One of the key points I am making in my book is that we should not simply do good when a need crosses our path, but that we should proactively make plans for doing good for others.
I bring together the various strands in the Scriptures that teach this, one of which is that evildoers are presented in Scripture as making plans for evil (Satan himself being the chief example — Ephesians 6:11 [note the word "schemes"]). If the wicked create plans for harm, how much more should those who follow the Lord create plans for good.
Here’s something interesting on that. Proverbs 24:9 says: “The devising of folly is sin.” In other words, not only is carrying out plans for harm sin, but the actual planning is itself sin.
Conversely, it stands to reason, then, that making plans for good is itself righteous and good. Carrying out plans that serve others is good, but so also is making those plans in the first place.
That should be an encouragement not only to take initiative and be proactive in devising good things we can do for people; it should also be an encouragement for those who have sought to do good things for others but been hindered in the execution.
Take heart that recognizing the opportunity to serve, along with the planning and intentions and forethought, were themselves good and pleasing to God — even if you weren’t able to execute and make them happen.
No. It’s only against planning done with a mindset that we are the final authority, rather than God:
The Bible Affirms Planning that is Done in Dependence on God: “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16:3)
The Bible is Against Planning that Does Not Take God into Account: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. . . . Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16)
Here’s how we can put it: The Bible is highly in favor of planning, and in fact commends and, it can be argued, commands planning.
But planning can be done in two ways: God-dependent and godless. And, godless planning is not what you might expect. It can seem innocent. But godless planning is any time you create plans without taking God into consideration — without acknowledging his authority over all things, and that heaven rules, not you. It calls this type of planning arrogant. And we can fall into it without even knowing it.
The Bible is pro-planning. But it is anti- what we might call arrogant planning.
And arrogant planning doesn’t mean necessarily being high-handed and in opposition to God. It can mean simply forgetting about him in making your plans.
The Resurgence has a helpful post on the importance of planning. There are three types of people when it comes to planning: the non-planner, the solo planner who leaves God out of the picture, and the Proverbs 16 planner who makes plans in dependence on God.
Most people don’t keep their new year’s resolutions because they don’t translate them into their schedule.
It’s that simple.
If you make a resolution, but don’t plan time to actually accomplish it, it usually won’t happen. It won’t happen because it remains merely an intention. And intentions that aren’t specifically translated to “actionable zones” tend to be treated by your mind as “nice to do, but not necessary to do” items.
The result is a hit-and-miss approach. Some days you remember and follow through, and others you don’t.
Think of an Olympic athlete. They don’t simply say “my goal is to win the gold medal.” Instead, they adhere to a workout schedule. Without that concrete mechanism of action, the goal would simply be wishful thinking.
Now, what about those more intangible aims such as “lose 10 pounds”? How do you schedule that? Obviously you can schedule the exercise portion of that goal. But what about the “eating less” portion? Speaking from experience, it’s easy to get to the dinner table and forget (or deliberately neglect?) all intentions of eating healthy.
This is where reviewing your goals comes in. Mindsets that need to be more or less continuous (like “eat less”) tend to be kept in mind through regular review until they become second nature. The weekly review helps accomplish this; for things that tend to fall out of mind easily (like “eat less”), just pausing at the beginning of your work day to remember your aims can be helpful.
Which leads to one last thing: you have to keep your number of resolutions small. It’s not possible to create actionable mechanisms for or keep in mind a large number of new (or renewed) aims.
If you find it helpful to make new year’s resolutions (and they are a good thing — see John Piper’s article on resolutions, as well as his article on what to do when you fail), make just a few that really count, and then create simple, actionable mechanisms to make them happen.
At the end of a year, it’s always good to reflect on major happenings, accomplishments, and lessons learned. At the end of a decade, it’s good to do this reflection for the whole decade.
So, that is my recommendation for you today. It doesn’t have to take long. Create a Word document, call it “Decade Review” or something, and take maybe thirty minutes to jot down whatever comes to mind in these three areas:
- Stand-out events, happenings, and accomplishments over the last ten years.
- Lessons learned.
- Course corrections and key items of focus for the next set of years.
Create three a heading in the document for each of these things; maybe call them “Happenings and Accomplishments,” “Lessons Learned,” and “Focus Items Going Forward.”
It doesn’t have to be fancy or detailed. Mostly, the usefulness of this comes simply from the act of taking some time to reflect. You can really do this any time, but the end of a decade is a good milestone that serves as a catalyst.
