To Do list vs. Project List – Why most people confuse the two.

“How do I define Projects? Any and all those things that need to get done within the next few weeks or months that require more than one action step to complete. ” David Allen – Getting Thing Done.

For me, most of my tasks are just there to move a “project” along to help bring it to completion.

Project List


Most of the time it’s a project not just a task. 

I see people writing down things like “call Joe” and they should be applauded for taking this simple step. But why are you making that call? Is it because Joe holds to answer to completing one of your projects?

You can think of projects as your goal. I think goals and projects are very similar.

You need to put aside what you think are “projects” in the traditional sense. We use the term all the time in our office but we are really talking about a client or job. Truth is that any of these jobs have thousands of projects to be completed through their course.

It’s time to reframe what a project is to you.

This is the key and it took me a while to understand. If this “thing” you are working takes more than one step to get it done then it’s a project.

All projects should be listed in a “project list” in your task management system.

Each project should have a next action step to move that project along.

 Here’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • Make your project clearly defined. Use as few words as needed to remind yourself what you need to get done.
  • Set a deadline. Some projects need to be done by X date make it clear in your system when that is.
  • Don’t be afraid to break a larger project down. Sometimes you have a large project that has many sub-projects to get done before you can work on finalizing the big project.
  • Review your project list often – a great time is during the weekly review.

Here’s a few tips for organizing projects:

  • If you are using an app or software and they have a tag system you can group your projects with the tags.
  • I like to group them by Area’s of Responsibility. This grouping allows you to broadly group projects so that when you are in the office you only look at projects that are related to your office. Or when at home you can focus on your home projects.
  • I also group my projects by using the job or client name. I list that name first then the project name. This way if you use an alphabetical sort all of projects with the same client/job name will be listed next to each other. You could also tag them with a client name but I prefer to keep my system as simple as possible.

Keep in mind that you could have 80-100 projects going at once. This might seem overwhelming but it’s not. Once it’s out of your head and into something that you trust your mind will be clear.

This is a hard concept to wrap your head around. Most things in life are really just projects in disguise. I’ve often written down something on a to do list and then later written another thing to do related to that first task only to realize that it’s just another project that needs to be defined.

It’s tricky but with a little thought you can have a fully capable GTD project list.
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