What GTD Has Taught Me About Defining Project Outcomes

Tara Rodden Robinson
wrote this on May 17, 2012
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It’s true: I’m Ready-Fire-Aim Girl. I am really, really good at coming up with great big ideas that lead to great big projects and leaping into said projects at a moment’s notice. As the host of the GTD Virtual Study Group, I’m also something of an expert on David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I know all about the many moving parts that go into being a black belt in this methodology–so I know perfectly well that projects are supposed to have clear outcomes, carefully defined in advance. So how does Ready-Fire-Aim Girl get her GTD on?

Defining Project Outcomes

I use GTD’s Natural Planning Model (which honestly sounds suspiciously like some form of family planning approach similar to the rhythm method–but I digress). The Natural Planning Model (let’s just call it NPM) has five steps:

1. Defining purpose and principles

2. Outcome visioning

3. Brainstorming

4. Organizing

5. Identifying next actions

When I’m hit by my next brilliant idea, I am usually in a hurry to get started, so if I had to go through all five of these in laborious fashion, it would drive me crazy. Instead I short-cut to the action and get to the chase real quick like. I can do this because I have spent hours and hours and hours in preparation, laying the foundation on which my great-ideas-to-projects rest.

I defined my purpose and principles through hours of thought, reflection, meditation, and prayer. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I’ve spent all of my adult life refining these. Every project that I take on conforms to my purpose and principles–if it doesn’t, I don’t do it. Period.

Outcome visioning is done once a year in a big old birthday party I throw for myself. I am the only guest at this soiree and I use the time to review the past twelve months and envision what I want to achieve in the coming year. The outcomes I envision are more based on what I want to experience and are very adjective rich. I use words like love, joy, unity, focus. For example, my 2012 desired outcome is “to grow in love and unity.”

Brainstorming happens naturally all the time. I feed my creative fires with lots of juicy fuel: magazines, blogs, conversations, journaling, and anything else that pours energy into my furnace. And that brainstorming is where Ready-Fire-Aim Girl gets her great ideas, many of which leap into being almost fully formed.

Organizing is a full-time job and sadly, this is one area where I’m weak. I tend to accumulate way more clutter in my creative (physical) spaces than I’m happy with.  On the electronic side, I’m blessed with powerful tools like Evernote, Dropbox, Scrivener, and EndNote. Those great programs make up for my lack of organizational prowess with turbo search functions. Yay!

That leaves me free to define next actions galore and carry them out with joy. That’s when I get to enjoy the most freedom and greatest creativity as I move from one action to the next.

Defining Project Outcomes on IQTELL

So how do I know when I’m done? I go with my gut seasoned with a healthy appreciation for good-enoughism. Ready-Fire-Aim Girl can’t tolerate perfectionism–that would be like getting stuck in the LaBrea Tar Pits leading to Nowheresville. I rely on my instincts to help me spot a project that is nearing completion and treat it accordingly. Finish, finish, finish!

Of course, the ready-fire-aim approach isn’t for everyone. Some folks just love to chew on each of the five steps of the NPM for every project–or at least, the really significant ones. And for teams and organizations, spending extra time on steps one and two, making sure those fit with your organization’s strategic plan (you do have one, yes?), is a must. But if you’re comfortable with–and maybe even excited by–not defining precisely what outcome you’re after, the ready-fire-aim approach might be just what you need to speed into the joy of getting things done.


This Is a guest post by Tara Rodden Robinson, The Productivity Maven!  Tara provides coaching services to individuals and groups as well as speaking and training for teams and organizations. You can learn more about her by visiting her blog: or follow her on Twitter: @tararodden.

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3 responses to “What GTD Has Taught Me About Defining Project Outcomes”

  1. I’m very much like you Tara, a ready-fire-aim kinda girl. I have to admit it has gotten my in trouble before, but my natural instinct is to get things done! Great post.

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