Friday, May 07, 2010

GTD Project Planning

Recently, I've found the GTD approach (as I've understood it so far) to project planning to be extremely useful.  I probably do this around two times a week and it only takes 15 or 20 minutes.  After that time I have a much more clarified idea about what to do about something.

Note that the first time I read the GTD book, I barely even noticed the project planning component though it's a key part of the book.  On the second reading, three months later, the project planning part was crystal clear and practically leaped from the book.  That's mainly to say that it does seem to be very important to re-read this book at least once.

Some of you will recognize this as essentially the same approach we used for planning in our facilitation processes from years ago so, yeah, there's nothing strikingly new here.  This is fundamental planning.

Also, you can and should apply this to any planning effort, including for large group projects.  But lately this is useful for taking some things that need to be done and organizing them into a project.  For example, yesterday  I took a magazine out of my in box, an old one, and realized I really don't have a system for dealing with old magazines.   I've haven't received any magazines for years, but read everything on the Internet, so there are only old ones.  So in 10 minutes or so I sketched out a project plan for dealing with all of  the magazines.

To start, I open up a new Google document for the project plan.  I usually write out the bullet list of the steps at the top so I can remember what it is I'm doing.
  • Principles
  • Vision
  • Brainstorm
  • Organize
  • Next steps


Then the document should have a section created for each part.   Under the first section (obviously with the Level 2 title, Principles) I write a bullet list of principles that I (and maybe others involved) hold, that are important to the project.  For magazines, I want all unneeded ones gone: either thrown out, sold or given away.  For those that are kept, if they are worth keeping for some reason, they should be organized, labeled, and reasonably preserved.


Next comes the vision.  This is a short paragraph (for me) of what the final state will look like.  I sat there for a few seconds an tried to imagine what this project would look like when done.  What would I see?   What are the characteristics?  A few magazines stored in containers, out of the way, the stack well with clear labels.  Something like that.


Then brainstorming.  For this, I re-use an approach from Lakein, that is still very much a part of me.  I set a timer on my phone for two minutes and write down ideas as quickly as I can.  I don't even use bullets, but just write lines of text, each idea on a new line.

When the two minutes are up, I set the timer for two more minutes and either clean up the existing ideas some, maybe clarify something that came out as gibberish, or add any more ideas I can think of.


Many of you will also recognize this step.  I either copy the whole brainstorm section down into this section, or just rewrite the ideas from the brainstorm.  The point here, though, is to take the useful idea from the brainstorm and organize them some how.  The quick and natural way for me is to organize them under headings.  Each heading groups a set of ideas together.  Here the ideas are bullet lists.  One section might be about magazine storage.

For example,


  • Search the internet for storage solutions
  • Go to Lowes or Office Max and see what they have
  • Check into using old file boxes
  • Label with Brother label maker

Next Actions

Finally, the last section, and last step is to look at the organized set of ideas above and choose a handful of next actions that need to be done.  This is a short bullet list of what those are.  Then at least one or more of those should go onto your next actions lists.


So, at the start I was holding an old copy of Sky and Telescope, wondering what to do with it.  After 15 minutes or so I had a fairly solid plan and a couple of next actions.

This approach is useful for solving a simple problem like that which has more than a few next actions, and it's also useful for some effort that will take a quarter to complete.  It should probably be the structure of a major planning session, which might span an hour and a half to two hours.

Allen has much more useful information on this topic in his book, and there's much more in the web sites and other resources that orbit the GTD solar system.