. But one challenge that has arisen from that at times, is that I haven't felt as focused on certain goals that are really most important for a given time frame (be it a year, or a quarter). The nagging sense of feeling I needed to be moving everything along was diluting my attention.

    So, this year I have identified 4 primary goals (2 business and 2 personal) which if I achieved these goals would be considered a good year. My intention has been to pretty much work on these goals on a daily basis. Even if it's just a small action, but to keep them moving. And I have also been journalling my progress on these goals on a daily or 2-day basis to keep myself accountable.

    What I have found is that I have gained an enormous amount of clarity from this.

    I am now experimenting with an @Today category that I have added to my GTD system. Using the TaskPad in Outlook, I only show tasks with this category selected. I give myself permission to carry them over in needed to another day or change my focus depending on what is coming in. But I find that by going through my lists once in the AM and then again after lunch, depending on what has come in during the day, this is keeping me focused on a few tasks rather than the 80-100 actions on my lists right now (most of which could be processed when I am in the office).

    Great stuff.

    Paul
     
  12. cris

    cris Guest

    Difficulty of GTD

    I think the martial art metaphor is one of the most apt metaphors I've ever seen. I know from studying Tae Kwon Do that it requires practice. The Grandmaster had some books written about him, with instructions about how to do the forms. He used to joke about people who read the book and thought that was enough. His scorn for learning the art any way other than two hour practice sessions 3-5 days a week was pretty clear.

    When I was new, it was just awkward and sort of irritating. I think I was still a yellow belt after six months when it came together, not to the point that I was anything more than a mediocre yellow belt, but to the point where I was able to put energy into the practice in a way that started me actually improving rather than simply going through the motions. I only practiced for two years (up to purple belt), but what I learned there has stuck with me - that I could achieve something I would have thought impossible, merely by persistent effort.

    For me the martial arts analogy has played out like this:

    White belt: learned the elementary forms - set up the filing system and inbox, processed immediate paperwork and got everything out of my head and into a system of lists. It wasn't totally smooth. However even if I had stopped here, my life would have still been significantly enhanced.

    Yellow belt: really got the forms down - had the filing, inbox, processing smooth. Some lapses. Some reviews did more harm than good (adding more projects than I could reasonably handle). Less things were falling through the cracks.

    Green belt: NA lists were almost always reasonable. Good use of someday/maybe. Some reviews were actually effective. Life was better all around. Less and less regrets about things I could have done but didn't get it together to do.

    Purple belt: More things were brought into the scope of my GTD system. Longer term projects related to bigger goals in life began to get off the ground, shakily, not all successful. Things at home were very well organized - library, papers, finances. I had to remind myself how it used to be. I developed and maintained a successful budget for the first time in my life, for an entire year. Able to apply GTD principles to some problems that weren't well defined.

    Brown belt: Getting comfortable with long term projects. Started to see how all the parts of my life fit together. Left my dead-end (for me) job that didn't fit in with the rest of my life in any way. I really have to give GTD credit for this because I had my eyes open about what I was able to do - I had it clearly and explicitly documented, when I did a review, that what I wanted to do could not be done if I was going into an office every day and doing work that I no longer enjoyed.

    Black belt: still to come - it looks really good though. From where I stand I see myself getting a master's degree in theological studies and taking on a minor leadership position in our church's social action program, along with the usual wife and mother activities. I have taken some steps in that direction already and I'm really excited about it.

    This will be after about four years of practice with some lapses back to white belt during stressful times.

    I think that brings me to the topic at hand, because I was very much moved by what Randal Fullhart said about the fact that great things are not accomplished by isolated individuals. To me the black belt will be mine when I can leverage my capabilities by interacting with others in a productive way - when I can make a major contribution to projects that are much bigger and more effective than anything I could carry out all by myself.

    Cris Crawford
     
  13. Mardo

    Mardo Registered

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    Priorities

    Excellent topic. I do best when I have blocked time during the week for certain projects and I like to have a few things that I really want to get done each day to keep other projects moving.I need some structure.

    There is more of this discussion on the public Getting things done forum under
    Do you Plan your Day Ahead of Time?
    I especially liked Tarentolas post and Smithdoug Accidental Entrepeneur
    posts
     
  14. dsmccormick

    dsmccormick Registered

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    I wish life was more like flying

    John:

    I am also a 350-hour private pilot. I loved listening to General Fullhart. I love your analogies, but my gut reaction is that life is not really like flying, at least not that simple. I love flying a lot because the tasks complex, but manageable as we gain experience. As you mention, there are checklists for all phases of flight (preflight, startup, taxi, etc.) but I find I rarely use them. Partly that's because we use the acronyms and partly because checklists in aviation are meant as backup devices, to *check* what we should remember.

