The Five Phases of Project Planning

David Allen says, regardless of task size, the human brain goes through a Natural Planning Model. This is the process we use daily to organize regular tasks: e.g., getting dressed or driving to work. We go ahead and complete them without much thought. We use the part of our brain that is conditioned for this natural type of planning.

Allen goes on to say, this is an ideal model for planning projects.

The five phases:

  1. Defining purpose and principles – Here’s where we ask “Why?” Answering this question defines the successful outcome, sets the boundaries, as well as focusing and motivating towards completion. You need to know where you’re going before you can plot the course.
  2. Outcome visioning – Allen says, if you can’t visualize the end result you will have trouble figuring out how to do it. He suggests going beyond mere completion and visualizing what “wildly successful” would look like.
  3. Brainstorming – Brainstorming generates the ideas for moving the project to completion. Allen recommends getting the ideas out of the head and onto paper. Writing serves to clear the mind enabling other ideas to come through. Writing also helps keep the focus on the project at hand.
  4. Organizing – Now that those ideas are out of your head and onto paper, start moving them around. Figure out which are the important pieces and sort by components, sequences and priorities.
  5. Identifying next actions – Of course, no GTD planning would be complete until Next Actions have been identified. What is the immediate action required to move the project forward on every front.

David Allen says this about the five phases, “Worked together, they create a whole model of how we get things done most effectively, with the least amount of effort. If any one of the five steps is done insufficiently, however, effectiveness can be severely limited.

David likes to quote this 18th-century inscription from a church in Sussex, England:

A vision without a task is but a dream,
a task without a vision is drudgery,
a vision and a task is the hope of the world.

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Manage Your Paper With a RAFT

Ruthless paperwork is the route to a clean desk. It’s a problem of small-scale decision-making, every piece of paper requires a decision and a final destination. Too often, papers fall prey to the procrastination syndrome: I’ll think about it tomorrow.

Ideally, mail and paperwork should be attended to for a few minutes every day. If the amount is small, three times a week may do. You don’t want papers to build up to the point where you look at it and you get discouraged. The easiest way to avoid that is to keep up to date.

Files can be kept in open piles on a desk or in folders, according to your style. If a clean visual environment is important to you, use boxes and folders as you RAFT. If you prefer a look of activity and busyness, paper piles may be the answer.

If you do keep stuff, keep it in a way so that it doesn’t jam up your life and you can find it again.

Use the RAFT template: refer it, act on it, file it or toss it.

  • Refer it to the correct person, if you’re not the one to handle it.
  • Act on it immediately. Items that can be dealt with easily, do now; David Allen’s two-minute rule.
  • File it, if necessary. Eighty percent of filed papers are never looked at again. Make sure you really need it before you keep it.
  • Toss out anything you no longer need. Don’t keep routine memos or anything that gives you information you already know or have. Record meeting information on your calendar, then toss the memo. We you receive document revisions, toss the orginals.
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