Planning to Plan

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Without trying to shove David Allen’s Getting Things Done philosophy down anyone’s throat, one of the very good points he makes is that you should plan tasks, not projects. For instance, a task item called “clean garage” isn’t nearly as good as a set of tasks like “clear off work bench”, “bring old clothes in garage to charity”, and “throw out old holiday decorations”.

The trouble is you need to stop and make time to think out your projects. While this takes a little brain time up front, it can save you a lot of labor down the road. The trick is avoiding the convenience of cheating. I’ve caught myself doing it several times with entries like “increase involvement at kid’s school” or “settle Jones case”. These aren’t tasks; they are projects. The trouble is, when the idea occurred to me to do these projects, I didn’t have time to break them down in component parts so I just put a useless project name in my task list. When I run into such vague generalities while executing my task list, I just shrug my shoulders and push the project off to another day.

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Realizing this habit was getting me nowhere, a few months ago I began a new practice. I “plan to plan.” So instead of listing the project as the task, I now make a task item to plan a project.

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While I may not have time to initially plan the project, I can task myself to do it later. When I have time, I plan the project out and get the satisfaction of ticking off the original “plan project” entry. This way, my task list is not cluttered with white noise but actual items I can accomplish.

An additional use for this hack is when you anticipate a fork in the road of a project. For instance, I often plan projects for my clients where I know steps 1 through 5, but step 6 is contingent upon what happen between steps 1 through 5. In that case, I enter a task as step 6 called “Plan project further.” Again, when that task shows up I will have the information I need to plan further and can do so accordingly.

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For instance, in the above example, the other guy may simply accept my contract, have revisions, or tell me to pound sand. I don’t know what will happen when I start the project, but I will know by the time that task shows up. Then I can plan further as required.

What are your ideas for tackling this problem? Drop me a note or leave a comment.

30 Comments Planning to Plan

  1. willie.subscriptions@gmail.com

    I think this is a great outlook. I have been just creating a task with the name of the project in my iGTD inbox, but this puts that to shame.

    And I know this isn’t the point, but what application/service are you using that you took those screenshots of? It looks really nice.

    Reply
  2. willie.subscriptions@gmail.com

    I think this is a great outlook. I have been just creating a task with the name of the project in my iGTD inbox, but this puts that to shame.

    And I know this isn’t the point, but what application/service are you using that you took those screenshots of? It looks really nice.

    Reply
  3. willie.subscriptions@gmail.com

    I think this is a great outlook. I have been just creating a task with the name of the project in my iGTD inbox, but this puts that to shame.

    And I know this isn’t the point, but what application/service are you using that you took those screenshots of? It looks really nice.

    Reply
  4. willie.subscriptions@gmail.com

    I think this is a great outlook. I have been just creating a task with the name of the project in my iGTD inbox, but this puts that to shame.

    And I know this isn’t the point, but what application/service are you using that you took those screenshots of? It looks really nice.

    Reply
  5. willie.subscriptions@gmail.com

    I think this is a great outlook. I have been just creating a task with the name of the project in my iGTD inbox, but this puts that to shame.

    And I know this isn’t the point, but what application/service are you using that you took those screenshots of? It looks really nice.

    Reply
  6. uwefassnacht@gmail.com

    I do exactly the same and it’s help me tremendously in the past.

    Great post, I really enjoy your blog and your work on the Mac review cast.

    Reply
  7. uwefassnacht@gmail.com

    I do exactly the same and it’s help me tremendously in the past.

    Great post, I really enjoy your blog and your work on the Mac review cast.

    Reply
  8. uwefassnacht@gmail.com

    I do exactly the same and it’s help me tremendously in the past.

    Great post, I really enjoy your blog and your work on the Mac review cast.

    Reply
  9. uwefassnacht@gmail.com

    I do exactly the same and it’s help me tremendously in the past.

    Great post, I really enjoy your blog and your work on the Mac review cast.

    Reply
  10. uwefassnacht@gmail.com

    I do exactly the same and it’s help me tremendously in the past.

    Great post, I really enjoy your blog and your work on the Mac review cast.

    Reply
  11. marieboyer@comcast.net

    Okay, now if you would just makes these kinds of blog posts a regular event, I may just become an OmniFocus power user. Keep them coming, David!

    I bet I am not the only lawyer wanting to see how other lawyers use OF! I barely understand the basics of GTD and OF. But I want to know more!

    Thanks so much!

    Reply
  12. marieboyer@comcast.net

    Okay, now if you would just makes these kinds of blog posts a regular event, I may just become an OmniFocus power user. Keep them coming, David!

    I bet I am not the only lawyer wanting to see how other lawyers use OF! I barely understand the basics of GTD and OF. But I want to know more!

    Thanks so much!

    Reply
  13. marieboyer@comcast.net

    Okay, now if you would just makes these kinds of blog posts a regular event, I may just become an OmniFocus power user. Keep them coming, David!

    I bet I am not the only lawyer wanting to see how other lawyers use OF! I barely understand the basics of GTD and OF. But I want to know more!

