I tend to stay out of a lot of threads that deal with the minutia of implementation, recognizing that we all find different, specific methods and techniques that will work best in our individual situations. In fact, if I can be completely honest, I find that many of the discussions are a manifestation of the ďavoidance syndromeĒ; i.e. going over these implementation details again and again makes us feel that we are getting things done, while itís really just another way to procrastinate. Notwithstanding this opinion (one that undoubtedly has offended at least some of you), I'd like to offer a few comments on an implementation-type topic that pops up in these posts frequently -- linking Next Actions (and other stuff) to Projects. Since I am the perpetrator (for better or worse) of one method to do this, I'd like to explain a bit about my take on this subject.
I was reminded today to address this topic by a post from Rich in NYC & NJ who wrote (among other comments), "The other aspect that people are missing in this may be the NATURE of the projects that we all have. One type of "knowledge work project" may require a strong link; another type may NOT." This observation captures a huge part of the debate, confusion, and differences-of-opinion regarding this subject.
The Projects-as-Contacts method, for which I try to offer some guidance, offers a "strong linking" capability. I find that most GTD devotees using this approach need a complete, reliable "audit trail" regarding their Projects. A variety of forces may mandate this, including boss's demands (Iím seeing Dilbert in my mindís eye), legal requirements (cya), safety or certification issues, pdm or manufacturing concerns, or just plain good customer service and interaction desires. The point is that this kind of linking is really for the more complex, long-lasting, or risk-inherent Projects.
I run a small manufacturing company, in close collaboration with my partners in Europe. We manage many Projects that involve design, engineering, manufacturing or marketing & sales issues. If I couldn't maintain a good, reliable "history" of these efforts, I would quickly be lost, and perhaps more importantly, would appear quite unreliable to my colleagues. But bear in mind, these are Projects that include several to many participants in varying disciplines and that last anywhere from a month-or-two to a year-or-two. When someone sends me an e-mail about a Project issue that was last reviewed several months ago, I need the ability to quickly review all the other e-mails, documents, drawings or whatever related to that Project and issue. If I can't do that in a matter of minutes, I will need to find another way to pay the bills. In other words, if I just move from Next Action to Next Action, discarding the record of each as I complete it, I will be "up the creek" in a big way.
Now, contrast this to another kind of "project". In another post on this forum, Terceiro from Utah wrote, "Let me put it this way: when the task on your errands list is "buy shop vac from hardware store" you'll know, without any fancy linking system, that you need it to clean your garage." My response -- "Absolutely!". All of us, even those who spend most of their time with the more involved Projects that I outlined above, have a whole slew of these other "Projects" that don't even begin to require all kinds of fancy linking and tracking. In my own thinking, I don't even call these "Projects". They are just "Tasks". If I roll in some GTD lingo, both my Tasks and my Projects can have "Next Actions".
Many of these Task-type efforts never require that I record a Next Action. Even with my mind pretty well "dumped", I'm able to move from action to next action on a lot of things without needing to record them on some list. On the other hand, some of these "lesser" Tasks do generate Next Actions on a list, particularly when a change in Context is involved. For example, even for the simplest Task, I might add a Next Action (I hesitate to even call it that) to an Errands list, so that I remember to do it when I'm out fighting traffic (yes, we do have traffic here, even in the pristine Northwest). The general guideline here, I think, is to use a little common sense. If you try to apply the same Project methodology to everything in your life, you are certain to be constipated with "process".
This whole issue stems in part from what I consider an unfortunate choice of a word (Project) in the development of GTD thinking (though I understand how it happened). Not all "Projects" are created equal, despite the fact that they all may involve more than one step or Next Action. As I explained above, I don't even apply the same term to very simple "Tasks" as to more complex "Projects". I'll wager that if you do the same, most of this mental anguish over Projects and linking will fade away. I suspect that all of us have considered the ridiculous degeneration of a "Project" into Next Actions like "Pick up the pencil to record the next Next Action" (now that's one that I don't need to link to the Project!).
So, the bottom line, for those of you who find it useful (and with all due respect to DA), I'd like to suggest a small refinement in your GTD thinking and terminology -- you don't have just Projects and Next Actions; you have Projects (okay, you have higher elevation stuff above this), Tasks, and Next Actions. You don't have to go with it, but mull it over a bit anyway, if you would please.