Are your projects "projects" and are you committed to them?

In order to use GyroQ and In-trays effectively, you may need to do some renovation on the structure and organization of your maps and projects. You may have a "Map Central" page with links to several "sub-map-centrals" for areas like home repair, finances, etc. These pages might be crowded with several projects and associated activities as well as links to other maps. This can make it less clear which in-tray you want to choose for your GyroQ destination map.

Gyronix recommends a "1 map per project" approach, with each project map set up with three main branches (In-tray, resources, and plan) and a central topic that spells out your vision for the desired result. In the process of converting your maps into this format, you may find many of your "projects" are not really projects in the GTD sense, but are actually "areas of focus" (see David Allen, Getting Things Done, page 205). For example, "Maintain cars", "Manage Finances", "End World Hunger" are not really projects you can finish in the near term. You may find these area-of-focus "projects" several layers deep in your map pyramid. They tend to host a pile of next actions that are not well organized toward a near term goal.

One way to quickly surface these project "imposters" is to force yourself to set rough target completion dates for for all your projects. This serves several useful purposes:

  1. if you have a "project" that you can't envision an end date for, it probably isn't a project, but an area of focus.
  2. If you look at a project (e.g. "clean the garage") and realistically can't see a particular need or driver to complete it in the near term, it likely belongs on a someday-maybe list. The next actions associated it are probably cluttering your lists and leading to what Nick Duffill refers to as "hot dashboards". Even worse than procrastinating on these items, you might start down the path of something you are not committed to finish. If the "next action" is "research options for project X" that may be fine, but if you "buy lumber" for the "build shed" project that turns out to be a someday/maybe, you might just end up with a both a cluttered basement and dashboard!
  3. You might find that sorting your projects out by completion target shows that you are being unrealistic in terms of what you can accomplish in the near term.
  4. Finally, having a target date on a low priority project that falls off the radar will force it onto your "overdue" list in your review dashboard for reevaluation.

The "Projects by Target Month" and "Projects by Target Week" dashboard templates in the Dashboard Library sort out committed projects by the target date and separately list projects lacking a target date.

You might find you have a few straggling "Area of Focus" maps that don't convert well to a one or more defined projects. You can work around this by translating them into a near term milestone. For example, "keep books up to date" might translate better toward a goal of "Complete 2006 tax return by 4/15", or "Exercise" to "get xxx workouts in before 12/31/06". If you find you are expecting to complete an unreasonable amount of projects in the next month, it may be time for a reality check.

The one pitfall of setting a lot of target dates, particularly if they are unrealistic, is that the overdue projects will show up at the top of your review dashboard. Resetting those dates can distract from the work of reviewing the projects and someday/maybes below them.

Side Note: Remember you can still group your area-of-focus projects together in dashboards by using the "Area" field in the ResultsManager edit dialog.

4 Comments »

  1. Mal Evans said,

    January 24, 2007 @ 8:00 pm

    AO,
    have installed these templates but the %TopText% keyword is not been completed. The resulting map has the central topic as
    "Projects by
    Target Week
    for
    %TopText%"

    I am running the dashboard from a map with the central topic as 'Projects' so the way I understand it the %TopText% field should be replaced by the word 'Projects'.

    I have not made any changes to the template so I am a little mystified.

    Appreciate any comments.

    Cheers

  2. ActivityOwner said,

    January 24, 2007 @ 8:39 pm

    Whoops — Looks like %toptext% is case sensitive, so %TopText% doesn't work. Not sure why I didn't catch that at the time. In any case, I've uploaded updated versions. Thanks for the catch.

  3. Next Action Analysis: 5 Metrics for Assessing your GTD System » ActivityOwner.Com said,

    January 8, 2008 @ 9:34 pm

    […] Am I trying to advance a reasonable number of projects? Do they have target dates? Are your projects projects? […]

  4. 2008 GTD Challenge Results » ActivityOwner.Com said,

    February 18, 2008 @ 8:49 am

    […] buckets (e.g. "Home Repair") that last forever rather than defining specific projects. The project priority and target date metrics are there not so much to yield benefits to your […]

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