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This isn't really an OF question but more about GTD. I'm still getting started with GTD. After an initial collection push, I've stalled. I have no projects, no next actions, just a giant pile of collected stuff. I've been digging through the paper and digital "piles" over the last week trying to keep up with items that have due dates. I know, not the best way to implement GTD.

Well, each time I sit down to process the mess I get stuck. It seems like everything ends up in single-action lists instead of projects. I have a ton of items that start with the word "Decide." I know that those aren't actually actions, but trying to decided everything I've been putting off for years is giving me a headache.

How do you decide what is a project? How do you organize projects?

For example, I have a task that says "Clean out Downloads folder." That's just a task, right? It isn't part of a larger project. Another task is "Order prescription refill." That would seem to be a project since I then have to go get the prescription. It just doesn't seem like a "project" while "Clean out Downloads" is likely to take much more time but can't be broken down.

Other tasks that seem to belong nowhere: "Mow the lawn", "Make plane reservations", "Get rid of old clothes", "Wash car".... and it goes on.

I'm doing my personal life first because my work involves fewer projects, has more dedicated time (sitting at my desk in my office, I may as well do the work), and is not in a state of total chaos like my personal life. I'm the mom whose kid is always late, never prepared, forgets the special "wear red/bring a flower/donate to charity" days, stays up late doing homework at the last minute, has her lunch bought at a gas station on the way to school, etc. The kid is only in kindergarten, so I think this is my issue, not hers.

Is there a standard set of projects for this sort of thing? I need to do the things most people do: clean the house, do some home decorating, keep the yard up, provision the house, keep up with my kid's activities, provide meals, etc.

I know this is a long post with very vague questions, but I'm just despondent. I figure if I can't get it together in a few weeks, I'll just give up and go back to the two-pile system: important and everything else.
 
I think it's fine, particularly for people who maintain a household, to have some single action lists -- the random stuff that just seems to come at you. There should still be some goal to these single action lists, some driving purpose. "Mow the lawn" might go in a household maintenance single-action list along with "Wash car". On the other hand, "Make plane reservations" sounds like part of a bigger project. Where are you making plane reservations to? Do you also need to make hotel reservations? Or pack? Maybe you need to confirm the dates with your significant other or whomever you're going to visit before you make the plane reservations.

Another approach might be to think about the goals that you have or the roles that you play. Maybe you could have a "Mom" folder (or name it after your kid) with a "school" single-action list (or maybe make each semester a project, so you can check off the whole project and have a sense of accomplishment) and a "medical" single-action list.
Meal-planning for the week (both pack lunches and sit-down family meals) could be a project with tasks for "plan meals", "buy groceries" and one for preparing each meal. This could be a project that repeats every week.

I also find that with non-work stuff, projects are less important than contexts. I don't think it will be a disaster if you just throw it all into one big "Life" single-action list but take the time to set up your contexts well. However, if you find yourself procrastinating on a task in a single-action list, you may want to ask yourself if that's because it's really part of a project and there's some other step that needs to be done first. For example "Repair light switch" has been sitting around glaring at me because I haven't bought the replacement light switch yet. Oh, but that's waiting until we decide if we're repainting the room, which... Sounds like I need a full "redecorate office" project. And maybe it'll turn out that I decide not to repaint and just need to go buy a switch. But at least I'll know what I need to do to get "repair light switch" from "to do" to "done".
 
It sounds to me like a few things that you can do with OF might help:
1. I would try to schedule time in your day to concentrate on clearing out an entire project or context. I would decide the project or context in advance and not wait to decide when that time rolls around. Then, no excuses! For two hours or three hours or whatever, you're committed to clearing out this project.

2. It might be worthwhile to put time estimates on your tasks. Then, when you have a spare half hour, see if you have one or two tasks that can fit in that half hour by sorting tasks by length of time. Just clearing out one or two tasks can get a lot of momentum going.

3. If you have a lot of things that have due dates, maybe make a goal of clearing out everything that has a due date in the next month, so when you group by due, you have absolutely nothing in the overdue, due today, due tomorrow, due in the next week, due in the next month groups. If that's too many, maybe try just getting it out a full week. Then you might feel more in control and it will be easier to keep up with what you have to do by doing the things that you want to do.
 
One of the beauties of Omnifocus is that you can let your definition of, and list of, projects....evolve. The decisions you make today about what projects or contexts you want are by no means a permanent point-of-no-return choice.

You might consider by starting with a few big projects and then letting them evolve. Perhaps the notion of who "owns" the projects might help. I have one called personal, another called work, and a third called support, which isn't really billable work (I am a consultant) but which I need to do in order to work.
 
I agree with the answers here, OmniFocus will allow you to let your projects and contexts evolve in time. Once you get doing the things on your lists, you will better see what the best way to name them and such after you use it for a while.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by sgiovannini View Post
I have a ton of items that start with the word "Decide." I know that those aren't actually actions, but trying to decided everything I've been putting off for years is giving me a headache.
I disagree. I think an action can begin with any verb, including "Decide". Mentally coming to some kind of resolution on a topic, especially if it determines future actions, is an important action in itself. It might only involve sitting on the sofa and staring out the window, but you're brain is still working and there's a definitive completion state (reaching a decision).

So I wouldn't worry about having lots of single actions that begin with "Decide...". Those are potential projects and actions in the making, and they're never going to come to be if you don't complete the first step of deciding.

I do this all the time. In fact, I even have a "Thinking" context for items which need further thought. I drop into this context whenever I have some time to kill on the train, or wherever, and I can just be alone with my thoughts. Some of the items eventually turn into projects, others just get deleted or completed with some kind of a note for future reference (e.g. Decided not to do this because...).

