“Go ahead, tell me about your project.”
I make that kind of request regularly in my client work. What follows is generally lots of thinking (and talking). Background to the project. Considerations. Worries about the team or the client. Planning thoughts about the sequence of things that need to be done. Often, lots of enthusiasm. Sometimes, quite a bit of dread.
Take a minute now and try it yourself. Think about some project or issue you have, either in your professional life or at home. Now just talk about it for a few minutes. (You might want to find a private space to avoid having your colleagues or family think you have a screw loose).
How did that go? I’m guessing that you didn’t struggle to come up with a bit of a monologue on that project. Probably quite a lot of it was unstructured or lightly-structured thinking that ranged far and wide across the plains of the project.
Our bread and butter is productivity, of course, so it’s worth asking the question, “how productive is all of that thinking?”
This is where the key GTD clarifying questions come into their own.
Given everything you know about the project, what’s the very next action you need to take to move it forward? And ultimately, what is the outcome that you’re trying to achieve?
Zap. All of those earlier considerations become laser-focused on productivity. How do I get started on this? Where ultimately am I headed?
Of course that’s not to say that the brainstorm about the project you did earlier wasn’t at all valuable. In fact, it’s because you have wide knowledge of the project that you can make good next action and outcome decisions.
The poet Yeats wrote about bringing the “balloon of the mind…into its narrow shed.” He was talking about writing poetry, but the same metaphor works for these clarifying questions. We’re focusing, concentrating, directing our thinking to ensure it enhances our productivity.
So go on, let your mind range far and wide about the project. Run a brainstorming session with the team. Have a good think about everything that’s relevant.
When you’re ready, bring out the big guns. What’s the next action? What’s the desired outcome?
Now you’re ready to get moving.