The Planning Models – Natural Planning with GTD

In a previous blog entry, I introduced Chapter 3 of the Getting Things Done book by David Allen. We looked at Horizontal and Vertical focus with respect to our projects and I explained the difference between these two methods of project planning and review.

We are now going to look at the three planning models that are covered in Chapter 3 of the GTD book. These planning models are:

  • The Natural Planning Model
  • The Un-Natural Planning Model
  • The Reactive Planning Model

Lets start by looking at the Natural Planning Model. The Natural Planning Model really is nothing new. It is not some fantastic new model devised by David Allen to help us plan and manage our projects. it is however, the planning model that is recommended by David in his Getting Things Done book. The Natural Planning Model is based upon the planning that we do on a daily basis, using just our brains. For example, think of how many tasks we plan on a day by day basis that we do not even bother to write down as these are normally classed as mundane tasks. For example, getting dressed, or driving to work. All of these can be thought of tasks but we just go ahead and plan them without any thought whatsoever. We utilize the planning aspects of our brain that are conditioned for this natural type of planning.

You mind goes through five steps to accomplish virtually any task. These five steps are:

  1. Defining purpose and principles
  2. Outcome visioning
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Organizing
  5. Identifying next actions

Let’s take an example and work through these five steps. The example I am going to use is the booking of a family holiday.

The first step in the model is to define purpose and principles. Think about the last time you booked a family holiday. There is always a purpose for the holiday. This could be to take a well earned break from work, to relax and spend quality time with your spouse and children, or simply to go and see a specific tourist attraction whilst on your holiday. Whatever the reason, there will have been purpose and principles for your trip. You don’t just get up one day and goon holiday, you implement stage one of the natural planning model and this is to have a purpose for the trip.

The second step is outcome visioning. Once you had defined a purpose and the principle for your holiday, the next thing you will have done is to have a vision of the outcome, in other words, where do you want to go, when, and who with? This is classed as aoutcome visioning as you are thinking about the outcome of your holiday and making mental notes about what you want the outcome to be.

The third step is brainstorming. This brainstorming is normally done within your mind, and also other people are usually included when the project or decision impacts upon them. For example, lets say you think about the Maldives for your holiday, but you are going in June. The brainstorming aspect will look at this and probably decide that as June is the rainy season in the Maldives, it may not be the best time to visit. This is a naturally creative aspect of your brain that helps narrow down the vision of the outcome into a definite decision. I say other people are included because for projects such as planning a holiday, you also have to take other peoples viewpoints into consideration. I am sure your spouse would have something to say if you booked the holiday with consulting, and brainstorming their viewpoints on the suitability of the trip and destination choice.

The next, and fourth step is organizing. Once you have generated your ideas about the project, or holiday in this case, you start to organize these ideas. For example, you may have thought about the travel agent to use for the booking, or whether to book direct, if the in-laws would like to come on the vacation also to double as baby sitters 🙂 etc. Your mind normally sorts and organizes these thoughts automatically.

The last, and fifth step is to identify and set the next actions. The GTD methodology covers that the best way to get a task done, is to decide and set the next actions. We do not do tasks, we do next actions. So the best way to get your holiday booked is to decide what the next actions are. These normally would be items such as, look up the resort on the Internet, check online travel comparison sites for cheap flights and accommodation, call in and see a travel agent for their price and recommendation within the resort. Again, I would be surprised if any of you would take the time and effort to write these next actions down, but also, I would be surprised if any of you forgot these next actions. it is funny how our mind has a great way of remembering projects assigned and planning using the Natural Planning Method.

So, that covers the Natural Planning Model. You can see that this method is pretty much what we are already doing in our day to day lives. We just have to learn how to implement this for our work related tasks.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we planned all our projects using the Natural Planning Model?, well what we actually use is the more aptly named Un-Natural Planning Model. This model is very common and normally starts with a project planning meeting, where “good ideas” are shared. Maybe we jump straight into the brainstorming step of the model without any consideration to what the outcome of the actual project should be! I have lost count of how many brainstorming project initiation meetings I have been in where egos and politics run rife and this extinguishes all of the creativity that is required in the early stages of the project planning. This method normally produces a list of tasks, not next actions, that do not really reflect the need of the project. It is funny how most people relate to the Un-Natural Planning Method as what they consider as planning.

The Reactive Planning Model normally follows the Un-Natural Planning Model. This is when the Un-Natural Planning model either fails, or was not performed in the first place. This is the planning we do on Christmas Eve, when we have forgot the present for a relative, or the planning we do when we realize our car insurance runs out in 5 hours. The Reactive Planning Model is causes stress, and people do not perform their best under stress. It sure is not conducive to a creative outcome. The funny thing is that the Reactive Planning Model will normally end up with people trying to identify the purpose and principles of the project, kind of like the Natural Planning Model in reverse!

Well, I hope you have enjoyed this review of the GTD Planning Models and be sure to practice the Natural Planning Model. Again, this is just my review and my thoughts on the Getting Things Done Methodology and I urge you, if you have not already to BUY THE BOOK and read it for yourself.

4 thoughts on “The Planning Models – Natural Planning with GTD

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