Monday, February 5, 2007

Chapter Three - Getting Projects Creatively Under Way: The Five Phases of Project Planning

Key ingredients of control:

  1. Clearly defined outcomes (projects) and the next actions associated with them
  2. Reminders placed in a trusted system that is reviewed regularly.

^^ = horizontal focus.

Horizontal focus will do in many situations. Sometimes when you need more focus to get a project under control you need vertical focus. (Vertical = scanning the horizon, planning steps of actions)

Vertical planning can come under a relaxed environment or a more formal and structured one. Most of the time the less relaxed one can be the more productive one.

Formal meetings often skip over the why, don't allow time for brainstorming or miss out defining next action steps.

The most productive way to think about projects, situations and topics is the natural way. Natural is not necessarily the normal way.

The Natural Planning Model:

  1. Defining purpose and principles
  2. Outcome visioning
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Organizing
  5. Identifying next actions.

This natural planning model often goes in the face of traditional methods.

The Unnatural Planning Model. Often starts with 'What’s a good idea?' This is a good question, but should only really be asked when you are around 80% through your planning.

Need to define purpose, create vision, collect initial bad and good ideas before you can attempt to come up with a 'good idea'.

Unnatural planning often leads to not planning. It doesn't work. What ends up happening is the Reactive Planning Model, or crisis.

The Reactive Planning Model:

  1. Action
  2. Organization
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Vision and Purpose

Reactive planning is the reverse of Natural planning.

Purpose = asking why. Purpose must be clear and specific. You must be able to answer ‘When am I off purpose?’

Principles = the standards and values you hold. Complete the sentence ‘I would give others totally free rein to do this as long as they…’

‘What behavior might undermine what I’m doing, and how can I prevent it?’

Principles define the parameters of action and criteria for behavior.

Vision/Outcome = having a picture of what success looks like. What it will look right in the real world.

The Power of Focus creates ideas and thought patterns.

You won’t see how to do it until you see yourself doing it. Easy to do if you have had success before, but harder if you don’t have any reference points.

Three basic steps for developing a vision:

  1. View the project from beyond the completion date.
  2. Envision wild success.
  3. Capture features, aspects, qualities you imagine in place.

Brainstorming = how. When you identify with a picture that is different from your current reality, ideas start to flow.

Give yourself the permission to express any idea, then figure out how it fits.

External brainstorming (such as mind maps on paper) have the advantage of being able to generate for ideas by being able to reflect back on previous ones. Get the ideas out of your head into objective, reviewable formats.

Basic brainstorming principles:

  1. Don’t judge, challenge, evaluate or criticize (be aware of the thoughts you are having, primary idea must be expansion).
  2. Go for quantity over quality.
  3. Postpone analysis and organization.

Organizing = identifying components, sequences (order), events and priorities. Comes about naturally after ideas are out of your head.

Basics of organizing:

  1. Identify significant pieces
  2. Sort by one or more of (components/sequences/priorities)
  3. Detail to the required degree

What’s the next action? Ask the question about what needs to be done next. Is reality based (runway level).

A project is planned if every next-action step has been decided on every front so that it can be moved on without something else having to be done first.

If the next-action is someone else’s, it still must be noted (Waiting For).

You need to do as much planning as you need to get the project off your mind. Most projects only need a listing of the outcome and next-action. Others may require some brainstorming; a further few might need deliberate application of the five phases.

Greater clarity will be gained by going up the natural planning scale (action to organize for example). If you need more to happen, move down the planning scale.

You don’t need more skills, just different behaviors.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Chapter Two - Getting Control of Your Life: The Five Stages of Mastering Workflow

Five discrete stages when we deal with our work:
  1. Collect things that demand our attention
  2. Process what they mean and what to do with them
  3. Organize the results
  4. Review the results as options
  5. Options which we choose to do
These five are horizontal management (all projects).

The quality of our work flow is only as good as the weakest link.

Helpful to separate these stages as you move through the day. Often trying to do all at once is a problem.

Need to know what is to be collected, in order for your mind to let go of trying to hang onto everything.