I’ve advocated in previous posts that, when planning your week, you should proactively choose several “big rocks” to accomplish that week. These are the most important tasks that you can do that week, and they should stem from your values, goals, roles, and/or major projects.
Here’s what I haven’t said before: I think it may work best to keep the number of big rocks down to about 5. If you can accomplish one big rock per day, you will be making huge progress.
But if you try to put much more than that on your agenda for the week, one of two things will likely happen. First, might not feel the freedom or time to address situations that come up — many of which are important, even though they could not have been foreseen. Or, second, if you do give yourself the freedom to turn your attention to them, you will feel frustrated by the inability to accomplish your plans. And so you will feel behind.
I’m writing this because that’s how I feel right now! I tried to schedule too many priorities into my week. If I had scheduled less, maybe I’d even feel about done right now, with everything else I do for the week being gravy. That would be nice — and maybe would result in more getting done, not less. Or, it would result in the ability to say “finished for now,” which I think is something that is extra hard these days but which we all need more of.
The concept of big rocks is from Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He advocates about 2-3 big rocks per role, which would end up giving you around 15 or so per week. He doesn’t give that as any hard and fast rule, but it does set up your expectations. Sticking down at 5 is a bit counter-intuitive, but I think it may be about right.
But we’ll see. That’s why I’ve called this post “thoughts on how to schedule your week.” In many ways, effectiveness is an ongoing experiment. You create hypotheses, test them, adapt, and repeat.
Last Thursday or so, we had about four inches of rain. I was in my basement Friday morning and didn’t notice anything. On Saturday morning, however, I went down there to get something, only to find that the carpet was saturated with water. It turns out that our sump pump had failed, creating a big mess.
Could GTD have helped keep this from happening? Well, it provides a critical tool I’m going to use to help keep this from happening again.
Before this happened, I never gave much thought to the life expectancy of a sump pump. And our sump pump gave out earlier than would have been expected, anyway. But the reality is, every sump pump will eventually fail. The thing is, you don’t want to wait for it to fail to find out, because that means a basement full of water.
So it makes sense to replace your sump pump on a regular basis. For me, there’s a big insight right there: If you have a sump pump, you need to have it on your agenda to replace that sump pump when it starts to get old. That’s a simple concept, but it had simply never occurred to me before.
But how do you remember to do that? That’s the challenge. You could just trust your brain to somehow randomly bring it to mind every few years or so that it’s time to change your sump pump.
But I don’t really want my sump pump to take up even that much thought. I don’t want to have to program it into my head to pause every few years and say to myself, “is my sump pump getting to old?” I’d rather automate everything I can. It’s also less likely that I’ll totally blank it out since, after all, 7 years is a long time. And the consequences of forgetting can be large.
Enter the tickler file (or “action calendar,” which I call it because I keep it electronically). An action calendar is simply a list of repeating tasks that you keep in your task management software (whether Outlook, OmniFocus, Things, Remember the Milk, or whatever). You set each task to repeat at whatever interval you need. Every day or week (depending on how many tasks you have in there), you review it to see what needs to be taken care of.
In my action calendar I’m just going to create a repeating task for every 7 years to replace my sump pump. That way, before the pump gets to the point of failure (unless it breaks before it’s time — which is entirely possible!), it will be replaced. And I don’t have to think about it otherwise, because the reminder will come up automatically when it’s time.
Here’s the interesting thing: There are all sorts of things like this you need to keep track of as an adult, and they occur on both short-term and very long-term intervals. Things like: refill the salt in the water softener, change the furnace filter, change smoke detector batteries, keep up with the kids’ immunizations, renew your tetanus shot (every 10 years), renew your passport (every 10 years), and so forth.
I used to think that there was some big mystery to remembering these things. That you just had to trust that they would come to mind at the right time. But there is no mystery to it. If you have a tickler file (action calendar), remembering when you need to change the furnace filter or update your tetanus shot or change your sump pump simply becomes a matter of creating a repeating task. That gets it off your mind, and you can trust that you’ll see it when you need to.
And it could save you a lot of hassle, also.
Here is an off the cuff thought that I think may be fairly promising.
When it comes to productivity, there are several levels going on. In GTD they are called “horizons of focus.” They are:
I know a lot of people have a hard enough time just keeping a current project list, and that’s OK. For those that have attained to the level of setting specific goals and writing them down, my suggestion is this: memorize them.
In other words, David Allen’s counsel to have everything “outside your mind” so that your mind doesn’t have to use up its RAM to remember what it has to do does not apply to the higher levels. It is a great principle for the level of projects and actions. But since the higher levels are more big picture by definition, there is not as much to have to remember up there.
