Getting Things Done - The Natural Planning Model Webinar Q&A

Feb 5, 2014
16 Min Read

Thank you again for joining us on January 23 for our special Expert Webinar Series on Getting Things Done® - The Natural Planning Model®, with David Allen Company CEO, Mike Williams, as he shared with you the GTD way of effectively planning projects for success. This interactive and educational event provided FREE GTD resources and The Natural Planning Model worksheet prior to the event (still available when registering for the OnDemand recording) for you to use while you listen. [Get the Recording and Free GTD Assets Now]

As promised, below you may find some of the questions asked that we were unable to get to due to the popularity and high attendance of the live event.

Q: How do we connect our goals from our project plans to our monthly, weekly and daily planning especially for what some people call soft deadlines like personal goals excericse, daily excerise, etc?

Mike Williams: The Weekly Review (page 184 in the Getting Things Done book referenced below with link) is the best way I found to handle this. Sometimes, for more extensive projects, we recommend people set aside time to do a weekly detailed project review.

Q: Title/ISBN of book mentioned earlier?

MW: Here is a link to several of David Allen’s books, including the book I referenced: Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress Free Productivity.

Q: Does the book provide a template for measuring quantitative management goals?

 MW: The book does not go into specific detail about this. However, if this is on your mind it would suggest you capture this thought and create a project to close any open loops you have regarding quantitative management goals. In other words, how would you get quantitative management goals off your mind?  What does wild success look  like for you for this topic?

 Q: When thinking about "organization," is this mainly the components of the project (defining the scope) or the milestones/deliverables, or both?

MW: It is both. The Organization step grabs the items from your brainstorm phase and places them into categories that make sense for your context. For example, you may have brainstormed elements about the project scope, milestones and deliverables that need handling.

Q: How would this NPM be used within a project review session once a project is underway?

MW: Once the project is underway you are completing the actions needed to get it done. If you need to revisit the original intention that started the project, you can revisit your Purpose and Vision. If you feel things are off track that is also a good time to go back and revisit the Purpose, Guiding Principles and Vision for the project.

 Q: How can an Enterprise Risk Analyst, Project manager, and Key stakeholders collaborate to optimize effectiveness and efficiency?

 MW: Align on purpose and vision. Create a shared vision of wild success. Organize your thinking into actionable steps. Assign owners to actions. Review your plan at a frequency that makes sense based on your context.

 Q: How far do Next Actions plan out to - is it just immediately following planning or does it bleed into full on project outlining?

MW: In the GTD methodology, the next actions associated with the project are the true visible physical next actions you would take to advance the project (e.g. Call Fred regarding budget, Schedule brainstorming session with team). Dependent actions, things that are not next actions, would reside in your project support information. As you complete actions the next action is often self-evident. If it is not, you can refer to your project support material (e.g. Gantt chart or task list) to determine what is needed next to move the project forward. The five-stages of mastering workflow starting on page 24 in the Getting Things Done book contains excellent information about this.

Q: How to distinguish between mission, vision, and desired outcome?

MW: Though not specifically asked here, the Purpose answers the question of “Why?” Why am I doing this project? Mission, Vision and Desired Outcome answers the question of “What?” What does "done" look like? What does "wild success" look like? These all point to what you are seeing in your mind when this project is done. This vivid picture creates a gap between desired reality and current reality.

Q: ­At the end of the next action, do you just create a new next action or do you revisit some of the prior steps?­

MW: If the next action is self-evident your brain will naturally roll into this activity. If it is part of a larger more complicated thing you may need to refer back to something for reference (e.g. a project plan, list or checklist).

Q: Is Mike doing this [GTD - NPM] on each of his projects?

MW: Yes, my brain does this naturally on all my projects. So does yours. I will externalize my thinking using The Natural Planning Model for more complicated projects or those projects where I want to make sure I am aligned with another person (or group of people).

Q: Where is the stage that measures the result against what the goal was defined?

MW: If your project has this requirement, that need would be captured during the Brainstorming phase and organized during the Organize phase.

Q: Once you're midstream with a project, do you review the notes you made while walking through the planning at the onset? How do you use the notes and planning accomplished at the beginning later in the project?