    Thanks so much!

    Reply
  14. marieboyer@comcast.net

    Okay, now if you would just makes these kinds of blog posts a regular event, I may just become an OmniFocus power user. Keep them coming, David!

    I bet I am not the only lawyer wanting to see how other lawyers use OF! I barely understand the basics of GTD and OF. But I want to know more!

    Thanks so much!

    Reply
  15. marieboyer@comcast.net

    Okay, now if you would just makes these kinds of blog posts a regular event, I may just become an OmniFocus power user. Keep them coming, David!

    I bet I am not the only lawyer wanting to see how other lawyers use OF! I barely understand the basics of GTD and OF. But I want to know more!

    Thanks so much!

    Reply
  16. ayodh14@gmail.com

    Hi David,

    Do you use other tools along with OF for GTD. Say things like Mail Tags / Mail Act-On etc. Would love to know some of the tools you use for boosting productivity. A small post with each of these tools and a few lines about them would be great.

    ~

    Reply
  17. ayodh14@gmail.com

    Hi David,

    Do you use other tools along with OF for GTD. Say things like Mail Tags / Mail Act-On etc. Would love to know some of the tools you use for boosting productivity. A small post with each of these tools and a few lines about them would be great.

    ~

    Reply
  18. ayodh14@gmail.com

    Hi David,

    Do you use other tools along with OF for GTD. Say things like Mail Tags / Mail Act-On etc. Would love to know some of the tools you use for boosting productivity. A small post with each of these tools and a few lines about them would be great.

    ~

    Reply
  19. ayodh14@gmail.com

    Hi David,

    Do you use other tools along with OF for GTD. Say things like Mail Tags / Mail Act-On etc. Would love to know some of the tools you use for boosting productivity. A small post with each of these tools and a few lines about them would be great.

    ~

    Reply
  20. ayodh14@gmail.com

    Hi David,

    Do you use other tools along with OF for GTD. Say things like Mail Tags / Mail Act-On etc. Would love to know some of the tools you use for boosting productivity. A small post with each of these tools and a few lines about them would be great.

    ~

    Reply
  21. johndchandler@gmail.com

    David,
    Good thoughts. I to create tasks to plan projects, like you suggest in your first point. I often have one or two tasks called “Create Project for…”

    Your second point I hadn’t thought of, but I love it. If you are strict with Allen’s ideas, revisitng all of your task lists would happen with weekly review, but I fail at that just about weekly. So, that kind of forces the review for that project. I will use that.

    And like Ayodh, I too want to see if you are using Mail Tags with OF. I have it installed, but don’t use it. (I do use Mail Act-On to convert an email to a task…very handy.)

    Reply
  22. johndchandler@gmail.com

    David,
    Good thoughts. I to create tasks to plan projects, like you suggest in your first point. I often have one or two tasks called “Create Project for…”

    Your second point I hadn’t thought of, but I love it. If you are strict with Allen’s ideas, revisitng all of your task lists would happen with weekly review, but I fail at that just about weekly. So, that kind of forces the review for that project. I will use that.

    And like Ayodh, I too want to see if you are using Mail Tags with OF. I have it installed, but don’t use it. (I do use Mail Act-On to convert an email to a task…very handy.)

    Reply
  23. johndchandler@gmail.com

    David,
    Good thoughts. I to create tasks to plan projects, like you suggest in your first point. I often have one or two tasks called “Create Project for…”

    Your second point I hadn’t thought of, but I love it. If you are strict with Allen’s ideas, revisitng all of your task lists would happen with weekly review, but I fail at that just about weekly. So, that kind of forces the review for that project. I will use that.

    And like Ayodh, I too want to see if you are using Mail Tags with OF. I have it installed, but don’t use it. (I do use Mail Act-On to convert an email to a task…very handy.)

    Reply
  24. johndchandler@gmail.com

    David,
    Good thoughts. I to create tasks to plan projects, like you suggest in your first point. I often have one or two tasks called “Create Project for…”

    Your second point I hadn’t thought of, but I love it. If you are strict with Allen’s ideas, revisitng all of your task lists would happen with weekly review, but I fail at that just about weekly. So, that kind of forces the review for that project. I will use that.

    And like Ayodh, I too want to see if you are using Mail Tags with OF. I have it installed, but don’t use it. (I do use Mail Act-On to convert an email to a task…very handy.)

    Reply
  25. johndchandler@gmail.com

    David,
    Good thoughts. I to create tasks to plan projects, like you suggest in your first point. I often have one or two tasks called “Create Project for…”

    Your second point I hadn’t thought of, but I love it. If you are strict with Allen’s ideas, revisitng all of your task lists would happen with weekly review, but I fail at that just about weekly. So, that kind of forces the review for that project. I will use that.

    And like Ayodh, I too want to see if you are using Mail Tags with OF. I have it installed, but don’t use it. (I do use Mail Act-On to convert an email to a task…very handy.)

    Reply

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