In fact, if you want the higher levels (your goals and mission) to govern your choice of projects and actions — which you should — then really there is almost no choice other than to have your goals down cold. It is important to write them down, but if you are actually going to be using them and guiding your actions by them, they have to be in your head as well.
This is possible because you shouldn’t have very many goals. Or, better, each quarter you should identify the most important 3-5 goals for you that quarter. You might have many more longer-term goals. But these quarterly goals need to be kept very few, because otherwise you will not be able to focus on them.
Since they are few, they can be memorized. And since they can be memorized, you can actually be acting on them. If you don’t memorize them, you’ll have the cumbersome step of always having to look back at them whenever you are deciding which projects and actions to focus on. Either that, or you’ll just ignore them.
Just some thoughts. I know that this post actually raises whole fields of issues, such as how to do goals, where to keep them, how to organize them, the nature of long-term goals versus shorter-term goals, and so forth. Thus, I run the risk here of getting a bit out of order, and discussing particulars before having given the larger framework. But, for those who utilize the 30k foot horizon of goals, this is an idea that might be worth considering.
It can be useful to do a quick estimate of the time it will take to accomplish each of the projects on your project list.
I’ve never really done that before. I used to think that doing so would be an unnecessary exercise that would only serves to take time away from actually getting my projects done. And, beyond that, something that would evoke stares of disbelief from any who heard about it (“you actually do that?? what a waste of time! I just get everything done without any effort, and certainly without wasting in time in trivia like that!).
But I just did it (took less than 2 minutes) and discovered that I have about 63 hours of work staring at me simply from my list of current projects.
That’s very useful to know!
Assuming that I could devote 6 hours a day simply to project work (no email, no new tasks that come up, no meetings), it would take me just over two work weeks to finish that (assuming working only 40 hour weeks). And then, after that, there are a bunch of upcoming projects waiting in the wings.
When I factor in the doing of operational and routine things, that’s probably about a month’s worth of work.
It might be easy to conclude, then, that I have too much work on my current list.
But that’s not necessary too much — it just says that I am looking out about a month at a time on my projects list (not in due dates — many of the due dates are farther out — but in terms of work length). Having about a month active at a time is probably not necessarily a bad thing.
Now, I do try to keep my projects list as short as possible, and so maybe a month’s worth is to much to have on there. I do have more projects than normal active right now.
But the main issue is: Without having done this estimate, I wouldn’t know what quantity of work my projects list really represents.
But now that I know that, I can ask the next question: Is this what I really want to get done over the next month? If I did no other projects over the next month, would I be happy with the result? If not, what should I take off the list, and what should go on in its place?
The payoff in those questions is very high. But if I had not estimated the length of my current projects, my default would have been simply to try to cram new stuff in when it came up — without really knowing the trade-off in time delays it would cause.
Now, I can be more informed about those decisions and make sure I really am getting the right things done over the next month.
Here is a practice that is very simple, but very powerful.
Whenever you have a new project (either created/identified by you or assigned to you), one of the first things you should do is define the deliverables for the project.
The deliverables on a project are the specific work products that you have to produce in order to complete the project.
For example, if the project is to create a new policy on this or that, the deliverables might be (1) collected research of the various policy options and then (2) a completed policy document. If the project is to set up a new room in your house, the deliverables might be (1) furniture (2) stuff for the walls and (3) a room that is arranged and put together.
Defining the deliverables is really just a component of asking “what’s the intended outcome?” It helps to clarify what the project means and, therefore, how to complete it.
Now, here’s the most important thing about this: Defining the deliverables directs your attention to outcomes rather than activities.
Activities are not necessarily productive. Many of the activities we do are not necessary. When you think about your projects, if you think first in terms of “doing activities” to get them done, your mind will probably create a lot of unnecessary work. This is only natural — if you think that doing a project means doing activities, that’s where your focus will go and your mind will have no shortage of ideas.
On the other hand, if you think first of deliverables, your mind is directed right away to outcomes instead. This will immediately filter out a whole bunch of activities and cause you to identify and focus in on only the activities that are actually essential to the project.
This will save you time and provide you with better results.
I recently came across a helpful article by Rick Warren on defining your life’s mission.
Warren, obviously, is most well-known for his book The Purpose Driven Life. Now, I would want to say that we should be promise-driven people rather than purpose-driven. (The promise is the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection for us. God acts on our behalf. Therefore we can work.)
