Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Can't start Getting Things Done? Just Do Something...

Sometimes a project can seem too daunting to even know where to start. The GTD principle requires you to break down your work into discreet tasks in the form of a brain dump and then pick them off one by one in the order they need to be done in (rather ironically, I started reading GTD, but never finished!).

However, what happens if you are starting a project that you have absolutely no idea about where to start and how to get going? If you used the GTD principle you would simply have a first task called 'research' and there's no way you could jot down anymore.

I have found that on projects like this, the best way to get going is to just do something (JDS?). The idea behind this is that by simply doing something, whether it's right or wrong, your road ahead will start to unravel before your eyes. If you were to try and plan the whole thing up front you would enter what I call 'paralysis by analysis'.

I have seen many a project get stumped at inception, simply because there is no experience in the area or the scope is so wide that there are many different routes to take. By starting with something simple in whatever direction, you will quickly discover something else and whether you are heading in the right direction.

Admittedly, this is not the sort of thing you can apply easily to the corporate workplace, but for personal projects it is a real winner. I am always entering new projects that I have no idea about. Sometimes detailed planning and analysis will tell you something, but not everything and you find you lack your own experience base. By getting your teeth into an actual task, you may find that you learn more about the project than you would have any other way.

You have to be open to the fact that the actual task you have performed may well turn out to be a wasted activity on a particular route. But in the broader scope you may find that the route to your goal is much clearer as a consequence and the resource you applied to get there was far less than analysing the project in its entirety.

As an example, when moving back to the UK after 3 years in West Africa, we knew where 'work' was going to be. We knew we wanted to live somewhere more rural than before, but the area we could choose from was so large and varied that deciding on a specific location to buy was a near impossible and tremendously daunting task. We also had a time constraint to work to.

In the early planning stages, the project was in dire risk of stagnating, due to the infinite complexity of researching and looking at every town and village in a particular commuting radius. We would have to ascertain the house prices, amenities, shopping, supermarkets, drive time, etc - the list went on. It seemed too much to take on.

However, we decided that we should just start looking at properties somewhere, regardless of whether that would actually be a useful allocation of our time. This actually kick started us as it quickly gave us an appreciation of absolutely everything in a short space of time and we quickly became experts in evaluating a district/town/village for suitability. In effect, by just doing something (which at the time seemed way too early and a huge waste of planning time). You might call this market research, but it was more like 'let's pretend this is what we're doing and see what happens'.

I'm not advocating this for every single project out there, but if you are stuck and don't know where to start, this may be a way of getting past that particular road block. We have applied it to many personal projects since and found it to be very effective when the scope is fuzzy and broad.

Just do something - sit down and explore the Internet, get out and look at something real, write down what you think, talk to someone, draw something, fire off some emails. Just don't do nothing. You may find that the answer comes looking for you…