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GTD Refresh, Part 3: Projects

GTD Refresh, Part 3: Projects

GTD Refresh: Projects

    Months ago now, I announced I was going to “reboot” my GTD setup, returning as close to an “orthodox”, by-the-book GTD setup as I could manage. Out the gate, I started “off”, working not from tasks up but from the middle, David Allen’s 30,000 and 40,000-foot levels, by drawing up a mindmap of my areas of focus and my vision for myself in a few years time.

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    Taking a big step downward, over the 20,000-foot level to somewhere near the runway, I decided on a set of contexts. Since I work primarily from home, distinguishing a bunch of contexts wasn’t very meaningful. I settled, then, on @computer for all the work I do at home using a computer, @home for everything else I do at home, and @away for everything I need to leave home to do.

    Which brings me to projects. Projects tie all our tasks together into some sort of meaningful action, providing objectives towards which those tasks are directed. While not every task is part of a project, for most of us the majority will tend to be – especially as we sort out our work to privilege the meaningful.

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    Allen defines a project quite simply: any objective that takes more than two steps to accomplish. Though I’m trying to keep as close to Allen’s system as possible, this is a little simplistic for me. Implicit in his concept are two other things, I think: intentionality and time. That is, to merit treating a collection of tasks as a project, the tasks need to be “held together” by a goal that has some meaning, and they need to be spread out over a significant piece of time.

    I get the second characteristic, time, from the way Allen talks about project planning. For Allen, the ideal way to deal with most projects is to focus no further than the next action – with the idea that, once we perform that next action, the further action will be obvious and, if we can, we’ll just do it. It’s not until we reach a task that can’t be performed at the moment, whether that’s due to lack of time, resources, or will, that we put a new next action on our context lists.

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    With that in mind, I  finally got the time to start doing a sweep of my life. The occasion was not entirely orthodox: I left home for 5 weeks in another state, where I am currently living and working. To make that work, I needed to take a pretty big inventory of my life at the moment – what projects do I have to do over the next few weeks, and what kind of “personal” projects will I also have time to work on? Since this is more than a weekend away, packing meant winnowing my life down to the bare essentials, the things I was pretty sure I’d need and wouldn’t want to wait until I could find time to replace them if I left something out.

    So call this a “mini-sweep”; when I get home, I’ll have to extend this kernel of GTD-ness to the rest of my life. But the process was the same: first, I listed all the projects that would be part of the work I’d be doing while away, as well as ongoing tasks here at Lifehack and at my university. Allen calls tat part “getting clear”, dumping everything out of my head and into a form that I can easily manage. Although I’ve taken to using Nozbe lately, I wasn’t sure whether and how soon I’d have reliable broadband access, so my tool of choice was, you guessed it, my trusty Moleskine.

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    With the stuff already on the schedule dumped, it was time to, as Allen says, “get creative”. With my areas of focus mindmap in front of me, I stepped branch-by-branch through my life, stopping at each node to determine whether there was anything I needed or wanted to do in that are over the next 5 weeks. The I repeated the process with my personal vision mindmap, again asking myself if there was anything I could do for each item to advance it over the next five weeks.

    Since my time and resources out-of-state will be limited, some projects didn’t make it; these got written up in my notes and will be worked into “Someday/Maybe” items. The rest went onto the list, which then guided me in packing to make sure I had whatever I needed (office supplies, research materials, tech gear, etc.).

    While I’m away, my project list serves as a daily trigger list to spur next actions, and as a set of goals reminding why I’m here, far away from home, in the first place. When I get home, I’ll revisit the process on a wider scale, and enter everything into my project management software, which I’ll talk about in the next post in this series (maybe…).

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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