Reference vs Action Support and other musings.
Thanks for the clarification. I maybe able to expound a bit more on this topic -- and, of course, this is from my perspective/experience/opinion.
Reference Material is information that I use to gain a general or specific understanding of something. In my IT world, it often shows up as arcane systems manuals -- all the information and knowledge is in there and I just have to open myself up to searching for the info I need. The assumption I suppose is that there is a baseline knowledge of understanding so that the reference material makes sense.
Reference material can appear in different forms:
If it's paper-based then its placed in a manila folder with a printed label and filed accordingly, without hanging folders, in my filing cabinet. I have filing cabinets at home and work.
If it's PDF based, typically because I found it online, then I have a bunch of electronic folders on my computer. Nowadays, I've been loading this up on my iPad, which makes it really easy when I'm in the server room and technically away from my computer.
Of course, the greatest reference library offered to folk nowadays is the Internet with various search engines. It's uncanny what I find by just searching on error messages, etc. It's somewhat nice to know that any odd and weird computer message is not unique to me!! I try to give back by documenting my lessons learned -- someone out there will find it useful, I think.
The theme so far with Reference Material is that it's based on knowledge that is not necessarily specific to any of my Projects or Actions. It's information I need to know about something and will be accessed when needed -- as long as I can find where I put it...
Sometimes snippets of information are taken from Reference Material and placed into Project/Action Support, but the integrity is still maintained of having the whole source of Reference Material, filed appropriately.
Project/Action Support is classic GTD because it goes towards specifically supporting my Projects and Actions. It's less about knowing how to do something and more about having all the tools and resources I need to accomplish my next action (whether single action or as part of a project).
The tools I've been using for several years now is MindJet's MindManager (which is now morphing into an all-in-one offering of local application, mobile device and web-based system). This tool is really useful for me in keeping all the various components of the project in their place.
The more you get into GTD, and find your mind is clearer, the more potential there comes of random thoughts popping into your head that are to do with future components of a project. These are not actual next actions right now, but things to do or consider or whatever down the road. This is all great stuff and I make sure I capture this and then place it appropriately within my MindMaps. I think this thinking happens because as I'm reading through Reference Material, or surfing the web, I associate ideas that could be useful in future. I've learned to process this, even though it may not be really important or useful right now.
Another tool is Personal Brain. I gently dabble with this app every so often, as it's reasonably complex. If what you do involves research where you're trying to realize relationships that develop between various components, then Personal Brain should be considered. You put a bunch of data in, but there is definitely a nice payoff.
Action Support for me is also a way of staying focused and on track. Because I've been placing the sequential steps that I'll be taking, much like a checklist or procedure, then when I've completed an action I'll refer to Project/Action Support and see what's next on the list.
This is the KEY, though.... If I mark off an action on my lists, and go to Project Support for the next action, and I don't complete the next item immediately, then I ensure I write down that item on my action lists as appropriate. This is really important because you'll then create another "hunh?" stack where you don't have the next action written down and the next action is embedded someplace within Action Support.
I get a reasonable amount of email, but not as much as I thought I would, where I need to cross reference back to the email at some point during a next action. I have various electronic folders in my email, and one of them is marked "Short cycle" -- I did that because I know I'll get back to it quickly, I'll never need to see it again after the action is complete, and I can't be bothered trying to find an actual folder for everything. So... within my Agendas folder in my GTD System is a written entry: "JF - Chat about rack KVM. Short, JF, 9/23". That's it -- When I next meet with John, I'll cross-reference to Agendas, look for any JF's, be reminded of the KVM topic, and then find the email really fast (within the Short-Cycle folder, sent by John on 9/23) where he had sent me info on something. This system works too well.
I think that about covers the basics of Reference Material and Project/Action Support.
You mentioned Paper vs. Digital -- fun topic... In my GTD beginnings, it was all about the List Manager -- ideally electronic, cool, spiffy, and full of awesome features. Keep in mind that I'm an IT guy and love electronic toys, but I also need to keep some form of perspective towards GTD best practices. GTD is a Systematic Approach, not a specific technology/app. I suppose it comes down to personal preference -- by not following GTD principles such as the Weekly Review, there are equal opportunities of hosing up either system (technology or paper).
Unfortunately, I haven't found an app yet that electronically replaces my having to be responsible for myself.
In my opinion, if someone is new to GTD, then ideally the process is forced to be slightly slower -- that means going with paper. The act of writing is typically slower than typing and it encourages the best practices of GTD. The danger of an electronic system is that your email InBox captured the item for you and then you dump into a list without fully processing the item in your mind. This creates bloated lists of undoability really fast. Not to say the same thing can't happen with paper systems, but it's usually caught quicker because you're reminded while you're writing.
Each electronic system often comes with "features" that are not necessarily GTD and are therefore used to differentiate from other electronic tools. My concern with this is that it's typically been thought of by someone who is already advanced in their GTD practice and has a solid understanding of the foundations. If you're having to understand a new electronic tool along with a new systematic approach I can see how that could be overwhelming. With paper-based, it's -- pen, paper, folders, tabs.
An idea would be to start with paper and then go from there. GTD is a game where you can change the rules of how you participate to suit yourself -- it all comes down to what you think is most effective.
I like paper because I can consciously delay between capture and processing into my system. This delay then offers an opportunity to really do something within 2 minutes or think more deeply about the item before it gets processed into a list and then possibly forgotten. What's odd is that the majority of what I capture doesn't actually need to be done anytime soon -- hmmn.... Oftentimes, what I'm avoiding doing is something I've actually already captured, but haven't completely resolved my higher horizons of responsibility and therefore put off the item/project.
So far, the majority of our conversation has been about the Control Piece, but the real magic in GTD happens within the Horizons of Focus.
That's great that you've been completing some pending tasks -- that must feel good.
When doing the Weekly Review, I highly recommended following the checklist routinely during this process -- the wording is written very precisely and purposefully.
OK. Back to my growing stack of papers that need to be tamed.
Originally Posted by zff
Director of IT
David Allen Company