I've mentioned in the past that I'm fine tuning my system, and a couple of people have asked for details on the latest incarnation. For your reading pleasure...
One of the most common misconceptions about GTD is the idea that you should *only* have one Next Action per project. While DA imposes no such limit, it's true that the focus on finding The Very Next Action does suggest that one is enough. More than one is okay, but once you've found one you can safely move on to planning other projects.
For large projects, though, there might be dozens of possible actions that could move a project forward. If I'm writing a book, there might be dozens of people I could interview, hundreds of things I could read, thousands of facts I could check or paragraphs I could fine tune. In order to keep the list tractable, it's natural to break it down to subprojects, but should I really turn down a good interview opportunity because I won't need the material for three more chapters? Should I force myself to power through material that I find boring, or take a break and tackle a different subject "out of sequence?"
Not to mention the somewhat amorphous handling of Someday/Maybe projects. Part of the early development of a project involves non-directed information gathering, seeing if there's enough stuff to make something interesting. It requires a kind of watchful awareness more suited to active projects, not the "out of sight, out of mind" holding area of the Someday/Maybe list or the Tickler file. Still, such research is very low priority, far below that of true active projects. The need for it informs decisions -- "Gee, there's a documentary on Venice on" -- but doesn't drive them.
GTD handles these kinds of fuzzy decisions better than most other systems, but still not particularly well. Several months ago I found myself struggling to keep a large project and several smaller ones on track simultaneously, and as a result found myself rethinking many aspects of my system.
I tried index cards, one task or project per card. Intended as a temporary solution, it worked well for that purpose, but fumbling with the cards turned out to be too clumsy for long term use.
I tried OmniFocus. I was very impressed -- it's a well-designed piece of software--but was soon reminded of all the reasons why I prefer a paper system. (Detailed at length elsewhere.) (All software mentioned in this post runs on the Mac, and much of it is Mac-only.)
So back to paper. Before all this started, I centered my system around a pair of Circa notebooks, with letter size pages for projects and junior size pages for context lists. I found it was too big and bulky, took too much space on my desk, was too difficult to carry around.
After much prowling through stationary stores, I settled on a grid-ruled Moleskine. Good quality paper, low-profile binding, aesthetically inoffensive. Inspired by http://www.jerrybrito.com/2004/11/22...gtd-tabs-hack/ I set it up with four sections: Next Actions, Projects, Someday/Maybe, Writing ideas, and Client information. It also serves as my Ubiquitous Capture Tool, with the "inbox" starting on the last page and working forward.
Context lists are a big weakness for a bound notebook, since you don't know how many pages each context will need. I've merged all office-based contexts (@phone, @email, @computer) into a single list, which I keep on the right-hand pages. Other contexts (@home, @errands, mostly) go on the left-hand pages, which works fine because these contexts are smaller.
All of this was an improvement, but still didn't address the fuzzy planning challenges I mentioned at the start of this post. For those, the insight came when I read Gerald Weinberg's book, Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method.
His central idea is that writing is like building a fieldstone wall. You collect lots of stones -- which can be anything from small pebbles of individual facts to giant slabs of chapter excerpts. You might have a general idea what sort of stones you need -- pointy granite chunks vs. rounded river sandstone, say. Until you start building, though, you won't know which stones will actually fit or how they'll line up. Since there's a lot of serendipity involved in finding the "right" stones, it's good to keep several stone piles going at once. And since figuring out how to fit them together can require patience, thought, and experimentation, it's good to have a way to keep moving even when a particular angle of attack is blocked. (Have you ever heard anyone complain about mason's block?)
Which in GTD terms translates to having more than one Next Action for a project. I started by challenging myself to come up with at least ten, but the ideal number would probably depend on the size of the project. These go in the Project section of my notebook, on left-hand pages. (The project list is on right-hand pages) That seemed like a good compromise between overwhelming the main Next Action list and hiding these tasks away in the project support materials.
The other challenge is organizing all the "stones." Index cards are cheap and easy to shuffle around, but not searchable and not big enough to hold more than a few sentences. My approach is still a work in progress, but involves a parallel set of paper and electronic tools. On paper, I start with a system loosely based on the PileOfIndexCards described at http://pileofindexcards.org/wiki/ind...itle=Main_Page Larger ideas get larger pieces of paper, but with a similar strictly chronological organizing system. Electronic ideas go into the DevonThink Pro database for a particular project or interest, or into DevonNote for topics that don't yet have their own database. (DTP is a freeform database with tools for organizing and searching large amounts of information. DN is sort of DTP-lite, with a smaller array of tools but also a smaller system footprint. DN also serves as an inbox when DTP isn't open.) Ideas that have evolved into truly active projects get Scrivener projects as well.
For both paper and electronic tools, the most important characteristic is simplicity. I've tried most of the notebook/information capture tools for the Mac, and learned that it's almost impossible to structure information as I gather it. Tools that force me to do so -- wikis, PersonalBrain, mindmapping software, most notebook software -- are annoying enough that I tend to just abandon them. On the other hand, I will need to create structure at some point, so purely flat tools (text files, but also things like Evernote) don't work either. And because "stones" come in many different sizes, I need a solution that's as comfortable with ten pages as with a paragraph.
This approach is only a few weeks old at this point, so very much a work in progress. Comments and other experiences welcome!