I doubt Warren would disagree with that. I see it as very important for understanding the role of a mission statement correctly. In sum, a mission statement is not the ultimate motivating purpose in our life. God’s work on our behalf in Christ is. Our purpose — and motivation for it — flows from that.
Now, within this context, I think that personal mission statements are useful and important. They help guide your direction in life so that you are not aimless, but rather focused on what is most important for you to be doing.
In this regard, I’ve found that Warren’s article provides very helpful insight into creating an effective mission statement. He points out that there are really five questions to address:
- What will be the center of my life?
- What will be the character of my life?
- What will be the contribution of my life?
- What will be the communication of my life?
- What will be the community of my life?
What is so unique and helpful about this is that we often think of a mission statement simply in terms of what we should do — the ultimate, overriding aim that we are to achieve in our life.
But Warren points out that our mission involves more than just what we are to accomplish. It involves what we say through our lives — the overriding message we communicate in all we do — and, further, our mission should not be conceived apart from a context of relationships with others.
His thoughts on the center of your life echo what Covey has to say about that in The Seven Habits. Covey speaks of the problems that come from being possession-centered, or career-centered, or self-centered, or person-centered, and advocates being principle-centered. I think that the true and ultimate expression of that is to be God-centered, and Warren hits that well here also.
Anyway, enough commentary. Read the whole thing.
I’ve mentioned often that GTD is very good at the lower altitudes (projects and actions) but not as developed at the higher levels (goals and roles). Within the proliferation of online task management tools in the last couple of years, many of them also reflect this same strength at the lower levels, but less developed approach to the higher levels.
Recently an online service named GTD Agenda was pointed out to me. It is a productivity tool that was designed for implementing GTD with both the higher levels and lower levels in mind. So — after having this on my project list for far too long! — I’ve given it a quick spin to see how well it does.
As I talk about what I think it does well and what its gaps seem to be, this post might also give you a small window into the big picture of my own productivity approach.
That’s the title of an article I recently came across again in my files, from a couple years ago in Fast Company. Sure, that’s a bit of an overstatement, but it’s actually a pretty good principle.
Here’s what it says:
Smart organizations ignore the urgent and focus on the important.
Is it realistic to ignore the urgent, though? Well, here’s the problem: Focusing on the urgent just causes more urgent things to come up. The only way to really minimize the appearance of the urgent is to focus on the important:
Smart organizations understand that important issues are the ones to deal with. If you focus on the important stuff, the urgent will take care of itself.
Ignore the urgent so that you can do the important things that are necessary to make the urgent fires stop happening in the first place.
Mindtools has a good overview of the Action-Priority Matrix.
The Action Priority Matrix is a simple diagramming technique that helps you choose which activities to prioritize (and which ones you should drop) if you want to make the most of your time and opportunities.
It’s useful because most of us have many more activities on our “wish lists” — whether these are bright ideas to pursue, exciting opportunities or interesting possibilities — than we have time available. By choosing activities intelligently, you can make the very most of your time and opportunities.
You unfortunately have to register to read the whole thing (What’s Not Best!), but you still get to see the four quadrants, which are:
- High impact, low effort: Quick wins
- Low impact, low effort: Fill-ins
- High impact, high effort: Major projects
- Low impact, high effort: Hard slogs (now called “thankless tasks” in the article, but I like “hard slogs” much better)
You cannot get everything done. Things will be left undone.
Therefore, be intentional about that. If things are going to be left undone, be sure that it is the right things that are left undone.
How do you do that? It’s one of the reasons you should have a list of goals, projects, and actions that represent a complete inventory of your work. By seeing everything that you have to do, you can identify more easily — in light of the big picture — what to delegate and what to just plain get rid of.
Project completion often comes in waves: 3 projects completed one day, 0 for the next two, then 1 more completed, and so forth. (I’m speaking of projects here in the GTD sense of multi-step but non-routine outcomes, rather than the more traditional sense of “fairly large initiatives that produce a unique service, product, or result.”)
It’s probably unavoidable that project completion will always come in waves to some extent. But in the midst of this, it’s easy to forget that if you consistently completed just one project per day, that would really add up. It would mean:
- 5 projects completed per week
- 20 projects completed per month
- 240 projects completed per year
Many of those projects would be small 1-3 hour things. But in the midst of that mix would also be several very large projects as well.
If your project list seems long and you sometimes struggle to identify what is best to do next, it can be helpful to remember this: Pick one project each day that you can complete, and get it done. Then pick another somewhat larger project, and do a decent chunk of it.