Need to collect everything that you consider incomplete in the world (things that should be different than they are), everything you have a commitment too.

As soon as you attach 'should' 'need' or 'ought' to something, it becomes incomplete.

Need to make sure everything is collected somewhere other than in your head.

Collection tools:
  1. In basket - ideal for processing physical items
  2. Paper and Pads/Electronic Note Taking/Auditory Capture - ideal for collecting ideas and notes
  3. Email - holding area for messages and files
Requirements for collection to be successful:
  1. Every open loop must be in your collection system (not in your head)
  2. Have as little collection buckets as possible
  3. Buckets must be emptied regularly
Collection system must be close by, all the time.

Emptying your inbox means deciding what it is, what to do with it, and organize it in your system. This requires effective systems 'downstream'.

The item-by-item thinking process is important. Need to know what you need to ask and answer about each piece of stuff.

You can't organize stuff, only actions. You need to process stuff before you organize it.

Is it actionable?
No = trash/incubate for later action (calendar)/reference (reference filing system)

Yes = Is it about a project? if so put on the list/What is the next action?

Next action = physical action that needs to be taken to get reality toward the chosen outcome

Now have three options:
  1. Do it, if will take under 5 minutes
  2. Delegate it
  3. Defer it onto your next actions list (if will take over 5 mins)
Actions and items will go into two categories, non-actionable and actionable.

Non-actionable items go into:
  1. Trash
  2. Incubation tools
  3. Reference storage
Actions go into:
  1. List of projects
  2. Storage of project plans/materials
  3. Calendar
  4. List of next actions
  5. List of things you are waiting for
All categories need to be physically contained in some form (not in head).

Projects = result that requires more than one action step. Projects need to be on a master lists that can be reviewed regularly.

You don't do projects; you do the action steps.

Project list = index. All details placed in separate containers. Often project support material can be placed in the general reference file.

Three types of next actions:
  1. Actions on a specific date (tracked on calendar)
  2. Actions to do asap (tracked on Next Actions lists)
  3. Actions you are waiting for others to do (Waiting For lists)
No more daily to-do lists, because a) impossible to nail down daily work with constant inputs and b) dilutes emphasis on things that HAVE to be done with things you WANT to do.

Incubation (non-actionable) = Someday/Maybe or Tickler File

Reference (non-actionable) = either topic/area specific or general storage.

Difference between writing something down and remembering it (when you need it).

Review = look at all outstanding projects and open loops, scan all actions.

Calendar (hard landscape) will probably be most frequently reviewed. Good habit to check as soon as you've done an action from your calendar.

Next will be Next Actions lists. Projects, Waiting For & Someday/Maybe only need to be reviewed as often as needed to keep you stop thinking about them.

The Weekly Review is a time to:
  • Gather and process stuff
  • Review your system
  • Update your lists
  • Get clean, clear, current and complete
An incomplete system is pointless to review. The Weekly Review is key to trusting your system.

Basic purpose of work flow management is to make good choices about what you do. Must move from hope to trust.

If you have done the first four steps, you can trust your intuition to make the choice about what action to do at any moment. No time management system alone can ever make the right choice.

Three models to help you make decisions.

Four-Criteria Model
  1. Context - some actions require specific tools/location
  2. Time available - when do you have to do something else?
  3. Energy available - how much energy do you have?
  4. Priority - which action will give you the highest payoff?
Threefold Model for Evaluating Daily Work
  1. Doing predefined work - working off your Next Actions lists
  2. Doing work as it shows up
  3. Defining your work - doing the collect, process, organize, review system
The Six-Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work
  1. Runway: Current Actions - Accumulated list of all actions you need to take.
  2. 10,000 Feet: Current Projects - Relativity short term outcomes you desire
  3. 20,000 Feet: Areas of Responsibility - Key areas within which you want to achieve results. Both personal and work areas.
  4. 30,000 Feet: One to Two Year Goals - What you want to be experiencing in one to two years from now.
  5. 40,000 Feet: Three to Five Year Vision
  6. 50,000+ Feet: Life
Note - your focus may/will not fit inside one particular horizon.

