GTD Projects as Inspiration

One of the things that confuse people most when they start GTD is the difference between next actions and projects. Does every project need to have a next action? Does every next action have to have a project? Can I have more than one next action per project? Do I have to do every next action before going back to the project list? Do I need to map out all the actions in a project first? Where do the actions go if I’m not ready to do them yet?

The answers to these questions are a matter of taste in some ways, and after dealing with them myself for some time now, I recommend a more “fuzzy” approach. One good way to think of it is that you don’t do projects. You only do actions. Projects are a way of getting to the actions you need to do.

I think of my projects as inspiration for actions. I keep each project on a separate page and use the page to brainstorm and write notes about its current status. A project is really a goal, and you need to think about what the goal is, and how you’re going to get there. By doing the thinking about your goal, you break it down into smaller and smaller steps. Some steps can be done now. Some need to wait for other steps to be completed before you can do them. Your next action list is just a list of the steps you can do now. The ones that can wait can remain on your project sheet until the next time you look at it.

When I started doing GTD I felt that I needed to tie every action to a project. So if I needed to make a doctor’s appointment, for example, I felt I had to link it to a project like “Stay healthy,” or something like that. I ended up with a lot of projects that weren’t really projects per se. These days, using the definition of projects as inspiration, I have pages in my project binder for general categories of life, which I use to get me thinking about actions I need to take.

For example, I have a sheet called Household/Finance, where I have listed all the parts of my life that I need to think about, like chores, gardening, bills, car maintenance, the vet, etc. That way, when I do my weekly review, I can look it over and be reminded that I need to get an oil change. I don’t really need a project for “Car maintenance,” but I do need to remember to think about my car.

It’s a fairly minor shift in definition, but seeing projects as inspiration has really helped me understand their purpose in the GTD methodology. Someday/Maybe lists function very similarly. They get you thinking and deciding, which is always the hardest part.


Chaos Tamer said...

Great Post!
Early this summer, due to a similar awareness, I elected to consider my "projects" to be PASSIONS, retitle for effect and recall, resolve overlaps and inconsistencies, clarify goals (the result of the last "next action" for each), and link everything I do (yes, even the banal that are the daily necessities - those actions done well free us to pursue higher tier goals) to those Passions.

This has been a great boost, and has been, yes, inspirational.

Keep up the insightful posts!