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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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    Last Updated on March 13, 2019

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

    You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

    Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

    1. Work on the small tasks.

    When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

    Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

    2. Take a break from your work desk.

    Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

    Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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    3. Upgrade yourself

    Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

    The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

    4. Talk to a friend.

    Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

    Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

    5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

    If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

    Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

    Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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    6. Paint a vision to work towards.

    If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

    Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

    Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

    7. Read a book (or blog).

    The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

    Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

    Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

    8. Have a quick nap.

    If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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    9. Remember why you are doing this.

    Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

    What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

    10. Find some competition.

    Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

    Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

    11. Go exercise.

    Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

    Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

    As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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    Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

    12. Take a good break.

    Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

    Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

    Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

    Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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