    What I loved about General Fullhart's discussion of GTD is that it gives you--or allows you to achieve--*situational awareness*, namely you are confident that you have monitored all the essential system (projects for GTD; for the airplane, fuel, weather, radio, location, flight plan, phase of flight). As Rod Machado emphasizes, the two most important things in flying are the next two things. But in life, there seem to be many more than the next two things. What gives me satisfaction about flying--other than arriving at my intended destination with the airplane and me intact--is that the duties in each phase of flight are well-proscribed and if you keep your awareness up, you will generally get home in one piece.

    At best, GTD gives you situational awareness, but in the end you have to use your judgment as to what is the priority in the moment. My only hope is that through carving out the time to do things like the weekly review, and including the time for reflection, we will acknowledge the truly important things and make time for them. Otherwise, we are fritter away our precious time on this earth on the shiny, gleaming things that present themselves to us.

    I'm with you: it's hard and it's an ongoing struggle to carve out time for the important things. But if you've made it through 200-300 hours of flying, you have passed through the part where many of the fatal mistakes are made. Sometimes situational awareness is all.

    Tell me how it goes.

    I wish life were more like flying.

    Cheers, David.
     
  15. RandyF79

    RandyF79 Registered

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    Glad you enjoyed the interview...I'm enjoying the posts!

    All,

    As I sit between flights, at the Dallas airport, I stopped in the USO to check email and to learn from fellow practioners on the GTD journey.

    The insights you have been discussing are great...and I've picked up a few tips to try incorporating into my system.

    There's always an exception to every analogy...and it's been fun to see how people are taking to the notion of "flying".

    It is accurate (at least based on my experience) that you aren't trying to watch everything at once while you are flying....but you do develop a scan...a way of checking your primary instruments and indications of those things that are most crucial to safe flight (say the engine instruments).

    The rest you want to remain aware of and at different phases of flight, you'll begin to pay more attention to them.

    I think this maps pretty well to what David is describing...each has it's importance and is used / viewed in different contexts.

    The key...whether your flying an aircraft....or flying your business....is knowing how it all works, having great situational awareness...and never losing control of the plane!

    And when it comes to "mind like water"....I equate that to checking my student's knuckles on the controls. If they are white from a death grip, then the student is probably not relaxed enough to really be aware of what's coming up.

    I appreciate the several kind emails I've received and hope that you all benefited from the interview.

    David was most kind in his remarks...it was a privilege to contribute.

    RandyF79
     
  16. TesTeq

    TesTeq Registered

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    Mind like water.

    Great analogy.

    Mind like water = relaxed and ready for anything
     
  17. Dave John

    Dave John Registered

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    Randy’s interview has given me a whole bundle of stuff to think about.

    Firstly, I was really taken with the overriding philosophy of the base to develop leaders. It’s when he describes self-leadership in particular that this really hits home. For self-leadership, you could read “decisiveness”. (Interestingly, Lee Iacocca said that decisiveness was the key quality to have in managers).

    This emphasis on developing leaders over a period of time gave me new insights into my own work environment, where we have just 2 ½ years to turn new graduates into mature professionals.

    Secondly, that flying analogy has become a slow burner in my subconscious. In GTD Fast David likens the weekly review to a car dashboard. A plane in flight is therefore a fitting analogy for the week underway: it’s a busy Tuesday morning and you know where everything is.

    Thirdly, to cut a long story short, I went out and bought “The Goal”.

    Fourth, I’m scouring the bookshelves for good books on leadership. (Anyone got any good recommendations?).

    Fifth, Randy gave a great account of opening out GTD to operate it on an organisational basis: while I do not currently oversee managers, it’s a line of thought I will store away for (hopefully!) future use.

    Sixth I have tracked down Randy’s project planning sheet attached to one of his posts to the forum. Let me tell you it’s an excellent focusing tool.

    Thanks Randy and David.

    Dave
     
  18. DallasLawyer

    DallasLawyer Registered

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    Randall Fulhart project planning sheet

    I tried to find the project planning sheet, but couldn't. Would one of you who did find it mind re-posting it? Thanks
     
  19. apinaud

    apinaud Registered

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    This is the Link to that tread.

    http://www.davidco.com/forum/showthread.php?t=6210

    Best,
     
  20. Ulises Pabon

    Ulises Pabon Registered

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    Best interview to date!

    David,

    Kudos on your last GTD Connect interview! While you obviously had a world class leader to work with, your lead questions were great.

    I've done a little bit of interviewing myself (for radio) and I know that all the pre-planning in the world is useless if you can't come up with the right question, at the right moment, given what's just said.

    I really liked the flow of ideas and the insights were priceless.

    Great job!

    Ulises
     

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