Even if you feel like this is small progress, over time this will really add up. After even 10 days, you’ll probably feel that you are actually moving along at a pretty good clip.
Last of all: It may be risk to say this in the event that there are people out there clearing out 1,000 GTD-defined projects per year, but in my opinion, anyone who can consistently complete 240 projects a year just might be a productivity super star. (Assuming that those projects are the right things to be working on!)
Sprinkled throughout Getting Things Done are short call-outs with useful quotes from people and short summaries of insight from the section. These are an easy-to-overlook but very useful feature of the book.
I thought it might be helpful to list some of these call-outs from chapter 3, “Getting Projects Creatively Under Control.”
You’ve got to think about the big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction. — Alvin Toffler
The goal is to get projects and situations off your mind, but not to lose any potentially useful ideas.
The most experienced planner in the world is your brain.
Have you envisioned wild success lately?
If you’re waiting to have a good idea before you have any ideas, you won’t have many ideas.
Outlines were easy, as long as you wrote the report first.
When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. — Will Rogers
Don’t just do something. Stand there. — Rochelle Myer
Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim. – George Santayana
People love to win. If you’re not totally clear about the purpose of what you’re doing, you have no chance of winning.
Celebrate any progress. Don’t wait to get perfect. — Ann McGee Cooper
Often the only way to make a hard decision is to come back to the purpose.
If you’re not sure why you’re doing something, you can never do enough of it.
Imagination is more important than knowledge. — Albert Einstein
The best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas. — Linus Pauling
A good way to find out what something might be is to uncover all the things it’s probably not.
Plans get you into things but you’ve got to work your way out. — Will Rogers
Here’s a good quote cited in Getting Things Done:
Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behavior.
In addition to clarifying focus, defining the purpose for a project expands options. This is the opposite of what we might expect — we might expect a clear definition of purpose to be limiting rather than broadening.
And it is limiting in a sense — it directs your thinking and energies towards those things that will produce the outcome you want and away from those things that won’t. But, in doing this, it opens up your sights to a whole host of things that align with our purpose but which you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. It’s as though the clearing out of options that aren’t aligned with your purpose creates room for a whole host of new things that are aligned with it to “show up.”
Here is how Allen puts it in Getting Things Done (pp 65-66):
Paradoxically, even as purpose brings things into pinpoint focus, it opens up creative thinking about wider possibilities. When you really know the underlying “why” — for the conference, for the staff party, for the elimination of the management position, or for the merger — it expands your thinking about how to make the desired result happen. When people write out their purpose for a project in my seminars, they often claim it’s like a fresh breeze blowing through their mind, clarifying their vision of what they’re doing.
But your purpose must be clear and specific:
Is your purpose clear and specific enough? If you’re truly experiencing the benefits of a purpose focus — motivation, clarity, decision-making criteria, alignment, and creativity — then your purpose probably is specific enough.
But many “purpose statements” are too vague to produce such results. “To have a good department,” for example, might be too broad a goal. After all, what constitutes a “good department”? Is it a group of people who are highly motivated, collaborating in healthy ways, and taking initiative? Or is it a department that comes in under budget?
In other words, if you don’t really know when you’ve met your purpose or when you’re off track, you don’t have a viable directive. The question “How will I know when this is off-purpose?” must have a clear answer.
In sum: Defining your purpose expands options, along with providing motivation, clarity, decision-making criteria, and alignment. But your purpose must be clear and specific. You know if your purpose is specific enough if you can clearly tell from it not just when you are on-purpose, but when you are off-purpose.
Yesterday I blogged on the six benefits of defining the “why” on a project that are discussed in Getting Things Done. One of those benefits was “it clarifies focus.” Here is more that Allen had to say on that:
When you land on the real purpose for anything you’re doing, it makes things clearer. Just taking two minutes and writing out your primary reason for doing something invariably creates an increased sharpness of vision, much like bringing a telescope into focus. Frequently, projects and situations that have begun to feel scattered and blurred grow clearer when someone brings it back home by asking, “What are we really trying to accomplish here?” (p. 65)
I will at some point (soon, though defined somewhat loosely) blog somewhat comprehensively and in detail about how I have my planning system setup.
In the meantime, I was talking about OmniFocus with a friend today and out of that conversation came a screen shot that captures the “big picture” of how I have it set up. I thought that some of you who use OmniFocus (or are considering it) might be interested.
In fact, this this is relevant beyond OmniFocus as well. I recommend setting up any planning system in this way, no matter what tool you use. This is how I did things in Outlook previously and, before that, did a variation of this with my paper planner.
