Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How to Get Things Done: List out all your projects

This is the third of four posts about How to Get Things Done, a book by Dave Allen that shows you how to set up a system to feel more on top of everything in your life.

Today I want to talk about the one element of the Getting Things Done (GTD) system that I resisted for years: having a complete list of all of the projects you want to do.(*) Through a combination of OOS/RSI and scattering information about my projects in handwritten notes spread through 10 different manilla folders, I found it really difficult to review everything that was going on in my life, or that I wanted to do.

* Allen defines a project as anything that 
needs more than 2 actions to complete.

My series of posts on 'The New Thing' started to change my mind though. I've come to the conclusion that I can really only consider two things at any time as being my main priorities. What I needed to do was figure out how to present all of my commitments and things I wanted to do so that I could easily choose what to focus on. Here's what I've done (and this is still a work-in-progress, liable to be refined) ...

Two massive Word documents: Vital and Wild

I decided to divide my projects into two categories. First, there are the things I consider to be vital; they're either urgent, necessary, or they feel essential to my growth as a person. Second, there are the things I'd like to do, the wild and crazy ideas I've had, the things I'm not sure about yet, the goals that once seemed really inspiring but now I'm left a little bit cold by them.

What I've done is created two Word documents (one called 'Vital' and one called 'Wildcards') and put very brief descriptions of each project into them, like this:

  • Buy a new cellphone (*)
  • Digitise my CD collection

The (*) indicates that that project has some supporting material attached to it; sometimes I write down some notes or brainstorm some ideas about a project, and I want to keep it for when I finally start to work on it. I store these in two manilla folders in my filing cabinet (one for 'Vital' and one for 'Wildcards').

Sometimes I'll write down the next action I want to take with the project, just as a prompt:

  • Learn how to edit on Adobe Premiere: ask Norman for footage

I'm storing these files in Dropbox (and I should totally set up a project to figure out how to make the files automatically sync every time I make a change).

A list of the projects I'm actively working on

Out of all of those possible projects, there are going to be somewhere between 8 to 100 that I'm working on at any one time.(*) I record these in a notebook I've set specifically aside for my list of 'Active Projects'.

* 'Up to 100' is Allen's number; so far 
I've found it sets between 5 to 20.

Each of these Active Projects has a manilla folder filled with all the supporting material I need for them, and I store these in a separate drawer of my filing cabinet, for easy access.

As part of my Weekly Review (which I'll talk about in the next post), I make sure that there's at least one item in my to-do list that tells me the next action I need to take for each project.

Why am I going to all this trouble? It's simply so I can feel like I'm aware of everything I've got responsibility for and I can easily spot if anything's falling between the cracks. The end result is simply that I feel on top of stuff, and I'm confident that I'm moving stuff forward and finishing things.

Focus on two things

Finally, to make sure I'm making progress, I choose two things and work on them for 20 minutes first thing in the morning, and first thing when I get home. Mark Forster calls this the 'current initiative', and I've found it a great technique.

Only once I've completed both of those 'things' do I choose what to do next.

One more post. In this one, I'll talk about how I use all this stuff (the Weekly Review, which I mentioned above).


Dryn said...

"I'm storing these files in Dropbox (and I should totally set up a project to figure out how to make the files automatically sync every time I make a change)."

My current setup is using dropbox and onenote in tangent with each other. That way when I make changes in onenote I don't need to save or close in order for it to sync. (onenote is designed for multiple concurrent users)

Unknown said...

I figured out how to make Dropbox sync (that was actually pretty easy and just involved storing the shortcuts in the My Dropbox folder rather than on the desktop).

What's your experience been like with onenote? I've been hearing a little bit about that recently. What sort of stuff are you using it for?