So, in the last article, I introduced a potentially dangerous concept: the Conditional Project. GTD is used literally to get things done, and here I’ve suggested putting things off by creating conditions. (A much better way to put things off is by writing blog posts, but that’s another story. 🙂 )

There are a couple of very important points when creating conditions to avoid the danger of procrastination:

  • The conditions are now projects themselves, and
  • The conditions will allow or improve attention on the Project.

But, before we get there, let’s go over developing a project …

 

Developing the Project

Since, I haven’t really shown the development of a project using the parallel and sequential options together, now is probably a good a time as any. Here’s where things left off last time:

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I had actually informally started the analytic papers project but didn’t write it more fully as a project until I realized I wanted to read Free Play afterwards.

There are still additional files to find, print as pdfs, and transfer into a pdf reader (GoodReader) on the iPhone for on-the-go reading.

I create an entirely new project “Analytic Papers”. The four papers involved are added as tasks:

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I’ve already partially started paper 1, but the order otherwise does not matter so it’s set to parallel. Now, on to developing the rest of the process …

The papers themselves are grouped:

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In the inspector (Shift-Cmd-i) for the above sequence, I make sure that the entire group will be marked complete when the last item is completed:

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I then create the overall sequential process and enter the relevant contexts:

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The task “Search papers to print as pdfs” includes the URL to further ease accessibility. Later, when the articles have been downloaded, I’ll add links to the pdfs from the individual paper tasks for when I might want to read from the laptop:

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In essence, I’m gathering all tools and necessary items in one place to make doing the project as easy as possible. Once the Project is designed, I want to think about the process of doing it as little as possible, if at all, so that I can focus on the work itself. Since I view context mode with the filter set to “Available”, the italicized tasks here will not show until I’ve completed the necessary step prior.

Finally, since I know that I want to go to Free Play directly after this project, I add this as a task at the end of the sequence:

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The last task is indeed redundant as there is already a “waiting for …” ready to trigger the next project as described in the last article, and there is now also a task at the end of the new Analytic Papers project to direct me to the Free Play project.

 

Optimizing Conditions

Interestingly, I often find myself working backwards this way. The mind does a lot of neat things, one of which is that it works by association and not in sequence. However, planning to do things as a sequence can foster a more efficient method of actually getting things done as it allows a greater focus for the tasks at hand. In this way, task management is a method of transition from mind to efficient modes of work and play.

Another interesting aspect of the mind is how it works in creative endeavors. Parallel to the process of any work, not just artistic, is that a significant portion of the work is actually fostering the conditions under which creativity occurs, rather than just making something.

Similarly, when attempting to work in or on a project, optimizing the conditions under which the work can occur may be important to getting it done. Especially when reviewing a stalled task, consider asking, “What would ease the process of making this project occur?”

Maybe a gardening project just needs the right tools. Maybe a new exercise routine could start by setting the clothes near the door.

With the Analytic Papers, simply planning and gathering the resources is enough to begin and continue the work.

Strangely though, the concept of optimizing conditions introduces yet another set of dangerous questions: Couldn’t this be used as another means of procrastination? Is there such a thing as conditions that are fully optimized? Maybe we could add conditions to the conditions?

For example, what’s stopping me from deciding that the entire house needs to be cleaned prior to writing a paper?

Making this distinction in every project is not difficult if you keep in mind the guiding principle of sustaining Attention. In this example, cleaning the house is unrelated, but cleaning the desk may be more than reasonable and even vital to removing distractions that would otherwise impair sustained focus on the paper. The important decision will then be if it can be done in less than the GTD guideline of 2 minutes or to sweep the desk into a large bucket and work on its organization later as a Project itself.

 

Focus on Attention

This leads to several purposes to consider in setting conditions:

  1. The conditional projects are necessary to actually do the work at all,
  2. they make sequential sense, or
  3. their ordering improves the ability to sustain attention on the individual projects.

For the particular example of getting to Free Play, both projects are reading projects. I prefer working on one reading project at a time. The Analytic Papers project had already started, though I hadn’t formally considered the work to enter into OmniFocus until I realized there was another reading project I wanted to get to. The eventual designed condition suited purposes 2 and 3 above.

 

Conditions as Catalyst

In the metaphor of activation energy, the third type of condition effectively acts as a catalyst decreasing the threshold necessary for a project to occur. In the paper writing example, cleaning the desk would remove distractions that would otherwise interrupt focus.

Or in the Analytic Papers example, simply entering the URL in the notes section makes it easier to do the work as now I know I don’t have to hunt it down later. A lingering annoyance of having to search for something is a subtle deterrent to doing work which I’ve now addressed by putting all relevant information and tools in one place.

Ultimately, the goal we are trying to achieve is that of heightening focus upon the task at hand.

Well, I think I’m going to take a break from this series for the time being. I hope you’ve enjoyed them, and I’m always up for feedback. 🙂

See also the previous articles in the OmniFocus series:

Edit: Adjusted some grammar. There’s more to go …