View Full Version : Next Actions and Projects
08-31-2007, 09:19 AM
Greetings, all. I'm fairly new to GTD and just trying to get going. I've already seen a great deal of progress in terms of my mental state and responsiveness vs. stress level. I don't need to keep it all in my head!! Yeah, baby.
But the question is, how do "Projects" relate to "Next Actions." In my case, I'm using Outlook and have lists of Next Actions by context. Are projects just additional lists of next actions, grouped by project. Or is a project just a category for a next action.
I'm assuming the answer will be something like "however you want your personal system to work is how it should be" and I agree, but I'm looking for input from people more experienced with GTD than me...about how they're doing it.
I guess the crux of the issue is my daily review and how that fits in...
Any response is greatly appreciated. Thank you!
08-31-2007, 10:14 AM
A project is any outcome you have committed to that will take more than one action to complete.
If all I want to do is water my plants, then that is a next action and goes onto the next action list.
If I want all new landscaping around my house, that is a project and goes on the project list to remind me to keep putting next action onto my context lists every week during the review such as: Call the landscape architect, Review blueprints, Call homeowner's association, Etc. Those are the next actions that will be triggered by the existence of the project.
08-31-2007, 10:35 AM
Are you wondering where next actions relate to projects simply in Outlook or as in GTD as a whole?
In GTD speak a project is effectively the desired successful outcome of a series of next actions. It's not something that can be done as a single action, it's really the end result.
In other words, a project might be:
"Repair Car", as you can't repair the car in one sitting, instead it'll require several next actions. If you describe the projects as the desired outcome it becomes "Car repaired and Running Great!".
So "Car Repaired & Running Great!" is the project and the next action is the very next step you can do (without having to do other steps first) to move the project forward towards the successful outcome.
Examples would include:
@Calls: Ring garage and order new exhaust
@Calls: Call Fred to borrow his wrench set
@Online: Order new exhaust for car
But only a task that can be done (once at the right context) without waiting for any previous dependent tasks can be added.
If you need to find a telephone number for the garage or a part number for the exhaust, they're the next action instead.
I use Outlook too and to link all this together with projects to tasks (and tasks to projects) I do the following:
I initially set-up a Task Category in the Master Task List called [!Projects].
Whenever I start a new project, I create a new task and also create a new Master Task List Category too, named the same as the project title.
I then assign to this task the category of [!Projects] and also the project/category named after it's title.
In other words it gets 2 categories one is [!Projects] the other would be [Project Title Goes Here].
This then becomes the master or project task for a given project. I use the notes section to brainstorm the project and record any information relating to it.
It's far harder trying to put this into words that actually do it!
Now when I create a next action task, it gets 2 categories too - one for it's @Calls, @Online etc context and one for the project it relates to.
The cool thing is when you view the tasks grouped by category you see all the next actions contexts at the top, the projects list below, then a breakdown of each project and it's linked next actions too. Something like:
(Expanding the above groups shows the individually tasks by context.)
(Expanding this group shows your project list - really just a list of tasks, named after their project title and assigned the [!Projects] and their own [Project Title] category too)
[Alice's Phone Renewed]
[Lucy's Website Online]
The above is also a project list but expanding one will show all the next actions linked to the relevant project too.
Hope this helps, tricky putting it into words! Let me know if it's not clear or you'd like step by step example.
08-31-2007, 11:10 AM
Let me just quality this by saying I don't use outlook for managing my GTD stuff.
Personally, I favor a GTD application that used an outline type structure so that next actions are the lowest level items in the outline, and the projects (or sub-projects) are the next highest level in the outline.
I think its more common that people use a separate projects list, as the other responser have indicated.
08-31-2007, 04:36 PM
Thanks to all for the fast and detailed responses. What I'm starting to understand -- I think -- is that a "project" is more of a goal, an outcome toward which any number of next actions may be directed. So, say I have a project called "paint bedroom" on my projects list, I might have an initial next action of "go to store and buy paint." So in my weekly (or daily) review, I see that my "go to store and buy paint" has been completed, I also see that I've got a project of "paint bedroom" which reminds me to add the next action for that project to move forward. So the next thing might be "spackle walls." After that the whole thing continues until the bedroom is painted and I no longer have the project -- and thus no longer need to add any next actions.
Am I on the right track? Thanks again!
08-31-2007, 05:28 PM
Before you "go to store and buy paint" you might "decide on paint color" or "get test swatches from paint store." But yes, you're more or less on track.
08-31-2007, 10:38 PM
Before you "go to store and buy paint" you might "decide on paint color".
Or close your eyes, buy paint, paint the room, and then open your eyes. What a surprise! :-)
09-01-2007, 04:55 AM
@positano1995, Yes, you're on track!
Reviewing your project and next action lists are key to this.
When you complete a next action that is part of a project, consider what the next action is and if appropriate to your current context, add it to the next action list or make a note of it for processing later.
There's a balance between list checking and actually doing things but that will come with time.
If you don't check your lists and review them, you can end up having to re-visit contexts several times to complete a relatively simple task!
For example if "Paint Bedroom" or "Bedroom Painted" is your project:
The next action might be:
@Town: Check paint swatches at paint shop
When you complete the above next action, the next action could be:
@Town: Order paint from paint shop
If you simply check the swatches at the shop, then tick it off the actions list and return home, when you review the lists you'll realise you've got to go all the way back to the shop to simply complete the next action which could have been done staight after the previous action.
If you only review weekly, it could take many weeks and several trips to that shop to complete the project!
Forgive me for way over simplifiing the above example, but the idea is that when completing an action at a particular context (especially location based contexts) try to mini-review the project to see if that completion triggers off a next action there and then, or can it wait till the next batch of processing/organising.
Another way to deal with it is to structure the phrasing of your next actions so they lead you into the next action too.
@Town: Check swatches at paint shop then order paint.
Again, this is way over simplified and much of it is common sense, but sometimes these next action triggers can be lost until the next review if the actions themselves are more complex than choosing a paint colour!
@TesTeq, you've got me laughing out loud! I've know friends who spend more time in the paint shop choosing colours than they spend actually painting! A blindfold would work a treat!
09-01-2007, 09:43 AM
Thanks, Andy. I'm hoping to use Outlook with GTD -- really am already, just not well. And your input is a big help.
Another question, though: How do you handle items that you defer? Say a request comes in to my department that I know we can't do right now. It needs to be in a tickler (i.e. somewhere with a reminder in Outlook), but where? Do I put it on a my calendar? I'm guessing NO. Any suggestions? These are really things that I don't necessarily know the next action on and don't even know if we are really going to do.