Using the Action Hierarchy for Higher Horizons

As we all know, the total list of GTD projects (10 k) can be quite long. Also the list of single actions can be quite long. By using the hierarchical elements (the tree structure) both of these problems can be easily solved and reviewing made very much easier.

I have used these methods in Nirvana (project-action levels), and to a higher extent in Doit (goal-project-action levels). In GTDNext it is possible to refine it even more, since it has no limit on the number of hierarchical levels.

Top level - Goals etc

My top level of the hierarchy represents the GTD 30 k horizon. At this level we find the GTD “goals”/objectives which we expect to take a couple of years to complete and which will entail major changes in our life if/when they are successfully completed. Another way to explain these would be to call them “super-projects”. I have only two such goals right now, both involving new business startups.

Also at approximately 30 k would be what David Allen calls “groups of areas of responsibility”. The areas of responsibility as such, e.g. Husband, Father, Cleaner etc (i.e. the “hats” or “roles”), are classified as 20 k, so it is my opinion that a group of such hats, e.g. Private, could then be considered to be 30 k, just like the goals. I have three such groups of AoRs, called Business (ongoing), Non-Profit and Private.

This means I have five top-level “containers” in my hierarchy right now, which makes it easy to review my stuff one such “container” at a time and it also gives the right amount of attention/visibility to each of these (Startup 1, Startup 2, Ongoing Business, Non-Profit and Private).

**One level down - Proper projects etc **

At the next level down I have my mid-to-large GTD 10 k projects, and also some folders for “small stuff” like single tasks and micro-projects - one such folder per area of responsibility. I have ten AoRs, and therefore ten such AoR containers all in all, spread out under their respective top level nodes.

Example: In my top-level folder “Private” I currently have 3 AoR containers (for small stuff, separated by AoR), and 5 mid-size projects (directly under Private; not separated by AoR).

As you see, my mid-size projects are not grouped by the individual AoR, only under its “group of AoRs”. This is for historical reasons (Doit’s limitations) but also because I am not sure I want to make the hierarchy deeper up here near the top. I like to have my mid-size projects straight under the top level container, and I have so few of these mid-to-large projects all in all (maybe a few dozen; or less than ten in each group of AoRs) that I usually have no problem with it. But with GTDNext it would be possible to add an extra level to make it more stringent.

Two levels down - Actions and Micro-projects

Two levels down from the top I keep normal actions, but also “micro-projects”, things that are “projects” as per GTD (multiple steps) but really no bigger than any other task. GTDNext, having unlimited levels, will allow me to better break down my micro-projects into steps (subtrees) while still keeping them at the “task” level under a specific AoR folder rather than clutter the main project level.

Area tags

I see no contradiction in using both the hierarchy and the area tags, either with exactly the same definitions or slightly different. Personally I never used Nirvana’s top-corner hard switch, so I do not need the area tags for that, but I still like to have the instant filtering capability that the area tags provide. For reviewing purposes I prefer to go hierarchically, but for task selection during the day, it is quicker to use the filter.

In my current beta setup I experimentally have given the area tags a slightly wider definition than their top-level hierarchical counterparts, and have only two area tags, not five - Private and Non-Profit sharing one area tag, and Ongoing Business and the two startup goals sharing another area tag, but this is something I plan to experiment more with; we’ll see. I may also consider using regular tags for some of this.

40 k and 50 k levels

Most values etc at 50 k tend to affect most actions and projects and areas, at least to some extent. So it would not be a hierarchical relationship, anyway. But If you want to keep track of a particular value and improve it (say Honesty), you could use regular tags to “flag” tasks as an excellent challenge for that value. If your action is “Buy milk” and you flag it for “Honesty” you probably mean “try extra hard to remember to pay for it”. But personally I would not dream of tracking 50 k values in my task app.

For 40 k objectives you can use the general approach (for 30 k) above, as long as they are very concrete super-projects (e.g. relocate family and business to Fiji etc, something that may take many years). But for skills and other development (like become fluent in French) you will have the same problem as with the 50 k values. They tend to pervade all projects and actions in all areas, could be exercised and improved within many of these settings, and are probably best left out (or tracked with tags).

@Folke - Thanks very much for explaining how you are using GTDNext - it’s very interesting to see how people are using it. One of the cool things about our outline view is it gives people the ability to customize their workflow to their own taste. Which is exactly one of the reasons we wanted to go the outline route.

Personally, I like quicker access to my projects, so I heavily use the Areas function (30K) to filter the Projects & Actions view (10K for me) to show only the top level projects for each area. Many of my projects are quite large, so I have sub-projects inside many of these projects.

I haven’t implemented the 40K level yet, but will likely create some reference folders (using the info mode) associated with each area to track those longer term objectives before turning them into projects.

I’d be interested to hear how others are setting up GTDNext for thier own needs. Please share!