Here is the screen shot:
As we mentioned the other day, the first step in the natural planning model is to “define purpose and principles.” Defining your purpose is basically asking the “why?” question. “Why are we doing this? What are we seeking to bring about through this?”
Why is it so important to ask the “why” question on your projects? Getting Things Done discusses six benefits:
- It defines success
- It creates decision-making criteria
- It aligns resources
- It motivates
- It clarifies focus
- It expands options
As Allen writes, “almost anything you’re currently doing can be enhanced and even galvanized by more scrutiny at the top level of focus.” That probably seems pretty evident to most of us.
The problem is that, although this is common sense, it is not commonly practiced:
I admit it: this is nothing but advanced common sense. To know and be clear about the purpose of any activity are prime directives for clarity, creative development, and cooperation. But it’s common sense that’s not commonly practiced, simply because it’s so easy for us to create things, get caught up in the form of what we’ve created, and let our connection with our real primary intentions slip.
The challenge, then, is to practice what we know. Don’t let solid common sense about managing your projects just sit on the shelf. Make it your common practice.
The Natural Planning Model
The natural planning model can be summarized in five steps:
- Defining purpose and principles
- Outcome visioning
- Identifying next actions
The purpose is the “why.” Principles are the standards and boundaries of your plan. Outcome visioning clarifies the “what.” Brainstorming generates the “how.” Organizing puts it all together in a manageable form. And identifying next actions gets you going.
As David Allen writes, “these five phases of project planning occur naturally for everything you accomplish during the day” (Getting Things Done, 58). However, when most people go about formally planning something, they end up doing the opposite — what Allen calls the unnatural planning model.
The Unnatural Planning Model
In the unnatural planning model, you try to come up with a “good idea” on this or that issue before defining purpose and vision. This almost always creates more ambiguity and increased stress because it is artificial and unnatural. And since this is most people’s typical experience with planning, they prefer not to plan at all.
(Or, as Allen discusses, they create the plan “after the fact” just to please those who want to see a plan — like in elementary school when you’d create the outline to your paper after writing the paper.)
The Reactive Planning Model
But Allen points out that the result of not planning is often crises. When this happens, urgency takes over and people decide to plan after all. But in this case, they reverse the natural planning model and slide into the reactive planning model. So instead of defining purpose and principles first, you hear a “call to action” first — to work harder, get more people on things, get busier.
Instead of resolving things, that usually just creates a mess. So someone says “hey, let’s get organized.” When this doesn’t solve the problem, someone then says “let’s brainstorm.” So everyone gets gathered into a room and the leader says “who has a good idea here?” When not much happens, finally someone asks “so, what are we trying to do here again?” — which gets to vision and purpose.
“The reactive style is the reverse of the natural planning model. It will always come back to top-down focus. It’s not a matter of whether the natural planning model will be done — just when, and at what cost” (p. 62).
Save yourself and your organization time and frustration. Start with the natural planning model!
Along with Getting Things Done, one of the most helpful books I’ve read on productivity is a book called To Do, Doing, Done: A Creative Approach to Managing Projects and Effectively Finishing What Matters Most. I actually read both of them at about the same time back when I was first getting into GTD, and To Do, Doing, Done helped created a more complete picture for me.
The book was written in 1997 and, when it gets into the logistics of things, reflects paper-based practices. However, the principles behind those practices are easily transferable to electronic systems, so it remains insightful.
The most helpful take away for me from the book was how to tie your project plans to your day-to-day actions. Getting Things Done also talks about this, of course, but didn’t go into as much detail. This book provided a complementary perspective that yielded some additional useful insights.
The authors of the book are also coming from the 7 Habits perspective which emphasizes keeping our projects tied to higher level goals and values. This emphasis on the higher levels, along with discussion of how to use your priorities at those levels to choose the right projects, helped to provide an integrated picture.
Last of all, the book simply has some good advice on managing projects in general — something that is relevant to most of us, no matter what we are doing. What they wrote in the introduction is still true today:
In our increasingly demanding world, the people who succeed will be the ones who can initiate, manage, and complete challenging projects. They will be the ones who know how to create a vision that engages everyone involved in the project. They will be able to define expected results; delegate responsibility; break the project down into bite-sized tasks; develop achievable schedules; communicate concisely, clearly, and rapidly; adjust quickly to changes; monitor progress; and accept nothing short of project success.
While I’m not recommending adoption of their approach wholesale, it is a very helpful read for those who are looking for additional insight and tools to pick up and then integrate into their own approach.