Quote:
Originally Posted by sgiovannini View Post
How do you decide what is a project?
As for determining if an item should be a project or a single action, David Allen claims that anything that requires 2 or more actions should be considered a project. The difficult part, at least for me, is determining what should be considered a separate action.

For example, "wash car". In its most basic form, washing the car consists of several actions:

1) Bring the car into the driveway
2) Get out the bucket, hose, soap, and sponge
3) Spray down the car
4) Soap up the car
5) Rinse the car
6) Dry the car
7) Clean up

...and so on. But going to that level of detail can get a bit ridiculous. When you're out washing the car, and you've hosed it down, do you really need to run back inside to your Mac to check OmniFocus to determine that "Soap it up" is the next action? Probably not.

So in this case, you can probably safely condense all seven of the above actions into a single action (wash car) because they're all so closely related. You're not likely to do one of the steps without doing all of them.

It seems the level of "action granularity" required is a personal thing that everyone has to figure out for themselves. Some people need a lot of granularity, others prefer very little. Personally, I started out with a lot but eventually realized it was more trouble than it was worth and toned it down considerably. As a result, I now use a lot more single action lists (although I still use projects too).

A trick I use to help me determine if an item should be a project or a single action is I ask myself if I'm likely to complete the entire task at one time or if I might do only part of it one day and come back to do the rest another day. For example, spraying down the car one day but coming back to soap it up, rinse it, and dry it another day doesn't make any sense. On the other hand, a "Get rid of old clothes" task could easily be broken up over several days or weeks:

1) Sort through closet to determine which clothes to get rid of
2) Package up old clothes
3) Take old clothes to Salvation Army

Breaking this into a project makes perfect sense. You can complete it in several stages, and you'll always know where you left off when you come back to it, whether it be later the same day or a month from now.

-Dennis

Last edited by Toadling; 2008-06-29 at 10:28 AM.. Reason: Fixed punctuation errors
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Toadling View Post

A trick I use to help me determine if an item should be a project or a single action is I ask myself if I'm likely to complete the entire task at one time or if I might do only part of it one day and come back to do the rest another day. For example, spraying down the car one day but coming back to soap it up, rinse it, and dry it another day doesn't make any sense. On the other hand, a "Get rid of old clothes" could easily be broken up over several days or weeks:

1) Sort through closet to determine which clothes to get rid of
2) Package up old clothes
3) Take old clothes to Salvation Army

Breaking this into a project makes perfect sense. You can complete it in several stages, and you'll always know where you left off when you come back to it, whether it be later the same day or a month from now.
About all I can add is that sometimes it makes sense to do a project even for straightforward tasks just so that you can have a checklist to make sure everything gets done (in the right order, if important) when working in an environment full of interruptions and distractions. I use Curt Clifton's templates facility for handling repetitive tasks like this where having a bunch of them active at once might lead to sloppiness.

Curt's stuff can be found at http://www.rose-hulman.edu/~clifton/software.html
 
Well said. Let me add another thought about those items that begin with the word "decide." A helpful question to ask yourself when faced with that is, "What further information do I need to decide?"

Often that will instantly tell you what the next step is. If not, the idea of throwing things in a thinking project or context will help, per Toadling's note above.
 
Piggybacking on Jody's point, if I need more information to make a decision, then I'll turn the decision into a project with a next action like "Find 4 articles on National Parks within driving distance".

Also, sometimes I don't really need more information to make a decision. In fact, sometimes I find myself using information gathering as a way to procrastinate from making a decision. In that case, I have a variety of strategies:
  • Just set a future start date on the task. That gives my subconscious some time to work on the idea, and I can trust that I won't lose the idea because it is in my trusted system.
  • Move the item into my someday-maybe list. In that case, I'll change the wording to the affirmative. So instead of the task "Decide whether to become an architect", I'd have the someday-maybe item "Become an architect". That doesn't mean I'll do it—it is on my someday-maybe list after all, but shunting the item off to another list excuses me from making a decision on it now. (After all, if I'm not making a decision on it anyway, there must not be a pressing reason to make a decision on it.)
  • Brainstorm reasons why I'm uncomfortable making a decision. This might surface the fact that I really do need more information. Or perhaps I need to have a conversation with someone else who will be affected by the decision. In that case, my brainstorming list provides some next actions for the project of making a decision.
  • Just decide. This is the tearing-off-a-band-aid approach. I'll sometimes be stressing about a decision. Usually dealing with the consequences of a decision turns out to be less painful than all the agonizing I was doing about the decision. Another plus, I get the endorphin rush of checking off a task.

Hope that helps.
__________________
Cheers,

Curt
 
Thanks so much for all the helpful suggestions. I'm starting to get a handle on things. I've found that working from the "runway" level isn't working for me right now. I need a bigger picture to work from. So I'm trying to identify projects first, then fit the actions I've identified into them. It's going to take a while to get this system moving, especially since life doesn't stop and let me sit down very often.

Last night I got a big project, that was obviously a project, under control and in OF. We have to renew our I-600A (immigration forms for a pending international adoption). I already had a list, in email, from our social worker. But the list didn't have contexts, didn't have all the details I needed, and was missing prerequisite actions. Just by putting it into OF and adding the extra steps and info made it all so much clearer. I then did all the steps that ended up with context of Mac and felt better about all the ones with context of Errands and Phone because I simply couldn't do them at that moment. I looked at some of the heavier errands (requiring me to drive 40 miles during my work hours and wait in some government office) and realized that I just couldn't take that time off work until next week. So I set a start date of next Monday. And felt better about it right away.

I think I will do better to initially focus on the tasks that already have clearer edges and leave the household maintenance tasks for last. After all, I already have a reminder to mow the lawn: the grass is 8 inches tall!
 
 


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