Productivity and GTD

Project Management with GTD

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
“You don't actually do a project; you can only do action steps related to it.” ~ David Allen

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Project management

Project management is a very easy and powerful component of GTD. However, it’s a bit confusing and it is sometimes used incorrectly. People used to using simple to-do lists don’t really know how to define and manage their projects, and those who have experience in project management in the business world try to use the same approach that is already familiar.

Nonetheless, the way of managing projects in GTD is quite different to the “discipline of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria” that is usually used in corporate environments.

The definition of a GTD project is much more simple and adapted to personal organization. Projects are anything that needs more than one action for its achievement. For example, “buying a bicycle” is a project: it implies defining exactly what type of bicycle you want and how much money you are willing to spend, researching on the Internet all the different models that thousands of brands offer, checking and asking any doubts with the nearby distributors and going through a process of selection and elimination until you pick the right one. And then it’s when the actual buying takes place.

The project planning that GTD proposes is radically different to the formal planning of Project Management. GTD proposes a much more natural, mental process that concludes with the establishment of the very first steps to get done. Planning excessively is an unnecessary effort and most of the times counter-productive because our brain is not well designed to identifying and managing possibilities that may or may not happen.

GTD advocates for adaptation versus planification. Planning a project from start to finish is not only an exercise of guessing most of the times, but it also forces you to ignore the opportunities that raise, because paying attention to them would get you away from the expected planning. Due to the amount of information we receive nowadays, it seems more sensible to be ready for any challenge that could come up, without forgetting the already existing commitments.

In GTD you only need a Projects List as a project management tool, which is just a simple index of your open loops at all times. The power of this list lies in reviewing it every so often to make sure that’s complete and that all of your active projects have a specific next action defined.

A complete project list is essential to be completely focused and relaxed about your commitments. Having the project list up to date helps you being aware of your acquired commitments and priorities. This is crucial to not be always busy with any silly new or urgent thing that shows up suddenly. Having clear what is relevant at each moment will also help you in your relationships with others.

Projects can’t be done, only the actions related to them can be done. In your day-to-day you don’t even need to work with your project list, but rather with those projects’ next actions. Those actions—like the others—are in your Calendar, in your Next Actions list and in your Waiting For list.

When you are clarifying something that you have captured and you know it will need more than one action, it’s enough defining the first action and writing down the new project in the Projects List. This allows you to start and, at the same time, have a reminder that will allow you to continue and complete the project.

On the other hand, the Weekly Review is the glue that puts together your big commitments with your day-to-day. When you do your Weekly Review, it’s enough with reviewing each of the projects in the list and defining the next action in case it doesn’t exist. Obviously, critical situations and projects with a close deadline will require more frequent reviews.

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