Andy raised an interesting question last week commenting on my post “Bending OneNote and Outlook to Fit my GTD System“. His question relates to something I like to call “Forever Tasks”. These are basically projects that have no real end date that you have to continually track and execute. Here is an excerpt from Andy’s comments:

I’ve got a couple of very ongoing projects. But they are so big I don’t know whether they really are a project. For instance I help set up and run a design group called Coalition. I think of this as a big marketing project… but it doesn’t really have an end as such, like a project “run company” would be a bit daft! How do you think your setup should deal with this kind of thing?

I’d like to hear everyone else’s thoughts on this… How do you handle continual on-going “projects” like this? Please share your thoughts and post a comment below. To get things started, here are a few options/ideas to consider…

IDEA 1: The idea Andy suggested in his original comment was a pretty good adaptation. He suggested creating a separate tab in OneNote for this “project” instead of a page. This keeps the pages from getting too long on the bigger projects.

IDEA 2: Use a single project page, and then archive that page monthly. Basically, move the page into the completed projects section of the @DONE tab, create a new project using the template, and copy any active tasks across. If the project was “Manage the XYZ Design Team”, then you could have project pages like XYZ Management AUG’08, XYZ Management SEP’08, etc.

IDEA 3: Divide your role into major areas and track each area or zone of responsibility as a separate project. It really does help, and it forces you to focus on the critical few things that are key to your success. For an excellent instructive talk on this, I would suggest downloading the Manager-Tools podcasts on Time Management. In the first cast, Mark and Mike stress some of Peter Drucker’s principles from The Effective Executive: Ask not what you want to do, but rather what the role requires of you. Every 3-6 months re-ask yourself what the role requires of you now. Those things that the role requires of you are likely to be the same things your boss will measure you against when it comes time for your annual review. That brings up another good suggestion from the Manager-Tools podcast: Chances are that your job description is out of date. Draft a new job description for yourself and review it with your boss. There are some suggestions for how to do this effectively in the podcast. Force yourself to boil it down to 5-10 key priorities. If this seems difficult, consider Drucker’s perspective: If you are trying to juggle five priorities, you’re wrong. Effective executives and managers do one thing very well, and the other things are delegated. Few people are brilliant enough to do two things well. Trying to do three things well is a circus act. I would suggest downloading the entire Time Management series from Manager-Tools.com and listening to them at your leisure. If you are not already a Manager-Tools listener, I would suggest starting with their collection of basic podcasts first to ground yourself in the Manager-Tools principles and lingo.

IDEA 4: Stir a little bit of 7 Habits into your GTD each week… I know, it’s kinda like that Reese’s commercial, “Hey you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!”. Anyway, what I’m talking about is defining your “Big Rocks” and then reviewing them each week as part of your weekly review. When I was using PlanPlus, there was a tool called the Weekly Compass for doing this. The screen shot below is my weekly compass from a few years ago. Here is what the help from PlanPlus has to say about Big Rocks:

When scheduling big rocks, remember to ask yourself, “What is the most important thing I can do in this role this week?” It’s not mandatory that you schedule big rocks for each role every week. Focus on those roles that need your attention. Maybe it’s all of them or perhaps just two or three. You’ll know.

You could follow this same process by creating a OneNote project page or a recurring Outlook task called “Big Rocks”. Check it each week during your weekly review, just as you would your GTD project list. For each role (aka Big Rock), determine the next actions for the coming week and create individual tasks for them.

IDEA 5: Make the project page as bare bones as possible. Just track major tasks on the project page, and let the notes go into your DROE page. Any emails related to the project can be tagged with the project [tag] for quick reference. I use Taglocity to quickly tag my emails, and the tags are identical to the Outlook task and OneNote project tags. To find everything related to a particular project, you just do a quick search on the [tag] using Windows Desktop Search (WDS) or Google Desktop.

IDEA 6: Use one or several “PigPog” tasks to track the major areas of the role/project. It’s basically an Outlook task with a mini project built in – like finding the toy surprise inside a Cracker Jack box. When you finish the next action (listed in the subject line), you paste the next next action from the notes into the subject and keep going. The task never gets marked as complete in Outlook until the final action is complete. GTD Wannabe has some very nice VBA scripts to create these tasks quickly. I also have an AutoHotkey script to replace the standard CTRL-SHIFT-K task shortcut in Outlook with a PigPog task. As usual, I will have to share this in a future post.

Okay, so that’s enough from me. What do you think? Who is ready to post IDEA 7?

-Carl