For reasons way too complicated to get into here, it seems that as a society we have an obsession with the undead – you only have to look at the number of vampire and zombie movies to see that.
Personally, I’m more of a zombie guy than a vampire guy. Although I really quite like the idea of having a few hundred years to get through my lists, I’ve never quite understood the vampire thing. Zombie movies, on the other hand, have always fascinated me. I probably watch too many of them (and yes, there is a case to be made for the first one being too many).
It seems that when I’m braindead personally, I’m given to watching the undead feasting on the living. Nothing that a few years of therapy couldn’t get to the bottom of, I’m sure, but it also seems that I’m not alone. To name but a few releases, we’ve had Zombieland, World War Z, Dawn of the Dead, Sean of the Dead, and Juan of the Dead. Not to mention a local favourite here in London, ‘Cockneys vs Zombies’.
Still, it was a surprise to me when I started hearing about zombies in the GTD seminars that I lead. Fairly close to the beginning of the seminar I’ll often ask what the assembled would like to get out of their investment in attending the seminar, and every now and again someone would say, ‘I’d like to kill the zombies’.
When I pressed a bit, they’d say something like ‘I want to kill the zombie projects, the ones that I think I’ve finished, but that keep on coming back to life’.
It took a while for me to understand what they meant, but I finally got it. When I dug into what was happening, they were doing next actions, crossing them off their to-do list, and thinking they were finished with that thing. Only they weren’t finished. They had sent an e-mail or made a call about something, and they were indeed done with the call or the e-mail. Unfortunately what they hadn’t done is capture – somewhere in their system – the fact that they were not yet finished with the reason for the call or the e-mail. Because they had no place where they were tracking that they had not reached their goal yet, they were being caught off-guard when – zombie-like – the project was back up and staggering after them again.
That is why we suggest having a project list. One place where you list out all of your desired outcomes. The idea of having this list is probably the concept we get the most questions about in our work, and the question is usually some version of, ‘Why would I want that list? Isn’t that just double tracking?’. Well, yes and no. Yes, we are suggesting that you write something down two times about the same goal, but no, they are not the same thing. One is where you are trying to get to – the outcome or project – and one is the very next thing that you’ll do to get there – your next action.
You could track only next actions in your system, but then please don’t be surprised if you have projects coming after you like a gut-shot zombie (for those less familiar with zombie tips and tricks than I, zombies need a shot in the head to really take them down for good).
So here are three reasons I think you definitely want a projects list:
· It is a place to get the overview of everything you are trying to achieve. Great for getting a sense of how much you already have on, and for knowing when you need to start saying ‘no’ more
· It is a backstop to keep you from losing track of things you want to move forward on. A review of this list will help you to be sure that you have next actions for everything that you are trying to achieve
· It will help to eliminate the zombie-effect. If you have identified the project you are trying to complete, you won’t be surprised when it continues to give you new things to do
A complete project list is not a shot to the head for all of your work, but it will at least map the territory well enough to let you know where the surprise attacks are likely to come from.