MW: It depends on what level of thinking is needed. If you need to connect to “Why are we doing this project?” I would recommend you go back and review the Purpose and Vision for the project. If you were looking for directions on what is next, I would recommend you reference the output of the Organize phase. Remember, this is an organic process. You may add and organize new things to your project along the way.

Q: What about the iterative nature of many projects – how to get from first phase to the next ones?

MW: The Natural Planning Model is not a one-time event.  This is an organic process. You may need to add or subtract things based on your current reality. Clarity around next actions and owners will keep your projects moving forward. If you feel your project is off track, your Purpose and Vision statements will help guide you.

Q: Where does overcoming setbacks fit in? Do you just continually start over?

MW: I would put this under the header of “you don’t have problems, you have projects.” When set backs occur you can use The Natural Planning Model to get back on track. The Natural Planning Model always starts with current reality. What just happened? How does this impact the project? Does it impact the Purpose? Does it impact the Vision? What ideas can I generate? What’s my plan? What’s the next action? Who owns it?

Q: How to connect the Organize step with the preceding Brainstorm?

MW: In the Brainstorming phase, you are free to come up with all sorts of ideas that will lead you to your vision of wild success. The Organize phase places these thoughts into major components, sequence of events and priorities.

Q: ­So would you say that the purpose - vision - brainstorming and organizing sit between "PROJECT" and "NEXT ACTIONS" of the classic GTD model? And does it fit in the GTD workflow easily­?

MW: Yes, The Natural Planning Model can certainly fit between Projects and Next actions. It is a thought process that your brain does naturally all the time so it is not just limited to that area.

Q: ­How do you keep your focus on the project, when there is no one above you, and there is no specific timeline, but you always have to create your goals, timelines and move forward on your own. It is so easy to put such a project on hold.­

MW: It starts with the Purpose and Vision of the project. Is this something that has meaning to me? After that it all comes down to landing on the next action to move the project forward (I naturally go through the brainstorming and organizing phase to get there.  So do you). It is the clear definition of the next action that moves the project forward. Once you complete the first action the next question is “What action do I need to take next to move this project forward?”

Q: ­Are there any plans to hold another GTD Conference like the one in San Francisco a few years ago?­

MW: Yes, stay tuned!

Q: ­Is there a published list of criteria (i.e. inbox emptied regularly, etc.) of what constitutes a black belt GTD implementation?­

MW: There are no published levels yet. Catching the purpose of the Weekly Review and doing it on a regular basis is the common thread I see across the “master level” GTDers I meet and work with.

Q: ­Do we have to give equal importance to all the steps in The Natural Planning Model? Or is there a step where we need to focus more on? 

MW: The interesting thing is you will do all the steps naturally. The thing that is most needed on one project may be different than another project. For example, if I am working on a project on my own, I really do not need to spend a lot of time on Purpose and Guiding Principles. I work within them naturally. If I am working with another person or a group of people we may need to spend more time on Purpose and Guiding Principles.

Q: ­What is the best way to handle being the "point man" between multiple companies, departments, and managers and making sure everyone is on the same page with clear communication

MW: If you are clear with Purpose, Vision, Guiding Principles and consistently land on Next Actions with Owners you will increase clarity and reduce the number of emails and meetings needed to get to the desired outcomes on the things you are managing.

Q: ­Any tips on how to prioritize actions­?

MW: Given your context, time and energy available, what action will give you the highest payoff?

Q: ­Any recommendation for how to get others in your organization to start following this method?­

MW: It is best to model it. After I learned this method I started asking, “What’s the purpose of this [meeting, project, etc.] and what’s the desired outcome?” Soon, I had a colleague who started to say at his meetings, “I have a colleague Mike who always asks, ‘What is the purpose of this [meeting, project]…’ I’d like to ask this for this meeting.” Of course, we’d welcome  the opportunity to work with your organization and share our methods.  If this interests anyone, you can reach us at customerservice at

Q: ­Would you agree that it is important to not "self-censor"?­

MW: I believe in the power of authenticity and the collective wisdom of others. I find the most honest stuff shows up when we show up in an honest way.

Q: ­Where can we find the recording of this webinar for future recap/review­?

MW: Intuit QuickBase has made the recording and the free GTD resources available. Register here for the OnDemand recording for Getting Things Done - The Natural Planning Model. Be sure to get your free resources and planning worksheet provided on the registration thank you page so you may use it while you watch and listen to the recording.

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