Chuck Brown posted some questions on GTD and MindReader as a comment on AO-Pack blog entry. I thought answering via a post would make sense as it provides some elbow room and an opportunity for others to chime in.
… I understand that GTD is not a set of absolute rules, but tools to use to your benefit, but am not comfortable with something key in the Next Step, concept. We're told that if something will take more than say, two minutes, stick it in the system. I assume this leads to documenting every step that will take more than two minutes? But it can't, or we would document going to the grocery store as 200 steps, obviously making the process more laborious than is beneficial. So how do you know how to break projects down?
Is it entirely arbitrary? The system is very keen on next steps, but what about all of the 'other' steps? So, I'm going to build a house myself, and the Next Step is to draw blueprints. But I know that to draw blueprints I need to buy big paper, and when I have them I'll need to go to the copy store and make copies, and I'll need to look in the yellow pages for contractors, and I'll need to make a list of contractors to call, and I'll need to call each one, and, and, and… By breaking this into discrete components (especially if I'm going to take the time to enter them into an electronic system), I would seem to exponentially increase the time it will take to get the project actually done. Maybe I'm missing the bigger picture, and I admit, I'm on the very outside edge crawling towards the center of all of this…
David Allen has a knack for ironic phrases like "the center is the edge", "being complete with your incompletions", etc. Perhaps the analogous phrase he might use to answer your question would be "Getting things done is about getting things done".
Barriers to getting things done
What barriers get in the way of getting things done? Not capturing the "things" in the first barrier. "Things" can sit in your inbox, on your desk, workbench, garage floor, or mind. GTD stresses capturing all your "stuff" in a trusted system of some type. This is where tools like GyroQ and OutLinker come in. The "2 minute" rule relates to the trade-off of the time needed to process something into your projects and next action lists versus just doing it. I think with advent of fluid tools like those covered on this site, that guideline might need some revising, but that's for another post.
Once something is "captured", the next "not getting done" barrier can be lack of clarity on what is the first baby step to get it moving. This is where "next physical actions" come in. Although it has evolved to do quite a bit more, MindReader was initially conceived as a way to try to automatically assign "contexts" based on action verbs in phrases going into GyroQ or in MindManager topics. Sometimes the thought process of identifying the "next physical action" involves a backward sequencing process (replace tires – schedule visit – call store – lookup phone number) that generates a string of next actions. Once you have gone through that thought process, you might as well capture it in a map so that checking off the 1st step automatically queues up the next, but its not essential. Often just getting that 1st physical next action identified early catalyzes the rest of the process to move ahead quickly and naturally.
The third barrier to getting things done can be lack of having all those unrelated baby steps organized by "context" so that you can advance them efficiently. Among its other capabilities, ResultsManager excels at harvesting all your next actions from a network of project maps and laying them out for you in a single dashboard of next actions by contexts. Having a convenient "context" list can make you more productive in the little snippets of time that might otherwise be used inefficiently or go to waste. With gas prices being what they are, an "errands" list is all the more important.
The Chess Analogy
So how you do you break projects down? When I envision GTD, I think of what it could be like to be one of those grandmaster chess players who can run around a room and play 30 games (projects) at once. Now perhaps they do that by instantly recognizing the pattern on the board each time and the best next move. If I was going to do it, I'd have a project map for each game with some working notes and reference links on it, and a task reminder that the other player had the next move and to make sure I came back to it. I might also have a "next move" lined up based on the previous "review" of the situation for that game (project).
Thinking about this in another way, "Getting things done is not about what you are getting done". You don't need to document each completed action, or plan each next action for a project you are actively working on. You just want make sure you set projects up (or set them aside with) at least one next step to keep things moving.
Next question: Just want to make sure I understand something about the technology. I understand that MindReader requires MindManager/MindJet and Gyroq, but does it REQUIRE ResultsManager? (I have all of these tools, just trying to wrap my head around what does what). If I understand correctly, RM is really just a reporting tool (maybe an important one, but still a reporting tool). Is this correct?
No, technically MindReader doesn't require ResultsManager or even GyroQ (it has some limited functionality running directly on topics as a standalone macro), but there is a lot of synergy amongst the tools. MindReader enables GyroQ to capture and set the context, due date, priority, etc of a large quantity of tasks and spread them across many maps in one step. This is most useful if you have the ability to pull all that information back together into a dashboard with ResultsManager.
Other readers can provide additional insights below.