Setting priorities doesn't provide a practical framework for the tasks and decisions you will make day to day.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Chapter One - A New Practice for a New Reality

The two key objectives:
  1. Capturing all the things that need to be done (ever)
  2. Trusting yourself to make decisions regarding Next Actions you can implement at any moment
The problem today, constant change. Fuzzy boundaries to our work, that change. Makes defining what you need or can do hard.

Traditional approaches to time management: calendars, to do lists, assigning priorities. Can't cope with a changing environment, ie a random call/interruption.

Idea of clarifying goals (Big Picture) fail due to:
  1. Distraction
  2. Ineffective personal organisation, create resistance to projects
  3. Values often highlight areas that need change, overwhelm with things to do
But, big picture is still important, it just often creates more things to do (less simple).

Idea that over or under reaction causes you to be controlled. Less effective results.

Principle: stress comes from appropriate managed commitments.

Open loop = agreement with yourself. Tracked by sub conscious. Pull attention away from where it belongs. Open loops can be big or small. Often have more than you are aware.

Basic requirements for managing commitments
  • if it's on your mind, it must get out. Must be captured.
  • Clarify exactly what your commitment is. Decide what you have to do (if anything)
  • Once you've decided on actions, must keep track in a system you review regularly
"You have to think about your stuff more than you realize but less than you're afraid you might"

The idea of 'knowledge work', where the task and results have to be determined. Demands risk, no right answer, just choices.

Have to think about your work before you do it. Outcome thinking makes wishes reality.

Why things are on your mind, you want something to be different than it is, but:
  • haven't clarified outcome
  • haven't decided next action
  • haven't put reminders of the outcome/action into a system you trust
You can't fool your own mind.

Problem: thinking about something when you can't do anything about it (dead batteries in the torch). Waste of time to think about something repeatedly without making progress.

Stuff = anything that doesn't belong where it is, which has no action or outcome determined by you yet. Stuff isn't controllable.

Problem with to-do lists, lists of stuff rather than actions.

Need to get in habit of keeping stuff off your mind, by managing your actions (NOT time, information etc).Difficult to manage actions you haven't decided on, the problem often is a lack of clarity on what the actions are.

The value of a bottom up approach, most people so involved with day to day activity it's hard to get a big picture view. Need to get in control of the now.

Horizontal control = coherence across all activities. Tracking all the things you need to do at the moment.

Vertical control = scanning along the horizon, planning projects.

The goal for both is the same: getting things off your mind.

Most people only review and make lists when urgent; 'black belts' make lists for every project in their life.

Need to be making choices based on options, rather than what the options are.

Too much stuff on your mind distracts. Your mind reminds you of things you can't do anything about.

The First Read

I brought the book 'How To Get Things Done - The Art of Stress-free Productivity' in Melbourne sometime in early January. I've read it somewhat thoroughly, trying to absorb key concepts rather than nailing down my specific interpretation or the way I'm going to implement it.

My next step is the progress of re-reading the book and reviewing it; taking notes that not only provide a guide for me and others, but again help to pound the principles of GTD into my paradigm.

I'll be doing it chapter by chapter, aiming to get it done on the 16th of February, which is when I go down to University in Christchurch. The reason I'm doing this is so that I can have a 'clean install', and not have to worry about all the baggage and mess I've got up here at home.

A GTD Journey

Like anyone who is both on the Internet and interested in personal productivity and improvement, I've heard a lot about GTD. There are dozens of sites like Lifehacker or 43 Folders that are either totally dedicated to David Allen's book, or devote a significant proportion of their site to it.

I've read a bit about GTD here and there, glanced over a few summaries posted on the web, read a few articles relating to various ways to hack GTD, but never until now actually read the book.

This site is about my journey from first reading the book to eventually becoming a 'black belt' GTDer. It'll be a log that contains all my notes, my changes to the system, my struggles and triumphs not just with GTD but with productivity in general. I've decided to make this separate from my other blog, Adam's Blog (which covers more of my exercise routines, politics and philosophy) in order to help people that are interested in my venture to see my progress more clearly.